We all start our day with expectations of getting stuff done. Whether you make lists of stuff to do, or just have a running idea of what needs to get done, you start off believing you will make progress.
This role is the Planner in us. The Planner is the one with a vision and who sees where we are going in our lives. This role is an important role, just like any company needs someone to lead it, we need to have an idea of where we are going or what it is that we want.
The role of the Planner is also to delegate out the tasks to get done.
The problem is, you are not only the leader, but you are also the worker bee. So whatever work you just doled out to get done, you have to become the “employee” and get it done. This process breaks down, and it becomes hard to get anything done.
Most of us, when we plan, come up with high-level ideas and broad concepts that we want to accomplish. But when you delegate out big ideas, a whole lot of nothing happens. This real job is true, and when it comes to managing your own life.
If goals aren’t articulated or broken down into small enough chunks of work, it won’t get done.
Human psychology says wins to motivate us, but the Planner tends to delegate out big ideas. Big ideas will take an enormous amount of effort to complete, and our brains will find a reason to push off doing it. It’s easier to do stuff like checking your email—“win,” call your mom—“win,” write ten slides of your powerpoint—“win.”
Now, imagine the Planner puts on your list of things to do today—write a book. I did this for years, and it remained on my list for a long time.
It wasn’t until I learned taught myself to break down all the goals that I made any progress. It’s better to start with small steps. Instead of having to write a book or start a business (or lose 20 pounds, eat better, get another degree, etc.) on your list of things to do, let’s break it down.
What you need is for a “coach” to come to help you mediate the roles between the Planner and the Doer. The coach knows that the Planner is overambitious and sees the big picture, while the Doer does all the work.
I have coached myself to plan in 12-week blocks, which I refer to as Marathons. I further break the 12 weeks down into two-week sprints, which each have an assigned goal. And finally, I break the Sprints down into daily tasks that get scheduled on my calendar. So if my goal is to write a 200-page book (roughly 60,000 words), then here is what I would do:
Marathon Goal – write a 200-page book
Sprint 1 – Outline the book
Sprint 2 – Write section I
Sprint 3 – Write section II
Sprint 4 – Write section III
Sprint 5 – Write the introduction and conclusion
Sprint 6 – Edit and publish
Now, as you can see, my Marathon goals and Sprint goals are still too big for me to make much progress, so it’s essential to break it down into daily tasks. These tasks serve three purposes: 1. It shows you how much you have to get done; 2. It shows you how little time you have to get anything done in a given period; and 3. It helps you prioritize your tasks. If the book isn’t necessary, then stop wasting your time and mental energy on it. If it is crucial, get it done.
Now I break the Sprint into ten daily tasks that will take no more than 1–2 hours max to complete in one sitting. If it requires more time than that, then the task needs to be further broken down into multiple smaller tasks. I also like to have several smaller jobs like 30 minutes thrown in there. Remember the brain likes “wins,” and you don’t want to sit down every day to a 2-hour task. The Planner in you needs to be considerate of the Doer to avoid a mutiny. Now even though a Sprint is two weeks (14 days), I try not to work on weekends, or at least I like to have some buffer days in case I don’t get done what I wanted, so I only schedule 10 tasks per Sprint.
Here is an example of how I would break down Sprint 1 into tasks.
Task 1 – Brainstorm ideas for book
Task 2 – Research ideas for book
Task 3 – Research ideas for book
Task 4 – Make a list of significant problems to address in the book
Task 5 – Make a list of solutions to address in the book.
Task 6 – Break the problems into three sections
Task 7 – Name each chapter in the sections
Task 8 – Identify subchapters for each chapter
Task 9 – Create an outline template for each chapter
Task 10 – Review book outline and make changes as needed
That’s it. Now that I have achieved the Sprint 1 goal—outline book, it will be easier to get started writing it. In Sprint 2, I will continue to brainstorm the chapter, research ideas, and write each subchapter. If I only get halfway done by the end of the Marathon, it’s still significant progress!
Now you give it a try. Find a goal you’ve been putting off and break it down. See if this method can work for you to achieve what you want. And let me know in the comments below!