How to Break a Big Goal into Little Steps

Maybe you’ve got a big goal in your life – something that excites you but also scares you.

You might have been thinking about this goal for months, years, even decades. And, even if you’ve made a start on it, you might not have got very far.

Your goal might look something like this:

  • Run a marathon
  • Write a novel
  • Pay off the mortgage
  • Get a PhD
  • Become self-employed

All of these are big goals – most of them would take years to achieve. And if you really want to reach them, you need to break them down into manageable chunks.

Here’s how.

#1: Define Your Goal

First, you’ll want to come up with a clear description of your end goal. Too many big goals are so vague that it’s hard to start and impossible to finish.

For instance, if your goal is “write a novel”, what would finished look like?

  • A first draft?
  • A novel that you’re happy with?
  • A published novel?

If you want to run a marathon, what exactly does that mean?

  • Would walking the whole marathon be okay?
  • Or do you want to finish under a certain time?

Get clear about your goal. Decide what you’re aiming for, and write it down. Once you’ve done that, you can start on the next step.

#2: Break Your Goal into Major Milestones

Most goals can be divided into clear milestones. For instance, let’s say you’re planning to become self-employed. Your milestones might be:

  • Get everything ready to start the business (plan, funding, tools)
  • Make $500/month from the business
  • Make $1000/month from the business
  • Make enough to quit your day job and go full-time

…and so on.

These are still quite big steps, but they’re easier to grasp. You can start to imagine what’s necessary in order to achieve each milestone – and that’s what we’ll be covering in the next step.

#3: Come Up With a Task List

You don’t need to map out your entire goal – just your first milestone.

Come up with a clear task list: what exactly do you need to do? Try to phrase these as action items like “write proposal” or “ask John about tools”.

Here’s an example:

Goal: Run a marathon

First milestone: Jog for thirty minutes

Task list:

  • Buy kit – trainers and loose-fitting clothes
  • Get an exercise plan – ask for Sue’s help putting this together
  • Jog three times a week and gradually build up to thirty minutes

Your task list doesn’t need to be long or complicated, but it should be clear. If any items are vague, then break them down further.

By now, your big goal has been divided into little steps. You know what you need to do during the next week or two – and you can see the milestones mapped out for the next few months or years.

“Run a marathon” is daunting. “Buy trainers” isn’t. But all those little steps really do add up – and in a year’s time, you could have achieved something amazing.

How could your big goals break down? If you want to share your thoughts, the comments are open…

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Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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