Short, medium, and long term goals

As you go about setting goals for yourself, you will find that each goal falls into 1 of 3 categories:

  • Short term goals
  • Medium term goals
  • Long term goals

Now, some experts claim that short term goals are anything that take 12 months or less to complete whereas long term goals are anything that take 12 months or more to complete, but I disagree. For one thing, it doesn't consider the concept of medium term goals. For another, it doesn't consider the idea of a long term vision.

Let me explain.


Goal lengths

You don't hear about it too much, but goal lengths aren't as simple as just short and long term. There is a 3rd option that falls somewhere in between. That option is the medium term goal.

The medium term goal fits nicely between short and long term goals and serves as a bridge between them.

For example, a goal that takes 12 months to complete certainly doesn't feel like a short term goal. That's much too far away to be considered short. However, 12 months seems really fast to be considered a long term goal. Especially when long term goals could be set out 2, 3, 4 or more years.

Medium term goals, then, are used to describe the time between short and long term goals.

So, what are the official time lengths of these various goals? I've found the best description to be:

  • Short: 3-6 months
  • Medium: 6-18 months
  • Long: 18-24+ months

That means that short term goals are anything that take 3-6 months (or less) to be completed. Medium term goals take between 6-18 months to be completed. And long term goals take 18-24 months (or more) to be completed.

So if I set a goal to buy a house within 4 months, that would be a short term goal. Or if I set it to 14 months it would be a medium term goal. Or if I set it to 40 months it would be a long term goal.

As you create and experiment with your own goals, you may find that you view your goal lengths to be slightly different.

Totally fine.

Feel free to adjust the terminology as needed to fit the goals that you set. If you think that short term goals are anything in the 3-10 month range and medium term are in the 10-18 range, that's your call.

But until you get comfortable with the goal setting process, I recommend going off of the timeframes I set above.


Long term vision

There is a 4th option that we haven't discussed yet and that is the notion of a long term vision. A long term vision is similar to a long term goal in that they are both set in the long term, but there is one key difference.

Long term goals are specific, long term visions are broad.

A long term goal would be that you want to run your own bakery within 18 months. A long term vision, on the other hand, would be that you want to be running your own business within 18 months.

A long term goal would be that you want to backpack through Brazil in 20 months. A long term vision would be that you want to backpack through South America in 20 months.

Long term goals are specific. They tell you exactly where you want to go, but they also lock you in.

Long term visions are more broad. They are similar to long term goals in that they point you towards the future that you seek, but they leave you with more room to grow and adjust as you move forward.


The bakery

To use our bakery example from above, you set a long term goal that you want to be running your own bakery within 18 months. So you get to work and start going through the process, and uh oh, you realize 6 months in that you hate baking and would rather be running an ice cream shop.

What do you do?

Well your long term goal is to run a bakery within 18 months so you either have to scrap that goal, start over, and risk losing motivation and quitting, or you continue to do the bakery thing even though you don't enjoy it.

You're locked in.

Conversely, if you had set a long term vision to be running your own business within 18 months, you could have tried out the bakery idea, realized it wasn't for you, and pivoted to the ice cream shop with no change in vision or momentum.

Setting a long term vision gives you the flexibility to change as you learn and improve.

The same thing goes for our backpacking example. You can set a long term goal to backpack through Brazil in 20 months, but a few months in you may realize that there are other countries in South America that are more appealing to your interests.

But you don't want to fail at your goal so do you go to Brazil anyways? Or start the whole planning process over?

You're locked in.

On the other hand, if you had set a long term vision to backpack through South America in 20 months instead, you would have given yourself the flexibility to change course as needed.

You have flexibility to change.


It's up to you

More and more I find myself setting long term visions over long term goals.

Long term visions give you the guidance of where to go without locking you into a set plan. It gives you the big picture to work towards without forcing you to pick a lane.

It gives you room to learn and grow.

When setting a long term vision, I often find it helpful to still set short and medium term goals along the way though. That's because in the short and medium term I know specifically what I want to work towards, but in the long term I want to give myself the flexibility to change course as I adapt and improve.

So as you go about setting your own goals, keep the various lengths in mind and make sure you build flexibility into your plans so that you can continue pushing forward without feeling the need to compromise or start over.