“Just what makes that little old ant think he’ll move a rubber tree plant?”
That feel-good tune makes an interesting comment on high hopes. But imagine if that ant’s goal was to eat that rubber tree plant and then imagine that ant biting into the plant chunk by chunk until, oops, it’s gone.
Regardless of how large or small your goal is, biting into it chunk by chunk is the best way to tackle it. But people are more complex than ants. So we have a bunch of obvious and not-so-obvious tools that can help us carve off those pieces.
First, collect the wisdom of others. Talk to people who’ve done what you want to do. Ask them what actions they took and in what order. Or, consult a book or manual that summarizes the steps.
Next, jump to the end. Pretend you’ve achieved your goal. Now look backwards – what was next-to-last thing you did? And what did you do before that? Work all the way back to the beginning. Find the threads that tie the finish to the start.
If this sounds crazy, just remember the last big success story you read about. Didn’t you marvel at how logical its progress sounded, when looking over it from the finish?
Take for example the Vancouver’s 2010 Olympics. They were a success because one of the last things that CEO John Furlong did before they officially opened the games, was to deliver a heartfelt and transparent response to the unexpected death of an athlete. Clearly, he had tackled the entire 14-year project by making his integrity, and his accessibility, important tools for carving off chunks of his massive goal to produce an Olympics that would make the whole country proud.
As you collect all the actions you’ll need to get to your goal, you might feel overwhelmed, or worried that you’re overlooking important steps. Try this technique that I’ve used called mind mapping.
Draw a circle in the middle of a big page and write your goal inside it. Then draw a bunch of circles around it, for the various categories of tasks you’ll need to complete in order to achieve your goal. From each of the outer circles, draw additional spokes and label with any specific steps needed to complete that task. The beauty of this method is that you can move from topic to topic, as ideas come to you. Once you’ve mapped all your ideas, then you can convert each of the steps into an action list with deadlines attached.
Choose the top five things that absolutely must be done first and then get them done. This will build momentum for what’s to follow: triumph over the tough stuff first and move on. Use the same technique to create daily action lists.
Finally, make sure that your last action each day is to create a new to-do list for the next day. That way, you’ll hit the ground running, and not waste precious time and energy gearing up to start again.