The breakdown. How do you move a mountain? One shovelful at a time. It’s a cute saying, but how many of us grab the shovel and start frantically banging away at the mountain, trying to whittle it down through sheer brute force?
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the size of the mountain. It’s easy to get frustrated and angry because the challenge seems insurmountable. That’s why so many ideas to help change your life fail—the frustration gives us an out, a way to rid ourselves of something so vast. It’s an open invitation for defeatism and defeatist thinking.
So how do you move a mountain? You make it into a series of tasks. You have the end goal; now you have to make your timeline. The catch is – you need to make it backward. You need to start with the year-long goal first and then slice it into 12 parts (one for each month). Then slice each of those into four sections (one for each week) and then each of those into seven (one for each day). See the pattern?
Let’s look at this in a little more detail:
FIGURE OUT THE BIG YEAR-LONG GOALS
Although it might not be the whole mountain that you’re looking at, your yearly goal should be BIG. At least big enough to be a little scary. There is wisdom in the expression that “it’s only the frightening things that keep us interested.” What’s big enough to be a little bit frightening without taking you off into the world of outright terror? What will challenge you this year?
Most of our big goals run into a few general categories.
• Career. Are you looking for a new job or a promotion? Do you want to leave a low-paying job and get something with a better future or more in line with what you like to do? Is there something you’ve always wanted to do that would boost your career significantly (like gaining certification or additional training) but that you’ve never taken the time to do? Now might be the time.
• Heath and fitness. Many people make goals to get “healthy.” The problem with that this kind of goal is not measurable. “Healthy” can mean many things to different people. Does “healthy” mean losing weight? Not necessarily. It could be exercising more. It could be eating better and less junk food. It could mean making sure you get enough sleep at night. Be specific in your goal. Ask yourself how it can be measured and quantified.
• Fun. This goal is also rather vague. What do you consider to be “fun?” For some, a day at the beach would be fun, for others, it would boring. Often “fun” is used as a placeholder for some activity that involves being alone or alone with a significant other. Think about times in the past that you considered ‘fun.’ What were the elements in common? Create a goal then that incorporates those elements. If fun is your goal, be specific about what fun means to you.
• Relationships. This goal often arises in several parts. Sometimes we want to have a relationship, whether friendship or romantic, that we don’t already have. Or it might be we want to strengthen an existing relationship. Ask yourself where in your relationships you need the most help. Remember that you might need to enlist the cooperation of the person you’re having a relationship with to succeed here. Resolving to spend more time with a person only works if they’re likewise interested in spending more time with you.
• Giving. Donating to your favorite charity is the most obvious goal in this category, but it might be that you’d like to take your commitment to the cause a little deeper this year. Consider giving your time and talent to your community. But don’t forget that giving time to your family also counts here. Often we become so caught up in work and the pressure to earn money and support the family, that we sacrifice the time we could be spending with them. Re-evaluate where you give your time, and then consciously choose where you want to spend it.
Instead of making a New Year’s resolution, sit down for an hour or so and daydream about this time next year. What do you want this year to look like at the end of it? Who do you want to be in this year? Be specific. And don’t worry about “how.” That part comes later. Just figure out the “what” for now.
Decide what you can reasonably do in a month. If you’re taking a rock here and there from the mountain, it will never look any different. You need to concentrate on one small part at a time. Go back to that year-long goal and pick something that you can realistically do in a month.
Now, schedule a re-occurring appointment with yourself once per month to reflect on the progress you’ve made so far on this goal. Look at the long-term plan, the mountain you’re going to move (because you are going to push it), and fix what you can accomplish in the next 30 days. Write that down too.
Take the mountain out in monthly chunks. If your overall goal is to change your career, one month might involve learning a new skill set, say a programming language. The next month might be getting real-world experience by designing and building a website for a charity for free, just as a demonstration project.
NOW BREAK THAT DOWN INTO WEEKLY GOALS
This time, the re-occurring meeting with yourself is once each week. It can be a shorter meeting, about 15 – 20 minutes to plan out some steps you can take to get closer to your goal in the next seven days. Write these down. For example, using the idea of working toward a change in careers, week one might be researching the best programming languages to study and which ones are in highest demand. Week two might be working through the first half of the book or video course you have on learning the language, while week three would be finishing the book and making some test programs, and so on.
Maybe you won’t have a finished web page or object-oriented database interface by the end of the week, but you’re making progress to get you there.
Now you’re ready to look at the wheelbarrow full of rocks. In the morning, jot down your to-do list for the goal you have in mind. Following the previous example, you might be doing the next three lessons in the language tutorial, finding a server to create pages on, or learning how to create that database.
Dividing the mountain into successively smaller and smaller pieces makes it easy to see how daily goals become weekly become monthly become annual goals, and moving the mountain suddenly becomes doable. If nothing else, it removes the overwhelming initial fear of trying.
This type of planning is flexible and powerful. Instead of saying, “I am moving that mountain,” all you’re saying is “I have a wheelbarrow full of rocks to put over there.” You still have the scary, impressive goal to aim for, but you’ve made it manageable. It’s now broken into bite-sized chunks that you can handle on a day-to-day basis.
Take control. No one will care about your goals like you will. The timeline here is yours, so take ownership of it. Our calendars control too many of us, instead of us being in control of our calendars.
One final note: Do you know someone that cannot make a move without checking their calendar? Are you one of them? If so, you might be begrudging the time set aside for contemplation each week or each month to get caught up on the progress. Don’t. It’s your schedule, and the end goal is worth the time. If that weren’t the case, you wouldn’t have gotten this far.
You have work/school/kids to work around your schedule. That’s understandable. Few of us do not have a full dance card. But isn’t achieving this beautiful far-flung dream worth skipping an hour of TV each week? What if you sacrificed that time you’d spend playing that game on your phone, or checking Facebook?
Prioritize the time in your week/month by the core values you have. How important is this goal? Where does it rank against the other items on your to-do list? Spending time with the family might be more critical, but maybe spending time vacuuming isn’t.
This fact is especially important for children. Trying to achieve a balance between work and family, and still finding time for some self-investment is a delicate thing. Remember that word – this is an investment. You are investing time and energy and even money into your future. Keep in mind; the payout will benefit you as well as your family.
While this tool is a form of time management, it’s a different type. It’s counting down, making the goal smaller and smaller instead of planning. You’re planning backward – to go forward. Stay the course, and those yearly goals won’t know what hit them!