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How to set short-term professional goals

October 3, 2022 - 14 min read


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Why are short-term professional goals important?

How do long-term goals differ from short-term goals?

Identifying your short-term professional goals

Types of short-term professional goals for work

How to set short-term professional goals

9 examples of short-term professional goals

The bottom line

Picture this: you’re perfectly content with your current role. You have a solid work-life balance, and the work is the perfect challenge to be interesting without being a major stressor. 

But then, someone on your team gets a promotion. Now, you reflect on the fact that many of your colleagues have moved on or have even left the company for better positions. You’re still right where you started.

This might be the time to start career planning and kick your professional development up a notch by setting some short-term professional goals.

Even if it’s short-term, goal setting is crucial in your professional and personal life to reach the milestones you dream of. But it’s also difficult. How far into the future do goals stop being “short-term”? What’s aiming high, but not too high? What’s realistic but will feed your ambition?

It’s OK to feel a bit intimidated by goal setting. But we’re here to help explain everything you need to know about short-term professional goals and how to start setting them today.


Why are short-term professional goals important?

Setting short-term career goals will transform your whole mindset around how you work and what you’re working toward. Having goals increases your motivation and engagement, in turn increasing your job satisfaction and productivity. 

Development goals at work often seem too big, discouraging you from working on them. That’s the beautiful thing about short-term goals. They divide bigger goals into smaller, achievable steps. 

These steps serve as a starting point and a roadmap for goals that demand more time and effort. Your short-term goals could contribute to your ultimate goal that aligns with your long-term objectives. Remember that the effort you put in now will never be for anything. 

Here are some reasons why setting short-term goals are so important:

Do you know who else really loves short-term goals? Employers. They want to see that you’re focused on growing, that you’re thinking about the future. Research has found that worker performance improves by 12-15% for employees who set goals.

When your goals are measurable and achievable, it shows the employer that you know your abilities, but you’re also keen on improving them. This ambition then benefits your performance, which benefits — and potentially inspires — the entire team. 

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How do long-term goals differ from short-term goals?

Before we explain how short-term goals differ from long-term goals, let’s acknowledge some similarities. Both types of professional goals help you with your career development. They both guide you along your career path, and neither are daily or truly immediate goals either. 

Knowing the difference between long-term and short-term goals will help you understand which goals you need to set to meet your needs. Perhaps right now, you need to think long-term because you have a lot on your plate, so short-term goals aren’t the way to go.

There’s also a chance that you’re uncertain about the future, and short-term goals are all you can focus on. Any goal is a great goal. 

Here are a few other ways these goals are different:

  • Long-term career goals might require more strategy and organization than short-term goals
  • You might work on more than one short-term goal at a time, but usually, you stick to one long-term goal at a time
  • Long-term goals require you to sustain your motivation for longer than short-term goals
  • Long-term goals give you more flexibility to figure out how to achieve them
  • Short-term goals can be the steps toward completing a long-term goal


Identifying your short-term professional goals

So what is a short-term goal? These goals are achieved within a day, week, or couple of months — or, in the near future. Short-term goals demand you to stay focused because you’re working in a specific, limited time frame. You don’t have time to take a break and come back later if you want to accomplish it in three months. 

Short-term professional goals, of course, focus on your career path. These goals help you professionally by gaining new skills to further your career success. Reaching these goals will likely benefit your personal life, too, but they make the biggest difference at work.

And you’d be surprised how many goals can relate to your career. If you want to learn to write code by the end of the quarter or learn how to limit distractions at work, you’re on the right track. 

But if you’re a new manager easily frustrated by the challenges of delegating, working on being more patient and less of a micromanager counts, too. Strengthening soft skills is difficult because progress is hard to track, but they’re always worth your effort. These are all valuable goals to set for your professional development and the good of your team.

Types of short-term professional goals for work

Your professional goals should be quite diverse. Short-term goals for work look different for everyone and hit different areas in your professional life. You could set 6-month goals for work that focus entirely on your professional network or a goal for just this week to limit your social media usage to one hour per day. 

Let’s review four different types of short-term goals:

1. Health goals: You’re not a robot. Taking care of your health while balancing your professional life is tricky. These goals aim to help your work-life balance and take care of your well-being, like setting boundaries about time spent at work, being purposeful with your vacation time, or focusing on fitness goals.

2. Educational goals: Have you ever thought about expanding your knowledge? Educational goals aim to grow your industry expertise. This may include taking online courses, attending workshops and conferences, or being more active on LinkedIn Learning. You might even consider going back to school.


3. Financial goals: Money talks. Perhaps you want to find a freelance side hustle to earn more money, or you want to earn a bonus from your job. Your financial goals could also focus on saving or investing instead of spending.

4. Direct goals: The title seems vague, but these goals relate to how you work. Will learning how to code earn you the pay raise you want? Could leadership training guarantee you’re next in line for a management position? These goals are usually things you can accomplish by making small but meaningful changes to your routine and work mindset.

How to set short-term professional goals

So you’re ready to begin your short-term goal setting. What’s your first move? There’s no need to rush — creating a clear action plan will help you better focus on your goals.

Here are four tips to keep in mind when you set your goals and begin to work on them:

1. Take your time to create a plan

You need to have a short-term vision for these goals, so brainstorm what you want the outcomes of your goals to be. What do you want to accomplish in the next few months? Studies have found that people who follow a well-thought-out plan are more prepared, have greater self-efficacy, and are more organized with their approach.

Consider what resources you need, how you’ll organize your time, and what to do if you encounter challenges. Do research, network with people in positions you want to be in, and reflect on what’s reasonable to expect from yourself. 

2. Hold yourself accountable

Nobody else is as concerned with your goals as you. Holding yourself accountable will keep you on track. Try to set reminders for yourself or have daily check-ins to see how much progress you’re making. And be honest with yourself if you find yourself neglecting your goals.

If something seems unsurmountable or unmotivating, it might be too ambitious a goal for right now. 

3. Create goals that inspire you


This is a big one. Your goals should align with your purpose. Take a moment to get in touch with your needs and consider why you’re devoting time and energy toward these goals. What would achieving this mean to you? How will they positively impact your personal development? Make sure that these are goals that’ll fill you with pride and a sense of accomplishment.

4. Set SMART goals

SMART goals provide a template for goal setting. It’s an acronym for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Having a template to follow as you set your goals helps you stay organized.

9 examples of short-term professional goals

It’s time to see some examples of short-term goals. It’s helpful to see what some of these short-term career goals look like and how they differ. Some work goals target how you work with your team members, while others will take you out of the office and somewhere new. 

Here are nine short-term goal examples to review:

1. Improve your communication skills with your coworkers

2. Take an online course to earn a professional certificate

3. Expand your professional network 

4. Plan out your future career change

5. Create a portfolio that shows off your work

6. Become more familiar with apps that help with organization

7. Find a mentor to learn from


8. Read five books about leadership and management 

9. Create a better work-life balance for yourself 

The bottom line

You could go your whole career without setting short-term professional goals — but you’ll enjoy it more with ambitions and dreams. They help you achieve career success and show you that grit and determination make a huge difference. 

Don’t be afraid to dig deep with your self-awareness and set out some new professional goals. Even if they’re short-term, they have the power to change your life.

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Published October 3, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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