An essential part of any post-secondary study is effective time management. This is particularly important in online courses as much of the study we are given is self-directed. While this gives a large amount of freedom, it can also cause problems for students if they do not adequately map out their goals.

Many students start with good intentions and set lofty goals for themselves to achieve. While this is admirable, the goals we set for ourselves can often be so extreme that we become overwhelmed and end up spending more time worrying about the goals than achieving them. For instance, oftentimes students will plan to come home from work and spend all night reading chapter after chapter until they understand it. This is a noble goal; however, it is unlikely to happen on a regular basis. So, we need to approach our studies in a way that is realistic, achievable, and constructive.

An effective way to approach this is to use the SMART system, adapted from Peter Drucker’s (1954) Practice of Management. This is a series of criteria you can use to create achievable and effective study goals for yourself.

The SMART Criteria suggests that the goals we set should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time.

Let’s take a closer look at each criteria.

Specific:  Goals should have a specific target. This means that the goals we develop should be clear, precise and should focus on a particular area rather than a general topic.

Unspecific goal:  Tonight, I’m going to study for my accounting test.

Specific goal: Tonight, I’m going to study the accounting legislation in chapter 3 in the textbook.

Measurable: Our goals should be able to be measured. This means that we should have some way of determining if any progress has been made. While this will change depending on what form of study you are performing, there should be some way of measuring the content studied.

Non-measurable goal: Tonight, I’m going to read my textbook.

Measurable goal: Tonight, I’m going to read pages 17-32 of my text book.

Achievable: This criteria requires that goals be realistic. This means we have to be able to accomplish the goal without overcoming many other issues. The best way to approach this criteria is to imagine how the goal will be accomplished. This will help you think about what will be required to complete the goal.

Unachievable goal: Tonight, I’m going to write my whole essay.

Achievable goal: Tonight, for an hour after dinner, I’m going to write the introduction to my essay by using the MLA style guide as support.

Relevant: Our goals must be worthwhile and must contribute to an overall end goal. As such, we need to ensure that the goals we create contribute to the completion of a larger goal.

Irrelevant goal: Tonight, I’m going to look through my course books and notes.

Relevant goal: To ensure that I have enough background information to write my essay, tonight I will find three sources that explain the essay topic.

Timed: The final aspect of an effective goal is that it both occurs at a specific time and is due at a specific time. This will ensure that your efforts to achieve the goal do not continue indefinitely. Additionally, having a time constraint will encourage you to work with earnest and will also build your time management skills.

Untimed goal: Later, I will study for my exam.

Timed goal: Tonight from 8 – 9:15, I’ll review the chapter 3 eLearning notes.

So, let’s put it all together and devise a SMART goal:

To ensure my essay introduction is correctly formatted, from 9pm to 10pm I’ll check it against each of the criteria on pages 15-32 of the MLA style guide which I will mark off once achieved.

Overall, while using effective goal setting strategies alone will not guarantee positive results, it is the first step in making your objectives achievable. By utilizing proven goal setting strategies, you’ll be able to alleviate the confusion that often comes with planning an assessment and proceed with confidence, clarity and direction.


Drucker, P 1954, Practice of Management, Harper Collins, New York, NY.

9th March, 2016

Geoffrey Larsen

Academic Department

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published.