Short-Term Goals: A Step-by-Step Guide to Setting SMART Personal Goals
When it comes to personal success, few tools are as powerful as good short-term goals. And yet, few people know what a good short-term goal looks like, let alone how to set one effectively.
If you’ve tried taking action on 12-month or even 90-day goals you may know what I’m talking about. The world changes too fast, and the human brain just doesn’t alternate well between today and those kinds of time frames.
Sure – it’s important, vital even, to know where you’re heading and what you’ll be working on for the foreseeable future.
But that’s not the same thing as knowing precisely what to do next. And trying to apply short-term, practical goal setting practices to big strategic problems is like swallowing a watermelon in one mouthful.
It’s gonna be pretty darn uncomfortable unless you chop it up properly first.
So what’s the solution? I’m glad that you asked. Because in today’s guide we’ll answer four questions to set you up for short-term goal setting success:
- What Are Short-Term Personal Goals?
- Why Are Short-Term Goals so Important?
- What Are the Five Golden Rules for Good Short-Term Goal Setting? and
- How Can I Set Good Short-Term Goals, Step-By-Step?
The upshot? Short-term goal setting is a skill. One you can greatly improve.
And short-term goals aren’t just important, they’re a vital link in the chain from “Why am I here?” to “What’s the ONE most important thing I can work on RIGHT NOW?”
Get them wrong and you’re on track for burnout and overwhelm. Get them right and you’ll put an unstoppable engine in motion that will change every part of your life.
What Are Short-Term Personal Goals?
Let’s quickly make sure we’re all on the same page…
What Are Personal Goals?
Personal goals are any object of personal ambition or effort. They can be as humble as going out for lunch or as ambitious as solving world hunger.
They’re anything you can picture and work toward.
What Are Short-Term Goals?
Most people break personal goals into short-term, medium and long-term objectives.
But that’s where they come off the rails.
Because without a more precise definition, those boundaries can mean almost anything.
How long is a short-term goal? Should it be 1 month, or 3 months or 12? And what of the medium and long-term?
Answering these questions isn’t trivial. It’s vital to goal setting success.
Why? Because if you’ve ever felt frustrated, guilty, detached or overwhelmed by what’s on your plate, there’s a good chance your goals aren’t the problem.
It could be how you’re breaking them down.
How Long-Term Goals Differ from Short-Term Goals.
After much trial and error, my suggestions for defining personal goals in life are as follows:
- Short-term goals are goals that take ~one week or less to accomplish;
- Medium-term goals are goals that take ~three months or less accomplish; and
- Long-term goals are goals that take ~three months or more to accomplish.
Why those timeframes?
Because goal setting works best when linked closely to action – and specifically, the natural limitations of execution and planning.
Even with a perfect plan, the longest we can “get stuff done” without replanning is 5 – 10 days. Beyond that, enough’s moved on and changed to demand a quick rethink.
The boundaries on planning are trickier and depend on how fast your world changes. That said, we can often outline a few months of milestones with some confidence. Beyond that, “planning” gives way to “visualisation” as “What next?” gets increasingly vague.
- The boundary between short-term and medium-term goals is where planning starts; and
- The boundary between medium-term and long-term goals is where planning ends.
You may disagree with my exact timeframes – but even if you do, I’d encourage you to stick by their principles.
Bound short-term goals with focussed execution and medium-term goals with reliable planning and you’ll find personal goal setting process gets much less frustrating.
Why Are Short-Term Goals so Important?
In module 3 of the TRACKTION Masterclass, I teach something called “End-to-End Productivity”. In that system I show people how:
- Life-goals (mission) feed…
- Long-term goals (visions) which feed…
- Medium term goals (outcomes and plans) which feed…
- Short-term goals (weekly goals) which feed…
- Next actions (daily priorities) which answer the question:
- “What’s the ONE most important thing I can be doing RIGHT NOW?”
When we master this process, every action is defined by and aligns with our ultimate purpose. It’s an exhilarating experience that unlocks almost limitless energy.
Short-term goal setting is an integral link in that process. Getting it right breaks big objectives into meaningful, manageable chunks we can readily work to accomplish.
What Are the Five Golden Rules for Good Goal Setting? (With Examples)
Like all skills, mastering goal setting takes practice.
That said, there are a few common pitfalls you can avoid if you know what to look for.
Here are five golden rules for setting good short-term goals to help you get started:
1. Base Your Short-Term Goals on Your Long-Term Goals.
“End-to-End Productivity” is such an important idea that it’s worth re-stating the obvious:
Doing things right is pointless unless you’re doing the right things.
Always ground your short-term goals in your long-term objectives and you’ll start making unstoppable progress towards what matters most.
2. Set Balanced Goals.
If you’ve ever been to a gym, you’ve probably seen the “bros” hanging out by free-weights who think 90 minutes of bicep curls is a good, well-balanced workout.
Silly, right? And yet it’s exactly the approach so many of us take when setting our goals and investing our time. Instead of balance, we focus overwhelmingly on just a few areas of life (usually the ones we’re best at or those entering meltdown).
The result? We end up lop-sided. The performance gaps in our life-areas grow larger until our even our strengths are held back by the dead-weight of our limiting factors.
The solution? Set balanced weekly goals. Make an explicit effort to do something, each week, to improve each part of your life in some small way and you’ll see every part of your life reap the benefits.
The best way to systematically set balanced goals is to use a framework like the one in TRACKTION’s Wheel of Life.
Visual learner? Here’s an example of balanced goal setting from page 22 of the TRACKTION Planner that incorporates all the tips from this guide:
N.B., You don’t have to set equally ambitious goals in each area. But setting some goals (even small process ones) in each area, each week, will keep you mindful and accountable to the balance that’s so important to a holistic and meaningful life.
3. Set Outcome AND Process Goals.
When setting weekly goals, it’s helpful to understand and use two main types of goal:
- Outcome goals; and
- Process goals.
Outcome goals are the kind of goals that you’re probably most familiar with. They’re ✓ or ✘ goals that are either complete or incomplete (e.g., “I read The Magic of Thinking Big“).
Outcome goals are great because they give us clear targets to aim for.
But there’s a catch.
Because when the goals get too large, or the stakes too high, they can become so overwhelming that they make us less likely to act.
Process goals are a valuable way to overcome this inertia. They emphasise inputs (e.g., “I meditate for 20 minutes”) over outcomes (e.g., “I reach enlightenment”). Focussing on manageable process goals that contribute to large results is a great way to make building habits or chipping away at outcome goals more rewarding and doable.
Using both outcome and process goals when setting weekly goals will make you a much more skilful goal setter than relying on just one or the other. Result? You’ll greatly improve your ability to accomplish more of what matters.
4. Make your goals SMART(ER).
We use the word SMART(ER) as a memory-aid for the seven features you’ll want to build into any goals you set, but especially your short-term goals.
You’ll find variations on the concept but here at TAoL setting SMART(ER) goals are:
- Simple – A stranger should be able to understand your goals without explanation;
- Measurable – Make your goals trackable with a ✓, ✘ or clear units (e.g., minutes);
- Actionable – Always start your goals with a verb (Do, Read, Learn etc…);
- Realistic – If it’s not practical, break it down further or set a Process Goal;
- Time-bound – Weekly goals should be doable within 7 days;
- Exciting – Find ways to inspire and incentive yourself to finish; and
- Relevant. – Always tie your goals back to your big-picture thinking and projects.
Are there goals or projects in your life that you resist or that just don’t seem to make progress on week after week? If so, there’s a good chance your next steps are missing one or more of these attributes.
Review them against the checklist above and adjust them until you find a version that resonates.
30 SMART(ER) Short-Term Goal Examples
Perhaps the best way to understand SMART(ER) goals is to see some examples. Here are a few to get started:
Original: Date night.
Problem: Too simple. Not measurable. Not actionable.
SMARTER: Call Kembali (0812-3756-7156) to book date night table for 2 on Friday.
Original: Read more.
Problem: Not measurable. Not actionable.
SMARTER: Read Getting Things Done for  (150) minutes.
Original: Lose 30kg.
Problem: Not actionable. Not realistic (in a week).
SMARTER: Eat < 1500 KCal on  days.
N.B., Splitting process goals into brackets as above lets you track your progress, giving you clarity and a sense of achievement as you go.
Want more ideas? Here are 27 more short-term goal examples (including some short-term career goals).
5. Step Back and Evaluate Your Goals Often.
There are three times when it’s important to step back and evaluate your weekly goals:
- Right after you’ve set them;
- At the end of each day; and
- At the end of the week.
It can be easy to lost track of the big picture as you work through TRACKTION’s eight core areas setting your weekly goals. That’s why one of the most important times to review your weekly goals is right after you’ve set them.
Ask two questions:
- “Is it realistic for me to achieve all these goals in the next 7 days?” and
- “If I only managed to complete these goals this week, would my week be a success?”
Your answer to both questions should be a confident “Yes”. If not, go back through your goals and adjust them until you feel happy with the results.
The second most important time to review your weekly goals is at the end of each day. Doing so will help you reconnect with your balanced vision for this week’s success on a daily basis. It’ll also help remind you of what it is you still need to work on as you set your Daily Priorities.
Finally, you should always make time to review and reflect on your weekly Goals at the end of each week. “What got done?”, “What didn’t get done?” and “Why not?” are all helpful questions to ask. Doing so will help you spot (and fix) any patterns of neglect. It’ll also make you better at estimating what is and isn’t possible to achieve within 7 days (for more tips on this, see the Reflection section of this guide).
How Can I Set Good Short-Term Goals, Step-By-Step?
When it comes to personal success, few practices are as effective as weekly short-term goal setting. Short-term goals break our bigger outcomes and visions into manageable milestones. They’re a critical link in getting from “Why am I here?” to “What’s the ONE most important thing I can be doing RIGHT NOW?”
We’ve covered five ways to set yours up for success:
- Base your short-term goals on your long-term goals.
- Set balanced goals.
- Set outcome AND process goals.
- Make your goals SMART(ER).
- Step back and evaluate your short-term goals often.
If your weekly goals don’t seem to be working for you, come back to this list. There’s a good chance you’ve lost sight of one of these principles.
What should you do next? Here are six steps to setting effective short-term goals:
- Review your big-picture thinking (mission, visions, projects, plans and actions).
- Based on these, set one goal in each area of life that’s doable in the next 7 days.
- Review each of your short-term goals to make sure it’s SMART(ER).
- Review your whole list and ask:
- “Is this realistic?” and
- “Is this sufficient?”
- Review each goal, each evening and ask:
- “Where am I on this?” and
- “How can I make progress tomorrow?”
- Review each goal, each weekend and ask:
- “What got done?”
- “What didn’t get done?” and
- “Why not?”
Like any worthwhile skill, goal setting takes practice to master. You’ll take too much on in some weeks and not enough in others. Getting a better feel for what’s doable within seven days is one of the most valuable parts of this process.
So, take action:
- Turn to page 22 of the TRACKTION Planner to set your first weekly goals;
- Check out the TRACKTION Masterclass for more help integrating your goals with the rest of your life; or
- Leave a comment if you have any questions (and I’ll get back to you ASAP).
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” (Theodore Roosevelt)
And remember: look after your weeks and the years will look after themselves.
(P.s., Quick heads up – for a limited time, you’ll find discounted, stand-alone access to all the recordings, templates and worksheets from Module 3: “End to End Productivity” of the TRACKTION Masterclass on the TRACKTION Planner checkout. If that’s something you think might be helpful, I’d encourage you not to miss out!)