Setting Smart Goals: Getting Things Done

By Carlos Portocarrero

This site has been retired :(
For fresh, practical career advice, please visit

Smart Car

Setting a goal is easy—everyone does it. Just look at how packed gyms are in January: all those people have set a goal to stop being so fat and lazy in the new year.

Too bad most of them fail.

Setting SMART goals, however, is the difference between getting things done and failing.

SMART is an acronym (oooh, fancy!) used in project management to ensure the right goals are being set to increase the odds of success.

Setting SMART goals can help anyone that wants to get something done—whether it’s saving X amount of money a month, losing weight, or learning to play a musical instrument. But it’s especially helpful when you’re setting money-related goals.

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time bound.

Let’s break down each element of SMART goal setting and why it’s so helpful:



It’s important to make goals as specific as possible for, clarity’s sake. Confusion is your enemy—getting something done is hard if it’s not crystal clear.

In project management, the hope is that anyone can read the goal and immediately understand it. It’s the difference between a good joke and a bad one—if people don’t laugh right away then the joke isn’t good enough.

Crappy Goal:

Get rich.


Increase my alternative income by 10% in 2011.



There’s a reason telethons and fundraisers use those huge, thermometer-like graphics to show their progress. How will you know when you’ve accomplished your goal if you can’t measure it?

Making sure that your goals are measurable will make it easy to see how far you are from finishing and to keep yourself motivated by the progress you’re making.

Bad Example:

Be less fat.

Good Example:

Lose 15 pounds in five months.



You’re setting yourself up for failure if you set a goal that’s impossible to meet. Aiming high is all well and good, but often times people do that to make themselves feel ambitious.

If your goal is to get things done, make sure your goal is actually doable. Otherwise you will disappoint yourself and waste time.

Bad Example:

Become a millionaire.

Good Example:

Increase my income by 15% every year.


Relevant means you pick goals that make sense for you and your life. If you’re a 45-year-old guy then becoming a Major League Baseball player isn’t a very relevant goal.

Stay focused on the things that matter in the long run for your life, your situation, and any bigger-picture goals you might have.

Bad Example:

Be richer than Bill Gates.

Good Example:

Increase my net worth by 20% every year.

Time Bound


Remember those lofty goals you set five years ago? You haven’t technically failed yet because you probably never set a time limit to them. That’s why deadlines are so important.

Setting deadlines and dates is crucial. Pick a sweet spot: don’t leave it open ended but make sure you set a realistic amount of time to get the goal accomplished.

Bad Example:

Invest more in stocks.

Good Example:

Increase my investment in stocks by $3,000 by the end of 2011.

Slow Down

Next time you feel like setting a goal, take some time to really think about it and how it stands up to this SMART system. It may sound technical or corporate or whatever, but there’s a reason why so many people use it—it works.

What are your SMART goals for the new year?

This post was included in the Carnival of Wealth, the Best of Money Carnival (Japan version) and the Totally Money Carnival

Images by Adam_T4, kelvin_luffs, windy_, aussigall, graymalkn, mistycabal

7 Responses to “Setting Smart Goals: Getting Things Done”

Leave a Reply