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Definition of Short Term Goal Setting

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Setting goals helps us figure out what we want. It's the first step in developing a plan for the future, whether you're thinking about your professional or personal life. Short-term goals, as the name suggests, are meant to be accomplished in a relatively short amount of time. Short term goals are often part of longer term goals.

Define "Short-Term Goal"

A short-term goal is a goal that you want to accomplish in a short amount of time - fairly soon from the present time. The length of time needed to achieve a short-term goal varies from one person to the next, and it also depends on the goal being set. Generally speaking, when we define a short-term goal, we're talking about one that is achievable within a year, though the goal may require just a day, a week or a month. Examples of short-term goals:

  • Take a class.
  • Save up to buy a new television.
  • Update my resume.

Long-Term Goals

Long-term goals need time and planning. They usually take a year or more to achieve. Long-term goal examples include the following:

  • Graduate from college.
  • Save for retirement.
  • Start my own business.
  • Have children and raise them to adulthood.

The difference between short- and long-term goals is more than the length of time required to achieve them. For example, if your goal is take a class, you need to choose a class and then enroll. Graduating from college, on the other hand, is a long term goal that requires you to take many classes. In addition to planning your course of study, you have to figure out how to budget your time and money over a several-year period to achieve your goal.

To buy a television, you might put away a certain amount from each paycheck over a period of several weeks or months. Saving for retirement is a long-term goal pursued over your working life, potentially over several decades.

You might need to update your resume for your current employer or to find a new job. This task is easily accomplished in a few days, by updating it, and possibly sending it to a copy center to use professional-grade paper and fonts, so that your resume looks its most professional. Starting your own business is a long-term goal, because it requires you to make many decisions. You'll also need to work with other people, such as vendors, realtors and bankers.

Setting Your Goals

Setting short-term goals is usually easy, since they typically involve only a few steps. So how do you set long-term goals? Think about what you want to achieve. Where do you want to be in life five years from now? Ten years from now? Define your goals, then work backwards, planning the steps necessary to get where you want to be. Write down the steps and decide what you need to do each month to bring you closer to realizing your goal.

Putting your goals in writing is an important step. Do not skip it. Research shows that people who write down their goals are 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to achieve them, compared to people who do not put their goals in writing. There are two reasons for this. One called be called "external storage." You're creating a visual reminder for yourself that you can refer to every day. You might enter a detailed description of your goals into a planner, illustrated with drawings and charts. Or, you may only have a hastily scribbled message to yourself that you stick on your refrigerator. The point is, you'll have your goal staring you in the face every day, which is really tough to ignore. There's also a biological phenomenon called encoding that is at work when we write something down. You're much more likely to remember something, including a goal, after the physically writing it.

Determine Your Priorities

You may be able to accomplish all your long term goals, but you cannot accomplish them all at once. Make a list of your goals and choose the one that is most important to you right now. Focus your efforts on that goal. You can add more goals as you become comfortable with your efforts. Remember to be flexible. Life can take unexpected twists and turns, so you may have to readjust your goals or set new ones as your life changes.


People sometimes have trouble accomplishing their goals because their ideas are vague. Academic and career advisors often encourage thinking about the letters in "smart" in setting short term and long term goals. SMART goals help you stay organized and focused.

  • S stands for "specific." Compare the statement "I want to get a better job" with "I want to get a job as an office manager for a small to medium manufacturing company." A specific goal helps you target your efforts.
  • M stands for "measurable." How will you know whether or not you have achieved your goal if you don't have some sort of yardstick? "Get good grades" is a vague goal. "Get a GPA of 3.0 or higher lets you know exactly where you are.
  • A stands for "achievable." Your goal has to be something you can reasonably accomplish. Becoming a supervisor at your current place of business is an achievable goal. Setting your sights on the position of CEO at Apple or Microsoft, for example, is not realistic.
  • R stands for "relevant." Think of relevance as your reason for wanting to achieve the goal. If you don't know what motivates you, it may be difficult to keep your momentum if the going gets tough. 
  • T stands for "time-bound." Procrastination is the enemy of accomplishment. It's important to set deadlines for yourself, not just for the end result, but for smaller goals along the way. Think of a long term goal as a marathon. You'll need to pass a number of checkpoints before getting to the finish line. You just have to get started.

Denise Dayton is a a freelance writer who specializes in business, education and technology. She has written for, Library Journal, The Searcher, Bureau of Education and Research, and corporate clients.

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