The importance of setting short-term goals

Sarah Laoyan contributor headshotSarah LaoyanApril 30th, 20216 min read
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We all have goals, both at work and in our personal lives. Buy a house, start a new company, manage a team—the list could go on. Now consider those above statements: Are they actionable goals or are they just a general dream you hope to achieve? In this article, we'll discuss how you can set good goals to help you with both professional and personal development.

Whether it’s launching a new product with your team, building your dream house, or achieving your big hairy audacious goals (BHAGs), it's easy to feel overwhelmed when your goal is a large, ambiguous idea. If you're looking for ways to reach your objectives, set short-term goals to help make progress towards your final outcome.

What is a short-term goal?

There are many different types of goals you can set. At its core, a goal is an outcome that you want to achieve.

A short-term goal is a goal that is defined by a specific period of time, such as within the next week or the next month. These are often stepping stones towards larger goals. As a result, short-term goals tend to be easier to achieve. 

Examples of short-term goals

Personal short-term goals:

  • Putting 5% of your monthly income into a savings account.

  • Eating meat-free meals one day a week.

  • Reading 5 books in one month.

Short-term professional goals:

  • Managing a quarterly project from start to finish.

  • Getting certified in a specific tool or software.

  • Increasing net promoter score by 5 points this quarter.

You may notice that all of these goals have a specific time frame assigned to them. This makes your goal more actionable by connecting those actions to a specific amount of time. 

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

A long-term goal is your North Star. It’s the bigger objective that you want to achieve. Short-term goals are different. They focus on a smaller portion of work in a shorter time frame. By breaking a larger, long-term goal into many short-term goals, you can prevent procrastination and stay focused on the task at hand. 

Let's look at an example of a long-term goal that has smaller short-term goals built into the action plan.

A sales team is looking to close $500,000 in new sales this year. This is the long-term goal. Businesses often break this annual goal down into quarterly goals. These are the short-term goals. Managers can choose to break these quarterly goals down even further, making sales representatives responsible for a specific portion of that quarterly goal. 

Strategies for setting short-term goals

There isn’t one particular strategy for setting goals that works better than others. Here are two strategies that can help you outline your goals: 

SMART Goals

SMART goals are a common goal setting technique. SMART stands for:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Achievable

  • Realistic

  • Time-bound

Ensuring that your goals contain every facet of a SMART goal can help you break down the steps you need to reach your target. 

Read: Write better SMART goals with these tips and examples

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)

When setting short-term goals, it's important to connect specific actions to your goals. By creating actionable stepping stones, you can set up a strong roadmap towards achieving your goals—both short-term and long-term ones.

You can see this approach in action with OKRs, or objectives and key results. The objective is the goal you want to achieve. The key results are the metrics by which you'll measure progress towards those goals.

Read: How to set OKRs

Goals can be used in conjunction with OKRs to help you make progress on key results. Think about what actions you need to take to achieve the desired key results and use those to set your goals. 

Example of how to set short-term goals

Let’s say your social media team's OKR is to increase your social media following by 400% this fiscal year. 

There's no clear plan for how to get to that 400%, so the team gets together to brainstorm some actionable steps they can take to increase their social media following. One team member suggests hosting giveaways twice a quarter to increase follower counts. Another team member suggests using paid ads to increase awareness. Another suggests working with different influencers every week to promote their brand. 

All three of these options are good options, and all of them can be set as short-term goals to achieve the main OKR. Here's what those three goals would look like written out:

  • Host a giveaway two times a quarter.

  • Gain 250 of followers through paid advertisements every quarter.

  • Promote each channel through an influencer channel once a week.

Each of these shorter goals focuses specifically on a task that needs to be done that contributes to a longer-term company goal. Aligning tasks, smaller team goals, and bigger company objectives is a central aspect of a pyramid of clarity. With the pyramid of clarity, you can connect your day-to-day work to your short-term goals. That way, your entire team is working towards the same objective, bringing your organization closer to achieving it.

Read: How to create a pyramid of clarity with Goals in Asana

Tracking goal progress

Whether your goal is a long-term team goal or a short-term personal one, goal tracking is essential to ensure that you’re making progress. To effectively work towards your goals, you want to spend less time wondering if you're hitting them and more time working on the things that will get you there.

According to a recent survey by Asana, only 26% of knowledge workers have a very clear understanding of how their work contributes to company goals. If your team members don’t know what goals they're contributing to, it's very likely that the work that they are producing doesn’t impact the overall company goals.

This is why goal tracking is so important. All of the work that your team is doing should contribute towards a common goal. But how do you ensure that your team is regularly working towards those goals? Here are a few strategies:

  • Communicate progress clearly: When everybody can see how work is progressing, there's no confusion as to whether or not the work is contributing to the goal. 

  • Create (and celebrate!) project milestones: As your team progresses, it's important to celebrate incremental progress so your team doesn't get discouraged halfway through or lose focus.

  • Manage goals with software: Connect your team's work with your company's goals all in one place. By using work management software like Asana, your team will have one source of truth for all work being done. 

One of the major benefits of goal tracking is that it gives you visibility into whether your strategies are working. If you're actively monitoring your key results and you’re not seeing the desired outcomes, you can dig in further to discover what isn't working. Does one of your team members have too much on their plate? Is one of your strategies not as effective as you thought it would be?

Read: How to effectively manage your team’s workload

Monitoring your goals gives you the opportunity to pivot your strategy when things aren’t going according to plan. 

Using short-term goals for professional development

Managing team goals to become an effective manager

As a manager, it could be challenging to create your own personal goals without first looking at your team’s individual goals. Great managers help unblock contributors so that goal-achieving tasks can get done. 

Before setting personal goals as a manager, look at your team’s goals. Base your goals on the work your team is contributing to so that everyone is aligned and making progress. 

Monitoring personal professional development with short-term goals

In addition to using short-term goals to monitor your team’s or company's progress, you can monitor short-term goals to track your own—or a team member’s—personal development. If you’re developing new skills or taking on new responsibilities, track how those skills are helping you achieve your goals. 

Let’s look at an example.

Taylor is a sales development representative at a SaaS company. They don’t particularly enjoy spending time on sales calls, but they’ve found several tools to help them create an automated email flow to reach out to their prospects. 

Taylor’s manager notices that they are not making the recommended number of sales calls, but they’re still hitting their sales goals because of how they set up their email flow to reach out to prospects. 

Taylor’s manager sees this as an opportunity for growth, and asks Taylor if they would like to transition to a role that allows them to further create email marketing opportunities for other SDRs on the team. By monitoring how Taylor was progressing towards their goals, Taylor’s manager was able to create an opportunity for them to grow into a position that was a strong fit for their skillset. 

Setting goals for your own personal development

Goals can be used to help your personal development as well. If you have long-term life goals, you can set up short-term personal goals as you would professional ones. Set measurable goals to serve as small stepping stones for your progress. 

You can use short-term personal goals for a variety of different aspirations. Maintaining your personal finances, outlining your fitness goals, and tracking your diet regularly are all examples of using goals for personal development. 

Here’s an example of how you can break down a personal goal:

Long-term personal goal: Run a half marathon within 6 months 

Short-term goals:

  • Be able to run a mile without stopping by end of week 2

  • Run a 5K by the end of month 1 in under 35 minutes

  • Run a 10K by the end of month 2 in under an hour

As you can see, the short-term goals are incremental, but they all work together to achieve the long-term goal. 

Track short-term goals more effectively

Looking for a way to effectively track your goals, both short-term and long-term? Tracking your goals using work management software like Asana can help you break your goals into actionable tasks.

Learn more about how you can achieve your goals by using the pyramid of clarity.

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