How To Set Realistic Work Goals for the New Year with SMART thinking

new year goals focus

Turn impossible dreams into a well-planned reality this New Year. Improve your New Year’s Resolutions with SMART goals.

We all make New Year’s resolutions, but a lot of the time we end up breaking them. There’s a reason for that – we set ourselves a goal but don’t give ourselves a clear structure for how to go about achieving it. In a month or two, our big dreams fade away. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

It’s a great idea to set your intentions for what you want to achieve. To really make that goal stick, start aiming high and apply some SMART thinking.

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Scaled. If it sounds like a bunch of words thrown together, we’ll break it down.

How to set realistic work goals for the New Year

Before we get onto SMART goals, are the golden guidelines for achieving positive change:

  • Recognise what you need to change
  • Set a clear goal
  • Begin an activity that works towards that goal
  • Track your progress
  • Reward yourself

Think of any New Year resolutions you made this year. What activity would make a difference to help you achieve it? And how would you track it?

Setting realistic work goals with SMART thinking

Now let’s dig a little deeper. Turn your vague New Year’s resolutions into clear, achievable goals you can plan for with SMART…


You have to be as specific and clear as possible when setting your goals. A huge or vague goal can be hard to understand, and you’ll find it harder to measure your success. Narrow it down to exactly what you want to achieve. And make your goal achievable, too!

Good examples:

  • I want to brush up my CV and send it to 10 employers I like the sound of
  • I want to get to interview stage for a finance/creative/engineering job (or whatever floats your boat)
  • I want to complete a vocational course in a subject I’m interested in
  • I want to become Employee of the month

Tough examples (a bit vague, and harder to pinpoint exactly how you’d achieve them without a fairy waving a magic wand):

  • I want a dream job
  • I want a massive pay rise
  • I want to win the lottery


You have to measure your goals. This means you have to be able to see how well you’re doing, and know when you’ve achieved your goal.

The best way to measure your success is to add a time period to your goal, saying when you want to achieve it by.

Good examples:

  • I’d like to become Employee of the month by June.
  • I’d like to send my CV off to 10 cool employers by February.
  • I’d like to get a new qualification in a subject I’m interested in by the end of the year.
  • I want to get to interview stage for a cool job in the next six months.

Having a set time to complete your goal boosts your motivation to keep working towards it, chipping away at the goal. It keeps your focus hard and shiny as a diamond.


You probably don’t want to choose a goal that’s so easy you could achieve it in your sleep. You won’t get proper satisfaction that way.

Pick a goal that. Yes, is a bit hard – but it’s within your reach. You can make it happen if you work hard and never lose sight of what you really want.

To help make your goal achievable, pick a main goal then break it down into smaller activities you can do to achieve it.

Example: To become Employee of the month by June I will…

Example: To send my CV off to 10 cool employers by February I will…

  1. Make a list of jobs at my level on offer in the sector I’m interested in, then form a list of 10 employers to apply to
  2. Check my CV for basic best practice
  3. See if I can showcase useful skills like teamwork, positive attitude and problem-solving in my CV
  4. Check my CV personal statement shows off my Young Professional skills and matches the job/sector I’m interested in
  5. Write a cover letter that is personalised to each employer (this cover letter guide will help)
  6. Apply to each employer according to their application instructions


Your goal really does have to be realistic or you’ll get disappointed when you discover you can’t achieve it. It’s good to be ambitions, but setting really unlikely goals can be a blow to your self-belief.

You also need to set yourself a believable time frame.

Tough examples:

  • I’d like to apply for 10 jobs this afternoon
  • I’d like to become Employee of the month next month
  • I’d like to get to interview stage for a cool job in two weeks

Give yourself time to carry out changes and activities to make your dream goal happen. You don’t want to rush things and not do your best, or lose hope that you didn’t get it done in time.


When your goals have a time scale, or a time limit, you can stay motivated to keep on keeping on. It can also help you check how well you’re doing.

For example, you can add time limits to any mini-goals you have set yourself to achieve your big goal.

  • So, if your main goal is to send your CV to 10 cool employers by February, you can set yourself to:
  • Make a list of 10 jobs/employers to apply to by January 10th
  • Refresh and update your CV by January 2oth
  • Perfect your cover letter by January 25th
  • Apply for 10 roles by January 31st

IMPORTANT: You’ll obviously need to check application deadlines on the job descriptions to make your goal realistic and achievable. You can choose to either ready your CV and cover letter and apply earlier, or pick new jobs to apply for if the deadlines have passed, safe in the knowledge that your CV and cover letter are now in tip-top shape and ready to go.

Turn your dream goals into achievable plans this New Year. And if you haven’t set yourself any goals yet? There’s no time like the present!

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