Alex Wilson

What sounds more fun: daydreaming about landing that dream VP role, or scheduling a phone call to speak with a client?

Even if you have a job you love, it can be tough to balance your long-term career daydreams with the to-do list your present job requires. It’s a delicate balance; if you spend too much time planning for the future, you’ll lose track of your current to-do list. If you spend too much time focusing on your daily tasks, you’ll miss out on opportunities because you’re not thinking ahead.

Balancing your long-term and short-term goals takes skill, practice and a lot of trial and error. To help you avoid the “trial and error” process, we have a list of tips below. These will help you establish the discipline you need to reach that long-term goal you’ve been dreaming of.

1. Figure out what you want.

Sure, this sounds easy — but it’s more complicated than it seems. This first step doesn’t require a detailed five-year plan, but it does require an actual long-term goal for you to strive towards. This can be anything, from paying off your student loans to starting a business to learning a new language. Though you may have several goals, focus on one for now.

That goal will become your primary long-term focus, so you may want to choose a more time-sensitive goal with an obvious objective. For example, “I want to earn a 15 percent raise” or “I want to move into a two-bedroom apartment” are two long-term goals with clear, simple objectives.

2. Break it up.

Once you have your goal, you can break it up into smaller steps and place each step in a larger timeline. Determine the process for reaching that goal by splitting the process of getting there into actionable tasks. For example, instead of writing “get a raise” on your to-do list, you can write down the below actions:

  • Research average salaries for your current position
  • Ask your colleague to coffee
  • Compare salaries with that same colleague
  • Read “Ask For It” by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever
  • Schedule meeting with boss

…and so on.  This is the best strategy for simultaneously managing long-term and short-term goals. By  turning a big goal into several smaller ones, you’ll get to where you want to be in a more efficient manner — and you won’t get overwhelmed along the way.

3. Automate reminders.

Once you have your timeline, you need to stick to it. Technology can help with that! Use whatever apps and calendar reminders you need to stay on track. If your long-term goal is to grow your savings, set yourself up for direct deposit. If your long-term goal requires you to take one step forward each week, set a recurring calendar reminder. Automatic reminders are an easy way to help you stay motivated, especially when your short-term tasks dominate your day-to-day.

4. Document your progress!

Is there anything else as satisfying as crossing items off of your to-do list? We think so — taking the time to re-read your notes on all of the progress you’ve made.  With each step you take towards your long-term goal, write a few sentences about the experience. Keep it concise and specific; you want this to be a way to celebrate your success while acknowledging what you’ve learned and what that means for your overall goal. Documenting your progress also helps you keep yourself accountable.

When it comes to balancing your short-term priorities and long-term goals, what matters most is that you stay at the center of your own story. Never hesitate to prioritize your professional development. Breaking down your long-term goals so they’re at the same level as your smaller tasks will help you get to where you want to be. Trust us — you’ve got this!