How to set short-term goals for greater success in life

We go through each day and it seems like nothing changes. Life keeps going on. Every so often, we look back at a distant date and find that things have changed, but it was hard to realize it. That’s because in order for us to compare things, we need a starting point to compare to. Like many of us, I got stuck on the monotonous merry-go-round of life and often felt like I wasn’t succeeding or getting anything done. 

The thing that changed that? Short-term goals.

Sure, you probably have long-term goals like a five year plan, but I’m talking about goals that actually get you somewhere. Goals that will increase your success in your life. In short (pun-intended), short-term goals are goals that can be completed in less than three years. It could be a week, a few months, or two years to reach your short-term goal, but it’s something that you want to do now.

I used to be stuck in a rut, feeling like I wasn’t accomplishing anything. But now, I have greater success and have changed the way I think completely. It’s all due to harnessing the power of short-term goals. Keep reading and I’ll share my secrets for how to make short-term goals your newest life plan.

What are short-term goals?

Basically, short-term goals are something that you have planned to do in the near future. While there doesn’t have to be a set amount of time for a goal to be considered short-term, it does have to be something you plan on doing soon. 

Short-term goals can be used for your personal and professional lives. Whether you want to save up some money or learn something new, you can make short-term goals that help you reach where you want to be.

Here’s the thing: All of us have an idea of what we want our life to be like. It’s called the “ideal self,” and it’s what we strive or wish to be on a daily basis. But, without clear goals that lead us to that ideal self, we’re not going to get there.

That’s where short-term goals come in. These goals are easier to achieve than long-term goals, and they can even be stepping stones to your long-term goal.

Short-term goal examples

Short-term goals can be hard to define because what may be short-term for you could be long-term for someone else. But, if you’re struggling understanding what short-term goals are and how they can help you, here are some examples of short-term goals I’ve set in my life:

  • Finish setting up my resume and portfolio
  • Spend a date night each month with my toddler
  • Find a babysitter so I can go out with my partner
  • Complete an important work project that’s due in one month
  • Buy a new phone in three months

See how they can vary widely? No one says that you can’t set a goal for something that matters to you. Whether it’s to do with you, your family, career, education, or love life, if it matters to you, it’s important. 

But, why are short-term goals so imperative?

Importance of short-term goals

Long-term goals are great. They’re what spur us into the desire to change. But, long-term goals are often thought of as dreams or wishes. Many times, they may not even happen. Short-term goals are what really break down your long-term goals to make them attainable. The importance of short-term goals include:

  • Feeling motivated because it’s a goal you can cross off your list right then and there
  • Minimize procrastination due to short-term goals being attainable
  • Increased production when clear, defined goals are set

Doesn’t it feel good to get something done? It really does get you motivated and excited to get even more items crossed off your list. When we think of our lives, we often look at the big picture. But life isn’t made up of one big picture. It’s the small moments, the little things, that really count.

I can say that in five years from now that I want to be a better, more authentic person. The thing is, how do I do that? I need clearly defined short-term goals that help me reach that long-term goal. Without short-term goals, your overarching goal is a failure.

To meet my goal of becoming more authentic and true to myself, I could set short-term goals like:

  • Take an authenticity class to discover more about myself
  • Learn to say no
  • Choose one activity a week that I want to do for me and no one else
  • Stop agreeing to do things I don’t want to do

Those short-term goals could help me meet my long-term goal. The importance of short-term goals is that life goals and long-term goals don’t come to fruition without them. We desperately need short-term goals to succeed, so how do you set useful ones?

How to set short-term goals

While it sounds great to set short-term goals, they can actually be somewhat difficult to figure out. You have to find what it is you want in the long run to make short-term goals that make sense.

That’s why you need to set SMART short-term goals. Sure, your goals should already be smart, but they should also be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

First, let’s set your long term goal. I’m going to use the example about and say that in five years, I want to become a better and more authentic person. So, in the example above, I didn’t set SMART short-term goals.

When your goals are SMART, you have a way to track them. They aren’t just manifestations but actual desires that you’re pushing toward. Let’s break it down with my goal of take an authenticity class and make it a SMART goal.

Specific

An authenticity class is somewhat specific, but there have to be tons out there. I want an authenticity class that will get me somewhere. One with a proven track record. Then, I’m going to choose it.

So, for this example, I’m choosing Rudá Iandé’s Out of the Box class. It’s specific, and it comes with 20 different lessons to help me become more authentic. That’s the first part of my goal.

Measurable

Basically, your short-term goal has to be measurable. For this one, it’s easy. I either did or I didn’t take the class. For others, it can be more difficult. Just remember to take note of your baseline and find a way to measure your “success.” If it’s a simple task (like many short-term goals are), it’s either you did or you didn’t do it.

Attainable

Can you achieve your short-term goal? I have to look at how busy my life is. Right now, it’s pretty busy. Am I able to make time to fit in 20 lessons to become more authentic? After going over my schedule, I know I can.

Look, the real grit here is that you don’t want to make a goal that is completely unattainable. If you want to save $1,000 in a week and your paycheck is only $300 a week, that’s not attainable. Be realistic in what you choose as your short-term goal.

Relevant

If I want to become a more authentic person, setting a goal to do something I hate, isn’t going to help me. When you’re setting short-term goals, they need to be relevant to your life and overarching long-term goal.

We’re not looking to check random stuff off the list. I’m choosing to take an authenticity course to help me on my authenticity journey. It wouldn’t be smart of me to take a course about hiding who I am, would it?

Timely

Arguably the most important thing in setting SMART goals is the time. You can’t just set a goal and give yourself no deadline. You need to assess what it is you have to do, how long it will take you, and set a date to finish. A goal without a deadline is simply a wish.

Please, for the sake of yourself and your life, be realistic with this. The last thing you want to do is rush your goal and then fail to meet your deadline because your deadline was never realistic. For me, I have 20 lessons to take. So, it wouldn’t be smart of me to say that I’m going to finish the course in two days.

SMART goals vs regular goals

My original goal was: Take an authenticity course.

My SMART goal is: Take Rudá Iandé’s Out of the Box course within two months of today.

I’ve set a date that is realistic, I’ve chosen the course to take, and I know it’s going to help me on my journey to become a more authentic person. See how the two goals are different? What goal is more likely to succeed? Here’s a hint, it’s the one with more detail.

Follow through on your goals

A long-term goal can still be successful, but it’s so hard to measure it without the help of short-term goals. The days may be long, but the weeks are short, and before you know it, that five years is up. You look back and think, what have I done with my life?

I want to help you stop the monotonous day-to-day life and become happier, motivated, and successful with your goals. But, you have to follow through on them. Break up your long-term goal into smaller goals. I’d suggest three things:

  1. Yearly goals
  2. Monthly goals
  3. Weekly goals

You can’t just do this all in your mind. Sit down with a pen and paper, your iPhone, laptop, or whatever you want and get these goals written down. First, start with your long-term goal. What is it that you want? What’s your dream? Spoiler alert: It’s totally okay to have multiple long-term goals.

Maybe you want to become more authentic, like me. Maybe you want to also climb up in your career. On top of that, you want to learn how to bake. Cool, multiple goals are fun. Plus, they can be easily achievable once you break them down. Just, don’t overload yourself. Try to stick to three or less long-term goals.

Once you’ve set these long-term goals, let’s break them down. Start with the yearly goals. By the end of year one, what needs to be done for your long-term goal to succeed? Year two? Year three? What about year four and five? Write it all down.

Then, take those yearly goals and break them down into monthly goals. Then, you guessed it, take those monthly goals and break them down into weekly goals. Finally, follow through with them.

One thing I love to do is to read over my goals every morning. It helps remind me what it is I am moving toward and what need to get done to be successful. At some point, you’ll nearly memorize your goals, but reading over them each day is powerful. Life is hard, and we need reminders of what we’re working toward. Plus, as you mark things off your list you get to go through and cross items off. There’s no better feeling than completing your goal.

Harness your power by setting short-term goals

I know this may all sound easy, but life happens. As a busy person myself, no matter how well-planned my short-term goals are, they still go haywire sometimes. 

Host some check-ins with yourself. There are going to be weeks that you fail. Such is life. You’ll get too busy, you’ll pick up a cold or flu, or you won’t feel like achieving your goals.

Everyone is going to hit a wall at some point. Guess what? That’s normal.

The key is how you get over that wall. So, you missed a few of your short-term goals. Whatever the reasons for it, it happened. This can lead to us feeling unmotivated and frustrated at ourselves. In fact, we may even get so upset that we stop wanting to succeed at all.

Don’t let this happen.

When you’re overwhelmed with lost short-term goals, remember why you’re doing this. Write down your reasons and motivations for why you’ve set this goal. Remember everything you want to accomplish.

Then, plan ahead. This time, plan for those road blocks. Write down what you thing could be stopping your short-term goals from getting completed. For my authenticity course, my barriers could be my work or kids stopping me from keeping up with the courses. So, how can I prevent those things?

Maybe I wake up earlier and go over the courses before the kids are up. Perhaps I do the course on my lunch break. There is always a solution to the problem that you’re facing.

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Whatever your barriers are, find them and solve them. You deserve success, and you have the power within you to make that happen. I know that setting short-term goals will make you a more successful person, and you’ll be much more productive. It can seem like a big investment in time, and it’s a little overwhelming, but life gets so much better when you set the right goals. 

Take your short-term goals, love them, cherish them, and crush them. You’re so worth that investment in your life.

Why goals aren’t so important for success

We all have things that we want to be successful at in life.

We want to get into better shape, write a book, have a loving relationship, raise a happy family, win the championship, and so on.

For most of us, the path to success begins by setting a specific and actionable goal.

This was how I approached my life until recently. I would set goals for my health, relationships, business and even my body.

What I’m now realizing, however, is that when it comes to actually getting things done in areas that are meaningful to me, there’s a much better way to approach things.

It comes down to the difference between goals and processes.

Here’s what I mean.

The difference between goals and processes

  • If you’re a writer, your goal is to write a book. Your process is to write a certain amount each day.
  • If you’re a long distance runner, your goal is to run a marathon. Your process is to run a certain amount each week.
  • If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a million dollar business. You design marketing, sales and product development processes.
  • If you’re a sports coach, your goal is to win the championship. Your process what your team does at practice each day.

Think of the following question:

If you completely ignored your goals and focused only on your process, would you still get your results?

My proposition is that you would. In fact, you would more likely achieve success.

Here’s an example. At Ideapod we created the blog you’re reading this article on, and over the last 6 months we’ve written over 2,000 articles at an average word count of 700 words each, reaching around 140,000 words. The average book is 50-60,000 words, so we’ve written enough to fill more than two books since beginning this blog.

We never set a specific goal or writing two books. If we had have, that would have been overwhelming. Instead, we set up a process where we consistently wrote 10 articles per day between us (usually two people although we’ve also had some guest writers).

Our results have exceeded expectations, with the blog bringing over 2 million unique visitors monthly and growing, and more importantly generating a lot of awareness for our social network, Ideapod.

Having the goal of reaching this many visitors would have been the wrong focus for us. It’s been much better to focus on process.

Here are some reasons why you should focus on processes instead of goals.

1. Goals reduce your current happiness

When you have a goal in mind, you’re basically saying that you’re not currently good enough, but I will be when I reach that goal.

Think about this.

You’re creating a mindset where you’re putting off your feelings of fulfilment and success until the next milestone is achieved.

You’re putting off your happiness to a later date.

Here’s the solution: commit to your processes, not your goal.

Committing to a goal creates a massive burden. Think about the blog we created. Can you imagine how much stress we would have been under if we had set the goal of reaching 2 million unique visitors monthly within 6 months? Or writing two full books worth of content?

Just thinking about that creates stress for me.

Yet we’re always creating this kind of stress in our lives. We’re continually telling ourselves that who we are today is not good enough. We define a future version of ourselves and berate ourselves for not being that person.

When you focus on the processes rather than the goal, you can enjoy the present moment while knowing that you’re continually improving yourself.

2. Goals don’t help achieve long-term progress

It seems logical that goals will help you get better over the long-term. Yet that’s not always the case.

I once ran a marathon in 2012, which I consider one of my greatest achievements. About six months before the marathon, I set the goal of finishing it.

I started running every day, quickly improving my fitness levels. All of my efforts were focused on achieving this goal.

Finishing the marathon is one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had. Yet after I achieved that goal, my running ground to a halt. I didn’t have the goal to motivate me anymore.

Instead, if I had have been focused on the process of running every week, I may still be running today. I may have run many more marathons in the last 5 years.

The solution is to let go of the pressure of trying to achieve immediate results.

Let go of the goal based mentality and start focusing the long term processes that will create continual improvement.

In the end, processes always win.

3. Goals create the illusion of control

Despite the claims of many clairvoyants, you can’t predict the future.

Yet whenever we set a goal, that’s what we’re trying to do. We base our goals on all manner of predictions about how fast we’ll progress, even though we really don’t know what’s going to happen along the way.

Instead, it’s much more effective to build in feedback loops that will tell you whether you’re on track or not.

Every day, we look at a range of metrics for our blog. We look at our website analytics, how many people sign up for our email list, whether people are joining Ideapod and how many people are becoming fans of our Facebook page. We also look at the ratios between all of this to understand what our conversion rate is, which we monitor weekly.

Feedback loops are important for the design of any good system because they’ll tell you whether your processes are keeping you on track.

Forget about trying to predict the future, and instead build processes that will tell you when you need to make adjustments.

Embrace your processes

I’m not saying that goals aren’t important. They are. They help set the direction for where you want to get to.

However, once you’ve set your goals, it’s time to focus instead on the processes that will help you live the life you want to live.

As the author Chuck Close says:

“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.”



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Jess Carpenter

Jess Carpenter

I studied at The University of Utah where I earned both my B.S. and M.S. and am a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES certified). My favorite spot to write is wherever I can see my toddlers to ensure they aren’t jumping from the second story or coloring on the walls.

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