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16 examples of short-term goals to help you grow

Last updated

23 January 2024

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Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Warren Jonas ACC

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Setting goals helps change the way we interact with our daily routines and challenges. Simply the act of setting clear goals can make us more motivated, self-confident, and driven by internal stimuli.

But, while goal-setting is a valuable activity, it's important to intentionally set the right types of goals, with clear objectives whose progress you can measure over a set period. Whether you're setting goals as part of your New Year's resolution or embarking on a 30-day challenge, setting specific short-term goals instead of long-term goals or vague aspirations can jumpstart your progress—and your motivation.

Setting and achieving goals is all about putting in the prep work. You need to brainstorm goals, set the right ones for your personal and professional life, and make sure they're structured to maximize your chances of success.

In this guide, we walk through what short-term goals are and how they differ from other types of goals. We'll also look at several examples of good short-term goals and break down their structure, an element that makes all the difference.

By the end of this article, you'll have a handy framework for transforming your wishes and dreams into concrete goals that will help you grow in all aspects of your life.

What is a short-term goal?

A goal is a specific ambition you want to achieve, whether it's a specific outcome (e.g., "I want to be a certified public accountant.") or a specific action (e.g., "I want to pass the CPA exams and complete my finance degree."). Before we discuss the ideal length of a goal statement, we need to consider its structure.

For many people, choosing an action-based goal is more specific and motivational. It contains some fundamental aspects of how to achieve the goal in the first place. Compare:

  • "I want to be stronger" (less specific) vs. "I want to deadlift my body weight" (more specific)

  • "I want to type faster" (less specific) vs. "I want to type at 150 wpm" (more specific)

Changing the nature of the goal from the outcome to the action puts goal-setters in a more active mindset, with an emphasis on the “how” rather than simply the “what.”

A short-term goal is one you can achieve within a relatively short period. Generally, short-term goals are set for less than a year, though you might define your own short-term goals as something you can reach within a month or even a week. For example, your short-term goal may be that you want to type at 150 wpm within a month.

Why short-term goals are important

Setting short-term goals can give you much more motivation and structure than long-term goals or, even worse, goals without a defined deadline.

They offer several benefits. The simple act of setting a nearby deadline and paring down the goal to reasonably fit that deadline can make all the difference in your success.

They’re more specific

When you have to think of goals in the context of a week or a month, you're much more likely to set goals that aren't impossible. For example, you may have a goal of changing your career or losing weight. As broad, long-term pursuits, these may be great aspirations. But they don't give you direction or tell you what to do first.

When you're given a specific deadline or length of time, it's more natural to think in smaller, concrete steps. If you're thinking of how to make a change within 30 days, you might change your goal to starting a training program, researching continuing education programs, or meal-prepping your lunches.

They’re more realistic

Similarly, a close deadline means you're more likely to set a reasonable goal—and there are a couple of different reasons for this.

First, consider the likelihood of procrastinating on your goals. If you set a two-year goal of “changing your career,” you might not do anything about it that first month; after all, you still have the vast majority of that two-year window to get started. That kind of thinking can zap all your momentum and motivation.

Second, long-term goals tend to be vague and hard to start in the first place. But if your goal needs to be a short-term goal, you know you can't transition to a new career in that time, so the goal doesn't make sense. Instead, your goal might be to apply to a master's degree program.

Pro tip: Short-term goals can be milestone goals as you pursue a longer-term goal. We'll discuss this in more depth later, but it's a useful framework for breaking down big, life-changing goals into bite-sized, actionable changes.

They help you get started

Short-term goals act as a catalyst for initiating action. Many people struggle with the inertia of starting, often feeling overwhelmed or uncertain about where to begin. Short-term goals break down this barrier, providing clear, achievable steps that create initial momentum and guide you out of a state of paralysis.

You can see results quickly

When it comes to achieving goals, motivation is one of the biggest factors. Different things can affect your motivation, including:

  • Difficulty of the goal

  • Relevance to your daily life

  • Speed of your measurable progress

When you focus on short-term goals, every few days will give you measurable results (or let you know if you've fallen off the track). Even better, the finish line is just a short distance away, at which point you will likely have achieved the goal.

This primes you to set more and more short-term goals, see positive results, and begin the cycle again.

The difference between short-term goals and long-term goals

The difference between a short-term goal and a long-term goal is, primarily, the timeline. Short-term goals, as we've discussed, are achieved in a relatively short timeframe, from a week to a year. Long-term goals can be between three and five years long (sometimes longer), whether they're long-term career goals or long-term financial goals.

Because of that much longer period, the goals themselves will be different. Long-term goals can be broader and more significant. Examples include:

  • Graduating with a degree

  • Learning a new language

  • Completing a marathon

  • Becoming a foster parent

Long-term goals can be incredibly powerful. They're a guiding motivation and may represent an important change or achievement you want in your life.

However, it's important to be careful when crafting long-term goals. If they're too vague, they can become a dream—something you think about but don't make structured progress toward.

Long-term goals can also be too ambitious. After all, planning to have a Ph.D. when you're still completing your bachelor's degree may not be possible within three to five years. Having a business that makes $1 million in revenue per year may also be too big a goal to achieve in five years. But knowing how much progress can fit into this timespan is tricky.

Long-term dreams and aspirations can motivate you, but to ensure you achieve them, it helps to break them down into a series of sequential short-term and medium-term goals that progress toward the destination with more structure and momentum. Then, by arranging these shorter goals into a manageable sequence, you can create a five-, seven-, or ten-year plan.

What is a medium-term goal?

A medium-term goal falls somewhere between a short-term goal's timeline and the timeline of a long-term goal. Medium-term goals may take between six months and two years to achieve. These goals have an intermediate difficulty level and may take longer than you can reasonably complete in a short-term window. Examples of medium-term goals are:

  • Saving up for a new car

  • Buying a house

  • Getting a big promotion

As with long-term goals, you can use a medium-term goal to establish a larger vision. Then, break it down into short-term goals with bite-sized achievements so you can steadily make progress toward that final pursuit.

For example, if you want to save up $30,000 to buy a new home, that is likely impossible to do within the next six months—that would be $5,000 every month! But if you give yourself two and a half years to achieve it by saving $1,000 a month, you can make steady, reasonable progress toward that big objective.

What makes a good goal?

We’ve already looked at several different examples of goals, and some are much better than others. Regardless of the category or pursuit, some structures are simply more effective than others. Specific goals are better than vague goals, and goals with a deadline are even better. But what's the cheat code for creating a goal that is most likely to help you achieve your goals?

There are a few goal frameworks. One of the most popular goal structures is SMART. This acronym, and the principles behind it, have withstood the test of time and are still used in professional and personal goal-setting routines around the world. There are also FAST goals (goals that are frequently discussed, ambitious, specific, and transparent) or PACTs (goals that are purposeful, actionable, continuous, and trackable). These acronyms represent many of the same concepts, just with a slightly different flavor. FAST goals are SMART goals that are discussed or thought about a lot, and PACTs have an emphasis on tracking.

While everyone can choose the acronym and style that works best for them, the fundamentals are the same as the original SMART goal schema. To have a SMART short-term goal, your objective needs to have these five characteristics:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Attainable/achievable

  • Relevant

  • Time-based

Specific

Specific goals identify a clear objective and may even include the actions necessary to achieve that objective. For example, you might set the fitness goal of being able to deadlift a heavy weight by adopting an upper-lower split workout schedule. Or, you might set a specific professional goal of finishing a three-hour training course through your organization's learning management system (LMS).

There is a quick litmus test you can use to know if your goal is specific. Just ask yourself: Will you know if you've accomplished the goal or not?

This is a simple but effective way to assess the specificity of your goal. If your goal is simply to “be strong” or “learn a new skill,” it's hard to say if you've achieved what you set out to do. Specific goals are easy to assess and can be stand-alone or goals within a larger pursuit.

Measurable

While 'specific' is a good start, they make goals a pass/fail objective. If you're just one quiz away from finishing that course when you hit the deadline, you may feel like you've failed just as much as if you hadn't even started. But when you take a step back, you know you nearly succeeded!

Making your goals measurable makes it easy to know exactly when you achieved a goal or, if you don't reach the finish line, how close you got. For example, if you make a fitness goal of deadlifting half your body weight, you'll know exactly when you achieve it. You'll also know if you got close—achieving 98% of that goal is measurable progress, even if it's not the 100% you were aiming for.

Measurable goals can also be broken down into milestone goals so you can set up mini-goals along the way and make sure you're on track. For that professional goal, you can aim to do one hour of the course a week, giving yourself a bit of room in case you fall behind.

Attainable/Achievable

While different SMART goal practitioners use either “attainable” or “achievable,” it's all about being realistic. After all, good goals should be motivating and possible. You might set stretch goals that take a lot of effort, or you might set specific goals to add structure to your pursuits. Either way, avoid setting goals where the risk of falling short is too high.

If you're new to goal-setting and aren't sure what is achievable for you, there are two tactics you can use:

  • Set milestones, and give yourself a grace period to adjust your goal. If you're 10 days into your month-long SMART goal but only achieved half of your 10-day milestone, consider adjusting the main goal to 50% of your original one. That makes it more achievable, and you can make your next goal more or less ambitious based on your progress over time.

  • Be forgiving of yourself. If you set a short-term goal that's more ambitious than achievable, don't get dispirited. Remember your goal is measurable—whether you achieved 75% or 30% of the goal, that's still progress. Just adjust your next goal to reflect your new self-knowledge.

Relevant

Relevance is all about the goal's place in your long-term vision or your daily routine. Is completing that three-hour course relevant to your day-to-day work tasks? Will it help you get a new job or make you eligible for a promotion? If so, that's a relevant goal.

But if the course is something you were passingly interested in and not important to your goals or daily life, you might pass on this goal and choose something else.

Time-based

SMART goals don't have to be short-term goals, but they must always have a time limit. Setting a deadline offers a lot of benefits:

  • You can break up the period into different milestone goals to keep your progress in check.

  • It's inherently motivating—an open-ended goal is one you can always put off until tomorrow.

  • It gives you more insight for future goals. Once you know what you can and can't achieve within a short-term time frame, you can set more precise goals in the future.

The difference between goals and aspirations

An aspiration is a hope or desire that you may dream about or want without taking any steps toward achieving it. Someone may aspire to own a business without ever starting one. They may aspire to run a marathon without starting a running or jogging routine.

To transform an aspiration into a goal, identify specific actions you must take to pursue that aspiration, a timeline for completing those actions, and what the actual, specific outcome should be. You can use goals to fulfill what used to be aspirations.

16 short-term goal examples

With a solid understanding of the essential elements of good short-term goals, you can start to examine your own personal life, aspirations, and ideas. What are some goals you can achieve within a week, a month, or less than a year?

There are four broad categories of goals that most people focus on:

  • Professional

  • Personal

  • Learning

  • Fitness

While you can create your own short-term goals, start by looking at these example goals. They are short-term SMART goals that you can adapt to create your own. Make sure they include all the elements you need for success.

Short-term professional goals

1. Complete [an online course] within 30 days

Begin by selecting a course that's relevant to your career or a requirement for your professional certification. Depending on the length or complexity of the course, you can change the deadline of this professional development goal to make it attainable.

2. Connect with 20 professionals on LinkedIn in the next 30 days

While completing a course is relatively straightforward, there are also short-term career goals that are a bit more complex. This goal may involve reaching out to former coworkers, cold-emailing professionals in your industry, and networking with current coworkers. So, set milestones within the timeframe to focus on sub-goals or give yourself enough time.

3. Use a time tracker to track online time for seven days

Some monthly or weekly goals may not have a specific result or change. Instead, these types of goals help you gain more knowledge about yourself, may indirectly change your behaviors, or can help you brainstorm future goals.

4. Attend a professional workshop within the next month

Think about local workshops or virtual conferences. Because there are multiple steps in this goal (exploring different options, RSVPing, and attending), give yourself a bit of time to select an interesting workshop—but not so much time that you put it off!

5. Organize your home office within seven days

If you work from home, structuring your environment can be just as important as learning new skills and networking. With this goal, you can develop your style for completing it. You might clean a bit of the room each day, reorganize the whole room in different stages, or do it all in one busy afternoon.

Short-term personal goals

6. Create a morning routine that you follow for 10 days in a row

This goal is more complex but allows some flexibility. You'll create a routine or choose a morning routine from a trusted source. Give yourself a deadline for achieving it 10 days in a row. Alternatively, modify the goal so you have to follow it for at least 10 days within a 15-day window.

7. Start a savings plan within 30 days

Saving money is often a medium-term or long-term goal. Standalone short-term financial goals are a little harder to create. But setting up your savings plan should be a short-term goal so you can get the ball rolling on your ultimate goal. Use this period to pick a savings strategy, open a savings account, and even create a budget.

8. Drink at least a liter of water a day for seven days

With health-related personal goals, you may need to start with small changes or even consult a physician before getting started. It's better to start small goals safely than set ambitious and potentially hazardous goals.

9. Meet with friends at least once a week for a month

All short-term SMART goals should be specific—but how specific they are is up to your preferences. You can modify this goal to be about a specific recurring event and specific groups, or you can challenge yourself to participate in a different event every week or even multiple times per week.

Short-term learning goals

10. Read one book within a week

This is a great specific goal to jumpstart a reading habit. Then follow it up with a similar goal to the next one.

11. Read two books within a month

This goal is a strong follow-up to the shorter goal of reading one book. If you want your goal to become a habit, build on it by increasing the timeline and the number of tasks.

12. Develop a study routine and follow it for a month

Similar to creating a savings plan, this goal involves creating your process and implementing it to repeat regularly.

13. Spend 15 minutes a day learning a new language for a month

This short-term goal breaks down a longer-term goal (learning a language) and makes it more approachable. Rather than focusing on a specific learning objective or outcome, it helps make daily learning a routine habit. It works best in tangent with outcome-based goals.

Short-term fitness goals

14. Walk at least 10,000 steps a day for a month

This goal is specific, measurable, and, depending on your lifestyle, achievable. You can also modify it to raise or lower the goal difficulty to fit your current fitness level.

15. Run a mile in 10 minutes within six weeks

This is an outcome-based goal that will require milestones and continuous progress. The timeline for the goal is also built to complement many free running programs online, which have six-week programs. You can adjust the objective, the speed, and the timeline to fit your needs.

16. Double your push-up count within a month

You can create measurable goals without using specific numbers like 20 push-ups or 50 push-ups. When you first start your goals, after all, you may not know how much progress is achievable (or attainable) (the 'A' in SMART). So you can set goals like doubling your current threshold to personalize goals over time.

Prioritizing your goals

There are several different approaches you can use to prioritize your goals so you don't try to take on too many changes at once. Some ways to organize and prioritize your goals are:

  • Organize your goals in sequential order. Some goals, such as running a mile in 10 minutes, may work better after walking 10,000 steps a day for a month.

  • Choose one goal per category at a time, especially at first. This carousel-style approach means you can make progress in every important area of your life without being too ambitious or overwhelming yourself.

  • Use the Eisenhower Matrix. The Eisenhower Matrix is a two-by-two grid, and the squares are:

    • Urgent and important

    • Urgent but not important

    • Important but not urgent

    • Important and urgent

Some goals may be urgent, such as building your professional network or starting a savings plan, so make those goals a priority.

Tracking goal progress

Short-term SMART goals are measurable and have a clear deadline. That makes it exceptionally easy to track your progress. You can conduct basic tracking, like seeing if you reached your goal (or how close you got to it) by the deadline. You can also break up individual goals into milestones to track progress, motivate yourself, and ensure you aren't facing an impossible task at the end of the time window.

Another way to track your goals is to maintain a record of them over time, even after you've completed the goal. Create a spreadsheet or document that shows:

  • Your goals

  • Whether you reached the goal or how much you accomplished

  • Follow-up goals for a larger goal or aspiration

  • What you learned along the way

Keeping a goal journal can make you more motivated to continue setting and pursuing goals. You'll also have a record of all the ways you've grown and developed over time.

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