How to Set and Crush Short-Term Goals

A planner sits open on a desk on top of a laptop and next to a glass of iced tea.

Short-term goals are the key to success.

Big change doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it’s the result of incremental, consistent forward progress — week to week, month to month. It’s short-term goals that build on each other that, over time, turn into something major and life-changing.

Sometimes, short-term goals are even more effective than your long-term ones because the short timeline allows for sharper focus and clearer deadlines.

How many times have you set a resolution for the year that’s totally been thrown out the window by May or June? Sometimes this happens because of forces entirely out of your control that you could never have predicted — like an unexpected life change or a new opportunity — and sometimes this happens because it’s just too hard to see a finish line that’s 12 months away. 

Generally speaking, a short-term goal is something that you can accomplish in less than a year. Here’s why that can be so effective:

  • Your goals will be more realistic. Do you know what your day-to-day is going to look like next week? Probably. Next month? Maybe. A year from now? Probably not. Your future is easier to predict in a shorter period of time, which means setting short-term goals can help ensure that you’re setting expectations for yourself that actually match your lifestyle. 
  • The finish line is much closer. It can be really easy to lose motivation (and to lose sight of your goal) when the finish line is years away. Doing something for 30, 60, or even 90 days, on the other hand, feels much more manageable.

If your long-term goal is to own a successful jewelry making business, your short-term goals might be to set up your Etsy shop and sell 10 products. If your long-term goal is to become a better cook, maybe your short-term goal is to take a cooking class. If your long-term goal is to run in the New York Marathon, maybe your short-term goal is to train for a 10K happening this fall. You get the idea.

We’re all about setting specific, measurable goals, but even so, “get a job as a programmer” can feel a lot farther away and less attainable than “complete a coding course,” or “attend 3 networking events” — both of which are short-term goals that will help you get a step or two closer to landing your bigger goal of getting that dream job. 

So where do you start?

Guidelines for setting short-term goals

Just like any goal you set, you’ll want to make sure your short-term goals are SMART — specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. (Learn more about setting SMART goals here, and get a free worksheet!)

Here are four methods to use to help you visualize some of your short-term goals:

  • Work backwards: Where do you want your life to be in a year? In five years? In 10? Now think about what changes you can make this week, this month, or this quarter that will get you a little bit closer to that vision. 
  • Divide your project into pieces: If your goals are project-specific, like launching a website, rebranding your business, or writing a novel, try breaking the project up into phases and assigning each of those pieces its own specific, short-term deadline. What does phase 1 look like? What about phases 2 and 3? 
  • Make a bucket list: Take 15 minutes and write down every single way you can think of to end this sentence: “One day, I’d like to…” Maybe your list has things like go scuba diving, learn to salsa dance, travel to India, or learn Spanish. How could you start working some of those bucket list items into your near future? Maybe you could sign up for a dance class, get scuba certified, or set a savings goal for future travel.
  • Picture your perfect day: If you had an absolutely perfect day where you could do anything that you wanted, how would you spend that day? Now, what can you do in the next 1-3 months to start implementing more of those activities into your schedule? 

How to stay on track with short-term goals

Now that you have your short-term goal in mind, the next step is to write it down. 

Studies show that the simple act of writing down your goals can make you more likely to accomplish them, and here at Ink+Volt we are big proponents of this fact.

Once you have your short-term goals in writing, you’ll want to set up regular milestones or points for self check-in. Checking in at the beginning of each week or month can be natural times to reflect on your progress, identify areas you need to focus on, and celebrate your wins. It can help you make sure that you’re on track — and if you’re not, give you structured time to figure out what your plan is to get back to the place you want to be.

I also always recommend setting rewards for yourself once you reach a certain checkpoint or milestone. After you’ve finished the rough draft of that big pitch, relax with an evening of your favorite Netflix show, a phone call with your best friend, or a pint of your favorite ice cream. Having something to look forward to — and even better, a reward that you’re not going to have to wait a whole year for — can help keep you motivated when the going gets tough, because we know that there will be days when that happens.

I love the Ink+Volt 3-Month Goal Planner for staying on top of all of my short-term goals. It applies Ink+Volt’s proven goal-setting systems to short-term, 90-day goals. The opening pages will prompt you to think about the roadmap of your future, identify where you want to go, and how you’ll know when you’ve been successful. You’ll have a chance to create a timeline for the next 90 days, and break down exactly what milestones you want to achieve by 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days. 

It also includes opportunities for planning, level-setting, and reflection each week and month to help you stay on track, making forward progress.

If you’ve always wanted a planner that’s a little lighter and more travel-friendly, or if you’ve always wanted to try the Ink+Volt Goal Planner, but weren’t ready to commit to a full year, this is the tool for you.

We can’t wait to see the great things you accomplish by setting and sticking with short-term goals!

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