Study and Work SMARTer

Study and Work SMARTer

It can be difficult to get started on a revision period or on writing a thesis. One can feel overwhelmed at the start or not satisfied with the progress halfway through.

Despite the challenges, each one of us finds different sources of motivation and techniques that help him/her focus and be surprised by his/her tremendous potential. For some people, efficacy is closely linked to having an organised agenda and wisely managing time.

Goal setting is an extremely popular method and has proven its efficacy. It has also been demonstrated that motivation and achievement dramatically increase when having clear goals [1-2]. The risk is when the goal is not reachable. In this case, writing and pursuing one’s goals can waste valuable time. The adverse effect is to be trapped in the vicious cycle of self-criticism.

One way to overcome these risks is to use SMART goals. The initiative was pioneered in the business world and then has been extended to include other disciplines such as the medical field [3]. A SMART goal clarifies exactly what is expected and the measures used to determine whether the goal is achievable [4]. SMART is the acronym of Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic and Timely.

Figure 1: SMART goal characteristics

The revision period has always been a nightmare for medical students on how to memorize everything in a short amount of time. For students who desire to follow a plan, SMART goals could be an excellent tool to help them organise their revision period. Here is an example of how to implement SMART goals for a fifth-year student:

A general goal would be: I will finish the Gynaecology module next week.

A SMART goal would be: I will finish 28 lessons (Measurable) of the gynaecology module (Specific) in 5 days (Timely and realistic). I will be checking my progress by doing assignments as I go through it (Measurable). I will be adjusting my learning based on my mistakes and my pees’ answers (Assignable).

Now, it could be useful to break it down into smaller steps. Giving the fact that the module includes 28 lessons, I will do 5 to 6 lessons each day. By the end of each lesson, I will have a look at the IPB questions and ensure I integrate what I did not memorize very well. By the end of the fifth day, I will dedicate 6 hours to complete the exams section which I will do under the exam conditions. I will then record the points that I need to revise more. Afterwards, I am going to check my answers with my mates.

Although there is no need in Tunisia to provide certification after graduation as proof of professional development, the continuous innovative discoveries in the medical field and the patients’ greater vigilance appear to impose continuous learning to maintain competence. SMART goals could be applicable also for doctors for lifelong learning and to maintain their leading position.

Here is another example of how to implement SMART goals for a family doctor:

The general goal would be: I will publish an article.

The SMART goal would be: I will publish a scientific manuscript (Specific) by the end of December (Timely and realistic) about insomnia for 60 older people (Measurable) in primary care. I will need the help of a Geriatrics supervisor (Assignable).

Then, to break it down into smaller parts, I’ll have until the 15th of June to discuss the topic with a geriatrics supervisor. Once I got approval, I will start collecting data from 60 patients based on a questionnaire until the end of July. I will be analysing data and write up an article by the end of August. I will correct the content according to my supervisor’s feedback by the end of September. I will submit the article at the beginning of October so I have two months to get an answer and follow the reviewers’ instructions.

This strategy has also proven its efficacy in improving one’s practical skills. This included rational prescription [5] and doctor-patient communication by helping patients to set their own SMART goals [6]. In a nutshell, it could be used in any area of development.

Goals lovers, it is time to adjust your agendas in a SMART way. Thanks to this strategy, there is no more reason to procrastinate or feel anxious. Focusing on SMART goals will remind you of all the progress that you are and will be making. Just do what you love and everything else will fall into place.

NB: The examples are hypothetical ones which have been made up for the sake of concreteness. The following references (especially [3]) include other examples for further details.



[1] Chang, A., Chou, C. L., Teherani, A., & Hauer, K. E. (2011). Clinical skills‐related learning goals of senior medical students after performance feedback. Medical education45(9), 878-885.

[2] West, M. (2002). How can good performance among doctors be maintained?: Department of Health's proposals are wise but need to be implemented with care.

[3] Doran, G. T. (1981). There’sa SMART way to write management’s goals and objectives. Management review70(11), 35-36.


[5] Tichelaar, J., Uil den, S. H., Antonini, N. F., van Agtmael, M. A., de Vries, T. P., & Richir, M. C. (2016). A ‘SMART’way to determine treatment goals in pharmacotherapy education. British journal of clinical pharmacology82(1), 280-284.

[6] Salter, C., Shiner, A., Lenaghan, E., Murdoch, J., Ford, J. A., Winterburn, S., & Steel, N. (2019). Setting goals with patients living with multimorbidity: qualitative analysis of general practice consultations. British Journal of General Practice69(684), e479-e488.