S.M.A.R.T. Goal Setting

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Shorter Version

Est. Reading Time: 1 Minute

So now you’re in your 20’s and it’s time to finally start taking control of your life and living it the way you want to. While this can be exciting and exhilarating to finally break free of family constraints, it can also be intimidating and overwhelming. There are the pressures of completing school, finding a ‘real job,’ managing your finances, and maybe moving into your first apartment. You’re suddenly faced with all of the pressures of being an adult and you’re supposed to be building your career.

Where do you begin?

S.M.A.R.T. goal setting is a widely used and a highly effective tool for setting and achieving goals.

It can help you to clarify your ideas, then focus your efforts, to use your time as productively as possible. S.M.A.R.T. goals also keep you on track and regularly accountable. All of these factors increase your chances of accomplishing what you set out to do and creating a life and career of your dreams.

What is a S.M.A.R.T. goal?

S.M.A.R.T.  is an acronym that can be used as a guide for setting your goals. I’ve included a few words for each letter, so pick the ones that you can relate to the most. To make sure your goals are clear and achievable, each one should be…

Specific – significant, simple, sensible

Measurable – motivating, meaningful, manageable

Achievable – attainable, accessible

Relevant – realistic, reasonable, results-based, and resourced

Timely – time-based, time-bound, time-sensitive

Skip to Actionable Steps

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Longer Version

Est. Reading Time: 3 Minutes

Before we get into how to use S.M.A.R.T. goals, let’s talk a little bit about the “why.” I mean, you already have enough on your plate, and it feels like you’re juggling a million things at once, who has the time to sit down and set goals? You already know what you want, why not just keep working harder?

The truth is, life is busier than ever. Most people have a tough time relaxing, to-do lists loom large, and sleeping through the night isn’t a given. 

Create your life

When you get into this kind of pattern and mental state, stress levels run high and critical thinking isn’t at its best. In fact, a study by the American Psychological Association found that millennials, ages 18 to 33, report some of the highest stress levels. It’s not the best place from which to make decisions, so taking a few moments of calm to sit down and create your goals is, in fact, creating your life. This gives you a roadmap to fall back on when you feel like you don’t know what to do, or are overwhelmed. Because you already took the time to plan the next steps when you were in a more relaxed state of mind. (And don’t you feel like more of an adult already?!)

This single action can lead to more confident decision making, help you believe in yourself, break that mountain down into easy to hikes, and be honest about what it is that you really want.

This is on top of the cool accountability and motivation stuff that I already mentioned.

How to set S.M.A.R.T. goals

Now you know the what and the why, and you are super stoked to take control of your future and make a plan. Here are the 5 essential steps to setting a S.M.A.R.T. goal:

1. Be specific, significant, simple, sensible

The first thing you need to do is to get really clear and specific if you want to stay focused and motivated to move forward. Let’s say the goal is to have no debt; ask yourself the 4 “W” questions:

  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • Why is this important to me?
  • Who else is involved? (if anyone)
  • What are the limits or resources?

Example: “I want to have zero debt so that I can travel and enjoy life more. I’ll have to get my partner on board with a budget or spending plan. I don’t know how to do this, but my friend x is always listing to podcasts on budgeting so I’ll hit them up for some tips on the good ones.”

2. Make it measurable, motivating, meaningful, manageable

We’ve already covered motivating and meaningful above, but measurable and manageable are crucial. One of my favorite quotes is: “What get’s measured gets managed.” If we stick with the same example from above….

Example: “No more ordering in food 5 nights a week! I’ll keep that as a weekend treat and put the extra $XX toward my loan payments. My target is to pay off $XX every week.”

3. Keep it achievable, attainable, accessible

This step is super important; you want to set the bar high enough that it motivates you, but keep it in the realm of something you can actually accomplish. If you are using the zero debt goal, pick numbers that will stretch you, but are not impossible or feel punishing. You want to actually be able to follow through on a week to week basis to keep your confidence and motivation up.

4. Be certain it’s relevant, realistic, reasonable, results-based and resourced

This step is about checking in to make sure that this is the best thing to do at this time, that it’s really important to you, and that it lines up with your overall life vision.

If your vision is to travel more and have an easier life, then yes, finances play into that. But if the goal is to be debt-free and you don’t have a full-time job, maybe the immediate next step is just to maintain current monthly minimums and nail that job down. The job becomes the immediate S.M.A.R.T. goal that is more relevant and reasonable.

5. Keep track of the time…time-based, time-bound, time-sensitive

Every goal needs a series of milestones or target dates. This keeps you on track so you have something to focus on and work towards on a regular basis. This step of the S.M.A.R.T. goal process helps to ensure that everyday life doesn’t take over with immediate whims, sidetracking your bigger goals and life vision.

Actionable Steps



This is always were you start. The first step is to firmly decide to create your life the way you want it and commit to doing what it takes to make that a reality.


Know your “why”

Before you make any change in life, there has to be a strong ‘Why?’ to keep you motivated and moving forward. Get clear on why this is important to you. How will your life be different?


Write it down

This can be the trickiest one, but there is huge value in writing things down. Give yourself the time, not as a task or a punishment, but as a gift. Get comfortable, grab your favorite warm beverage and take the time to plan your life and your S.M.A.R.T. goal.


Baby steps

Life changes don’t happen over night, and every goal usually has a series of steps. Break it down into the smallest next steps possible and take one at a time.


Schedule it

Whatever your goal is, get it on the calendar. If it’s fitness, when will you work out? Finances – what days will you take care of transactions and manage your accounts?



If you are taking the time to set a S.M.A.R.T. goal, you are doing it for a reason, but no goal is set in stone. If at some point it feels really out of line with what you want, change what you need to and keep going!

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About the Author

Hunter Phoenix

Hunter Phoenix

Certified Professional Life Coach

Hunter has an M.A. in Psychology and is a Certified Professional Life Coach. For more than 10 years, she coached clients to find and follow their passion and live their best lives. Hunter has also done youth coaching work with Covenant House, realizing that this is such a challenging and important time in life.
Full Bio | LinkedIn

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