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What are SMART Objectives – and how do you set them?

SMART objectives are those which use a well-known acronym to help us succeed in achieving goals.

There’s quite a wide range of variations in the way SMART is defined, and here we outline one of the most popular. However, it’s not to be confused with our own take on SMART goals. In our article: Smart Goals – being both SMART and SHARP, we argue the importance of emphasising action in any goal setting activity

This is one of our Manage in a Minute pages. These contain essential tips on fundamental management topics. No fuss or side-tracks, they get straight to the point. Here, in a series of bullet points which can be read in a minute (ish!), is our discussion of SMART objectives.

What are SMART Objectives?

Too often we don’t spend enough time clarifying what we’re really aiming to do before we move to action. It’s all too easy to set objectives that are so general that we don’t know exactly what we’re trying to achieve, or whether we’ve achieved it.

SMART objectives

A structured approach forces us to think more deeply and methodically about what we actually want. Perhaps the best known of these approaches is the SMART acronym. This is a practical, straightforward tool, which can be used for both professional and personal planning.

Help ensure that your objectives are more than just wishes by making sure they are SMART. That’s to say any objectives you set should be: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bounded. What exactly do we mean by this? Try looking at any objective you have set, or are thinking about setting. Ask yourself: “is this objective…”

  • Specific – is it clear what the objective is? Is it clear exactly what we mean?
  • Measurable – how will we know if we have achieved the objective? How will we measure our success?
  • Attainable – is it possible to achieve this objective? What do we need in place to make it attainable?
  • Relevant – is this objective one that we consider appropriate. Does it deliver wider priorities? Is it worth doing?
  • Time-bounded – by when are we going to achieve this? Setting a timescale provides focus and urgency, clarifying when you intend to achieve the objective. The objective has a deadline and is therefore more than just a wish!

How do you set SMART Objectives?

The first step is to use the specific, measurable and time-bounded criteria to write your objective, and then think through whether the objective is attainable and relevant by asking the questions suggested above.

In doing so, try to use SMART language. SMART objectives are more than just wishes so try to ensure that you base them on verbs, especially those with a strong call to action. If your objective is to improve something, then start with that. Here are some words which might help you define your objectives with a focus on action: reduce, improve, increase, eliminate, produce, install, write, develop, complete. For example:

  • Reduce the waiting time at a clinic by 10%, within 2 months;
  • Increase the profitability of the business by 5%, by the end of the year;
  • Increase the number of improvement ideas implemented by (name of team or area), by 20% in the next three months;
  • Shorten the time to market for new products/services, by 20% by the end of the year;

Remember that objectives are a call to action. They should result in a plan which details what you are going to do, and how you are going to specifically achieve your objective.

Set SMART objectives and more!

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If you want to improve your chances of achieving your objectives, think about our take on SMART goals.

Read our article: Smart Goals: Being Both SMART and SHARP to help you put the action in any goal setting activity

Or look at other detailed discussions in some of our related articles on Goal Setting.

Still pressed for time? Follow this link for the full list of Manage in a Minute pages.

But before you do, take a look at our Goal Setting Bundle – 6 e-guides, 157 pages, and 32 tools (all for half price!).

A great-value resource designed to help you set and achieve SMART objectives – and a lot more….

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:

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  • 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 objectives?
  • 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 objectives 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”.


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