Understanding the difference between short-term and long-term goals is important, especially when it comes time to setting your own goals. While both types of goals serve a unique purpose, they often work in tandem to establish long-term solutions. In this article, we’ll dive into their differences and similarities while also outlining examples you can reference when you’re structuring goals of your own.  

Short-term vs. long-term goals 

A short-term goal can be defined as something you want to complete right away. This kind of goal is used as immediate encouragement so you can accomplish the goal both promptly and efficiently. Long-term goals are more strategic and are implemented when you want to accomplish something in the future. Long-term goals require a great deal of planning and are not to be completed promptly. Unlike short-term goals, long-term goals are usually planned a year or more in advance. 

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Short-term goals:

1Require minimal planning

Short-term goals are meant to be created in the moment and thus, minimal planning is required. A short-term goal can be anything from doing your laundry to checking a few items off your to-do list. These are normally menial tasks that don’t require a great deal of planning. 

Where long-term goals require planning, short-term goals do not. If you’re wary of setting short-term goals with no structure, you may want to first consider setting long-term goals. After you’ve taken the time to set long-term goals, you can determine what short-term goals need to be completed in the interim. You should make frequent progress towards these short-term goals and complete them quickly to reach your long-term goals. 

2Need no strategy 

Unlike long-term goals, short-term goals do not require an in-depth strategy. These goals are meant to be completed promptly, so there’s no time to implement or act upon a strategy. Instead, you may want to consider a to-do list or short action plan. 

Short-term goals act as milestones in your journey to reach predefined long-term goals. Short-term goals also help you gauge success so you can determine how far you’ve come and how far you need to go to reach your long-term goals. To achieve your long-term goals, you’ll need to break them down into short-term goals, and this is where the strategy will come in. 

3Are inflexible

Short-term goals happen quickly, so there’s little to no time for flexibility. They usually run within a predetermined time frame with a tight deadline and because of this, they’re not flexible and should only be completed as specified. 

Long-term goals:

1Need strategy 

Unlike short-term goals, long-term goals require a concrete strategy. Without a strategy, your long-term goals won’t be strategic and you’ll be less likely to bring them to fruition. Your strategy should focus on achieving quantifiable or qualitative results, so your goals need to be able to be measured using metrics like data, financial figures, or increased productivity or output. 

2Require planning

The ultimate intention for long-term goal setting is success, and success can’t be achieved without ample planning. Unlike with short-term goals, there are numerous factors that go into making long-term goals successful. Long-term goals also don’t reap short-term benefits; they require a lot of legwork as they aim to permanently resolve issues and maintain success over a long period of time. 

3Are flexible 

Long-term goals are achieved over a long period of time, meaning they ebb and flow as short-term goals or benchmarks are met throughout the process. The beauty of long-term goals is their longevity. There isn’t a tight timeline, so you can make adjustments and iterations throughout the lifecycle of your long-term goals. In fact, making frequent iterations may lead to more favorable outcomes that couldn’t have been anticipated before the goals were set. 

4Incorporate short-term goals 

Similar to the way in which multiple tactics are needed to pull off a strategy, the same thing can be said for the correlation between short-term and long-term goals. As we mentioned, long-term goals occur over a lengthy period of time, so there are multiple touchpoints throughout their lifecycle. These touchpoints may exist in the form of tactics, action plans, or even short-term goals that add up to complete one major long-term goal. 

Short-term goals may be used as a collective to work towards a larger goal. For example, you may have a financial goal that aims to save a lump sum by year end, and one of your short-term goals that can be leveraged to help complete this could be saving a lump sum from your bi-weekly paycheck. The two types of goals can often work in tandem. 

Examples of short-term goals 

1Learn a new skill

If you’re someone that thrives in a continuous learning environment, you’ve probably tried to learn a new skill or two. Whether it’s baking bread, public speaking, or weightlifting, learning a new skill is a great example of an attainable short-term goal. 

2Improve productivity 

Improving productivity is an excellent short-term goal that will not only improve your output, but may also help you level up in your career. There are a variety of tactics you can use to improve your productivity immediately, including time blocking, taking frequent breaks, and prioritizing the tasks on your to-do list. 

3Make a professional website

Making a professional website boasts a variety of benefits, including being able to display portfolio work, having the opportunity to nurture leads and connections, and having somewhere to house your career highlights. If you’re eager to level up your professional career, making a professional website may be exactly what you need! 

4Make 15 new LinkedIn connections a week 

Short-term goals often require little to no planning because they are tactics or steps that are part of a long-term plan or goal. Making 15 new LinkedIn connections a week may be a short-term goal that is part of a more robust long-term goal that aims to widen your professional network. 

5Host one virtual coffee hour a month for the next year 

There are a variety of ways in which you can build upon your network while cultivating new relationships and virtual coffee chats are a great way to do it! Booking one virtual coffee chat a month is a great short-term goal that can easily be attributed to a larger long-term plan. 

Examples of long-term goals 

1Write an ebook 

If you have a goal of writing and publishing an ebook, there are a variety of tasks that need to be completed before you get to the point of publication. You’ll need to do your research, create drafts, and look into publishing online. Not only that, but you’ll also need to market your book and maybe even find an illustrator or graphic designer. All of these elements can be considered short-term goals that can be accumulated to reach the larger goal of creating the e-book. 

2Get a promotion 

Getting a promotion is a long-term goal that requires a lot of leg work. Before you can get a promotion, you need to sharpen your skill set, take on more responsibility, and demonstrate your competence. Getting a promotion is not something you can do quickly unless you take the time to knock numerous short-term goals out of the park. 

3Earn new credentials 

Earning new credentials can be done quickly, but it usually takes quite a bit of time. If you plan to earn a degree, you’ll have to spend years studying for tests, completing assignments, doing presentations, and so much more. This is an excellent example of a long-term goal that can be leveraged to propel your professional career. 

4Become your own boss

Becoming your own boss is an ambitious goal, yet not an unattainable one. It’s safe to say that this goal cannot be completed overnight. Becoming your own boss takes years of hard work and planning, so it’s best to implement strategies, tactics, and short-term goals to bring it to fruition. 

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Have you found motivation to set measurable goals? 

Setting SMART goals not only benefits your career, but also your life. Whether you’re focused on short-term or long-term goals, goal setting is an excellent way to progress in your career and personal life. Learning the difference between the two types of goals will help you ensure you set appropriate goals at the right times. If you have something you wish to achieve immediately, you may want to consider setting a short-term goal. If you have your sights set on something more ambitious that can’t be completed quickly, you may want to consider setting a long-term goal.