How to Make Meaningful Progress Toward Big Goals

This year I'm setting goals using Powersheets and last month I shared my ten big goals for twenty-fifteen (here and here). This month, I thought I'd share how I break my big goals into smaller, actionable tasks that help me make progress on them throughout the year. 

Focus on progress

First things first: I should state outright that my objective this year is to make progress toward my big goals, rather than accomplish them in the traditional sense. My big goals aren't necessarily things that can be "achieved" or "checked off the list" in a year. So the key for me is to steadily make progress, little by little, on a weekly or monthly basis toward each of my big goals. Here's a quick review of those big goals in a nutshell:

  • - take care of myself
  • - cultivate joy in my marriage
  • - parent with purpose
  • - celebrate + encourage others
  • - focus on contentment and simplicity
  • - seek wisdom / deepen my knowledge of issues of importance to me
  • - set meaningful boundaries + routines
  • - pursue creativity
  • - work hard / treat design like it's my job, not a hobby
  • - have fun!

Keep in mind things can (and will!) change

The tending list, which comes with the Powersheets, includes spaces to fill in and track daily, weekly and monthly goals for each month of the year. I love this because if something isn't working for a month, I can always change it! The "big goals" I set are what I'll work toward throughout the year. Those probably won't change. But how I'm getting there? That can change as the year goes on, depending on what's working and what's not from month to month. I love this part of the Powersheets process, but you don't need them to implement it in your own goal-setting process. Simply work on your big goals one month at a time. And if something isn't working, change it.

This mantra encourages me to take risks and play with the goal-setting process. It also gives me bite-sized goals with definitive deadlines, which is a good thing for me. Open-ended follow-through is not one of my strengths!

Identify how you'll define progress

I usually start the month trying to identify one thing that would help me see immediate progress on each big goal and then make that either a daily, weekly or monthly goal. For example, one thing Nick and I want to work on this year is parenting with more purpose. I'm not sure what that means, exactly, so my goal for January was to read a book on parenting that aligns with our values (the baby books we read a few years ago didn't exactly cover the three-year old stuff). I don't have to actually figure it all out in one month, but if I can take one step toward a goal in a month, then I'll have made some meaningful progress.

Start small

I've found that if I start small on my goals, I can make steady progress and mitigate that feeling of overwhelm. For example, for goal #1 (take care of myself), I set the daily goals of drinking lots of water and eating breakfast everyday in January. Sure, I would love to be in bed by 10:00 and get a haircut and workout five days a week and get a massage!

But I needed to start small so I wouldn't overwhelm myself and get discouraged when I couldn't accomplish all those things. I can always revisit those other goals, once I'm in the habit of hydrating and eating enough in the mornings (both big problems that were causing me to crash and needed to be addressed immediately). But by starting small, and tackling something important but achievable to start, I've made meaningful progress and I'm now able to move onto something else.

Start early

Small steps are a must, but it can also be important to think big-picture. Is there anything specific you want to accomplish this year or in the next six months that you'll need to start now? I knew this year that part of my "encourage others" goal would be to write 350 letters.

Well, if I wait until August to get started, that's going to be tough! So I decided to write 30 letters in January. Note: I set the monthly goal of 30 letters rather than writing a letter a day. This seemed to work well for me. Writing 30 letters will ensure I'm on track to complete the big goal of 350 by the end of the year. If you're tackling a big goal, which requires an early start, then do yourself a favor: break it up and get started as soon as possible.

Keep it loose

Sometimes progress can be clearly defined and sometimes it doesn't have to be. In other words, keep it loose for the goals that don't require some more regimented progress. If you're trying to run a marathon, you probably have to be pretty specific about your daily, weekly or monthly goals. If you're trying to be more active, you might be able to be a bit more flexible. For my big goal of "pursuing creativity," I wanted to build more creative time into my month, but I didn't want a looming deadline or defined project. I just wanted to play around with some creative skills and practices. So that's what I did. My "goal" for the month of January was to focus on one creative endeavor (read more about it here), so that's what I did. I didn't complete any major projects, or spend two hours on it every Tuesday or whatever. I just worked on it when I had extra time and it worked! I actually spent more time being creative and I even got a few things "done." Win, win, and it didn't require a really strict goal.

What are your best tips for making progress toward your big goals?