Good intentions alone won’t help you achieve your long-term objectives - or even get you through your daily to-do list. 

“Find a better office for our growing team” is a fine intention. In practice, its broadness and lack of specificity make it hard to execute.

Instead, break down an objective into manageable parts. Make it SMART. 

Unlike the statement above, “find 3 potential offices for team by end of month” is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. 

A SMART version of this project may break down into the following to-do list:

  1. Monday: research neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn online; narrow down to two. Create Streeteasy alert.
  2. Tuesday: brief team on findings in morning meeting. Email brokers of promising locations
  3. Wednesday: schedule appointments to visit offices that are near 2/3/4/5 trains that can accommodate 15 people starting next month.

By making your project or objective SMART, your intention instantly becomes more attainable. I.e., the cognitive leap to “creating a Streeteasy alert” is much smaller than that to “find a better office.”

What is SMART?

  • Specific: make your goal clear and specific. What do you want to achieve? Who will it involve? (Specific is sometimes substituted for simple or sensible.)
  • Measurable: as far as is possible, put a number beside your goal. This will help you track progress and remain motivated. Want to sell more product? Decide how much and/or how many sales emails you want to send. 
  • Attainable: If your goal isn’t achievable, you stand zero chance of succeeding. By ensuring it’s attainable, you may also discover previously overlooked resources or opportunities that can help you out.
  • Relevant: if your goal is irrelevant to your broader mission or doesn’t matter to you, you’re unlikely to reach it. Ask yourself if it’s worthwhile and if you’re the right person to work on it. (Sometimes: reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based.)
  • Time bound: give yourself a time-frame or deadline to work towards. This is how you’ll prevent everyday tasks from pushing your long-term goals further out.  (sometimes: time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).

When Should I Use "SMART"?

SMART has a lot of applications. For example:

  • When setting strategy or planning projects;
  • In performance reviews (“What would you like to achieve by next quarter? How are you going to get there?”);
  • In your weekly or daily to-do lists;
  • In team meetings (“What are we trying to do? Who will be involved? When will be check-in about it? Etc.”)
  • In any context where goals are failing to be met or keep getting pushed back.

Done right, a SMART approach can make the difference between a goal that repeatedly gets pushed over to the next week, month, or quarter, and a goal that's actually achieved.