Where do mid-term goals fit? You’ve defined a number of short-term goals, you started using the First Things First process to pick the most important tasks each day. And you have a vague idea of where you are going (the destination or the long-term goal). To track your progress, you’ve started doing monthly reflections. But how do you connect all these? What are you monitoring during your self-reflection sessions? How do you know you are on the right track?
Based on my observations over the years, most of us are good at setting the short-term goals. We have to, otherwise we will not accomplish anything in life. Also, most of us have an idea of what we are trying to achieve (strong family, promotion, financial independence, etc.) And yet, most of you probably feel a disconnect between the two. This is where the mid-term goals fit into the big picture.
This article is about mid-term goals that link your destination to your day-to-day activities. It is about setting the milestones on your way to your destination that will help you get there. As always, this is a personal exercise. There is no template to do this. You cannot just copy what somebody else is doing.
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Time to read: 17 minutes (based on 150 words per minute).
Once again, this is an easier task than formulating your long-term goals. And this is where you would have started if you are not new to the process. In my opinion, what prevents you from following this structure naturally is the disconnect between your desires and your everyday actions. Many people who want to lose weight keep eating fast food and meals rich in fast carbohydrates. They most probably know their long-term goal (lose weight, eat more healthy food), but they fail to put it into practice. The ideal way to do this, in my opinion, is to set a few mid-term goals: reduce the bread that I eat by 50% (only 1 slice a meal) by Dec X, 2019; reduce the soda drinks that I drink by 75% (only 1 per day) by Dec X, 2019. Of course, it takes a lot of self-awareness and being truthful to oneself to know where you are exactly. And after you have formulated the mid-terms goals like this, you can measure the deviation from the ideal. And you can take short-term goals each week to get closer to the mid-term goals.
Benefit of setting mid-term goals
If we start with a professional analogy, your mid-term goals are the projects on your roadmap for a particular year. Ideally, they align with the long-term vision of the company (or the organization, or the team). And also, they are achievable in one year (this does not mean that you will actually achieve them, but they are achievable). There is no way to get to the end without a roadmap. The map has more details in the beginning and less details towards the end. There are some obstacles that you do not see. There are other obstacles that are clearly visible.
If we change to a sports analogy, if you want to win the NBA Championship, your mid-term goals are to:
- Win X matches home
- Win Y matches on the road
- Get to the playoffs
- Win the first round; and so on.
Each mid-term goal can be broken down into several short-term goals (or steps).
The benefits of this process are, hopefully, clear. You will never get where you want to go unless you know the way (mid-term goals) and unless you get going (short-term goals). Your path can (and most probably will) change several times as you are taking those steps. This is where the monthly reflection comes into play. You verify and make sure that you are on the right track. This is where you will identify obstacles and formulate new goals to go around them. Just like everything else, it is perfectly normal to decide at some point that a specific mid-term goal (or even the long-term one) does not make sense any more. This decision translates into removing the goals from your agenda and those short-term goals that contribute to it.
Personal story about mid-term goals
Once again, going back to the big North American corporation that hired me a few years ago, I set a long-term goal to stick to the company for at least 4 years (you know stock options, benefits, etc.). This translated into roughly 1.000 work days or 8.000 work hours. I broke down the goal into 4 achievements: after year 1 I would get certain benefits, after year 2 a bit more, and so on. And finally, I broke down the yearly achievement into milestones (mid-term goals) and I gamified them: 10 days, 50 days, 100 days, 200 days…
For each of these milestones, I defined a small reward that I would allow myself to buy only after I achieve the milestone. The rewards were as small as a fidget spinner (if you don’t know what is that, you don’t have to look it up because it is no longer “cool”), a case for my earphones, juice squeezer, and so on.
As I am writing this personal story, I’ve just hit my 2-year milestone, which makes my tenure the 3rd longest tenure in any company (behind another big corporation way back in time and my own start up).
Mid-term goals need to be as smart (and smarter) as the short-term goals. Nothing changes here. But especially if you want to achieve something big, they need to be stretch goals. The default outcome of a mid-term goal needs to be that you either barely made it or you missed it by a month or two. If you do not challenge yourself here, you will not progress enough. Your short-term goals give you the progress bar within the mid-term goal and the day-to-day satisfaction of achieving something (the 1% increment) every day.
Just like the short-term goals, I believe in writing down your mid-term goals and reviewing them at least once a week. Not only to track progress, but also to re-inspire yourself to keep going wherever you are going and to keep doing whatever you are doing. Ideally, you could visualize your goals as a funnel and once you achieve any of the goals you just scratch it, but you keep it visual (this will act as another progress bar incentivizing you to keep working).
Call to Action
Below you can find a list of tips to help you define and formulate your mid-term goals.
1. Dreams & desires
Start with a few dreams or a desires, start with something that you think you want to achieve. It can be a promotion, a career move, losing weight, writing a book, moving to another country. You name it. This is the tip of the funnel and this is what you will get once you achieve all the mid-term goals that feed into it.
Alternatively, you could pick a few mid-term goals that feels bigger and audacious and you could try imagining what the next step is after you’ve achieved it. Where does it lead to? If needed do this several times to find out what the hidden long-term goal is.
As a result, you need to have something tangible that you can aspire to, but, more importantly, measure your progress against.
2. Break them down
There is no formula here. You are the only person who knows the road to your long-term goal (or desire, or dream). Also, there is no map to get there. You are the person to define the map, step by step, then continuously add details until you are satisfied with it. You are in a maze and you cannot look at it from above. So, you have to set a few milestones along the way and start working to achieve them. And at every step you evaluate if this is still the right direction.
For example, if you want to move to another country, you need to learn the language first (I’ve tried the other way around – it does not work that well). This is, most probably, another long-term goal, but you can still break it down into getting to level A1, then getting to level A2, all the way to B2 or even C2. Then, you have to learn about the culture. You can read X books about it and you can watch Y informational videos. Also, you can meet new people that live there. You can go on to study the labor market, so that you can find a job later on.
Now you have a list of milestones that, once you hit them, will lead you to your achieving your dream or desire.
3. SMARTER mid-term goals
Just like short-term goals, make sure that your long-term goals are smarter.
- Specific – it needs to be specific and clear.
- Measurable – you need to be able to measure progress.
- Achievable – you need to be able to achieve that goal. However, I would bend the rules here a bit, because we’ve already established that these mid-term goals need to be bold.
- Relevant – it needs to be relevant to you or to your long-term goal. Otherwise, it is just a hobby or a waste of time.
- Time-bound – working closely with measureability, you need to bind the goal to a deadline or a target date. Be bold! Put the deadline two months ahead of what you feel is realistic.
- Earning small Rewards along the way – the best progress bar is tangible rewards.
4. Write them down
I hope that I have stressed enough on this so far, but unless you are writing down everything you define, formulate, and uncover, you will eventually lose it. Create a goals journal, write everything that comes to your mind there. Do not be afraid to make changes, to re-word, to delete. I even go one step further and keep an archive of all my previous versions of the goals. This way, I can go back in time and see how I have progressively elaborated the goals and I can learn more about the way I think and act.
5. Focus on a few
Every month, as part of your monthly reflection exercise, pick a few mid-term goals (one to three) on which you will be focusing. This is another very important step and it is very similar to the most important tasks process. If you do not schedule time for an activity you end up doing something else. In the same way, if you do not focus on a specific mid-term goal that you want to achieve, then your energy will be spent elsewhere.
Every week, as part of your first things first exercise, pick one or two mid-term goals from that list and define short-term goals that will move you toward them. And make sure you schedule time for these short-term goal on your calendar.
6. Track progress
Every month, as part of your monthly reflection exercise, track your mid-term goals and make sure they are still valid. Are you closer to achieving them? Or are you further?
The more visual you can make it the better. One of my friends wanted to incentivize his sons to practice playing the violin. He created a big poster on the wall and every day when the kids finished practicing, they would put together a mark on the respective day. There were rewards along the way like “movie night” and “family night out at a restaurant”. If the kids missed one day, the had to start again from 1.
Hold yourself accountable for your successes and failures. This is your fight you cannot afford losing time and energy blaming others for your actions. Imagine that you are your own boss you have to report to yourself at the end of each month what you have achieved and what fell through the cracks.
The way I do this is I have a section in my monthly summary called “goals that I accomplished this month” and another one called “goals that I failed to act on this month”. It may sound harsh and it probably is, but this is the only way to make things work.
Achieving a goal takes a lot of discipline. For a few months try to measure your compliance to your decisions during the monthly reflection sessions. Make sure that you actually work on the goals that you decide, or to pick the correct goals so that you can actually work on them.
This step works closely with the previous one and over time you may have to adopt other processes to make sure you are on the right track.
As an example, a few years ago I decided to adopt a daily exercise habit. Every morning, I would get up and then exercise. It took a while to internalize the process. Every time when I fell sick for a few days or I traveled abroad it took a lot of willpower to resume. On three occasions I even had to start over from 5 iterations (down from 15). The self-discipline skills and tricks that I learnt in this process helped me a lot later on when I decided to start meditating for 20 minutes before the exercises and when I started journalling for a few minutes before the meditation.
9. Be flexible
There are three types of people in a supermarket when they reach the cashier lanes. The first type picks a lane and sticks to it no matter what. The second type constantly switches lanes whenever they see a small benefit. The third type picks a lane and switches only once in case their lane is moving really slow.
Be the third type of person with your goals. Don’t stick to a direction just because you’ve chosen it (unless you are Neo in the Matrix, in this case – stick to your choices). Be flexible enough to change direction if needed. But don’t be too flexible like the second type who changes lanes all the time. You will not achieve anything like this.
10. Think Big
Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. As we already established, you need to think big when setting your mid-term goals. Make them stretch goals. It is OK if you have to update the target date for accomplishing it several times. Just make sure that you do not overstretch yourself. A few stretch goals a month is OK, a lot is an overkill.
Long-term goals align with your desires and values. Short-term goals are the steps you take every day in order to achieve your long-term goals. In this case, the mid-term goals are the glue that holds them together. They are more specific than the long-term goals and they show you the road, like a roadmap.
As you follow my blog, you’ve started by defining short-term goals that are smart (and smarter) with a glimmer of an idea. Gradually, you will start seeing the mid-term goals where your small steps lead you. Once you start formulating the mid-term goals properly, you will start glimpsing the long-term goals (or desires) that give you the willpower and emotion to act on them.
What are the next steps?
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