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How to accomplish big things with long-term goals

Caeleigh MacNeil contributor headshotCaeleigh MacNeil
April 29th, 2024
9 min read
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Long-term goals are objectives you want to achieve months or years down the road. Setting this type of goal gives your work purpose, helps you make better decisions, and offers a hefty dose of daily motivation. In this article, we explain how you can use long-term goals to accomplish big things over time, with examples.

When you think of an ideal future for your work, what do you see? Perhaps you envision yourself launching a new global product, hitting record sales numbers, or recruiting the best talent in your field. But while it’s easy to imagine those dream scenarios, actually getting there is another story. That’s where long-term goals can help. 

Setting long-term goals helps turn your daydreams into concrete objectives that you can work towards with intention. Aside from helping you achieve difficult things, they’re also a useful tool to prioritize your work and decide what success looks like for you. 

What are long-term goals?

Long-term goals are objectives you want to achieve in the future, months or years down the road. They’re difficult to accomplish and require advance planning and consistent work over a long period of time—like turning a startup into a profitable business, revamping your organizational culture, or becoming a team leader.

Set and achieve goals with Asana

Long-term goals vs. short-term goals

Long-term goals give your work direction and purpose. They’re usually made up of smaller, short-term goals, which are the stepping stones that help you accomplish your larger goals. While long-term goals are your north star, short-term goals make the work feel less daunting by breaking it up into actionable steps. 

For example, if your long-term goal is to double sales revenue in two years, a related short-term goal might be to hire three new sales reps this quarter. 

Benefits of long-term goals

Setting long-term goals can help you tackle big objectives at work and in your personal life. Here’s how. 

Improving focus and clarity

According to a 2020 report, some 86% of leaders say defining a purpose is essential to a successful growth strategy. Long-term goals help with that clarity because setting them encourages you to intentionally decide what kind of future you're striving for.

Creating a sense of purpose

When you set a long-term goal, you're deciding what success looks like to you. For example, if you set a vague intention to "increase sales revenue," it's difficult to measure progress and success. By clarifying your long-term goal to hit 2 million dollars in sales revenue in the next five years, you give your team a clear vision of success to aim for. 

Betters decision making

While many decisions aren't as simple as left or right, a long-term goal can be your compass. When you're faced with a choice, you can evaluate how each option might help you reach your goal.

Staying motivated

Long-term goals are also a powerful motivational tool. Specifically, long-term goals help with intrinsic motivation—the drive to succeed that comes from within yourself, rather than external factors like praise or compensation.

Read: The secret culprit behind your lack of motivation at work

How to set long-term goals

The best long-term goals take a bit of planning. Here’s how to create goals and stick with them for the long haul. 

1. Visualize your ideal future

Before you create your goals, you have to decide what you want to achieve. Keep in mind that long-term goals are a big commitment. To create goals you can stick with, make sure they really matter to you and align with your values. This helps you stay motivated and avoid burnout

If you’re setting long-term objectives for your business, this means consulting with your mission, vision statement, and company values. If you’re setting personal work goals, try to identify your values first. Ask yourself what’s most important to you and what has fulfilled you most in the past—for example, you might value creativity, customer interaction, or organization.  

2. Write SMART goals

Goals should be clearly defined and falsifiable, so you have a concrete path to success. Luckily, the SMART goal framework makes it easy to create clear and measurable goals. SMART is an acronym that stands for: 

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Achievable

  • Realistic

  • Time-bound

Here’s an example of a SMART goal: “This year, the engineering team will launch a mobile-first company website optimized for iOS and Android devices.” It specifies the type of website and what qualities it should possess, allows you to measure success based on whether or not the website has launched, is attainable (assuming you have sufficient engineering resources), and can realistically be achieved within the specified time frame.

Read: Write better SMART goals with these tips and examples

3. Prioritize your goals

Now that you’ve set goals, it’s time to prioritize them. It can be tempting to try to tackle all your objectives at once, but that’s usually not realistic. You have to take into account what resources are available, including your own personal bandwidth. 

To prioritize, start by listing out all your long-term goals. Highlight which ones are most important to you. Make a note of when you want to achieve each goal and estimate how long it will take. Based on those factors, decide which goals you want to focus on right away and which ones you’ll put on hold until more bandwidth opens up.

Read: How to prioritize your most important work

4. Break long-term goals into short-term goals

Long-term goals take hard work to achieve, so it’s normal for them to feel a bit daunting at first. That’s where short-term goals come into play. These smaller stepping stones break the work down into bite-sized tasks you can tackle within a shorter time frame, such as a day, week, or month. 

To set short-term goals, write down all the tasks you need to accomplish in order to reach your long-term goal. Think of them as dependencies—hitting these goals unblocks your ultimate, long-term goal. Then, turn each of those dependencies into its own SMART goal. 

Example: Microsoft famously had a long-term goal in the early 1980s to put "a computer on every desk and in every home." They then broke this down into shorter-term goals around developing affordable hardware, creating a user-friendly operating system, and partnering with manufacturers to get their software preinstalled on new PCs. These incremental goals paved the way for Microsoft to become the PC market leader.

5. Make a plan to track your progress

In order for long-term goals to be effective, they should be connected to your day-to-day work. That means instead of setting and forgetting your goals, make a plan to regularly check in and update your progress—for example, at the end of each day or week. And with the short-term goals you’ve set, it will be easier to gauge your progress and determine if you’re on track for your long-term goals. 

Using a project management tool can help streamline this process. For example, when you create a long-term goal in Asana, you can set a due date and create automated reminders to update your goal's progress. And within each long-term goal, you can create short-term goals to break work down into manageable chunks—each with its own timeframe and scheduled reminders.

Set and achieve goals with Asana

6. Be flexible

Keep in mind that your long-term goals aren't set in stone. Rather, they're a living document that you can adjust over time. Staying flexible with your goals can also help when unexpected opportunities arise. For example, imagine your company has set a long-term goal to enter a new international market, but a competitor gets there first. Instead of pursuing that same goal, you might consider adjusting your objective to focus on differentiating your product from the competition in order to target a different audience within that international market.

Common pitfalls to avoid when setting long-term goals 

While long-term goals can be incredibly powerful, there are some common mistakes to watch out for:

1. Setting unrealistic goals: It's important to dream big, but make sure you’re prioritizing SMART goals. Setting goals that are too far out of reach can be demotivating.

2. Failing to break big goals down: Long-term goals can feel overwhelming if you don't break them down into smaller chunks. Always split your bigger goals into actionable steps.

3. Not tracking progress: If you don't regularly check in on your milestones and goals, it's easy to lose sight of them. Make goal tracking a habit and celebrate your hard work along the way.

4. Giving up after setbacks: Bumps in the road are inevitable. Don't let them derail you from your ultimate goal. Learn from setbacks and adjust your approach as needed.

Read: The ladder of inference: How to avoid assumptions and make better decisions

How to stay motivated with long-term goals

Pursuing long-term goals is rarely a smooth journey, whether they are personal goals or professional goals. It's common to encounter challenges along the way, like losing motivation, getting sidetracked by other priorities, or facing unexpected setbacks. Here are some strategies to stay focused, resilient, and motivated while pursuing long-term goals.

  1. Remember your "why." Reconnect with the underlying reason and motivation behind your goal. Reflect on how achieving it will improve your work or life and contribute to your personal growth and self-improvement.

  2. Break your goals down into measurable milestones, like waypoints on a roadmap, and celebrate each time you reach one. Rewarding progress, not just outcomes, reinforces your accomplishments and keeps you energized for the work still ahead.

  3. Share your wins, both big and small, with trusted colleagues, mentors, friends, or family members who can offer encouragement, recognition, and advice. Acknowledging others multiplies motivation and helps you stay accountable for your own goals.

  4. Reframe failures as learning opportunities. If you experience a setback, try to extract lessons that will help you improve your approach moving forward and refine your long-term vision.

  5. Prioritize self-care and prevent burnout, which are key to staying on course toward long-term goals. Make time for activities that help you relax, recharge, and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

  6. Treat yourself when you make notable strides. Celebrate your progress to create a sense of momentum and keep your energy high as you work towards your ultimate goal.

Read: What is intrinsic motivation and how does it work?

40 examples of long-term goals

Long-term goals can help in every area of your life—including your professional life and personal development. Take a look at 40 different types of goals, with examples. 

Read: 22 types of business objectives to measure success

Long-term business goals

Long-term business goals can come in many forms, including strategic goals and big hairy audacious goals (BHAGs). Your long-term business goals might focus on these areas: 

1. Increase revenue

2. Become or stay profitable

3. Improve the function of a specific department, like customer service

4. Grow your customer base

5. Launch a new product or service

6. Expand to a new country or region

7. Improve hiring practices

8. Rebrand your company

9. Improve operating efficiency

10. Increase employee satisfaction

Example: Warby Parker set a long-term goal to disrupt the traditional eyewear industry by creating an e-commerce model to sell affordable, stylish glasses online. This guided their efforts to vertically integrate design and manufacturing, offer free home try-ons, and partner with nonprofits to distribute glasses to people in need. Their innovative approach and clear long-term vision have made them a leader in the eyewear industry.

Read: Setting business goals: The first step to a successful business

Long-term team goals

Long-term goals can also help shape your team culture, increase productivity, and encourage collaboration. For example, you could set long-term team goals to: 

11. Hire skilled new team members

12. Develop a process for cross-functional collaboration

13. Reach a specific revenue or sales target within your team

14. Organize regular offsites to promote team building

15. Document and share important team processes

16. Establish a regular feedback cycle for direct reports

17. Start a mentorship or buddy program for new hires

18. Develop a post-mortem process for completed projects

19. Create new areas of responsibility within your team

20. Identify new professional development opportunities for direct reports

Long-term career goals

There’s a reason one of the most common job interview questions is: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Long-term professional development goals help shape and grow your career. In that vein, here are some examples of career goals to consider: 

21. Find your dream job or career

22. Start your own business

23. Become a team manager

24. Learn a difficult new skill, like a new programming language

25. Find a fulfilling side-hustle

26. Pursue a new professional certification or master’s degree

27. Improve your work-life balance

28. Grow your professional network

29. Assume a leadership position within my department

30. Pitch and manage a new project 

Example: Reshma Saujani had a long-term goal to close the gender gap in technology. She started Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that runs coding camps and clubs for girls in elementary through high school. Her work has sparked a movement to make coding education accessible to girls around the world, positioning her as a thought leader in the field.

Long-term personal and financial goals

Long-term goals are just as valuable for your personal life. Here are some examples of how long-term goals can help improve your health, finances, skills, and more: 

31. Learn a foreign language

32. Learn to play an instrument

33. Expand your social network

34. Compete in a difficult event, like a marathon

35. Learn to play a sport 

36. Have or adopt a child

37. Find a partner

38. Save for an emergency fund

39. Improve your credit score

40. Buy your first home

Grow more with long-term goals

The power of long-term goal setting is undeniable. By using visualization to create a vivid picture of your ideal future, breaking it down into smaller goals, and consistently working towards it, you can achieve things that once seemed impossible. Whether you're aiming to transform your career path, personal life, or financial well-being, long-term goals give you a roadmap to turn dreams into reality.

So, what are you waiting for? Armed with these strategies and examples, it's time to stop dreaming and start achieving. Set your sights on the future, create a career plan, and take action, because with long-term goals, anything is possible.

Remember, tracking your progress is key to staying motivated and on course. When you can see how your daily efforts are adding up to big wins, you'll be unstoppable. Try using a tool like Asana to visualize your goals, break them down into milestones, and celebrate every victory along the way.

Set and achieve goals with Asana

FAQ: Long-term goals

What is an example of a long-term goal? 

An example of a long-term goal is starting your own business within the next five years. This goal requires planning, saving money, researching your industry, and potentially pursuing further education or professional certifications. Other examples include buying a house, achieving a leadership position at work, or learning a new language.

How can long-term goals provide a sense of purpose and direction in life? 

Long-term goals provide a sense of purpose and direction in life by:

  1. Giving you a clear target to work towards

  2. Helping you prioritize your time and resources

  3. Providing motivation and inspiration during challenging times

  4. Allowing you to measure your progress and celebrate your achievements

  5. Contributing to your overall personal growth and self-improvement

What is a 10-year goal plan? 

A 10-year goal plan is a roadmap for prioritizing your long-term objectives over the next decade. It involves setting specific, measurable goals for different areas of your life, such as career, finances, health, and personal growth. A 10-year plan should be broken down into smaller, yearly milestones to help you stay on track and make consistent progress towards your ultimate goals.

How do you create a strategic plan for long-term goals? To create a strategic plan for your long-term goals, follow these steps:

  1. Visualize your ideal future and set clear, specific goals

  2. Break big goals down into smaller, actionable steps

  3. Prioritize your goals based on importance and urgency

  4. Create a timeline for achieving each goal, with milestones and deadlines

  5. Identify potential obstacles and develop strategies to overcome them

  6. Regularly review and adjust your plan as needed

  7. Stay motivated by tracking your progress and celebrating your successes

By setting long-term goals and creating a strategic plan to achieve them, you can bring your vision for the future to life and realize your full potential.

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