Proven Ways to Achieve Your Big Dreams with Small Steps

by Stacey Curnow on · 15 comments

Here’s the thing: Human beings are wired to seek nov­elty and chal­lenge. It may sound nice to live on the beach sip­ping fruity drinks all day, but the real­ity is that no one really wants to do that all the time.

So we reach and stretch and find that we always have a lit­tle (if not a lot) too much on our plate. We gen­er­ally feel slightly over­whelmed. And that can feel stress­ful. But it doesn’t have to.

One of my clients wanted to write a blog for years. Recently she saw that her local city news­pa­per was ask­ing for sub­mis­sions for a “read­ers write” col­umn. She saw that this would be an oppor­tu­nity to write for pub­lic con­sump­tion and make con­nec­tions within her new com­mu­nity, thus accom­plish­ing two of her goals, so she jumped on it.

Then she found out she was among a hand­ful of semi-finalists for the job. This was great news, but she also found out that in order to get the gig she must sub­mit a win­ning col­umn in seven days.

The prospect was a lit­tle unnerv­ing because she would be on a busi­ness trip for most of the time around the dead­line. She would have lit­tle time to research the piece (includ­ing inter­views), and write it, and pol­ish it before the dead­line. The dis­com­fort around the tim­ing led her to won­der if she really wanted the gig after all.

I agreed that the tim­ing was’nt ideal, but then I sug­gested that the unex­pected dead­line in the midst of a busy week was not a bad thing. I reminded her of Parkinson’s Law, some­thing I always remind myself of in a time crunch. (In fact I’m work­ing under it as I write this article!)

If you’re not famil­iar with it, it goes like this: “Work expands to fill the time allot­ted for its com­ple­tion.” For myself, I’ve added a corol­lary sen­ti­ment best expressed by Duke Elling­ton, who once said “I don’t need time, I need a deadline.”

In other words, never mind how long some­thing has taken you or oth­ers before. Chances are good that it took as long as it did because there was sim­ply more time to get it done. Instead, focus your atten­tion and get going.

What’s the best way to get going? I’ve writ­ten about this before, but I’ve found that my best friend when I’m fac­ing a dead­line is a timer and the con­cept of the “15 minute sprint.” That’s how I accom­plish almost every­thing. I define the task, set the timer and Go. For 15 min­utes. And I repeat as necessary.

If you’re really up against a seem­ingly insur­mount­able goal, I encour­age you to use the sprint in com­bi­na­tion with the fol­low­ing addi­tional strate­gies as needed.

1. Get Account­abil­ity

The eas­i­est way to meet a dead­line is to give up, of course. When we’re work­ing on some­thing in our pri­vate lives, giv­ing up is extremely tempting.

At work, though, that’s gen­er­ally not an option, and many folks who let their dreams lan­guish can move moun­tains when they’re on the clock. That’s why I love hav­ing (and being!) a coach.

The coach­ing rela­tion­ship pro­vides the same sup­port and account­abil­ity that we get at work-but it does so for goals that we set. So ask your friend to be an account­abil­ity buddy, or pay for a coach.

Make it pub­lic. Tell your fam­ily at din­ner, or announce it on your blog. What­ever you want to do, fig­ure out what it means to you, but put some kind of sys­tem in place so you have to get it done

2. Define the Time

A goal should be grounded within a time frame and given actual dates. With no time frame tied to it there’s no sense of urgency.

At the same time, Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time allot­ted. So you when you want to fin­ish a project, or a task related to a project, set a com­ple­tion date that seems just a lit­tle ambitious.

Some­day” isn’t a viable plan. But if you anchor it with a date, “by July 15th,” then you’ve set your­self into motion to begin work­ing on the goal.

3. No Dis­trac­tions

You know what’s great about set­ting the timer for 15 min­utes? Your brain finds it a totally doable amount of time to fully com­mit to a task with­out distractions.

Any longer and you’ll find your­self think­ing about whether you’ve got an email, or that you have to start the dish­washer, or you need to pee. I call it the “15 minute sprint” because I like the feel­ing of being in a race against the timer. And I want to win.

Just as a suc­cess­ful life comes out of a col­lec­tion of suc­cess­ful days, a suc­cess­ful project really does come out of a suc­cess­ful series of sprints like these.

So whether you’re set­ting a timer for 15 min­utes or an hour or an entire after­noon (keep­ing in mind that what you think you can man­age and what your atten­tion span can actu­ally man­age may be two dif­fer­ent things), remem­ber you’re in a race against time and avoid distractions.

In fact, half an hour spent elim­i­nat­ing dis­trac­tions (answer­ing e-mails, start­ing the dish­washer, etc.) plus half an hour of inten­sive work is prob­a­bly worth more to you than a full hour spent work­ing while fight­ing the urge to address all the other things you have to do.

4. No Excuses

This is actu­ally the most impor­tant aspect of all: your belief in your­self. You can do what­ever you set your mind to. That’s the other thing I love about the coach­ing model-I may doubt my abil­ity to pull some­thing off, but my coach always believes in me. She sees me in my best pos­si­ble light and with her reflect­ing that back at me, it’s like I can’t help but do the same.

Maybe you don’t have a dead­line loom­ing the same way my client did. But I’m guess­ing there’s some­thing you want to accom­plish, but haven’t. Know what?

All the same rules apply. Even if it’s some­thing that seems impos­si­ble, if you set a date and do a lit­tle bit of con­cen­trated work on it every day, you’ll be shocked at how soon a dream can become reality.

So I sug­gest you take a moment right now and think about some big dream or lofty goal you have for your­self. Now, what do you need to make these dreams a reality?

Please share in the comments!


by Stacey Curnow

Stacey is a pur­pose and suc­cess coach who helps you give birth to your BIG dreams. To find your pur­pose and pas­sion, check out her FREE eBook, The Pur­pose and Pas­sion Guide­book.
Stacey Curnow
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