February 21, 2022

The SMART approach to care planning: a checklist

Table of contents

In this post, you'll learn what you need to know to create SMART goals for your personalised care plan.

If you’re creating care plans, you’ll already be aware of the CQC requirements for making sure they’re person-centred. You’ll probably also have checked out a guide or two, like this one from Birdie on how to create a person centred care plan and some examples.

You’re almost ready to start care planning - but before you get stuck in we wanted to share a really simple way to create SMART care plans. 

You may have come across the acronym ‘SMART’ before, but what does SMART mean?

- Specific
- Measurable
- Attainable/Achievable
- Relevant/Realistic
- Time-bound

*The SMART framework was coined by George Doran in the USA for a company he was assisting and published in 1981.

The SMART method has been used to support systematic planning in many areas including health, business, and education. You’ve probably even used it yourself a few times!

When it comes to care planning, you can use the same method to create clear, implementable care plans that can be evaluated regularly. 

We’ll explain the steps for each, with specific care plan examples below:

Smart goals for patient-centered care must be specific 

Every goal you agree with your clients must be specific. If you set a vague goal, it won’t give the support you or they need to achieve it. 

For example, a person using a social care service wishes to take up a new activity (a new goal), you’ll need to consider the following questions to ensure the goal is specific.  

  1. How will the goal be accomplished?
  2. Who will be involved in supporting the person to achieve the goal?
  3. What resources will be needed?
  4. When is it going to happen?
  5. Why is this goal important to the person?

The goal must be clear and unambiguous. And most importantly, to be person centred, it must be agreed with your client, their family and support networks.

For an example of a specific goal, check out a person centred care plan example, here. 

A good example of a specific goal

I wish to rejoin my old book club and attend once a week (every Thursday at 1pm) by December 2020, to allow me to reconnect with social groups and allow me to explore my favourite hobby - reading.

 To do this I will need support from my care team through reading a chapter of my book twice a week and supporting me in the short walk to the book club location. 

Smart goal must be measurable

This stresses the need for concrete criteria for measuring progress. If a goal is not measurable, it is difficult to know if any progress has been made. How you decide to measure the progress towards success can vary, but if your goal is timely (more on that later) you can set ‘benchmark’ or ‘evaluation’ points that will allow you to assess progress. 

In the goal above, the individual will need to reach a number of checkpoints in order to reach their goal, for example:

  • Walking (with an aid)
  • Reading and comprehension

Measuring progress helps you stay on track, and allows the person you care for to experience the positive benefits of achievement. 


Making sure goals are achievable (or attainable) is really important when it comes to person centred care planning. If you don’t take into account the abilities, needs and preferences of the person involved it’s almost impossible to ensure that a goal can be achieved. 

You should make sure that

  • The goal is agreed with the person, their family and their care team
  • The goal is important to the person
  • The goal stretches a team or person, without being extreme
  • The goal can be achieved in a set time frame
  • The goal allows for measurable progress

When you identify goals that are most important to the service user you begin to work out ways you can make them come true. You develop the attitudes, abilities, skills and resources to reach them. 


Being relevant and realistic helps you to choose goals that matter. A bank manager's goal to "Make 50 peanut butter sandwiches by 2pm" may be specific, measurable, attainable and time-bound but lacks relevance. 

A relevant goal must support a person to move forward. Goals that are supportive or in alignment with other goals can be considered relevant. The goals must also be realistic, which aligns with the previous mentioned point about being attainable.

 A relevant goal can answer yes to these questions 

  • Does this seem worthwhile? 
  • Does this match our other efforts/needs? 
  • Is this the right time?
  • Is it being supported by the right person? 


Setting goals within a realistic time-frame is an essential part of care planning. A commitment to a time-frame helps a team focus their efforts on completion of the goal by the due date. 

A time-bound goal will usually answer the question 

  • When? 
  • What can I do six months/six weeks from now? 
  • What can I do today?

Smart approach in a nutshell [tl;dr]

SMART goal planning is a great tool for person centred care planning. It can give clear evidence of achievement and involves the person in decision making about what they want to do and how they will be supported to achieve it. It replaces vagueness and ambiguity with clarity of purpose.

Why not download our PDF checklist to make it easy to refer to when you’re creating your care plans?

At Birdie, we want to make care planning easier for everyone. If you’ve thought about care planning software, but you’re not sure where to start, check out our blog on the differences between paper and digital care plans, or arrange a demo with our team.

Woman working at her computer with a link to care planning downloads

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