There’s a lot of advice floating around on the internet when it comes to goals. You can find guides on how to set goals, which goals to avoid and even which goals are most important. What often gets left out of this discussion, however, is the question of goal types. How many different kinds of goals are there? After all, you can’t set goals if you don’t understand the types of goals available to you.
That’s why we created this overview of the six types of goals we’ve identified. These categories are flexible; some goals will fit into multiple types. We’ll start with a high-level overview of the types of goals available, and then we’ll proceed into a discussion of more specific goals. We’ll also point you to some further resources on how to set (and stick to) any goal you want to accomplish.
Don’t Set the Wrong Goal
Before we explore the types of goals, we need to mention the importance of setting the right goals to begin with. If you set the wrong goals, then it doesn’t matter what measures you take to achieve them or what types of goals they are: achieving them will make you end up somewhere you didn’t want to be to begin with.
So remember this: The most important type of goal is the right goal.
But how do you know if a goal is the right one for you? First, the goal should align with your values, whether those are your personal values or the values you’ve outlined for your business. If a goal goes against those values, you shouldn’t pursue it, no matter how many blogs, business books or even people in your life say you should.
For example, you could set a goal to make a million dollars a year. There’s nothing wrong with that goal per se, but what if achieving it came at the cost of spending time with your family or treating your employees well? If so, this could be the wrong goal to pursue.
Of course, it’s also possible that you’re just going about the goal in the wrong way. To avoid that, you need the right goal-setting framework, one that ensures you’ll set the right types of goals to begin with and follow through with them.
To do both, we recommend you use the SMART goal-setting framework. It’s not the only one out there, but it’s one of our favorites. Let’s look at it in a bit more detail.
How to Set SMART Goals
We won’t cover everything about SMART goals here; we have an in-depth article on the topic that we encourage you to consult in order to learn more. But, in brief, a SMART goal is one that meets the following criteria:
- Specific – When you set a specific goal, you articulate exactly what you want to accomplish (and how you plan to do so). You go beyond a vague intention like “I want to travel” to “I’m going to visit Greece next summer.”
- Measurable – A measurable goal is one you can quantify. This way, you can know with certainty if you’ve achieved it. This is why goals like losing weight are so popular; the scale does not lie.
- Achievable – Achievable goals are ones you can reach given your current resources and abilities. Being as rich as Elon Musk isn’t going to happen for most of us (assuming that’s a desirable goal to begin with). Extreme levels of wealth have a lot to do with luck. But you can certainly set goals to build a business, start investing and even retire early — these are far more achievable for the average person.
- Relevant – This goes back to what we touched on earlier about how to set the right goal. A relevant goal is one that aligns with your values, that will get you to where you envision without compromising the things that make life worth living.
- Time-Bound – When you plan to accomplish your goal within a set time period, it gives you both urgency and a clear direction. It also prevents you from setting open-ended goals that can stretch on forever without allowing you time to evaluate and reflect.
The 6 Types of Goals
Now that you understand how to set goals, let’s get into the different types. The categories below are useful for setting most types of goals you’d want to achieve. We’ll start with two broad categories that cover all types of goals out there, and then we’ll move into some more specific categories.
1. Long-Term Goals
Your long-term goals are the ones that you might put on a bucket list. They’re the big goals that guide everything else you’re working on. They tend to be on a timeline of at least one year, and often longer.
Here are some examples of long-term goals:
- Become fluent in a language
- Publish a book
- Be a serial entrepreneur
While the amount of time to accomplish these goals might vary, they’re ones that you can’t just accomplish in less time, no matter how hard you work or how much money you have. Some things just take time.
Understanding which goals qualify as long-term and which are short-term is one of the keys to goal-setting. Luckily, as long as you follow the SMART framework, you should be able to make the distinction without difficulty.
2. Short-Term Goals
Unlike long-term goals, which guide your larger vision and can take years to accomplish, short-term goals operate on a smaller time scale. There can still be some variation, of course. A short-term goal could be something you plan to accomplish by the end of the week, such as finishing a blog post. Or, it could be a little larger in scale: finish the first draft of your book by the end of this quarter.
When it comes to setting short-term goals, you should keep the “achievable” aspect of the SMART goal framework in mind. Is this a goal you can achieve in the time you have with the current resources available to you? If not, then it may be more suitable as a long-term goal that you need to break down into more achievable short-term goals.
Now that we’ve covered these two large, meta categories of goal-setting, let’s move into more specific types of goals that cover the different areas of your life.
3. Personal Development Goals
Personal development is a broad category that covers everything from health goals to personal growth goals. It can also include life goals such as “get married” or “have children.”
What sets this category apart from the others we’ll discuss is that it doesn’t directly deal with your career or business. Personal goals relate to things you want to do and the person you want to become. They often involve things you pursue outside of your job in your free time, without any extrinsic motivation.
If you don’t have personal development goals, then we suggest you set some. It’s easy to focus on your career goals to the point that you forget to also work on yourself. You can maintain motivation and find fulfillment outside of your job if you have personal development goals you’re working toward (and accomplishing), particularly if things aren’t going as you’d like in the professional sphere.
4. Financial Goals
Next, we have financial goals, which can cover a wide range of areas. Everything from improving your daily spending habits to saving for retirement to buying your first home are part of this category. No matter the amount of money you make and what your other goals are, learning to be wise with money will make it much easier to accomplish the things you want. Therefore, it’s worth having both short- and long-term financial goals to work on.
Financial goals can overlap with areas of personal development. For example, you could set a personal goal to drink less alcohol to improve your health and a financial goal to save up for a new car. Drinking less could accomplish your personal goal while also helping you spend less money, which achieves your financial goal too.
5. Career Goals
Next up, we have career goals. This is a topic we discuss a lot on this blog: Here is an an entire post about it. First, you need to have career goals to begin with; far too many people take whatever job they can get and then hope for the best, assuming that if they stick around long enough they’ll be promoted (or at least won’t get laid off).
However, we know that as a reader of this blog you’re more ambitious than the average person. You likely have aggressive goals for your career, like quitting your 9-5 and starting your own business.
Whatever the case, the key to setting effective career goals is to remember that it’s a marathon. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to double your salary tomorrow, but you can ask for a raise. You can spend your evenings learning about new subjects that will put you on the path to a better job, or ask a more experienced coworker to mentor you in order to learn the leadership skills to move up.
And on an even smaller scale, you can set goals to increase the amount of sales you make, the number of reports you write per week or the number of new professional connections you make. Simply by setting and tracking these goals, you’ll already be on the path to a brighter future than most of your coworkers.
6. Business Goals
Finally, we have business goals. If you don’t yet own your own business, then this may seem like an irrelevant category to you. But if you’re planning to start your own company someday (even if it’s just an idea in the back of your head), it’s worth understanding how to set business goals before you begin. This way, you’ll avoid floundering around and wasting time once you do take the plunge.
When people think of business goals, they tend to think only of financial performance goals such as a certain monthly revenue or keeping costs below a certain amount. Certainly, these are important metrics to consider — unless you’re running a nonprofit, making money is an essential goal for any business (and even nonprofits need money to pay their employees and keep the lights on).
Still, it’s worth thinking beyond the financials as well. You can also consider how many people your business helps, how many jobs it creates or how it enriches your life. If you’ve set out on your own, then it must be because (at least in part) you believe you can do something working for yourself that you couldn’t in a traditional job.
Whether that means working in alignment with your values, bringing an innovative new product to market, or just being able to spend more time with your family, there’s more to “business goals” than the bottom line.
Hold Yourself Accountable
We hope this overview of the different types of goals has been helpful for your life journey. If you need a place to make note of these goals, then we recommend you check out the SELF Journal. It has everything you need to set (and track) goals of all sorts, ensuring you’ll finish what you start.
And if you need a daily visual reminder that you can glance at any time, you can also check out the Wall RoadMap, which helps you break your goal down into manageable weekly chunks.
Wishing you success in whatever goals you choose!