Tip: Integrating Short-Term & Long-Term Priorities

Image of cartoony faceless human figure pushing six turquoise domino blocks each of which is larger than the previous: the figure's hand is on a block half his height while the sixth block furthest away is three times his height

At times you will face conflicts between short- and long-term priorities, such as:

"I want to __[insert major goal here]____, but right now I need a job."

"I want to start ___[insert new long-term project here]____, but right now I'm just keeping up with day-to-day stuff."

"I should save for ___[insert financial goal here]___, but right now I barely have enough money to maintain my lifestyle.”

The conflicts make it seem as if your choice is either-or. The secret to dealing with them is to realize that you can have everything that is important to you, but only if you choose to integrate your short-term and long-term goals. You integrate them by thinking in terms of means and ends.

Long-term goals are only achieved at the end of a long series of actions. Actions today lead to the achievement of an immediate goal, which is a means to achieving a longer-term goal, and so on. Long-term goals are achieved by a lengthy means-end sequence with the long-term goal as the overall end.

So, for example, health is a long-term goal that is achieved by many small, short-term undertakings, including going to bed at a certain time, eating or not eating certain foods, etc.

Each of us has one overall goal (a happy life), with a few top goals that contribute to that (health, career, time with loved ones are the three big ones for most). Everything in the short term should contribute, by some means-end sequence, to your long-term goals. If it doesn't, it works against them and against your own happiness.

If you have vetted your goals, then the apparent conflicts between short-term and long-term goals are often misconceptions. You just need to see how your short-term goal fits into your long-term means-end sequence.

For example, if you want to start a business eventually, but you need a job now, you can make sure the job is one that will build a skill you will need. Prior to starting his own company, a friend of mine deliberately sought out corporate jobs in engineering, management, and sales, because he knew he needed those skills to be successful as an entrepreneur.

Or if you want to write novels but can't make a living at it, your day job serves to sustain you in the meantime. You choose a job that leaves you enough free time and mental energy to work on the writing on a regular basis, and there is no conflict. Or better yet, you find a way to use your day job to fill up your creative reservoir with ideas. Maybe you become a bartender and spend your salaried time listening to stories and telling your own.

Or if you want to get started on a project at work, get clear on why. What's the business need for it? Presumably, your success on this project will make a difference in whether the company will succeed or not. How? Why? And while you're at it, what's the business need for all that day-to-day work you do? If you clearly define how your day-to-day activity leads to the success of the business, you will probably find that some of it doesn't and this is activity you can dispense with.

Or if you truly want to maintain your lifestyle, a clearheaded look at how you spend your money can help you see what lifestyle is sustainable, and how you can save to ensure you maintain it in the future.

If you focus on making sure the short-term activities lead to long-term goals, you also ensure that every day you see  that you are making progress toward your long-term goals.

If you can't figure out how to integrate the long range and the short range, well, maybe there is a contradiction between them and you need to make a change.

If your day job is now taking 80 hours a week, maybe you need a different job so you can pursue your dream on the side. Or if your job has 50 hours of critical admin work that can't be left undone, maybe you need an assistant or a way to automate it with a computer so that there is room for that long-term project.

But the secret is always: see all of your goals in terms of means to ends. Ultimately, you should be able to see how your short-term activities are a means to your long-term goals, especially your long-term happiness. That is how you eliminate conflict.

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