How to Achieve Short Term Goals

Two Parts:Examining the GoalAchieving your Goal

Not every goal in life requires months or years of work. In fact, some goals must be achieved in a much shorter period of time—sometimes in a matter of weeks, days, or even hours. These goals can be extremely important, often as part of the process of achieving a bigger goal.[1] Short-term goals tend be simpler than long term goals, but may still be a challenge to achieve. Keeping your focus and acting in a timely manner are crucial for achieving short-term goals.

Part 1
Examining the Goal

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    Make sure the goal is specific. For any goal, it is important that your goal is specific and clearly defined. The work you will do to achieve short-term goals occurs over a shorter, so it's important to avoid confusion about what you are trying to achieve. Confusion creates delay and decreases motivation.[2]
    • For example, imagine you are writing a book. To make the process manageable, you decide to break it down into several short term goals. You hope to achieve them over several one-month periods of time. You could set the short term goal "start writing the book" for the first month. But, that's not very specific. A better goal might be "write a first draft of chapter one this month." This is much clearer in terms of exactly what you want to achieve.
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    Make sure the goal is realistic. It is important to set goals that you will actually be able to achieve in the available time. Failure to do so will result in discouragement, which may lead you to give up on future goals.[3]
    • Our brains thrive on success. Setting achievable goals and following through will create motivation to pursue the next goal.[4] Setting a goal you can't achieve within the time frame sets you up for the opposite.
    • Returning to the example of writing a book, you would probably not want to set a goal to complete the first six chapters in a month. Unless the chapters are very short, that's probably more writing than you can produce in that time. Failing to achieve this goal may then discourage you from doing a more reasonable amount of writing the following month.
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    Determine the steps. Nearly every goal can be broken down into smaller steps. Knowing what those steps are can help the goal feel more manageable. It also can help you create a clear plan to follow in working toward the goal.[5]
    • For example, let's say you've got company coming over and your house needs a serious cleaning. You break the process down into several short-term goals: clean the bathroom, clean the kitchen, clean the living room, etc. But, you can break each of these down into steps as well. Using the kitchen as an example, you might need to wash dishes, clean the counters, clean out the fridge, and sweep and mop the floor.
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    Estimate how long you expect each step to take. Having a timeline and deadlines for these tasks will help keep you motivated, accountable and on-task.[6]
    • For example, if you are starting with cleaning the bathroom, you might estimate it will take you 15 minutes to clean the tub, another 15 to clean toilet, another 10 ten to clean the sink area, ten minutes for organizing and cleaning the medicine cabinet, and another 10 minutes to clean the floor. If you can stick to this timeline, you should be able to clean the bathroom in an hour.
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    Sketch out a plan. Once you've determined the steps, write up a quick plan that puts them in a logical order that will be easy to follow.[7]
    • It may seem silly to write down the steps for a simple task like cleaning your house. Indeed, you might not need to. But doing so helps make the goal more tangible, which can build motivation.
    • Writing the steps down also ensures you won't forget anything important.

Part 2
Achieving your Goal

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    Set priorities. Often times, when dealing with short-term goals, we may have many goals at one time. It is important to decide which goals are most important so that you can achieve them first.[8]
    • If company is coming to visit, you may need to clean your house. But, you might also need to stock up on groceries. You might want to clean your car. It might be a good idea to make plans for things to do while your friends are staying with you. You may need to get ahead on work that you won't be able to while they are visiting. If you try to do all these things at once, you won't work as efficiently as if you picked the most important task, finished it, and moved on. In fact, by trying to do all of these things at once, you might not finish any of them.
    • Prioritizing your goals will also avoid wasting time after you've completed a goal. You will have already figured out what you need to do next.
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    Get to work. As with any goal, short term goals are only accomplished through putting in time and effort. Once you get started, you'll develop momentum that can help carry you through to the end.[9]
    • If your house is a real disaster, it may be hard to get started on the cleaning. But, look at your plan and try to dive in on the first step as soon as you can. Once you've got one room clean, the satisfaction you feel will help you fell motivated to keep going.
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    Stay focused. To achieve any goal, you have to work on it steadily. With short-term goals, this is even more important. Because you don't have long to complete your goal, it's crucial to keep your eye on the prize and not get distracted. There are several ways to promote this.
    • Track your progress. Keep one eye on the clock (or calendar) and one eye on the plan you wrote up for achieving your goal. The timeline you set for yourself can be a strong motivation to stay focused.[10] No one likes to feel that they've failed.
    • Create a good environment for success. Try to remove things from your environment that might prevent you from achieving your goals.[11] Imagine you are trying to clean your house, but you know that your dog is likely to follow you around begging for attention all day. You might want to take it to the kennel for an afternoon so you can focus. If you don't think you'll be able to resist the temptation to play your favorite video game, put the game controllers in a drawer in another room. Don't take tem out again until you're done working on the goal.
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    Be flexible. Sometimes, you may find that your work toward short-term goals isn't having the effect you had hoped. Or, once you've been working on something for a while, you might think of a better way to do it than you had planned. If this is the case, don't stick rigidly to the plan for its own sake.[12]
    • If a short-term goal is not working out as you expected, or is taking a lot more time than you thought it would, don't be afraid to revise the plan. Having a plan is important, but sometimes, you need to change the order of your steps, remove steps entirely, or add new ones. Sometimes, you might need to drop one short term goal altogether in favor of another one.
    • Using the example of writing a book, you might have a plan to draft the first chapter in a month. But, in writing the chapter, you might come up with a new idea for the book that you hadn't thought of before. If it's a good idea, it might be worth going back and revising your outline to include it. The time this takes might prevent you from achieving your original goal, but if it means a better book, be flexible and revise the plan!
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    Reward success. When you achieve a short term goal, give yourself a reward. This is called "reinforcement." It helps your brain associate following through on goals with good consequences. This makes it easier to motivate yourself to achieve future goals.
    • Reinforcement comes in two types. Positive reinforcement is when you add something good to your life. For example, you might reward your success by going out for a fancy cocktail or dessert. Negative reinforcement is when something unwanted is removed from your life. For example, imagine you you don't like walking your dog. You might make a deal with someone else in your household in which they agree to walk it for you for a day if you achieve your goal.[13]
    • Reinforcing good behaviors is more effective than punishing bad ones. It will increase your motivation to follow through much more.[14]


  • Having a third party assess your progress can be useful. Be open to criticism. Often times, third parties are more aware of the flaws that are keeping you from getting your goals accomplished than you are.
  • It's important to develop your ability to keep your own promises. If you're going to set goals for yourself, don't talk yourself out of them no matter how insignificant it may seem. This sets you up to back out again in the future.

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Categories: Goal Realization & Problem Solving