What Is a Goal?
A goal is generally defined as something that an individual or group is trying to achieve. People often set goals within a specific time frame so there is a deadline for completion. Both short- and long-term goals may need to be broken down into a set of tasks — doing so essentially turns one goal into several mini-goals. These tasks, or action steps designed to work toward a larger goal, are often referred to as objectives.
What Is an Objective?
Objectives are measurable and specific actions that can be taken to achieve an end result. They are often planned and carried out on a shorter-term basis and may be designed to help an individual, group, or organization reach a broader, long-term goal.
What Is the Difference between a Goal and an Objective?
The terms goal and objective are often used interchangeably and both refer to an aim or desired outcome that a person or group hopes to accomplish. However, goals often point to a larger purpose, a long-term vision, or a less tangible result, whereas objectives tend to be time-limited, measurable actions with tangible outcomes that help push progress toward broader goals.
What Are S.M.A.R.T. Goals?
The S.M.A.R.T. approach to handling goals came out of the corporate world in the early 1980s. It describes a method for setting and working toward goals, and the acronym stands for the following:
Specific: Clearly define goals as succinctly as possible.
Measurable: Identify metrics for measuring progress and success.
Achievable: Set realistic goals that can be completed within specific parameters.
Relevant: Ensure that goals are worth pursuing.
Time-Bound: Assign deadlines to goals and related action steps.
Using the S.M.A.R.T. framework for managing goals and objectives can help you examine the motivation behind pursuing a certain goal. It can also help you determine what resources will be required to reach that goal. The S.M.A.R.T. guidelines break down the goal planning process into clear steps so that vital questions can be answered efficiently. What exactly needs to be accomplished? How will you know when your goal has been reached? What is the timeline, and who is responsible for the different actions required to reach the goal?
S.M.A.R.T. goals may be especially useful when dealing with complex goals that need to be broken down into multiple, actionable steps that you delegate to various team members and track over time. This framework can also be combined with other strategic planning by analyzing strengths and weaknesses, identifying internal and external resources, and evaluating risk. Planning for potential problems and tracking metrics closely can help reduce risk, keep progress on track, and increase the chances of reaching a goal by the desired completion date.
Tips for Setting (and Reaching) Attainable Goals
Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you set goals and create plans for reaching them:
Start Small and Build on Success: Whether you’re aiming to retire by a certain age, lose 50 pounds, or grow business profits over a five-year period, create a plan that starts with steps you can take now. Add benchmarks down the road so you have clear short-term steps to reach your ultimate goal — doing so provides a manageable ladder for you to climb and gives you ongoing gratification as you reach each objective leading to the end goal.
Focus on the Most Important Goal: Dealing with the goals of a complex organization, long-term project, or even an individual life can feel overwhelming. In any situation, identify the most important goal — this will help you create an effective plan of action and prioritize other goals.
Consider Both Lead and Lag Measures: Measuring key indicators is vital to tracking the progress and effectiveness of business endeavors. Leading and lagging indicators are both important measures of success, but each provides different information. Simply put, lead measures are drivers that can help you achieve a goal, while lag measures are outcomes; the former is predictive, while the latter provides information about a completed process. Lagging indicators offer measurable results that can be used to analyze progress. However, when planning business goals, it is vital to consider the leading indicators that may improve those outcomes.
Keep Goals in a Visible Place: This is a simple tip that can go a long way toward maintaining focus and tracking progress. It could mean keeping files easily accessible, so updates are shared among stakeholders. Or, it could simply mean posting a printed sheet in your home office as a reminder of high-priority tasks that need to be completed or long-term goals that you are working toward.
Consider Accountability as a Form of Motivation: Goals for work projects may have accountability built in via deadlines and performance reviews. But, when undertaking personal goals, it may help to choose an accountability partner or let friends and family know what goal you are working toward.
Goal Templates for Business Use
Project Goals and Objectives Template
This S.M.A.R.T. goals template for Excel is designed for planning a project goal and one or more objectives. State your primary goal in two to three sentences to ensure that it is clearly defined. Then, follow the S.M.A.R.T. process to outline the actions, metrics, tools required, and other details. This worksheet provides an easy-to-use layout to further simplify the planning process.
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Business Goals Template
Use this business goals setting template to quickly identify top priorities, short- and long-term goals, and issues that need to be addressed. This template is available in Excel, Word, and PDF, and provides a quick overview that can then be expanded upon as you create action plans for different goals. Consider using this as a communication tool to include in presentations, team meetings, or monthly reports.
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Action Plan Template
Create a detailed action plan for one or more goals, including starting and due dates and who is responsible for each step. For each goal, provide a clear purpose statement, describe intended outcomes, and list required resources. This Excel template can be used as a planning or tracking tool for managing multiple goals.
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S.M.A.R.T. Goals Worksheet
This template walks you through the process of creating S.M.A.R.T. goals, which may be particularly useful when trying to achieve complex or challenging goals that require clarity and structure to ensure successful completion. Use this Word worksheet to evaluate and fine-tune a goal, including the specifics of what you want to accomplish and why, how you plan to measure progress, what is required to achieve the goal, and a realistic deadline.
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Employee Goals Template
Employees can use this work goals template to create a strategic plan for reaching specific objectives related to performance, productivity, training, or other metrics of success. An individual employee can use it as a professional development plan, and a department or team can utilize it to assign tasks to multiple people in order to reach a shared goal. The Word template includes sections for identifying potential problems and creating an evaluation plan.
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Yearly Sales Goals Template
Create monthly and yearly sales goals for multiple products. This template compares amounts from the previous year to current goals, and automatically calculates total amounts and the percentage of change on a monthly and annual basis. This is a simple Excel spreadsheet template for planning and tracking sales goals over time.
Goals Spreadsheet Template
This goals sheet template is designed for managing more than one goal simultaneously when each of these goals requires multiple action steps. This capability makes it a simple tool for dealing with complex processes. The template provides a measure of progress by showing both starting and ending metrics. It also includes sections for assigning tasks, noting budget or other resource requirements, and setting start and end dates for each task. You can edit this Google spreadsheet to include additional rows or columns as needed.
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General Goal Planning and Tracking Templates
Printable Goals Planning Template
This goals planner template can be used to craft personal or business goals, providing a structured planning approach that’s informed by S.M.A.R.T. goals. Create a detailed yet concise plan on a single page, and list clearly defined goals, actionable steps, measurements for success, solutions for potential obstacles, and desired outcomes. You can fill out this Word template on your computer, save it to the cloud, share it via email, or print and fill it out by hand.
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Goals Chart Template
As you begin to identify and evaluate goals, a goals chart template can be a useful tool for a brainstorming session. The format provides a quick overview, which allows you to compare several goals and analyze the relevance and practicality of pursuing them. You can also use this Word/PDF chart template to drill down into a single goal by using the rows to refine and revise initial ideas. This kind of granular focus can help facilitate your work toward a final plan.
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Weekly Goals Assessment Template
Use this weekly goals template to evaluate your progress, analyze roadblocks that may have occurred, and adjust your weekly plan based on new insights. Available in Excel, Word, and PDF, this template is a helpful tool for assessing short-term goals, which may include personal lifestyle aims, work objectives, weekly school assignments, or other endeavors. It may also serve as a motivational and planning tool to help you set and accomplish realistic goals each week.
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Monthly Goals Tracking Template
Create a goals tracking sheet to monitor multiple goals on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Divide this Google template into separate project goals, or create a combination of business and personal endeavors that you want to keep track of. You can break down your goals into various tasks so that you can see a detailed list of what needs to be completed.
Daily Goals Template
Set daily goals and create a schedule of tasks that you can mark as complete as you accomplish each one. This is a simple way to organize your day and break down goals into manageable steps. Prioritize tasks in order of importance to ensure that you don’t overlook your top goals. This Excel/Word/PDF template can also be used as a basic to-do list or event planning tool.
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Personal Goals Templates
Life Goals Worksheet
This life goals worksheet provides separate sections for short-, mid-, and long-term goals to help you plan ahead and create a gradual staircase of goals to climb. You can set objectives related to career, finances, and personal endeavors to translate your dreams into fully realized actions. Taking time to think through life goals is a great opportunity to assess what your most important goals are and how and when you want to achieve them. Use this template (available in Excel, Word, and PDF) as a planning tool and reminder of your long-term vision.
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Financial Goals Worksheet
Whether you want to pay off debt, save for retirement, or plan a future vacation, this template is designed to help you clarify financial goals, identify potential obstacles, and list clear action steps to help you succeed. Setting measurable goals and giving yourself a timeline will make it easier to create a realistic action plan and track ongoing progress. This worksheet, available in Excel, Word, and PDF, can serve as a brainstorming tool for defining and prioritizing your financial goals.
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Student Goals Template
This template can be used by younger students in the classroom, college students planning for the future, or families helping children learn how to set and work toward goals. Simply edit the template to focus on school subject areas, learning new skills, improving grades, improving study habits, or other goals. Available in Word and PDF, this tool may help students identify strengths and weaknesses and organize goals into manageable steps.
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Career Goals Template
Create strategies for professional development or a career change with this Word or PDF template that helps you identify skills, interests, experience, or achievements that you want to attain. Consider how certain steps might advance your business or career, where you’d like to be in five or 10 years, and other important questions related to work life. You can use this template for setting both long-term goals and short-term actions related to career development and satisfaction.
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Weight Loss Goal Tracker Template
If you’re working toward a weight loss goal, this template may provide both accountability and motivation as you keep track of your progress. As with any goal, the actions you take will determine the outcome, so including a specific plan related to fitness or diet will provide clear steps for reaching your goal weight. This Excel template will automatically calculate your weight loss based on the numbers entered, so you can compare your daily or weekly weight to your goal.
Procrastination Management Worksheet
Procrastination not only interferes with time management, staying organized, and maintaining a schedule, but can also make it much harder to reach goals. If you’re struggling to meet certain objectives, follow your action plans, or stick to the timelines set for certain goals, use this Word worksheet to determine where procrastination might be getting in the way. This is essentially a worksheet to help you create strategies and set goals for dealing with procrastination so that you can work toward the goals that matter most. It’s also designed to help you evaluate the impact of your actions (or inaction) and the importance of certain tasks.
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Set, Track, and Achieve Goals with Smartsheet Templates for Project Management
Setting, tracking, and achieving goals is essential to your business and personal life. That’s why using goal tracking and goal setting templates is crucial to your success. Smartsheet is an enterprise work management platform that is fundamentally changing the way businesses and teams work. Over 74,000 brands and millions of information workers trust Smartsheet to help them accelerate business execution and address the volume and velocity of today's collaborative work.
The familiar Smartsheet interface that is designed for how people actually work leads to rapid and broad adoption across your organization. Use self-service reports and dashboards in Smartsheet to provide real-time visibility into resources, status, and performance, so you can rapidly align operations with strategy.
Discover why millions of professionals around the world use Smartsheet to move from idea to impact — fast.