If you have a goal on your mind but you don’t know where to start, this one is for you! The key to achieving great big goals is breaking them down into manageable chunks. If you want to succeed, you must know how to break down complex goals into actionable steps. This article outlines a step by step goal setting strategy to turn vague goals into actionable to dos. If you’re wondering how to break down big goals so you can actually achieve them, let’s dig in!
Why should we break down big goals?
Have you ever thought about starting your own business?
Or changing fields in your career?
Or growing all of your own food?
Or getting in incredible shape?
Or pursuing higher education?
Or any high level goal that is so big and exciting but at the same time complex and terrifying?
At some point in life, we’ve all set our sights on a goal outside of our comfort zone, and let it die there.
It breaks my heart because those abandoned dreams are parts of us that we aren’t stepping into. They are regrets that we are going to have when we’re lying on our deathbeds. They are stories we could have told and lessons we could have learned but didn’t…
As humans, we are capable of achieving incredible things, if we dare to really go for it.
But a lot of the time, we don’t. We settle for mediocrity, we accept ‘good enough’, we second guess our abilities, and we put aside big goals that scare us.
Why do we give up after setting big goals?
Usually, it’s because we have no idea where to even start.
How do I even start my own business after a decade of the 9-5 slog!?
How do I even begin to change my family’s eating habits after 25 years of emotional overeating?
How do I even go about turning around my marriage after months of barely interacting?
These are all hard questions, and they are not necessarily easy to solve, but they do follow the same simple process to get to the solution.
I coach purpose driven people to overcome perfectionism and procrastination so that they can build a life exploding with joy.
This means I get to dig into people’s dreams with them and help create an actual road map to get from where they are today to where they want to be in the future.
It is soul filling work and I am blessed to spend my days doing it. If you’re interested in leveling up your life and want to know more about what that might look like, give me a shout!
An obstacle that comes up frequently in my coaching calls with clients is the struggle to break down big goals.
People have some idea of where they want to be in 10 years. But they have no idea how to get there.
I want to share with you the process I use with my coaching clients to help them get that next level of clarity when it comes to taking massive action toward their dreams.
How To Break Down Big Goals Into Actionable Steps
This article will serve as your step by step guide to breaking down your goals into manageable chunks that you can action so that you’re set up to succeed and can actually achieve your dreams. Do you have a goal in mind? Let’s get started with breaking it down!
Step One: Effectively Set Your Goal
It is absolutely critical that we’re working with a goal that was set effectively.
Your goal must be rooted in a very strong WHY. You absolutely have to know EXACTLY why you’re putting in the effort to achieve this goal and how it is going to benefit you and everyone around you.
Related post: Finding Your Purpose With 10 Questions
Your goal must be crystal clear, so that you know when you’ve achieved it. It must be within your control, so that you have direct influence over its success.
And you’ve gotta have a deadline that you’re working towards.
Those are just the basics.
Related post: How To Be Successful When Willpower Doesn’t Work
Here’s a solid example: My goal is to achieve 20% body fat by December, 2020, so that I can compete effectively in endurance events, be a model of health for my friends and family, and feel my absolute best every single day.
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Plus, every week I deposit gems of practical advice and inspirational tips to help you power through to your goal! Join us in our movement to build lives exploding with joy!
Here’s another example of a goal well set (one that we’ll use throughout the rest of this article): My goal is to build an online business earning $50,000/year by December, 2023, so that I can quit my job, work from anywhere in the world, and make an impact doing things I love!
Step Two: Break Down Your Big Goal
Alright, now that you’ve got a strong goal to work towards, it’s time to break it down.
Each goal usually has 3-5 milestones that must be hit in order to achieve it. In general, they build off of each other and lead up to your goal.
For our example goal of building an online business, the 3-5 milestones might be
I need to establish myself as an authority in the industry first. While I’m doing that I also need to create the product or service that I will be selling. After that’s done I can market my products or services to my niche. From that will come my first sale. And once money is coming in the door I can focus on growing my business.
Each milestone is a substantial amount of work, but it is an essential part of achieving your big goal.
Let’s look at another example. If you’re working toward losing 5 pounds in the next 3 months, your 3-5 milestones might be
- Establish a solid workout routine
- Create healthy eating habits
- Set up accountability
These are the big chunks of work that need to happen in order to hit your overall goal.
What do the 3-5 milestones look like for your big goal? Take 3 minutes to think through it right now before moving on to step 3.
Related post: Are You Working On The Right Goals?
Step 3: Break Down Your Milestones
Each milestone has its own set of outcomes that must be completed in order to hit the milestone. It’s very important to continue breaking down the milestone and pinpoint what those outcomes look like so that you can move toward identifying the tangible tasks.
If you try to put something like “create healthy eating habits” on your to do list, you won’t get very far.
The next step is to brainstorm all of the outcomes that are required in order to achieve EACH of your milestones.
So, for the milestone in the first example: Establish myself as an authority in the industry there are a number of outcomes I could achieve that will all contribute to that milestone.
I will start a blog, create a presence on social media, and get certification in the industry.
Take 5 minutes to identify the 3-5 outcomes for each of your milestones now.
If you come up with more than 3-5, by all means jot them down, but then prioritize them. Which 3 are most likely to get you the result you need with the least amount of effort? You are looking for the fastest path to your success. Use the 9 square prioritization matrix to prioritize effectively.
Related post: How To Prioritize Any List: The 9 Square Tool
Step Four: Break Down Your Outcomes
As you can probably tell by now, we’re going to keep breaking down your big goal until we get to a level that is actionable.
Depending on whether you’re working with a very high level goal, or more of a quick win, the number of times you have to drill down will vary.
In the case of our example goal (starting a business), we have to drill down again. You can tell because the outcomes we got to in step 3 (like start a blog) are still not actions we can time block in the calendar. So let’s dig a level deeper.
Breaking down the outcomes might look like this:
Start a blog
- Secure domain
- Set up WordPress site
- Create content
- Publish site
Create a presence on social media
- Set up an Instagram account
- Follow influencers in my niche
- Plan out content for the month
- Post content
- Set up a Facebook account
- Plan out content for the month
- Post content
- Set up a Pinterest account
- Set up boards
- Pin 50 pieces of relevant content to each board
- Create pins for my own content
- Create a schedule for the month
As you can see, now we’re working at a level that is actionable.
You can take each of those actions and achieve them within a reasonable amount of time. You can schedule them into your calendar, sit down to work on it, and know exactly what actions you need to take and the result that you’re looking to achieve.
This is the level that you want to be working at.
Step 5: Time Block Your Actions Into Your Schedule
The most important aspect of breaking down complex goals is actually going out and following through with them!
If you’re a perfectionist and a procrastinator, you may love to create lists and plans and strategies, but frequently fail to execute them.
I’ve been there. It’s fun to plan and dream and it’s hard to do the work.
Related post: 5 Strategies for Better Time Management
The best way to get around that form of self sabotage is to identify three things for each action:
- Which day are you working on this action?
- What time are you starting and what time are you ending?
- What result will you achieve with this action?
This level of specificity increases your follow through rate substantially and helps you make massive momentum toward your dream!
Here’s an example:
Thursday, January 30th, from 4-6pm
Outcome: secure a domain name for my site
Actions: think of a name, check to see if it is already taken, research a domain host to use, pick the plan that works best for me, activate it, and link my domain to it.
Friday, January 31st, from 12-1pm
Outcome: set up 15 Pinterest boards
Actions: think of 15 categories, create themed images for the boards, set them up, and pin 3 pins to each of them. ‘
By the way, we dive deeper into time management in our online course!
It’s guaranteed to give you 7 hours back in your week, so check it out!
As you can see, I’m thinking another level deeper to firmly understand what accomplishing that action might look like. You don’t have to do this ahead of time, as you will likely know 80% of what’s required to set up 15 Pinterest boards when you sit down to do it, and the rest you’ll learn along the way. However, I do find it helpful to have a checklist of specific tasks to focus me. It helps make the work manageable.
Related post: How To Simplify Your To Do List To The Essentials
This is how you make progress toward your dreams.
You get crystal clear on the little tasks you need to take to accomplish an action, which will help you accomplish an OUTCOME that is part of a larger MILESTONE which is part of your high level GOAL.
Eventually, your great big goal would look like this. And it’s a heck of a lot easier to work towards one action at a time, knowing you will get to your dream if you just put your head down and do the work, than it is to try and jump from A to B without stepping stones along the way.
I will caution you, you may start to feel a little overwhelmed and worried that you don’t know enough about what you’re doing to be able to achieve this goal.
If you’re getting stuck on the specific actions or outcomes that you’re looking for, and you can’t fill in those blanks, don’t worry.
This is normal.
Start with what you know.
We give ourselves less credit than we deserve. 80% of the time, your first hunch is right, and you need to go for it.
When in doubt, just do SOMETHING.
Then, fill in the gaps.
What do you need to look up? Google is your best friend.
Who do you know that could be of service? Find a mentor, ask a friend, talk to someone who has done it before, or find a course that can teach you this aspect of the goal.
Be humble enough to suck for as long as it takes you to become betterRACHEL HOLLIS
You can grow into whoever you want to become.
Whatever you do, don’t waste your time worrying about whether you know what you’re doing or not. In the end, it really doesn’t matter.
Related post: The 4 Biggest Things Holding You Back In Life
None of the heroes we look up to were 100% prepared for the challenges they took on. They just went for it, and figured it out as they went along.
If you don’t find this idea particularly inspiring, that’s fine. I didn’t either. I love a solid plan, a well thought out road map, and a guarantee that it will all work out…
But I’ve learned that life doesn’t work that way and striving for that level of certainty and perfection only stopped me from taking action.
You can do this. You just need to believe in yourself and do the internal thought work necessary to unravel your limiting beliefs and charge head first in pursuit of your dream.
And as always, I am here to help you with that!
Breaking down your goals is absolutely essential to achieving them. It’s also critical to maintaining the motivation necessary to stick with them!
We think motivation is something we find which spurs action, but the opposite is in fact true.
Motivation is CREATED through the ACTION we take.
And the only way we can take that action is if we’re clear on what the next step is.
You do not have to have it all figured out, you just need to know your next step.
And then you keep taking one step after another, and eventually you will arrive at your destination.
If you’re not clear on how to get from where you are to where you want to go, start with breaking down a specific goal into tiny actionable steps.
And if you want guidance with this, I’d be happy to partner with you one on one to help map out the path to your success.
You absolutely have what it takes to achieve that crazy goal tugging at your heart.
The first step is mapping out what it takes to get there. Get at it!
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Have you tried this method of breaking down goals before? Let me know in the comments below!