The Accomplished Solopreneur

Issue 22.31

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

How to make real progress towards your goals

Goal setting is a notoriously “flavour of the month” kind of thing. Every now and then we sit down, write down our goals and set off with great energy to achieve them. Inevitably, we look back a couple of months later and wonder what happened—we made very little progress.

Here’s the technique I use to make real progress—and eventually reach my goals.

The principle

The principle I use to do this has two parts:

  • Every big thing is made up of lots of smaller things. Those smaller things can often be broken up into even smaller things.
  • You can only work on one of those small things at a time.

Another way to think of this is that, for most things, we don’t make progress in big leaps. We make progress small steps at a time.

How it works

There are 4 steps to this process. Follow along:

Step 1: Write down your goal

Your goal can be a business goal, a personal goal—anything you would like to achieve. In my case, my next goal is location independence.

I use a Miro board to capture this—but I also write down exactly what this goal means to me.

That’s it, clear and simple.

Step 2: Break it down into smaller parts

The next step is to break this down into smaller parts. In my case, I’ve decided there are four things I need to reach that goal:

  • Products to sell
  • A website to present it to the world (and let people buy online)
  • Content marketing to attract and nurture leads
  • A slick back office so I don’t have to worry about admin

This is what it looks like in my Miro board:

Note that I add these four smaller things above the main goal—the reason for this will become clear in step 4.

And because I like to make things look nice, I also connect all these items to show how each contributes to the grand goal:

Step 3: Break the small things into even smaller things

Each of the four things I need to achieve my eventual goal is a big task in itself, so I need to break them down into smaller pieces. For example, I can break down Content Marketing into four smaller pieces as well:

There are two things to note at this point:

  • First, I’m running out of screen real estate - if I break down all four of the main sub-goals and arrange their sub-goals horizontally, things get really wide really quickly. So I’m going to arrange them vertically.
  • I use colours to indicate what stage each sub-goal is in.

The colours I use to show what stage each item is in are as follows:

These colours come in really handy:

At a glance, I can see that my website sub-goal is done. All the projects for the website (transfer website, blog posts and lead magnet) are done, so I colour the website sub-goal green as well. (I will delete or group done items together to save some screen real estate.)

On the Content Marketing leg:

  • I’ve re-engaged with the places I used to deliver talks at before COVID. A talk a month is now lined up for the remainder of the year, so I colour this one green.
  • Both The Weekend Solopreneur (this newsletter) and building a LinkedIn progress are works in progress (orange). There’s work to be done on both to make them run smoothly.

You can break it down even further

In practice, I’ve found that 3 levels are enough to plan out all the things I need to do to reach a major goal like this one. I think of it like this:

To reach a goal, I need to achieve a number of sub-goals. Each of those sub-goals has one or more projects I need to complete. So:

Complete projects → to complete sub-goals → to reach the final goal.

If you need to, you can break down your sub-goals into sub-sub-goals. I try to avoid that.

When to stop breaking things down into smaller and smaller pieces

I stop breaking things down into smaller pieces when I have a project to work on. A project has a start and an end (as opposed to recurring things like keeping my books every month).

I don’t break projects down into individual tasks. The point of this exercise is to figure out what I need to do to achieve a particular goal; not plan out the actual work in each project. That happens in step 4.

Step 4: Prioritize and pick one

It’s time to prioritize the projects and pick one to work on next. Sometimes it’s easy to prioritize, for example when one project needs to be completed before you can start on another. Sometimes a project should be logically completed before you start the others. In my case, completing my website was the logical first order of business.

Avoid the temptation to work on multiple projects at the same time. This will just slow you down.

When I start a project, I will usually break it down into a number of tasks. I keep track of these tasks separately.

And why are the goals at the bottom?

Simply because this way of presenting it means I’m always working on the stuff at the top. Things lower down just get coloured to indicate how far down the road I’ve gone. You can put your goal at the top, or even use a sideways approach.

That’s it for this week

I hope this helps you plan out your goals and make better progress. I would love to hear what your experiences are.

Have a great week!