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Feeling stuck? Try 7 types of goals to increase personal and professional development

Alicia Raeburn contributor headshotAlicia Raeburn
January 29th, 2024
7 min read
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There are different types of goals for different aspects of work and life. In this article, we’ll look at seven different types of goals broken down into two categories: time-based goals and professional goals. Learn about each type of goal, their benefits, and when to use them.

Why do we set goals? In some sense, we set goals to measure accomplishments. But really, goal-setting is a way to change our behaviors. If we set a goal to finish a project, develop a new habit, or get a promotion, we are setting the groundwork for things we want to change. 

Goal-setting is a personalized process, so your approach will likely differ from your colleagues’. Just as there are different ways to set and achieve your goals, there are also different types of goals for different areas of your life. Knowing when to use each type can help you stay organized and focused on whatever it is you want to achieve.

First, what are goals?

Goals are statements that describe a desired achievement. Put another way, goals define the details of your ambitions. They’re important in all aspects of your life and work, whether you want to improve your personal life or build professional skills. 

But because they’re used so differently, you need different types of goals for different accomplishments. For example, you can use short-term goals for project management, because this goal type is actionable and works best with task-based deliverables.

For bigger projects, ideas, or ambition, you need bigger goals. These can be qualitative goals like your long-term company vision, or quantitative goals like the amount of money you want to save for retirement. Regardless of what you do, there are many types of goals you can use to move projects, your company, or even your life, forward.

In this article, we'll go deep into the types of goals you can use to further your personal and professional development. If you're looking for company goals and common business goal setting methodologies, check out the following: 

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7 types of goals to move your personal and professional life forward

Here we’ve broken down seven types of goals into two categories: time-based goals and professional goals.

Types of time-based goals

Time-based goals are set on a timeline. They’re time-bound, with a start and an end date, though the actual time frame can vary quite a bit. Some time-based goals can help you achieve tasks next week, while others can be guiding principles throughout your life. Regardless, time-based goals always have a deadline, no matter how far away it is.

Let’s look at three time-based goal types and how to use them.

1. Long-term goals 

Long-term goals are goals that happen over a longer period of time. They often target larger ambitions, such as launching a new product or service. But, you can also use them to achieve more actionable goals in your projects or team.

You still need a timeframe for these goals, but instead of finishing them within the next few weeks, you normally set the deadlines for long-term goals for many months or years down the road. For Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs), a type of long-term goal, you’ll want to look even further—10-25 years.

Examples of long-term goals:

  • Onboard 2,000 new employees over the next three years.

  • Practice public speaking by volunteering to give five presentations this year.

  • Triple the amount of money I save for retirement over the next five years.

As you can see, long-term goals are specific, but they don’t have action steps associated with them. That’s where short-term goals come in—they help you break these bigger goals down into more manageable tasks. You’ll need both long- and short-term goals in tandem. Used together, you can both organize your ambitions and get them done. 

Read: How to accomplish big things with long-term goals

2. Short-term goals

Short-term goals are the finer details of your goal-setting process. Use them to break down large goals into attainable, measurable tasks. Sometimes, it’s hard to picture what the next week will bring, let alone next year. Short-term goals can make these long-term goals feel less overwhelming. 

Think of these as outcome-oriented goals like learning a new skill or finishing a project. 

Examples of short-term goals:

  • Create a reusable event-planning checklist this quarter.

  • Complete three levels of French classes on my language app before I visit France next month.

  • Build a 3-month emergency fund by putting aside $500 a month over the next six months.

Keep in mind, these should all connect back to larger goals in order to make a real impact. For example, the French classes could be connected to a larger goal of becoming fluent. Or you can tie the event-planning checklist goal back to an ongoing goal of streamlining your event planning workflow. 

3. Lifetime goals

Buy the house on the hill. Become VP of Marketing. Life goals are inherently more dreamy. They’re your biggest, boldest visions for yourself. In this way, they might seem irrelevant, but these ambitious goals are actually a wonderful way to lay out plans for how you want your life to look, feel, and be over the years. Unlike other time-based goals, you might not achieve your lifetime goals. But their purpose is a bit more philosophical—lifetime goals help you stay in line with your passions and deep life values, whether or not you actually achieve them.

Examples of lifetime goals:

  • Retire as a millionaire.

  • Launch a start-up.

  • Write a memoir.

Notice how vague these are. In almost every other type of goal, you want to make them specific and measurable. Lifetime goals don’t need that same structure, though the goals you create to support them will. For example, if you want to retire as a millionaire, you can set annual, quarterly, and monthly financial goals that allow you to do so.

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Types of professional goals

Professional goals are the goals you set specifically for professional outcomes. They can focus on your direct accomplishments (i.e. performance goals) or they can be larger business goals. Professional goals can outline personal achievements like how and where you want to work, but they’re also used company-wide to keep employees aligned on what the business wants to achieve. Take a look at the four most common types of professional goals, plus examples of each.

1. Career goals

Career goals are used to improve your workplace performance, position, or outcomes. Some of these could be personal, like getting a promotion, while others might focus on deliverables. Career goals tend to be individual, though they might require the help of your team. 

Examples of career goals:

  • Become a people manager by the end of next year.

  • Automate reporting for quarterly status updates by Q2. 

  • Pass entry level coding exam this month.

2. Professional financial goals

Financial goals can be both personal and professional. Your professional financial goals will usually focus on salary and benefits. Often, these goals target numbers you want to hit. But you can also set financial goals to improve related skills or increase your education, ‌which can help you get a higher salary. 

Examples of professional financial goals:

  • Practice negotiation skills with a coworker once a week for a year.

  • Hit six figures within the next five years.

  • Build up to donating 5% of my annual salary by the end of next year.

3. Company goals

These are company-wide goals that help structure your team and individual work goals. Company goals are usually much larger than individual professional goals, and can either be time-based or more general statements to guide the workplace. Often, you create actionable tasks and goals that lead back to larger company goals and strategic initiatives.

Examples of company goals:

  • Build a diverse team that represents the cities we work in within the next 10 years.

  • Increase customer retention by 10%, year-over-year for three straight years.

  • Create a hybrid work culture before return-to-office next quarter.

Read: 65 strategic goals metrics and examples to move your company forward

4. Stepping stone goals

Stepping stone goals are any goals that help you achieve other goals. Both short- and long-term goals are usually stepping stone goals because they’re often attached to even larger goals—like annual OKRs. Likewise, many of your professional goals will be stepping stone goals as well.

Examples of stepping stone goals and their larger counterpart:

  • Large goal: Reduce spending within the next three years. Stepping stone goal: Track the monthly budget over the next year.

  • Large goal: Streamline our onboarding process with fewer steps by end of year. Stepping stone goal: Create a new hire checklist this month.

  • Large goal: Plan a company retreat this year. Stepping stone goal: Call 12 venues for availability this week.

Other types of goals: Personal development goals

Personal development goals complement the goal-setting you do at work. They can fall into many categories, including:

  • Spiritual goals

  • Educational goals

  • Relationship goals

  • Physical health or fitness goals

While these aren’t directly related to large-scale work goals, improving in your personal life can spill over into the workplace. For example, becoming a more active listener can both benefit your personal relationships and make you a better team leader.

How to set goals

How you set goals will determine how effective they are. More often than not, you’ll want some sort of structure when you’re setting your goals. Otherwise, the work might feel random or unfulfilling—the opposite of how goals should make you feel. Setting and achieving goals should be a rewarding experience, one that fills you with a sense of purpose and even joy. And it all starts with some tips and best practices for goal-setting.

Goal-setting tips

Goal-setting is a methodical process. Set aside a sizable chunk of time the first time you set goals, but keep in mind you can revisit these tips any time you want to set more goals. Eventually, you can develop processes and workflows that help you set goals for every avenue of your life.

Set SMART goals

The more specific and measurable your goals are, the easier it will be to track their progress and ultimately achieve them. Use the SMART goals framework to make your goals:

  • Specific

  • Measureable

  • Achievable

  • Realistic

  • Time-bound

This won’t apply to all goal types (for example, lifetime goals don’t need to be SMART), but it will for most others. 

Using quantitative vs. qualitative goals

Technically, goals can be quantitative (measurable) or qualitative. Quantitative goals are easier to assess and track. For example, if you set a quantitative goal to boost sales by 5% this month, you know exactly how to determine if you hit it or not. On the other hand, qualitative goals like "be more successful" can be vague and difficult to measure. What does success mean here, and how will you know when you get there?

That being said, sometimes qualitative goals are useful. For example, if you want to set a larger, overarching goal for employees to be happier at work. This is a useful thing to aim for, and you can attach quantitative goals to it in order to work towards a happier workplace.

What’s the danger of setting too many goals?

Mostly, setting and achieving goals is a rewarding and positive experience. But there is a tipping point where too many goals can have a negative impact on you and your work. The effect of setting too many goals is similar to creating an overlong to-do list: it’s overwhelming. You want to strike a balance between adding enough goals that your work feels structured and not adding so much that it feels impossible to achieve them all. Plus, if you’re always chasing something, you won’t have the time and space to enjoy what you’ve already accomplished. 

Goals for everyone

Neale Donald Walsch wrote that “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Goals help you push through and past your comfort zone, where you can grow and improve. Most of us will rely on a combination of these goal types to chase down dreams, build a better workplace, and discover how we operate best. If you’re new to goal setting, don’t worry. Just pick a goal type and get started. 

Goal setting and tracking can be tricky as your team grows. To keep projects on track, use a goal-setting system that scales with you and your work. Track and measure your goals in the same space you work, with Asana.

Set and achieve goals with Asana

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