How to set SMART goals to do better at work (with examples)

How to set SMART goals to do better at work (with examples)
JobStreet content teamupdated on 20 July, 2023

You’ve probably heard that to thrive in life, you need to work smarter, not harder. According to JobStreet’s Decoding Global Talent report, unlike older generations who were willing to work long hours to reach their ambitions, Millennials and Gen Z don’t measure their competency based on the hours they clock in. They’re time- and energy-efficient, and equipped with an arsenal of productivity tools. Inspired? The secret to this smart working scheme may be literal: SMART goals.

What are SMART goals?

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound – five factors that affect how you complete your work objectives. Simply put, the acronym helps you map out your goal in a precise and practical way. It allows you and your team to keep moving forward, avoid miscommunication, promote accountability and transparency, and stay motivated, especially since everyone can see the progress.

As a goal-setting tool, it gives you a higher chance of accomplishing your aims well and on time.

George Doran introduced the concept in the 1981 article “ There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management goals and objectives ” inManagement Review. His goal was to simplify project management concepts via a mnemonic. He suggested creating an acronym to help corporate officers, managers, and supervisors write aligned and meaningful objectives: SMART.

But while SMART goals outline specific steps, Doran encourages flexibility in its interpretation. Over the years, various productivity experts have adapted the acronym. Doran himself explained that every goal should not have to include all five. For example, not all goals, such as wanting to be more social at work, are quantitative. However, the more factors you use, the clearer your goals become.

Importance of setting SMART goals

Any person or organisation can be ambitious, but setting achievable aspirations is a different ball game. Imagine running a marathon. When you think about the 42 kilometres, you may feel intimidated. But breaking it down into 6-kilometre intervals makes it less daunting.

When you or your team see goals set in a realistic and attainable manner, you feel much more motivated to perform them. And this is why SMART goals are more effective than vague resolutions.

Here are characteristics that make the SMART system a great tool to use ASAP:

  • easy to learn and implement
  • sets a clear beginning and end
  • aligns the clear intentions of the goal with the explicit requirements for the team
  • establishes priorities
  • lists point-by-point benchmarks to accomplish
  • provides a realistic roadmap towards achieving goals
  • fosters transparency, accountability, and teamwork
  • shows team members the value of their contributions – and their role in the bigger picture
  • provides a base for creating strategies
  • indicates progress, blockers, and opportunities, allowing the team to pivot accordingly

Benefits of setting SMART goals

There’s a benefit to sharing your goals – more so when you write them down. In 2015, a study on strategies by Dominican University Psychology professor Gail Mathews reported the following insights:

  • 76% of those who wrote down their objective, created a timeline, updated a friend weekly, and noted observations and challenges achieved their goals.
  • 67% of those who wrote down their objective and updated a friend weekly on their progress achieved their goals.
  • 43% of those whothoughtabout their objectives achieved their goals.

Think of SMART as a more intensive way of setting goals. For results-oriented Singaporeans, this process is useful for crafting long-term goals you can follow through on.

Former Education Minister Ong Ye Kung once said that one of Singaporean culture’s greatest assets is the ability to set long-term goals and achieve them. Seeing your goals organised with the SMART method helps clarify instructions, puts everyone on the same page, and holds everyone accountable for their responsibilities. Explicit directions and concrete objectives help guide employees to reach the desired outcomes.

Increased productivity

Psychologists Gary Latham and Edwin Locke, pioneers in goal-setting theories, reported that straightforward objectives increase productivity by 11 to 25%. Because the goals are so detailed, you waste no time wondering what to do and how to go about it. The SMART criteria also make you agile, since you see the developments (or lack thereof) and make adjustments to help maintain your benchmarks

Improved focus and motivation

Have you ever started a new year telling yourself you’re going from a sedentary lifestyle to exercising daily? According to a Forbes article on New Year's resolutions, over 80% of people throw out these resolutions by mid-January. When you have high expectations, you’re less likely to deliver on them when reality hits.

The beauty of SMART goals’ design lies in its simplicity and practicality. It breaks down larger ambitions into manageable tasks – there is no overarching goal that you and the team couldn't do. You won’t be given a target of 1,000% when your tools and resources only allow for 500%. The five criteria are particularly motivating because you not only see the finish line, but also the path to it.

SMART goals’ clear steps and even clearer destinations keep you on course.

Enhanced decision-making abilities

SMART goals provide a road map that lets you visualise every bit of progress as well as potential challenges. This helps you make better decisions on the development of your goals. Is there a blocker? What pivots do you have to make? Seeing everyone’s skill sets and responsibilities, who’s the best person to perform these tasks?

Besides that, a study published in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine reports that those who engaged in SMART goal-setting also initiated self-learning from the challenges and opportunities brought up by the experience.

Better time management

The SMART criteria allow you more control over time. Project leaders are able to draft goals and schedule milestones based on the team’s capability. As a team member, you get full visibility of your scope, allowing you to plan your internal deadlines properly. Knowing how your work connects to others also helps you become more accountable to stay within your timeline.

Higher success rate

SMART goals aren’t a magic formula that guarantees you’ll nail your objectives. However, these guidelines remove ambiguity, over-ambition, guesswork, and aimlessness – typical issues that block success. SMART goals improve teamwork, and give teams a better sense of responsibility and stronger motivation – factors that lead to success.

How to set SMART goals

Infographic on Smart Goals

Are you ready to set your SMART goals? Remember the mnemonic:

  • S: Specific
  • M: Measurable
  • A: Achievable
  • R: Relevant
  • T: Time-bound

In recent years, project managers have created SMARTER (which adds Evaluation and Review/Reward). S has come to include Stretching, Simple, and Sensible; M has become Motivation; A has become Aligned; R has become Resourced and Results-based; and T has become Testable.

To understand how to set SMART goals, consider this example:

Andre wants to make his website more popular.


Lianne Dehaye, META’s Business Planning and Operations Lead, has said, “People dream of their goals, but they don’t achieve [them]. They know the what but not the how.” The specificity of your goal should answer the how, who, what, and even where. It drives the goal’s direction because you know who to work with, what to work on, and what to aim for.

Here are questions you should ask when specifying goals:

  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • Who should accomplish it?
  • What resources do you need to achieve it?
  • What is the point of this goal?
  • How should you execute this goal?

In the example, Andre’s goal to make his website more popular is vague. What channel does he use? What does he have to do to become popular? Should he hire a social media manager?


Most business goals are quantifiable. You can’t outline a strategy if you don’t know what you’re striving for. You want to be better at work. You want to be successful. You want to be financially secure. These aims are reasonable, but ambiguous. A measurable goal has a definite finish line in full view, which can also be motivating.

Questions to ask when creating measurable goals:

  • How do you know if you’ve achieved the goal?
  • What is your progress indicator?

In the case of Andre, at what point does he consider his website popular? How many followers does he want on Twitter? How many views on TikTok? Are 50,000 monthly page views enough?


You need to give your goal a reality check. Unrealistic goals can create tension and frustration. They can also set you up for disappointment.

Questions to ask when creating achievable goals:

  • Do you have enough resources?
  • What is your or your team’s skill set?
  • What is your budget?
  • Is the deadline too tight?

For Andre, planning to expand his online presence by promising to produce 10 pieces of content himself daily for one year is hardly doable.


Relevance ties in closely with achievability. The goal has to make sense in terms of the organisation’s overall business direction and your team’s capabilities. Essentially, this criterion reminds you why you have this goal in the first place.

Questions to ask when creating relevant goals:

  • What’s the point?
  • How does this fit with your or the team’s scope and/or skill set?
  • How does this help you or your team?
  • How does this fit in the big picture?

For example, Andre decides to invest in Facebook campaigns. However, no one from his team is well-versed in social media marketing tools.


A deadline helps everyone stay focused, proactive, and responsible. Schedules also save you from wasting time or procrastinating, create a sense of urgency, and update you on your progress.

Questions to ask when creating time-bound goals:

  • What milestones are required for this goal?
  • How long should each stage of the process be?
  • How long should this project take?
  • How realistic is this timeline?

How long does Andre have to meet his targets? Should he have 50,000 followers in two months? Should he have launched a website by March, boosted content monthly starting in April, and introduced videos by December?

Here’s how Andre can turn his goal into a SMART one:

  • Specific: Andre wants to boost his brand’s online profile by targeting Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. He needs to increase content output by 200% on his website and invest [insert X amount] budget in social media marketing.
  • Measurable: Andre must increase his website’s views by 300%.
  • Achievable: In the previous year, Andre and his team of three increased engagement by 100% after increasing their efforts 1.5 times. This year, they can double their daily output and boost 10 pieces of content monthly.
  • Relevant: The team will study high-performing articles to detect patterns they could use when planning content.
  • Time-bound: Andre needs to reach his goal in 12 months.

Common mistakes to avoid when setting SMART goals

Again, remember that the SMART method isn’t a promise that you’ll achieve your goal. Stick to the tenets of the criteria to give yourself a fighting chance.

Setting vague or ambiguous goals

According to SEEK research, 42% of people find goals overwhelming. Ambiguous goals can either seem too unrealistic, too confusing, too broad, or too “what’s the point?” In the end, you may feel unenthusiastic, tired, or too disorganised to accomplish anything.

Failing to set measurable targets

You could be running and running without realising that you’ve already crossed the finish line – or are still kilometres away from it. You’ll burn out and lose focus at some point. Setting checkpoints is a good practice to make the goal feel less overwhelming.

Overestimating or underestimating your abilities

SMART goals do not mean easy goals. An easy goal can be boring, while an overly difficult one could make you give up. Ideally, every goal should still be a teaching moment that helps you improve. This means your goal must be somewhere between being sensible and being challenging.

Not considering external factors

While SMART goals give you a bird's-eye view of your objectives, you can’t control everything. A colleague might get sick. The client might move up the deadline. You have to make allowances for incidentals.

Not revisiting and adjusting goals as needed

SMART goals require agility. Since you can check where you are against your benchmarks, you can modify your strategy to consider overshoots or lapses. Failing to account for these changes in real-time could set you off course.

How to stay accountable for your SMART goals

Identify your motivation

Never lose sight of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Remembering the value – or the relevance – of your goal will help you stay motivated and accountable.

Share your goals with others

Dehaye and Lambart both support the idea of telling someone about your goals. Dehaye describes it as “manifesting,” adding, “Keep your eyes on your goal. Manifest it. Say it out loud and get it done.” Likewise, Lambart says an “accountability buddy” could help you keep your eyes on the ball.

Track your progress

Have you made any headway towards your goal? Seeing that you’re on track can be exceptionally motivating. It reminds you that you’re going somewhere and you’re getting nearer.

Celebrate your successes

Did you know that high achievers at work take their time to celebrate their wins, big or small? It encourages them to keep going, gives them a much-needed break, and makes work seem like less of a chore.

Learn from your failures

You’re going to encounter bumps on the road to your goal. Pause and reassess. What could you have done differently? How do you pivot to set you back on track? Failing is part of any process, but you shouldn’t give up because of it. Celebrity Sharon Au advises, “Never be afraid of failing because I have come to see that I learned more from my failures than my wins.”


When setting goals, remember to work smarter, not harder.

The SMART framework helps you refine your objectives. When they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound, you have a clear and focused way forward. While the system is not foolproof, it certainly gives you the best odds of success. It identifies concrete targets and steps, eliminates confusion and guesswork, and encourages teamwork and accountability.

Whether you want to learn a new skill by mid-year or grow your business by 50% in three years, give the SMART principles a try and see how well they can improve your efficiency.

For more productivity tips like these, visit JobStreet’s Career Advice page. Get ready to thrive in your work life in the best way possible.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

  1. What are SMART goals?
    SMART goals are a productivity technique that helps refine your objectives. In theory, when you design your aims to follow the framework’s principles (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound), you have a higher chance of accomplishing them.
    ⁠You can think of the SMART framework as a more intensive way of setting your goals and developing a plan to achieve them.
  2. Why is it important to set SMART goals?
    SMART goals are important because they give you a sense of direction. The framework's specificity and measurability provide concrete aims. Its attainability and time limitations motivate and encourage accountability. It also promotes collaboration and decision-making.
    ⁠In a nutshell, SMART goals give you the tools to achieve your goal.
  3. What is the difference between a regular goal and a SMART goal?
    A goal could be a wish or wishful thinking. You can say what you want without necessarily planning to achieve it – or knowing if you can achieve it at all.
    ⁠A SMART goal is a more specific objective with a way forward. It gives you targets to aim for, reminds you why you aim for them, and tells you when you should aim for them. Its design “forces” you to make your goal more attainable.
  4. How do I know if my goals are SMART?
    ⁠Your goals are SMART if they follow the acronym. Ask yourself if your goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
    ⁠Review your goal. How can you tell when you've succeeded? Ideally, your success should be quantifiable. Is this something you can do? How practical is it? Do you have the skills for it? Does it have a deadline?
  5. What are some common mistakes to avoid when setting SMART goals?
    ⁠Firstly, you shouldn’t believe SMART goals are the key to success. The success rate largely relies on how well you follow the framework and how well you follow through. Some of the common mistakes in setting SMART goals include:
    • ⁠assigning too many goals

    • setting vague goals or overly specific goals

    • failing to track progress regularly

    • failing to act on deviations from the overall plan

    • overestimating or underestimating your abilities

    • neglecting to give yourself success metrics

    • creating goals that are too easy or too difficult

    ⁠Note that not all goals fall under the SMART framework. For example, not all goals are measurable or time-bound. Wanting to improve your mental health, for instance, is subjective and shouldn’t be constrained by deadlines.
  6. How do I stay accountable for my SMART goals?
    ⁠One way to stay accountable for your SMART goal is to remember the point of it all in the first place. The “why” can be a powerful motivation. Writing down your SMART goal makes you more committed and allows for better review and reevaluation.
    ⁠Tracking your progress, telling a friend, and adjusting your strategy as you go along are also terrific ways to maintain your goal.

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