Say hello to the new Tempo! LiquidPlanner is now Portfolio Manager. Learn More
How to Set Smart and Achievable Goals | LiquidPlanner

The blog for passionate planners

Tips, stories, and insights to better manage work, improve productivity and enhance collaboration.

How to Set Smart and Achievable Goals

Does your company do goal-setting each year during your annual review? Many do. But if yours doesn’t, use the New Year as your motivator to do it now. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey’s first practice is be proactive.” Setting goals is proactive.


To start setting your 2014 objectives, think about what you’ve done in 2013 as the basis for how you intend to move forward next year. As Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest, “What’s past is prologue,” meaning that the past sets the context for the future.

Start by taking stock

In looking back at 2013, start with a few questions:

  • Did I enjoy my job this year?
  • What did I relish?
  • What did I dislike?
  • What types of work activities are rewarding?
  • What types of work suck energy?
  • Beyond job satisfaction, where did you succeed in the last year and where did you fall short?

Use your answers to guide you


If your answers tell you that you relish the key activities that make up your job, then you’re on the right career track, and you might want to build job goals and your career track. If you didn’t enjoy your job and feel like some key areas of your job are energy sucks, it’s time to reassess. See how setting goals in areas you find rewarding steer your work in a more beneficial direction.

Plug your goals into the SMART framework

The SMART framework has been widely used to help people formulate goals since George Doran presented it in a 1981 paper. Although the SMART framework was written for management, individual project managers and team members might also find it helpful.

Each SMART goal should be:

  • Specific – Target a specific area for improvement.
  • Measurable – Make progress quantifiable or at least identify markers of your progress.
  • Achievable – Make it attainable and assignable.
  • Relevant – Recognize what results would resonate with your situation, given available resources.
  • Time-bound Specify when results can be achieved.

Dive deeper with “Achievable”

Here’s a challenge that gets you to set layered goals, which in turn can challenge you to develop skills in new ways. In his article “Set Goals, Not Resolutions” business professor Robert M. Sheehan Jr. at the University of Maryland suggests setting the following levels of “A” goals:

  • Set 3 attainable goals – ones that you have an 80% or greater chance of accomplishing. This lets you build momentum with easy wins.
  • Set 3 aggressive goals – ones that you have a 35% chance of accomplishing, which will improve your performance. Research shows that the more difficult the goal, the higher the level of performance.
  • Set 3 almost impossible stretch goals – ones that you have a 1% chance of accomplishing. These goals will require you to design innovative ways of achieving your ambition because working harder with the same processes won’t make it. With these lofty goals, you have an opportunity for a breakthrough performance.

Obviously, a different “A” challenge affects your likely outcome. But your goals are designed to move you toward long-term success, so keep thinking of the big picture especially when you have what might be considered a mini-failure. They’re all important footsteps and experiences along the way.

the path to achieving your goals

Have a quarterly check-in

It’s important that you check your goal progress at least quarterly.  If you’re sticking with your current employer, share your goals with your boss as a draft for her input. Discuss your goals with your boss regularly— her advice, mentorship, and knowledge of your ambitions can help you attain your aspirations.

If you want to move up within your current company, consider finding a mentor who has already worked up the corporate ladder. This person can provide you with advice and help you set realistic career goals.

Here’s to a prosperous New Year and a successful, fulfilling career!

What is your most successful goal to date—and why? Tell us!


Get a live walkthrough with a Product Advisor


Experience all the features for 14 days

More Articles