SMART Goals: 5 Steps To Setting Goals You Can Achieve

A new year brings new possibilities, promises and resolutions. Every year I review what I want to achieve, professionally and personally, and set a series of SMART goals for the year ahead. I like to publish my goals publicly, on my Facebook page, as it keeps me accountable and motivated. If you’re running a small press, writing a novel, hosting a podcast, running a business or carrying out any kind of work you can benefit from goals. Not only can you benefit, but if you want to maximise productivity and potential you need to set goals. Without goals you’re just moving from place-to-place aimlessly, making it up as you go along. A trial-and-error approach will only get you so far – usually somewhere you’d rather not be. But setting goals isn’t enough. Too often goals are vague, generalised and poorly thought out. ‘I want to grow my business’, ‘I want to sell more books’ and ‘I want to win an internationally recognised award’ are all examples of poor goals. The good news is there’s an easy formula for writing better goals, dare I say there’s a smart way. S.M.A.R.T. goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.

You might just find that in not quite meeting an ambitious goal you achieve far more than if you had simply met a conservative goal.

Specific Goals

You need to ask six questions: what, why, who, where, when and how.

‘What’ is concerned with what it is you want to achieve. Perhaps you want to write more fiction, increase your book sales or attract more reviews from Amazon customers. It could be you want to spend more time writing articles for your blog or interacting with readers on social media. Whatever it is, write it down and try to be as specific as possible.

‘Why’ delves into the specific purpose. What intrinsic and extrinsic motivators do you have? What are the benefits and advantages in achieving your goal? Let’s say you want to spend more time writing articles for your blog. This could bring with it a number of benefits: a more personal connection with the reader, increased frequency of blog posts leading to increased blog traffic leading to increased reader engagement, and as a nice little bonus, increased advertising revenue.

‘Who’ identifies the people involved. If you’re hoping to write more, perhaps you’re the only person participating but do consider all those affected and indeed those who can support you. Perhaps as part of your writing goal you’re going to get up at 6am and write uninterrupted for an hour every day. Can you get your partner to support you in this goal? If you have kids or a pet will your partner help minimise the likelihood of interruptions or are other measures in place? Even if the goal is strictly solo in nature you can build up a support network to cheer you on. Who’s in the support network? If you’re hoping to interview more people for your podcast, who will you interview? Make a list. This will serve two purposes, to focus your mind and make things easier when you put the goal into action further down the line.

‘Where’ establishes location. When building a new habit it can be useful to do things in the same setting. If you’re writing, this could be at a specific desk, in a certain room, or even at a café. Decide where you’re going to be and do everything in your power to make things easy. Imagine your goal is to go to the gym three mornings per week. Set things up the night before. Put your gym bag by the front door so you can wake up and get going.

‘When’ refers to the times and days you’ll carry out the goal. You may not have an exact answer, but it helps to consider your options.

‘How’ states your equipment and process. This may be as simple as a pen and paper or your laptop. If you’re creating a podcast you may find it useful to detail the software and accessories you’ll use.

A further question sometimes considered is ‘which’. This refers to which constraints and requirements you may have. If you can identify constraints and obstacles, or set requirements, it will be easier to meet your goals. What can you put in place to minimise failure?

Measurable Goals

It’s all well and good setting a target such as ‘write more fiction’ but if more isn’t quantified and measured it will be very difficult, perhaps even impossible, to ascertain whether you’ve met your goal. So ‘write 2,000 words’ or ‘write 20 short stories’ is better. There is little room for ambiguity or misinterpretation with such precision. Amongst my goals for this year is for the This Is Horror Podcast to reach 10,000 downloads per month. Easy to quantify and thus easy to measure whether the goal has been achieved.

Attainable Goals

Is the goal achievable? Make sure there are steps in place, settings and conditions that give you a fair chance of achieving the goal. Just as you don’t want to set the goal so catastrophically high it seems unattainable, you don’t want to make the goal too easy or set the benchmark low. You want to challenge yourself but to also be equipped with the tools and strategies to meet the goal. Take the time to consider the goal within the context of your life. Consider the money, time and expertise you currently have and whether or not you’ll need to make alterations to realistically achieve the goal. If you want to start a weekly podcast but are currently falling behind on your writing, struggling to meet deadlines at work, and the concept of ‘work-life balance’ is utterly alien, you may want to reassess your goal. Can you reduce your current workload and alleviate some of the stress? Would it be better to release a fortnightly or monthly podcast? Personally, I set ambitious goals but ensure I have a chance in meeting them, which is why one of my goals is to become fluent in reading hiragana and katakana this year and not to commit to memory all 50,000+ Kanji characters.   

Relevant Goals

Consider the goal within the context of your professional and personal life. Is it something that will further your development? Is it something that will make you happier and that you believe in? You need to reflect on how the goal fits into both your short and long term plans. Whether personal or professional I simply ask myself if the goal will drive me forward in terms of where and what I want to be in the future. If the answer is yes and it’s a goal I’m willing to commit to and make happen then it’s a valid goal. If the answer is no or it just isn’t something I can put everything into at this point in my life then it’s back to the drawing board.

Timely Goals

It’s important that there’s a timeframe. This will help establish a sense of urgency and ensure you focus on meeting your goal by the deadline set. Some goals will be year-long, but you might set others within a one-month, three-month or six-month period. It really is up to you. Do consider what is realistic and attainable.

Final Thoughts

SMART goals identify specifics – what you want to achieve, your motivations, who’s involved, the location, the process and potential obstacles. Your goals must be measurable and you have to believe there’s a chance you can achieve your goals. It’s important that goals are relevant to your ambitions and aspirations and you must set a timeframe for completing the goals.

Personally, I advocate setting ambitious goals where the chances of not quite meeting them are real. I do this because even a ‘failure’ in this context is an improvement. If I decide I want to triple the weight I can squat in a twelve-month timeframe but only manage to double it, is that really a failure? Similarly, if I’m writing three times a week for one-hour and want to write five times a week for two-hours, but only manage four times a week for 60–90 minutes, have I truly failed? Every advance, every small victory, brings you closer towards your goals. You might just find that in not quite meeting an ambitious goal you achieve far more than if you had simply met a conservative goal. But remember, you have to believe you might meet the goal – your mind-set goes a long way.

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.

–Samuel Beckett

What are your SMART goals and resolutions? 

Michael David Wilson

Column by Michael David Wilson

Michael David Wilson is the founder of the popular UK horror website, podcast, and publisher, This Is Horror. Michael is the author of the novella, The Girl in the Video, and the novel, They’re Watching, co-written with Bob Pastorella. His second novella, House of Bad Memories, lands in 2021 via Grindhouse Press. His work has appeared in various publications including The NoSleep PodcastDim ShoresDark Moon DigestLitReactorHawk & Cleaver’s The Other Stories, and Scream. You can connect with Michael on Twitter @WilsonTheWriter. For more information visit

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JudyThompson's picture
JudyThompson April 12, 2016 - 11:15pm

Michael, thank you for the article. I like SMART technique of setting goals because it helps me to devise a plan of my writing actions. For example, I want to find twenty new professional connections by the end of July. My next actions are to visit writing workshops of famous writers once a month and write guest posts for authoritative sites tree times a week. I think it's quite an achievable goal for me. And one thing that helps me most of all is that I wrote the goal and my action plan on paper and every morning I get up and see this plan in front of my table. It helps me to stay on track every day.

Michael David Wilson's picture
Michael David Wilson from United Kingdom May 2, 2016 - 3:03am

Sounds great, Judy. Another way to stay on track if you're visual is to consider a noticeboard with your goals in front of you. This can combine nicely with a vision board where you display longer term goals such as where you'd like to see yourself in one, five and even ten years. Personally, I like to section things off into daily goals, weekly goals, achievements and goals met, and long-term visions and goals. I suppose it depends on how big the board is as to how much you can fit on it!


Best of luck with everything.

Michael David Wilson


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