Get Back on the Resolution Bandwagon: Setting SMART Goals

An oldie but a goodie: this post was originally posted on January 28th, 2016.

At the beginning of the month, we introduced you to a few apps to help you keep your resolutions for the new year within reach. However, if you’ve fallen off of the resolution bandwagon, don’t feel discouraged (we’ve all been there)! Even with the best tools and the best intentions, we tend to get busy and distracted as the new year kicks into gear. However, it’s never too late to try again, and we’ve got a few tips that may help your next round of goal-setting end in success. Let’s examine how to make the SMART goal setting process work in your favor.


What do we mean by “SMART” goal setting?

The SMART goal concept has been around for a while – in the November 1981 issue of Management Review, author George T. Doran coined the phrase in his paper titled “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives”. In this paper he noted the importance of setting goals, while also acknowledging that actually achieving these goals can often be elusive. He claimed that by making a goal SMART, it becomes easier to achieve, and he spelled out exactly what you need to do to make a goal “SMART”. According to Doran, each goal needs to be:

  1. Specific – the objective needs to target a specific area for improvement
  2. Measurable – the objective needs to be quantifiable and sucess or failure needs to be measurable
  3. Assignable – someone needs to be assigned to see that the objective is completed
  4. Realistic – the objective needs to take into account what is realistically possible, given all available resources
  5. Time-related – there needs to be a set start and end to achieving the objective

Each letter is meant to be a piece of criteria to weigh your goals against to ensure you’re not setting yourself up for failure down the road.  These terms are often interchangeable, so one tends to see a few of the keywords of the mnemonic swapped out for another similar or better fitting word. For instance, when the Health Sciences Library team begins its strategic planning activities for the year, we use this set of keywords as our guide: Specific, Measurable, Attainable (an achievable objective that still manages to reasonably challenge you), Relevant (an objective that is consistent with any other goals you may have), Time Oriented (similar to Time-related). Once you’ve decided on the keyword structure that best serves your purpose, you can begin creating the goals you want to achieve.

Creating a SMART goal

To create a successful goal through the SMART process, you need to decide on a general goal, and then adjust the goal to fit the criteria of the SMART acronym. For example, consider the following general goal:

“I want to read more this year.”

While a good starting place (and great to hear! We librarians are behind you 100%!), this goal could use a little work to give it the best chance at success. When setting your own goals, ask yourself how to make your goal a SMART one. If we were to make the above goal SMART, we might change it to something more like this:

“I want to read one new book every month this year.”

This is similar to the original goal, but now it has SMART criteria applied to it. How?

To start, the new goal is more Specific than the old one. While the old goal doesn’t specify exactly what “read more this year” means, the new goal essentially spells out that a total of twelve books (assuming the goal was created in January) will be read throughout the year, one a month – it sets clear expectations. Further, the goal is now Measurable. Initially, the old goal provided no metric or way to track the progress of the goal-setter, but now we know that if we haven’t completed reading one book a month, we’re behind on our goal. Next, we’ve made sure to make the goal Attainable. The important point here is to make sure to take into account all of the other activities and commitments that may interfere or overlap with the goal being set, and to also ensure that the goal isn’t too lofty. The Relevancy of the the  goal being set is going to vary from person to person, but if reading more is an essential piece of the improvements you want to make this year, that’s great! Don’t just create a goal for the sake of doing so – you might not care as much about achieving it.  Finally, the new goal makes sure to set a finish line to make it more Time Oriented than the previous goal, creating a sense of urgency. A piece of this goal must be completed every month, and the entire goal must be completed by the end of the year.

That’s it! Why not take a goal you set at the beginning of January and give it a spin through the SMART concepts? Even short-term goals will work if you’re looking to pick up a new habit. Using the Strides app, I built a SMART goal around vacuuming my house 3 times every week, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays (who knew German Shepherds could shed so much?). Get motivated! There’s still time to salvage those resolutions!

Doran, G. T. (1981). “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives”. Management Review (AMA FORUM) 70 (11): 35–36

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