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Being Both SMART and SHARP!

Just how smart are smart goals? Well it really depends on what acronym you use for SMART. Here we discuss the well-known acronym to help bring a structure to setting goals, and suggest another acronym to help ensure we focus on achieving our goals by being SHARP.

One of the best known version of SMART is:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant and
  • Time bounded

Challenging and SMART Goals

Whilst this is most definitely helpful and good practical management advice, it isn’t particularly motivational, and it doesn’t prompt us to go for something really challenging. In fact, if you compare this version of SMART with some of the research about goals, particularly the insight of Edwin Locke, who argued that goals should be challenging and they should be specific, then the acronym doesn’t really work.

Whilst that definition of SMART goals might address the ‘specific’ aspect of Locke’s ideas, there is something missing. Crucially, it doesn’t address the need to be challenging.

To be motivated to achieve we need goals that stretch us and we are far more likely to commit to specific goals than to general goals. In our article goal setting definition, we highlight the factors which can help ensure that goals are successfully achieved, these elements should be built into a support tools for goals. So we think goals should be set using a particular version of SMART, a version which encourages us to be ambitious and to choose goals that we consider meaningful and worthwhile.

In addition to SMART being a structure to ensure that you set appropriate goals that you are more likely to be motivated to achieve, goals also need to be SHARP, an acronym we suggest to focus on what it takes to achieve the goals.

SMART goals

Firstly let’s look at what might perhaps be a more challenging version of SMART. Here’s what we suggest SMART should stand for:

  • Specific – provides clarity (as with the best known version of SMART)
  • Meaningful – encourages our commitment and belief that we can achieve it
  • Ambitious -it is a challenging goal that stretches us (but not too stretching that it becomes beyond our ability to achieve as the next point suggests)
  • Resourced – we are able to do it, and the situation around us is supportive to make it possible.
  • Time bound – bringing clarity and focus.

Setting goals that we are more likely to be motivated to achieve is a good start, but focus is needed to achieve goals, we need to be both SMART and SHARP.

Setting SHARP as Well as SMART Goals

Simplified – complex goals are difficult to understand and to achieve, too many goals will also mean we will lose focus. SHARP goals ensure that a focus on realising the goals is maintained and provides a helpful structure to implement your goals. It is all too easy to lose sight of well intentioned goals in the busyness of competing demands in business and life.

If there is not a focus on implementation, of making it happen, then regardless of how well a goal has been designed and crafted, it will remain only a good intention.

Goals need to be not only SMART, they need to be SHARP as well!

Here is what we suggest to ensure that there is a focus on achieving goals:

  • Simplifiedkeep your goals as simple as possible.
  • How – knowing how we are going to do something, helps us to know it is possible, and that we are able to make it happen
  • Action – the crucial part of achieving any goal is to start to take action, to do things that take you closer to you goal
  • Review – crucial to maintaining motivation is to review regularly how you are doing in achieving your goal, and recognise and reward progress
  • Progress – plan next steps based on review, to continue to move towards your goal. Be willing to alter plans based on feedback to bring you closer to achieving your goals

Another way to think about smart goals might be to suggest that a smart goal would be one that made us happier. In our article why is goal setting important we explore just that question: “what kind of goals will make us happier?”

If you want to read more about why is goal setting important, see our range of goal setting information articles or read our goal setting quotes for more quotes about goal setting.


Setting SMART goals and taking SHARP action!

You can also find our more about the benefits of goal setting in our e-guide: SMART Goals, SHARP Goals to help you do just this. The guide contains 30 pages and 5 tools to help you to set SMART goals, then take SHARP action to achieve them. It includes:

  • How do you define goal setting?
  • What features of goal setting are important, if we want to ensure they are more likely to be successfully achieved?
  • What kinds of goals are more likely to make us motivated to achieve them?
  • How do you set SMART goals?
  • Why do goals matter?
  • What kind of goals should you pursue to be happier in what you do?
  • How do you set team goals?
  • What strategies can you apply to overcome barriers to setting goals?
  • How do you develop SHARP plans of action that help you to achieve your goals?
  • What techniques can you use to get things done?
  • How do you set personal goals?


  • Tool 1: Conventional goal setting
  • Tool 2: Setting SMART goals that motivate
  • Tool 3: The kind of goals that will make you happier
  • Tool 4: Taking SHARP action
  • Tool 5: Team goals flowchart
  • Tool 6: Eight personal goal setting questions

Goal Setting Resources

You can find more of our goal setting resources by reading our featured pages (below).

SMART goals

You’ll find our new e-guide: SMART Goals, SHARP Goals is a fantastic, goal setting resource. It’s packed with advice and tools – use it to help you set SMART goals then take SHARP actions to achieve them!

One of our affiliate partners also has an excellent, on-line, goal setting resource. GoalsOnTrack is a “personal success system that will help you really accomplish goals by getting the right things done”.


Where to go from here:


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