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What is a short-term goal? Your guide to setting perfect goals

August 9, 2022 - 16 min read


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What is a short-term goal?

Why are short-term goals important?

How can short-term goals help you at work?

How to plan and achieve goals

5 examples of short-term goals

Goals vs. aspirations

The road ahead

Any self-help expert will tell you that it’s important to set targets. Goals give you direction in life, and achieving them is one of the best ways to stay motivated. 

According to a study published by the American Psychological Association, chasing goals can:

  1. Give you a sense of purpose 
  2. Reduce the effects of depression and anxiety
  3. Provide a sense of control in your life
  4. Improve your motivation

But setting the right targets isn’t always easy. And without proper goal-setting, these benefits are out of reach. If you’re unsure what you want or don’t know enough about yourself, you can find yourself floundering, never committing to a particular path. 

Luckily, with some effort, you have the power to improve your life. When you understand the different types of goals and how they work, you can leverage them for your success.

The most important tools for your life planning are long-term, medium-term, and short-term goals. Here, we’ll focus on just one: the short-term goal. So what is a short-term goal? And how can it help you?

Let’s dive in.

What is a short-term goal?

A goal can be defined as the desired outcome that would not occur without your input.

The words “your input” are important here. Your goals aren't achievable unless you’re willing to take action. 

And all of your goals should have a deadline. You can categorize them as follows:

  • Life goals: goals you hope to accomplish before you die
  • Long-term goals: targets that require 5-10 years or more to achieve
  • Medium-term goals: goals that span 2-5 years
  • Short-term goals: goals that are achievable today, next week, or within a year

Short-term goals are very diverse. They can refer to your daily goals, like your to-do list at work or for spring cleaning. But they can also serve as stepping stones for your larger goals

Let’s say you’re hoping to be a lawyer. You’ll need a degree to get into law school and find an internship at a good firm. To get your degree, you have to take several courses, each of which will have multiple assignments.

A short-term goal of achieving an A+ on your midterm still contributes to your long-term goal of being a lawyer — but it has a radically different scope.

Not every goal has to ladder up to a bigger goal or overarching purpose. If you simply woke up today and thought that you wanted to finish work in time to see the sunset on your evening walk, that’s a perfectly good goal.

Regardless of where it fits into your plan, each step, from small health goals to professional goals, will contribute to building your life and career.

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Why are short-term goals important?

Think of your life as a coloring book. Your long-term goals are the black-and-white outlines on the page. Your short-term ones are how you color them in.

In other words, short-term goals are crucial to helping you build the big picture of your life. And, just as you would choose the best coloring pencil for the job, your short-term goals should keep you moving forward.

Here are the main benefits that come from these types of milestones:

  • They’re achievable. These goals should be easy to accomplish so you can meet tight deadlines. 
  • They offer quick results. Quick turnaround times mean quick results. 
  • They ward off procrastination. The shorter deadlines will force you to keep working toward your big goals. 

You can use short-term personal goals to achieve these benefits in all areas of your life. If you need help, try working with BetterUp. Our coaches will help you plan out goals that maximize your potential.

How can short-term goals help you at work?


Your short-term goals can also help you in your career. From team projects to professional development, having clear milestones will keep you on the right path. Here’s how you can use them to support your work life:

  • Set goals for your team. A clear list of short-term team goals will help keep everyone on the same page and accountable.
  • Set goals for your productivity. If you’re hoping to impress your colleagues, you can use short-term goals to improve your workflow and increase output.
  • Set goals for your skill development. Learning new skills takes time. Short-term milestones can help you become a better leader or employee.
  • Set goals for your job search. Setting clear targets can help you hunt for a new job and battle job search depression. Try applying to five organizations per week or connect with as many new people on LinkedIn within the next month.

Keep these benefits in mind as you ask yourself: what is your short-term career goal? Only you know the answer to that, but you must figure it out.

How to plan and achieve goals

While there are many strategies for creating and achieving short-term goals, there’s no silver bullet.

Successfully reaching your milestones requires self-awareness, Inner Work®, and patience. It requires comfort with failure and demands adaptability. 

With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s help you set meaningful short-term goals with these strategies:

1. Visualize the finish line

The first step involves identifying what you hope to accomplish. Is it a small behavior change for self-improvement, a major career change to do what you love, or something in the middle? 

Your short-term goals depend on your long-term ambitions. Try creating a manifestation journal or a vision board to help keep your dreams front and center. Make visualizing part of your morning routine to start every day with your future in mind.

2. Work backward

Now that you have your target, create a plan to achieve them step by step. 

Your plans can consist of multiple short-term goals. Like a trail of breadcrumbs, each will bring you to the next, guiding you toward success. If you need to finish one short-term goal to start on the next, like acing a midterm to finish an online course, plan it out that way.

3. Use the SMART method

You should learn and apply the SMART goals method. This acronym stands for goals that are:

  • Specific: Do you have a clear desired outcome for your goal?
  • Measurable: By what metric will you know you achieved your goal?
  • Attainable: Can you reach your goal with your current resources and abilities?
  • Relevant: Is your goal relevant to your beliefs, values, and broader ambitions?
  • Time-bound: Are your timeframes reasonable?

4. Distinguish between process and outcome goals

  • Outcome goals involve ticking a box off a list — they’re either complete or incomplete. This is a useful way to measure your accomplishments because it’s so black and white. Did you land your dream job or not?

    But long-term goals can feel overwhelming when you’re just starting. This is why it’s helpful to focus on processes.
  • Process goals emphasize inputs over outcomes. They help you build habits that move you forward in the short term. For example, saying, “I will practice Spanish every day for 20 minutes so I can meet my goal of becoming a translator,” will help you move at a reasonable pace. 

5. Start small

If you’ve ever overexerted yourself at the gym, you know the consequences of biting more than you can chew. Instead of working out every day as you planned, now you need a few days to recover.

The same idea holds for your professional life and personal life. It’s important to take things slow to minimize the risk of failure.

The short-term goal of discipline is a good example here. You need to start with small tasks that require focus, then gradually build toward larger projects. This will develop your discipline incrementally and encourage you to keep going.

6. Track your goals

Review your progress often. Many goal-tracking apps are available digitally, or you can go old-school with a pen-and-paper method. Keeping a progress journal is a great idea.

Tracking your progress will help you stay motivated.


7. Reward yourself

Create an extrinsic motivation system to reward yourself when you reach your goals. You work hard, and you deserve to kick back now and then. 

8. Schedule your goals

Set aside regular blocks of time for achieving your milestones. Whether it’s 20 minutes of reading every day or spending 10 hours per week creating your business, block it off in your calendar. Use this time for distraction-free work. 

This practice cultivates the habit of working toward your goals.

5 examples of short-term goals

If you’re having a hard time imagining your goals, here are some examples to inspire you. Each one follows the guidelines described above.

1. I want to run a half-marathon in one year. I currently only jog casually. My short-term goal is to add five minutes to my run every week until I reach the length of the half-marathon. 

2. I want to buy a house in five years. Without any prior planning, I saved half of what I needed for a down payment. My short-term goal is to increase my monthly income and savings account contributions.


3. I want to finish writing a book in one year. I have 50 pages done so far. My short-term goal is to write one page each day until I complete my first draft. 

4. I want to be a video game developer in four years. I am currently a high school student entering college. My short-term goal is to get A’s in my courses so I can win an internship in college.

5. I want to play guitar in a band starting next year. I’m currently a novice. My short-term goal is to practice for 30 minutes per day until I memorize six full songs.

6. I want to achieve financial security in the near future. My short-term financial goal is to pay off my credit card debt in a set amount of time.

7. I want to quit social media within the next three months. My short-term goal is to track my social media usage time and reduce it each week.

Goals vs. aspirations

Try not to conflate your goals with aspirations. Here's the difference:

  • Goals are specific and backed by action
  • Aspirations are general and far into the future

You can aspire to be someone great. But personal development goals help you visualize that future self and become that person.


The road ahead

Short-term goals are your roadmap to achieving dreams. With each step, you take your progress to a brighter future for yourself. 

As a unique individual, you have aspirations that are all your own. We started this article by asking, “What is a short-term goal?” Now, the ball is in your court.

BetterUp can help you on your journey. Our coaches will help you discover your core values, dreams, and aspirations. This self-knowledge will provide you with the tools you need to set long-term career goals and stick to them. We can even help you identify the short-term goals you need to get there.

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Published August 9, 2022

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

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