Note from Sean: This year, we all have goals and things we want to accomplish.
The unfortunate reality of this, however, is that most of us won’t be successful with them. We’ll do the same things we’ve done in the past, and leave a big opportunity to make major changes on the table.
For the last six months, our community manager Liz Froment has been talking to me non-stop about how she has been getting shit done lately. Like, serious progress on BIG goals.
In fact, her system was working so well, I finally asked her to share what she was doing and why it’s working so well.
So here you go, you’re welcome!
Everyone has them. No doubt you’ve got stacks of them written down on bits of paper somewhere. I do too. Look online and you’ll find a million posts about goals.
How to achieve your goals. Ways to accomplish more goals. Bust through those goals.
I think far too often we fall into the goals trap.
It’s not really your fault, we’re bombarded with the goals stuff throughout most of our lives. I was a big goal setter. And then, when I didn’t hit the goal, a big disappointment.
It wasn’t until the past year that I started to reformat my thinking when it came to goals. I finally (finally!) stopped setting goals and instead focused on building systems. One great read on this is Scott Adam’s book How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big.
These systems were basically new habits that helped me get more done.
And, surprise, when I got more done, I hit a lot of those abandoned goals from long ago.
Don’t you want to feel like goal machine Carli Lloyd, too?
Then keep reading. In this post, I’m going to walk you through a 4 step process to start building systems.
Step 1: Think
Noooooooo! Nobody said there’d be thinking!!
I know. But this part is quick.
Think about what you’d like to accomplish in the next year.
Really do this, it seems simple but it’s actually kinda hard. Also, write it down. Writing the goals down makes them feel more real. Now they’re out there and not just floating around in your brain.
Now, once you write them all down stop. Most people end here. They have a massive list of things they want to do and only tick off a handful of them.
This is where Warren Buffett’s “Two List System” comes into play. Basically, it goes like this:
- Write down your top 25 career goals (these can also be goals for the year for our purposes – and they don’t have to be career-related)
- Look at the list and circle the top 5 things you want to accomplish
- Now focus only ONLY on those top 5 things and ignore the other twenty on the list
James Clear does a great job of explaining it in this post. In the same post, he expands on the concept of the two lists:
This is why Buffett’s strategy is particularly brilliant. Items 6 through 25 on your list are things you care about. They are important to you. It is very easy to justify spending your time on them. But when you compare them to your top 5 goals, these items are distractions. Spending time on secondary priorities is the reason you have 20 half-finished projects instead of 5 completed ones.
Let’s say you’ve gone through your list and you’ve come up with 5 things to focus on in the next year. Here they are:
- Lose 20 pounds
- Write a self published novel
- Make an extra $1,000 a month
- Learn Spanish
- Be better a copywriting
One year from today, right now, every single one of these can be done. You just need to systems in place. That’s when we get to the next step.
Step 2: Plan and Chunkify
Alright, we’ve made progress already. If you followed the Two List System you have your five areas of focus for the next year.
Cool, next you want to plan. Yea, this is the not fun part.
I skipped a lot of the planning stages when I first got started and it was a mistake for me. I was much more focused on the goal than the system. Planning is boring, goals are sexy!
No. No. No.
It’s actually the planning that is the part where the magic happens.
In this planning phase of building the system, you want to break things down into chunks. Spread these chunks over a specific time frame.
I use 90 days based on a system I learned from Taylor Pearson’s TEE Course (highly recommended). You can do 30 days or 60 days, it doesn’t really matter.
Once you’ve got your chunks, start breaking your goals up.
Self Published Author Example
Let’s say you’ve gonna go with the 90 day chunks. You want to write your own self published novel. Cool, here’s how you can break this up so it doesn’t seem so scary.
- Chunk 1: Research and Outline – Spend this 90 days getting your research all good to go and writing your rough outline
- Chunk 2: First Draft – Spend this 90 days getting your first draft written
- Chunk 3: More Drafts – Ha nothing is ever done after 1 draft, so spend this next chunk going over more drafts
- Chunk 4: Edits and Final Details – Once you’re happy with your 16th draft shoot it off to an editor, get your book cover created, and set up your Amazon Author account
What you want to do with every one of those big goals is to chunk it down into smaller and smaller bits and pieces. Within each of those 90 day blocks, you can break it down even more.
This is the part of chunkifying that is super important for me. The smaller the chunk, the better off I am.
Look at Chunk 2: First Draft – Spend this 90 days getting your first draft written. Break it down again:
- Block 1 (first 30 days) – Write 85 pages
- Block 2 (second 30 days) – Write 85 pages
- Block 3 (third 30 days) – Write 85 pages
Boom, you’ve got a 250 (ish) page draft read to edit after your 90 days.
If you want, break it down again this time into weekly chunks. Look at Block 1 (first 30 days) – Write 85 pages. Keep breaking it down:
- Week 1 – Write 21 pages
- Week 2 – Write 21 pages
- Week 3 – Write 21 pages
- Week 4 – Write 21 pages
I bet you know where this is going next, right?
Look at Week 1 – Write 21 pages, and get even smaller:
- Day 1 – Write 4 pages (in Google Docs form, this is about 1,000 words)
- Day 2 – Write 4 pages
- Day 3 – Write 4 pages
- Day 4 – Write 4 pages
- Day 5 – Write 4 pages
Congrats, you just wrote a book. And you took the weekends off! You can write even less per day if you actually wrote on a daily basis.
Now, see how when “writing a book” is broken down into chunks it really doesn’t seem so overwhelming?
The average book is about 64,000 words in total. That’s just over 700 words a day for 90 days.
Just to bring this example home, I’ve been doing a daily 500 word minimum writing habit for the last 90 days.
In my 90 day writing habit (from October through December) here are my numbers:
Now, I wasn’t interested in writing a book, but you can see that with my minimum of 500 words a day (clearly some days I went over) writing goal I could have.
The power of chunkifying.
A Final Head’s Up on Planning
The planning stage is crucial because two big things often get in the way at this part. Hello, resistance!
First, suddenly lots of fun and cool things start popping up that sound way better than planning. You have to ignore and avoid these unless they can directly help you get your goal accomplished.
If someone approaches you and says they want to do a podcast with you, awesome! They can wait until after your book is done. So that might be a year down the road, or you have to write faster. Don’t let yourself get distracted by new and shiny objects.
Second, you’re going to think you can skip the chunking.
DO 👏 NOT 👏 SKIP 👏 THE 👏 CHUNKING.
This really is a crucial part. You need your brain to get into the habit of accomplishing quick wins on a daily or weekly basis.
And you want to make your system something that offers you very little resistance and is easily repeatable.
You’re not writing a book (book = scary)! You’re just writing 700 words a day (700 words a day = easy).
Step 3: Act
This is the 2nd least fun part (after the planning stage). Now you actually have to sit down and get stuff done.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, what we’re trying to do here is actually build new habits. I learned about rewiring new habits from Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit (you can check out a post on the book and goal setting I wrote here.)
Understanding how you can build these small daily habits is huge over the long run.
For an example, in this post, Darius Foroux talks about how a small shift in his daily habits allowed him to work out over 300 times last year.
Alright, so what you have to do now is take your chunking schedule and actually do them. The end.
In my experience of success and failure with various types of goal setting methods having a daily and weekly win is something that gets my momentum really going.
As Mark Manson says, these small daily wins are compounding over time:
There seems to be a bias in the human circuitry that underestimates what it takes to accomplish really big goals and overestimates the effort required to take on a series of small goals. In my experience, it’s the regular heartbeat of pursuing and nailing small win after small win that eventually leads to the big ones. In fact, I’ve often found that becoming so intent on the small simple daily victories often causes one to not even realize one of the big goals has occurred until it’s already passed you by. This, too, is a habit. And I would argue it’s an incredibly compounding one at that.
The best way to act on your goals is to get them in your head daily.
There are lots of tools out there that can help with this. It wasn’t until I consistently put daily tasks into a system that leads to my weekly goal (which led to my 90 day goal) that I really started getting lots of stuff done and seeing real progress.
I currently use a tool called Lanes.io for my tracking. I love it because it combines a daily to-do list with the Pomodoro method so I can actually time my tasks.
Here’s a quick look at my schedule the last two weeks:
When I have my daily tasks set I rarely ever think about the big picture. Because I know since I planned everything out that I’m only doing stuff that is pushing me forward.
You can use any of these tools to get task lists going:
You can also use a notebook or a spreadsheet. It doesn’t matter what the method or tool is, it took me a little while to find one that stuck, just get a daily system going.
Step 4: Celebrate Your Wins
Finally, don’t forget to celebrate your wins. Setting habits, ticking off goals, gaining momentum they all need to be acknowledged as a job well done.
I won’t go too woo-woo psychological here, but I truly believe that the right mindset is so important when it comes to this stuff. So every month or 90 days or hell even ever week, take a few minutes and look at everything you’ve managed to accomplish.
All of those daily tasks can and will add up to massive successes if you just stick with them.
And, to be 100% honest, never beat yourself for missing a day here and there. No one is perfect. Aim for getting things done 100% of the time but if you end up with an 80% success rate, you’re still going to be so far down the road to progress.
So, that’s how I’ve been able to change my habits and build a system that allows me to knock out tons of stuff each week. I’ve taken bits and pieces that I’ve learned from a lot of successful people (most of whom I’ve linked to in this post) and massaged a system of my own.
This might work for you, it might not, what you want to do is tweak it in a way that is going to get you building systems. Do that this week and by this time next year, you are going to be amazed at all the things you accomplished.
I’d loved to hear some of your best tips for setting up systems. Let me know in the comments!