Welcome to one of the more technical aspects of goal setting – the duration. You’ve likely heard of short-term goals, long-term goals, and medium-term goals. You may have even read my thoughts on them here and here.
Everyone has an opinion on what’s the best approach – myself included.
But I have some great news for you… It doesn’t matter. The length of the goal you set for yourself is irrelevant so long as it’s the right duration for you. You can set one goal for the length of 24 hours while simultaneously working on a goal with a deadline of 24 months.
As long as you are able to plan appropriately, you don’t need to overly concern yourself with labels or timeframes.
Many of my goals are habit goals; which basically means that they repeat themselves until they become a habit. There is no set finish line. You just continue to do them until they become enmeshed with your lifestyle. For example:
- Read two books a month
- Do 50 one-arm kettlebell rows (50 reps per arm), four days a week
- And go to the beach twice a month
Are all goals that I’m currently working on. But notice that while there is no end-date, each goal has a set duration; and each duration varies widely. My reading goal has a duration of one month. The rows have a duration of one week. And the beach has a duration of either one month or two weeks depending on how you look at it.
Am I stressed about the conflicting timelines? Not in particular.
*Note: Achieve your goals with my goal success program here.
Goal duration (really) doesn’t matter
What I’ve found is that duration really doesn’t matter so long as you:
- Plan for your goals
- Make time for them
- And take action on them
Based on my own preferences, I prefer goals with short durations. Normally set a month out – sometimes less, sometimes more.
It often depends on what I want from the goal.
For example, earlier this year I set a goal to go to a club, concert, or music festival at least once a quarter. Now obviously, that didn’t come to fruition (you can read about the experience here), but notice how the duration was set to quarterly.
Why did I choose a quarter?
Because it felt right. Any shorter of a duration would be overdoing it. On the other hand, once or twice a year didn’t feel like enough. So I went with a quarter.
It’s based on preference
Likewise, I’ve also set goals for a full year out.
In the past, I would sit down every January and plan out my goals for the entire year. It worked just the same. Set a goal, make a plan, take action on it, either keep doing it if it’s working or change it if it’s not.
Since then my preferences have shifted and I now favor goals that are shorter so as to accommodate my ever-expanding interests. And that’s fine. Instead of setting long-term goals, my current goals hover around a month.
Therefore, when deciding on your own goals, you don’t need to follow a strict rule of duration.
Be aware of this though
If you want to set a goal that ends by next week, go for it. If you want to set one that ends next year, that also works.
The only suggestion I will make is that you be aware of your time.
Because each goal you set will require your attention. And the more goals you set, the less attention you’ll have to give. Meaning that if you set five goals with a deadline of next week and they each require ten hours of your time to complete, you’ll be spreading yourself pretty thin.
Plus, effectively planning for them in your schedule will likely also be painful.
Be sure, then, to take your time into consideration when setting goals.
Moving forward with your goal duration
A good suggestion when it comes to goal setting is to be flexible. If you’re doing your best but the timeline feels too ambitious (or not ambitious enough), you can change it. Now, I know what you’re thinking:
I feel like a failure every time I need to adjust my goal. Like I’m not good enough to achieve what I initially set out to achieve.
Eh… you’re just being hard on yourself.
Normally, driven people like you give their total effort when working on something. Therefore, when you come up short you need to see it not as a sign that you’re failing, but instead as one that you were too ambitious with your aims from the outset.
And when you realize that, give yourself permission to revise your goal so that it’s more manageable based on the time you have available.
Don’t worry about goal duration. Set the length that you feel is best in the moment and then adjust things as you go.
*PS: If you want help achieving your goals, take a look at my goal success program here.