Everyone wants something out of life — be it adventure, meaning, or prosperity. Some are quick wins you can check off in a matter of weeks. Others require a 5-year plan and significant ongoing effort. Together, these long and short-term goals form the foundation of what you consider your best life.
Regardless of whether they’re personal or professional goals, they don’t achieve themselves. You need a plan to take you where you want to go. To create this roadmap, you must first understand the difference between long-term versus short-term goals.
Use this knowledge to create direction and purpose in your life, even when it throws you a curveball.
Why is goal-setting important?
A 2022 Gallup study found that 70% of Americans claim they’re somewhat or very likely to set goals. Of that number, only 8% actually achieve them. And those that achieve their goals are more likely to have thoroughly planned them out, writing specific details and reminding themselves of these objectives throughout the year.
Intentional goal-setting helps you create your ideal future by offering you the following:
Confidence: You become more confident when you picture yourself achieving your objectives. According to a TD Bank survey, 59% of respondents who took the time to visualize their goals felt more optimistic they’d succeed.
And reaching your goals only further increases your confidence, taking you to new heights.
Direction: Effective goal-setting creates a roadmap that guides you toward success. Goals set your trajectory so you can identify milestones and deal with detours.
What are long-term goals?
Long-term goals shape your future. You’ll typically take more than a year to complete these goals, but there’s no strict guideline for what you consider long versus short-term. The important part is that they’re the accumulation of lots of hard work and patience. These goals also typically require a thorough action plan.
Because of the longer time-frame, long-term goals should be adaptable. You never know what could happen in your life, so recognize that you might need to adjust your roadmap or tweak your long-term goals.
And your priorities might shift altogether — what you wanted at 15 likely isn’t what you want now. Welcome change and prepare to discard irrelevant long-term targets occasionally.
What are short-term goals?
Short-term goals make up your life’s to-do list. You achieve them typically on a day-to-day or monthly basis, and they can be anything from learning a new skill to shaving a few minutes off your 5K running pace.
Because you accomplish these quickly, short-term goals are excellent at delivering a sense of accomplishment and boosting your motivation. The satisfaction of checking something off your list can propel you forward and provide a quick jolt of dopamine, a happy hormone that boosts your mood.
How are long and short-term goals connected?
Taking on challenging, long-term targets is stressful and often overwhelming. Starting your own business or returning to school are daunting undertakings. But you can use less-daunting short-term goals to slowly move toward your scarier objectives.
You might develop the marketing strategy for your new business over the next few weeks or give yourself six months to complete grad-school prerequisites.
These goals are well within your capabilities. And by taking your eyes off the big — scary — picture and focusing on one simple step, you remove some anxiety from the process.
Similarities and differences between short and long-term goals
Staying motivated as you create a fulfilling life depends on having the right mix of short and long-term goals. Learning to distinguish one from the other is essential.
Here are some key similarities and differences between these two types of goals.
1. They should be SMART goals
No matter the type, your objectives should follow the SMART goal template: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. Here are some examples:
Save for a down payment on a house
Sign up for a 5K race
Save $50,000 for a down payment on a house
Train three times a week
Place 10% of weekly earnings into a high-interest savings account
Make sure you’re injury-free before starting
Create a budget to accommodate diverting funds into savings
Run the race in six months
Buy the house in eight years
2. They offer a sense of direction
Long-term goals show you the finish line and short-term goals show you the step-by-step process for getting there. And when short-term targets aren’t connected to far-away objectives, these quick goals offer you daily, weekly, and monthly guidance.
3. They depend on each other
Long and short-term goals are interdependent. Most often, short-term goals are milestones for long-term plans. You need them to see how far you’ve come.
1. You determine them differently
To plan short-term goals, you typically only need to consider a couple factors. And you have more control over the outcome since there’s less time for roadblocks and personal changes. Jotting down a quick to-do list is usually all the strategizing you need.
Long-term goals require more thorough research and consideration. You might need to account for family obligations, financial resources, and physical health — among other things — when planning these objectives.
2. They challenge you differently
Because of their nature — fast, uncomplicated, don’t require an extended commitment — short-term goals are often easier to achieve than their counterparts. Use them when you want to quickly build motivation and feel accomplished. They might be stepping stones for long-term goals, meaning achieving these goals sets you up for future success.
Long-term targets are often more complex and lofty, and thus more challenging. Even planning can be difficult as you determine the best way to meet your far-off goals.
3. Short-term goals are more flexible
You might find shifting gears on a short-term objective difficult. There’s less flexibility because you only have a small amount of time. Long-term targets are more adaptable, offering many opportunities to accommodate surprises and adjust priorities.
4. You execute short-term goals more quickly
Your ability to achieve a short-term goal depends on your current situation, like whether you have the time and resources right now to complete it. If you hope to finish a beginner’s Spanish course, you might find this difficult while caring for a newborn or working full-time.
Reaching a long-term objective depends on how well you structure interim goals. If you’ve done this correctly, accomplishing each step moves you closer to your ultimate goal.
5. You’ll likely have more short-term goals
You can fill your days, weeks, and months with short-term goals you quickly check off your list. But because long-term goals are loftier and farther away, you’ll likely only have a few of them.
This is also helpful since you never know where life will take you. It’s better to set a couple long-term goals you can adjust if necessary than commit to a dozen of them when it’s likely you won’t want all those things later on.
Examples of short and long-term goals
You can create targets around every area of your life — be it financial goals, business goals, or objectives that help you pursue your dream career path. They can be personal, too, like cultivating deeper relationships or learning a new language.
So many goals, so little time. Here are a few examples of short and long-term targets to get you started.
Short-term personal goals:
- Start exercising three times a week
- Have coffee with one person a week
- Organize a neighborhood BBQ
- Reconnect with old friends
Short-term professional goals:
- Find a mentor
- Take a certification course every three months to complete the project management professional (PMP) curriculum
- Complete requisite training hours
Short-term team goals:
- Set objectives and key results (OKRs) for sales
- Conduct A/B testing on new marketing campaigns
- Establish social media metrics
- User-test our mobile app
Long-term personal goals:
- Expand network of friends
- Run a full marathon
Long-term professional goals:
- Earn PMP certification
- Gain five years’ experience in my industry
Long-term team goals:
How to set and keep your goals
Whether setting a long-term goal or making a list of quick wins, here are some tips for defining effective goals:
- Start at the end: Picture yourself completing your target. What was the final step that took you over the finish line? And the step before that? Work backward until you reach your starting point. Now, you have a complete plan of action.
- Think long-term: When building your life plan, look at the big picture. Establish your first significant milestone six months to a year from now. Then five years. Then plan ten years into the future. Once you have that framework, mark short-term targets on a timeline that directs you toward your desired end goal.
- Regularly review progress: Periodic check-ins with yourself and with an accountability partner can significantly improve your chance of success. Continually assess your progress, review short-term achievements, and motivate yourself to continue.
- Prioritize: Evaluate your short-term goals daily, prioritizing tasks to help you reach them.
- Adapt: Life is unpredictable, and change is inevitable. Stay mentally flexible to adjust your goals and tackle unforeseen roadblocks.
The road ahead
Sure, you’ll need to work hard to achieve most goals. But understanding the differences between long-term versus short-term goals means you can leverage both to plan accordingly and rack up wins.
Don’t consider this solo work — there’s always a friend, family member, or coworker who’s reaching for the same target, and you can lend each other a hand, or at least some insight.