March 14, 2018 — 1.0.0

Achieving Goals

By Drew Barontini

Before talking about achieving goals, I recommend reading the “Setting Goals” guide to familiarize yourself with the prelude to this guide. There’s no sense in achieving goals if they aren’t the right goals. That’s where we started. So, if you haven’t, please read that. I’ll be waiting right here.


At this point, I’ll assume you have a fine-tuned list of goals spanning all the major areas and contexts of your life. They are lofty — but attainable — measurable, and in alignment with your personal core values.

So let’s get started.

There are two important components of achieving goals:

  1. Breaking the goals down into small, incremental steps
  2. Creating habits

Now, there’s a lot of nuance surrounding those ideas:

  • How do we break down our goals?
  • What system(s) do we use to track the goals?
  • How do we identify the habits?
  • How do we work habits into our life (and existing routines)?
  • What about goals that don’t naturally contain a habit?

I’m going to focus on the two primary components listed above, but I’ll cover some of these nuances as we go.

Let’s get into it.

Break your goals down

Let’s start with breaking goals down into small, incremental steps. Rather than wax philosophical about it, I’m going to immediately cover an example goal of mine (and one used in the “Setting Goals” guide).

“Read 50 Books”

If you craft your goals with measurable key results, you can easily break the goal down into incremental steps. I use quarterly, monthly, and weekly increments because I’ve found it to be the best approach. And when it’s a numerical measurement — like the goal here — it’s all the easier.

In our example, the breakdown would be:

  • Read (about) 13 books each quarter (50 / 12 = ~4)
  • Read (about) 4 books each month (4 / 4 = 1)
  • Read (about) 1 book each week (1 / 1 = 1)

This is where I believe most people fail to achieve their yearly goals. When initial goals are set, they’re often set arbitrarily without considering the actual steps it takes to achieve them. If I know what I need to do each week (and day), it’s far easier to reach a lofty goal like reading fifty books.

I don’t break this goal down past weekly iterations because each book varies in size, and it would be painstaking to attempt a rough estimation of pages to read per week. However, each goal’s metric is different, so a daily step might be warranted with other goals.

Create habits

Now that we know we have to read 1 book per week, we need to figure out how we can actually get there. We know it’s by reading, but when are we going to get the time to read?

On average, a book I normally read will take between 5-10 hours to complete. With that in mind, I know I need (about) two hours or so each night. This will be on average, as some nights will be more and some will be less.

This is where habits come into play.

As Charles Duhigg explains in his book The Power of Habit, a habit has three primary parts:

  1. The cue: the trigger to do something
  2. The routine: the actual habit itself
  3. The reward: the reward after performing the habit

With this in mind, we can create our reading habit using this formula.

01

Cue

What is our trigger to read? After dinner, I grab my Kindle and sit on the sofa (or lay in bed, depending on how the day went).

Routine

What is the actual habit? Reading, of course!

Reward

What is the reward for performing the habit? For me, it’s a feeling of accomplishment, acquired knowledge, and a way to wind-down and recover from a focused day of work and productivity.

The beauty of this formula, when applied appropriately and regularly, is that our brains eventually go into autopilot, triggering and running the routine without much thought. This solidifies the pattern, allowing us to read one book a week, four books a month, thirteen books a quarter, and, ultimately reach our goal of fifty books a year.

This is just one small component of creating and building habits, and I plan to dive into the topic much deeper in my “Habits” guide. However, it’s impossible to talk about achieving goals without covering habits, which is why we needed to talk about them here.

Tracking progress

02

I’d be remiss if I didn’t cover systems and processes for tracking the progress of goals. Personally, I’ve been using Trello. I like the Kanban-style layout for breaking goals down into yearly, quarterly, monthly, and weekly steps (or cards). At the daily level, they integrate into my task-management system to make sure they are part of my daily tasks, which help me reach my weekly goals.

There are so many tools out there, and it honestly doesn’t matter what you choose. What’s important is you pick the tool that helps you keep track of the goals, but also allows you to tweak and change them. Don’t obsess over the tool. Focus on the techniques for reaching your goals, not where you see them.

Goals that don’t relate to habits

We talked about creating habits out of goals with numerical metrics, but what about goals that don’t easily break down into a habit? You know, the goals that are essentially "did you do it, or did you not do it?” type of goals. How can we break those down?

Let’s look at an example.

“Sell Sarah’s Car”

My wife and I want to go down to one car, so another yearly goal of mine is to sell her car. We’re not doing math on this one, so, instead, we have to focus on breaking it down into incremental steps:

  • Figure out how much we should sell it for
  • Pay off the loan and get the title
  • Wash the car and take pictures of it
  • Post the car online for sale
  • Make a deal and actually sell it

Those are the incremental steps we need to complete to achieve the overall goal. And they can — and should — occur in our previously established intervals of quarterly, monthly, and weekly.

  • What can I accomplish this quarter?
  • What can I accomplish this month?
  • What can I accomplish this week?

That’s the train-of-thought to follow. Let’s go through the exercise together with our example of selling the car.

I want to account for the fact that selling the car will take some time. Therefore, I would like to make sure by the end of the second quarter we have posted the car online for sale. That means we need to do the following in two quarters:

  • Figure out how much we should sell it for
  • Pay off the loan and get the title
  • Wash the car and take pictures of it
  • Post the car online for sale

Okay, let’s assume we’ll post the car for sale in the second quarter (includes washing and taking pictures of it). That means we can narrow our list of this quarter/month/week to:

  • Figure out how much we should sell it for
  • Pay off the loan and get the title

That’s now our quarterly list.

What can I accomplish this quarter?

  • Figure out how much we should sell it for
  • Pay off the loan and get the title

What can I accomplish this month?

  • Research and valuate the car

What can I accomplish this week?

  • Determine what is needed to valuate the car

And there we have it! The goal now has an actionable next-step as a weekly goal that will work into weekly and daily planning. Although we don’t directly create a habit out of this particular goal, we’re breaking it down into pre-defined increments in order to accomplish the overall goal. Any goal that can’t be easily converted into a habit should work this way.

Summarizing what we’ve learned

The goal (pun intended) is to figure out how to break the goal down into digestible steps you can reach on a weekly and daily basis. Whether it’s a number-driven goal (e.g. “Read 50 Books”), or an outcome-driven goal (e.g. “Sell Sarah’s Car”), the path is the same: break the goal down into quarterly, monthly, and weekly steps. And, if you can, work to create a habit to support the steps. If not, focus on the smallest next-step you can take.

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© 2018 Drew Barontini — Building products under Drewbio, LLC