“I know what I need to do. But I’m just not doing it.”
How many times have you said or thought this? It is one of the things we hear the most from people who use our planners and write to us for advice on achieving their goals.
In fact, just the other day, even our Ink+Volt founder Kate was saying this to me about her newest idea for a product: a daily gratitude journal.
“I know I need to research other journals, create a few designs, print some samples, share them with other people for feedback…but I keep getting stuck,” she said. “I know the steps I need to take, but when it’s time to sit down and focus, I just get overwhelmed.”
This is where so many potentially amazing projects end.
We see good ideas fail to happen all the time. And they usually fail for two reasons:
- The idea is so big and daunting that you don’t know where to start, so you don’t
- You start strong, lose momentum, and never get going again
If you’re tired of this cycle, it’s possible to end it. In fact, it’s actually EASY.
How to turn a big dream into a real plan
Kate’s gratitude journal project had hit a roadblock. So what did she do? Rather than give it up, she made her big project into a small project. Something easy she could do every day.
She looked at what she could do in 15 minutes — sometimes the only time she had in a day to sit down and focus on it — to move the project forward. What was one small step she could take? What was one thing that would move her closer to the goal?
By thinking this way, she could make a list of action items and steps to take.
Creating action items: who, what, when, where, why, and HOW
A big project is actually just a lot of small steps. If you can identify those steps and tackle them one at a time, you can do anything.
To create a realistic list of action items — things you can actually do, right now, to make progress — you need to understand how to break down your big goal. (Which in itself can be daunting!)
Here’s an example of how to do this.
Let’s say you want to take a vacation to Hawaii this year, but you have no idea at all what you want to do or where you want to go. Start making action items by looking at some key questions that can help you make decisions: who, what, when, where, why, and how.
Who? Who is going on vacation with you? Will you go alone? With family? Which family members? Friends? Which friends? Partner? Another couple? Which one?
What? What does “vacation” mean to you? Going to the beach? Going to a museum? Meeting new people? Having solo time? Drinking? Eating? Sleeping? Getting off the grid?
When? Is your travel window limited by anything, like work or family schedules? What season would you prefer to travel during? What’s the minimum/maximum numbers of days you’d want to be gone?
Where? Do you want to stay in a hotel? A hostel? A home? A tent? An RV? Do you want to stay in one place? Do you want to move around? How much? When you imagine waking up in the morning on vacation, what sounds do you hear? What don’t you hear? What do you see?
Why? What is the purpose of this vacation? How will you know it was a great vacation?
Each of these questions on their own is pretty small. Even with the busiest schedule, you can answer one question a day to help you decide what kind of vacation you want to take. As you answer questions, some options will be eliminated and others will become more clear.
Answering small questions helps you get specific and focused on the right actions.
As you start to hone in on what you want, you can begin to create an action plan. You’ll do that by starting to answer this final question:
How? How will you make this trip happen? What steps do you need to take to make each part of the plan, as you’ve imagined it, become a reality?
Your list might look like this:
- Look at your finances to see if you can afford the trip
- Set a reminder to skip one meal out per week to save up money
- Create a list of destinations that fit your criteria for a great vacation (maybe you’ll even discover that Hawaii isn’t the best choice for what you want!)
- Ask Facebook friends if they have suggestions for places to go based on your list of options
- Call to invite friends/family/partner on the trip
- Find out their schedule and make sure it lines up with the dates you want to travel. Adjust if necessary
- Coordinate what you want to do on the trip – do they match up with your companions?
- Create an itinerary of activities or a general outline for the trip, making space for the things that are most important to you
- Request travel dates off work
- Google plane ticket prices and compare options
- Research accommodations and make a reservation
- Make a list of things you need to buy before your trip
- Buy essentials before travel
- Pack suitcase
Suddenly, a big idea has become a list of really simple steps.
Any big goal can become this simple. The key is to look at it — REALLY look at it for what it is. Instead of staring at the hugeness of a huge idea, look at the simple, mundane, easy steps that make it up.
Action is everything: how good ideas get done
A huge part of losing momentum or never starting on a big idea is mental. In fact, I’d bet that this is a bigger reason than any practical issues (like money or time) for why most big ideas don’t happen.
The key to making progress is to stop thinking about it and just do it. Just do something, anything. Keeping going is always easier than starting.
So how do you keep going? You make it EASY to keep going, by breaking down your goal into really simple steps. Maybe you can’t design a whole notebook in a day, but you can google notebook brands you like for inspiration. You can sketch out one design for one page.
Always focus on what thing you can DO. It isn’t about finishing, it’s about making progress.
Create a table of contents for your big idea. I love how the Hatch Notebook’s amazing system uses this idea of steps to help you brainstorm, evaluate your ideas, turn them into actions, and make them happen. Take your idea seriously by giving it a structure. When you take the time to understand what your idea is and how it will work, you make a huge step towards being able to make actionable progress (instead of more daydreaming).
Put it on your schedule. When something feels overwhelming, it is appealing to ignore it. Instead, commit yourself to time on a regular basis — whether it’s every day, every week, or every month. Block this time off so that you don’t allow other people or things to bleed into this space, and use that time to complete one or two small steps every time you sit down to work.
Focus on iterative processes. Iterative work is work that builds on itself. If you commit to reading 10 pages of a book every night, you will have read 3,650 pages a year. Look for small steps that will add up.
Underestimate what you can do when you’re making your schedule. We tend to overestimate how quickly we can do things or how much we can do in one day. Instead of booking yourself solid — and increasing the likelihood of burnout — try underestimating yourself. Give yourself something that feels laughably manageable, so that it’s actually enjoyable and easy to do your work and accomplish your daily goals.
Make a list of down-time projects. We waste so much time in 10 minute increments. Instead of checking your email the next time you’re waiting around for a meeting to start, you should be making small progress on your big idea. The best way to make this happen is to keep a running list of things you can do in small chunks when you have a few minutes of downtime, so you always have a suggestion of something productive you could do.
This might include things like googling a question you have, making a phone call, or loading a batch of posts to your blog. Make sure you always have a 5-10 things you can do when you have a free minute to push yourself forward.
(PS. Making or updating that list is another great example of a downtime project!)
Big dreams can happen!
This whole business started out as a big, daunting idea. But how did we get here? It was by taking one step at a time, every single day, and getting focused on goals and the actions that pushed the project forward to those goals.
What is your big dream? How can we help you make progress on it? Email us or share it on Facebook — we want to help you succeed!