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It’s about time: Use short-term goals to reach your long-term goals

July 5, 2022 - 17 min read


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Why are long-term and short-term goals important?

Defining short and long-term goals

Similarities and differences between short-term and long-term goals

6 examples of short-term goals and long-term goals

How to set and keep your goals

The road ahead

Whether you realize it or not, you probably have a variety of long-term and short-term goals in your life. They might be written out specifically in your journal or detailed out as a five-year plan.

Or, they could be floating around in your mind, subconsciously shaping the way you make decisions. Either way, it's useful to understand the difference between a short-term and a long-term goal. When you learn to use them together, they can help you succeed.

Maybe you’re hoping for a promotion next year, or you’re focused on launching a marketing campaign this week. Either way, everyone’s professional life involves setting professional goals.  

You also might have targets in your personal life, like saving money for a home or earning a degree. In all areas of your life, clear goals can give you direction and purpose. Both are building blocks for a meaningful life.

But hitting your targets isn’t always easy — research shows that only 8 percent of people actually achieve their New Year’s Resolutions, for example. Whether it’s work or personal goals, life brings obstacles that can impede your success.

Some of these roadblocks will be out of your control, but most can be avoided with appropriate planning. 

If you’ve ever worked through the process of goal-setting, you’ve probably heard of SMART goals. This is an acronym for goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable/Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Today, we’re going to focus on the T.

Every good leader knows that success lives or dies on timeframes. If you don’t set appropriate timelines for your action plan, you’ll at best, fail. At worst, you could burn yourself out trying to reach vague goals. 

Neither of these outcomes is ideal for your health or your well-being.

If you’re struggling to meet your deadlines, it’s probably because you haven’t clearly distinguished your long-term vs. short-term goals. Knowing the difference will set you up for success, so let’s dive in.


Why are long-term and short-term goals important?

Setting goals is crucial to your personal development. Here are some of the benefits that come from this kind of planning:

  • They keep you motivated. Achieving your goals will give you a sense of satisfaction you can’t find anywhere else. This will help keep you going, even on tough days.
  • They keep you on task. When you have a clear goal in mind, staying focused is easier. Not even your co-workers can pull you off the path.
  • They give you direction in your life and career. When you don’t have goals, you’re more likely to be overwhelmed by life’s choices. Having a clear target will serve as your roadmap.

If you’re not sure what the right next step is, BetterUp can help you find your North Star. Let’s discover what motivates you, what you’re passionate about, and make a plan to help you thrive.

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Defining short- and long-term goals

At its most basic, you can understand a long-term vs. short-term goal based on how long it takes to achieve it. Short-term goals happen quickly, whereas long-term goals require planning. Seems obvious, right?

Your success depends on having the right mix of both. Let’s get into the details.

What are long-term goals?

Long-term goals are about planning for the future. They typically take a year or more to achieve and involve a rigorous plan with multiple steps or smaller goals.

Because these goals can take several years to achieve, they need to be adaptable. Life will likely throw you a curveball at some point on your journey, and you’ll have to make adjustments.

You might also decide to change your plan or change your goals completely at some time. That’s okay! It’s all about doing what you need to live with meaning and purpose.


What are short-term goals?

Short-term goals are smaller goals you can hit any time between right now to one year from now. The idea is for you to accomplish something soon.

This can be anything from learning a new professional skill to setting faster lap times at the pool. 

These kinds of goals are great for keeping you motivated. Because of their short timelines, you can quickly knock things off the list.

This will give you a sense of progress, which can boost your confidence and help you push from one goal to the next.


How are long and short-term goals connected?

Short-term goals usually play a supporting role in your long-term ones. For example, you might take a class this year to prepare for a new job within the next three years.

Long-term planning might be stressful. Breaking your long-term goals into several, shorter steps will also prevent you from being overwhelmed by the process.

Your long-term career goal could be to work as a software developer, and the steps would look like this:

  1. Take coding or software development classes 
  2. Earn a computer science degree 
  3. Complete a relevant internship to gain experience
  4. Work as a freelance developer to build your portfolio
  5. Interview for your dream job

Each of these short-term career goals builds toward your final objective.

But this doesn’t always have to be true. You can also learn a new skill just to learn — no master plan is required.

Similarities and differences between short term and long term goals

There are many similarities and differences between both types of goals. If you dig into them, you’ll better understand where they can fit in your own life.

Differences: long term vs. short term goals

1. Strategy

Short-term goals focus on what you can do right here, right now. They’re about working with what you have now or in the near future.

Long-term goals are tied to who you want to be in the future. They require meticulous planning and should align with your life mission and purpose.

2. Scope

Short-term goals touch on very specific parts of your life. For example, fitness goals are aimed at your physical health and well-being

But the benefits of completing a short-term goal overflow into other areas. In the case of exercising, you’ll feel more energy and focus thanks to working out regularly.

This can positively impact your professional life since you’ll have more energy for the workday.

Long-term goals touch many areas of your life at once. A career change, for example, can affect your whole life, including your job satisfaction, income, work schedule, and sense of life fulfillment. This is really about the big picture.

3. Challenge

Short-term goals are easier to achieve than their long-term counterparts. The short timeframes help you quickly gain a sense of progress and avoid procrastination.

Long-term goals tend to be more complex and thus more difficult. They have many moving parts and require more detailed planning.

4. Flexibility

Short-term goals tend to be more rigid. They come around quickly and have tighter deadlines, which make them more difficult to change later.

Long-term goals are far in the future. There’s more time for life to surprise you or instigate changes. Depending on what's happening in your life, you might have to push a timeline back or be able to move it forward.

5. Execution

Your capacity to achieve short-term goals depends heavily on your current situation. You won’t be able to learn beginner Spanish if you don’t have time to practice at home.

Long-term goals, on the other hand, depend on your short-term steps. If you structure your milestones correctly, each will bring you closer to your final target.

Learning Spanish later, when you have a less intense work schedule might make more sense — but “learning Spanish” is a valid goal either way.


6. Number

By their very nature, you can have many short-term goals. Their short timespan and achievability mean you can complete many in a short amount of time.

Long-term goals, on the other hand, are large and complex. They require a lot of time and effort, so you can only take on a couple — usually between one and three.

Similarities: long term vs. short term goals

There are fewer similarities between long-term and short-term goals, but they’re still significant. Here are the basics to keep in mind.

1. Both require the SMART method

We have already introduced this idea briefly above. Remember that it’s important to use the SMART method for all your goals.

2. Both offer a sense of direction

Long-term goals give you direction in life. Short-term goals are how you start walking.

3. Both are dependent on each other

You can’t complete your long-term goals without your short-term ones. But your short-term milestones wouldn’t exist without your larger ambitions. Remember to celebrate all of your victories.

6 examples of short term goals and long-term goals

What are some examples of long-term goals? Here are some to wrap your head around:

  • Graduating from college
  • Starting your own business
  • Saving for a house
  • Becoming a vice president at your company 

Each of these requires a multi-year plan with many stepping stones. To achieve them, here is one short term goal for each:

  • Earning an A in one of your college courses
  • Securing funding for your new business
  • Creating a budget to set aside money for a house
  • Getting promoted to a manager position this year 

You can also set short-term and long-term business goals. If you’re an entrepreneur hoping to reach 20 employees in the next 18 months, that’s a long-term business goal.

But remember to also think about what short-term business goals will get you there.


How to set and keep your goals

Short and long-term goals require different strategies. Let’s look at how you can succeed at both.

  1. Start at the end. No, really. Imagine your end goal. Where do you see yourself in the far future? Start with your final step, then your penultimate step, and so on. Eventually, you’ll return to the here and now, and you’ll know what you need to do first.
  2. Think long-term. Set major milestones for six months from now, then a year, then five years, then 10. Slot your smaller steps in between. They will build on each other, bringing you closer to your ultimate goal and life plan.
  3. Review your progress regularly. Check in with yourself periodically to assess your progress. Use some kind of metric to see how far you’ve come. This will give you the motivation to keep going.
  4. Prioritize. Choose the short-term goals most important to complete right now, then start working on others as you become more comfortable.
  5. Adapt. Life is unpredictable. Be ready to shift your focus if you have to.

The road ahead

Brace yourself. Reaching your goals is hard work. But you can do it. 

Your path to success relies on having a clear plan. You’ll need to set clear short-term and long-term objectives, and each milestone will build on the last.

Before you know it, your accomplishments will tally up, and you won’t believe how far you’ve come. 

BetterUp is here to help on your journey. As you weigh your long-term vs. short-term goals, we can work with you to keep you motivated and on task. Together, we’ll help you reach your full potential.

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Published July 5, 2022

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

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