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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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy Putkonen July 10, 2012 at 8:29 am

Some great ideas, Stacey! I love the 15 minute timer idea. I use 25 minutes with a five minute break and it works wonders on a Saturday afternoon! I set up what I want to accomplish and then I race to see how much of it I can finish in the 25 minutes. It is a great tool and thanks for the reminder!

I like the story about the writing too. So inspiring!

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Stacey July 10, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Hi Amy!

Thanks so much for your kind comment! You’re so welcome for the reminder!

I love your variation on a timed “sprint.” I will try your method and use the 5 minute break to drink water or exercise.

My chiropractor suggested I keep light weights by my desk and do shoulder lifts/rolls to counteract the forward “slump” I adopt when I’m working at my computer! He’ll be happy to hear that I’ve finally figured out a system that works and we’ll have you to thank! :-)
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Amy Putkonen July 11, 2012 at 9:10 am

I think that you could vary it up based on what you are working on. I love the idea of having weights near your desk! Great idea.
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Stacey July 11, 2012 at 9:12 am

Thanks for reminding me that I need to pick them up — now! xx
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Amy Putkonen July 11, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Ha! Cute.
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Steve Rice July 10, 2012 at 10:40 am

Great post, Lance! I love the reminder about work expanding to the time allotted to it!

I am needing that reminder lately as my life has gotten a tad more hectic. I want time to read and relax, and I have to remind myself to *make* that time to do so! I always feel so much better when I do!
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Stacey July 10, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Hi Steve!

Thanks so much for your kind comment!

I completely agree that we have to make time for the fun stuff too! 15 minutes is the perfect time to walk my dog around the block or read a magazine article on my front porch.

It’s hard to believe, but too often I resist making time for fun, but I’ve learned to say to myself, “It’s just 15 minutes!”

And, like you, I’m SO much happier *and* actually feel like I accomplish more when I make time to do things just for pleasure.
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marquita herald July 10, 2012 at 1:02 pm

Great message Stacy – the only part I personally wouldn’t be interested in is the 15 min timer. I’ve read other articles by people who recommend chunking tasks into 15 min and I wonder truly how much can you get done in 15 min? Well I guess it depends on what you’re doing. As a writer that strategy would make me crazy because I’d end of focusing on the ’15 min’ instead of what I’m doing. But that’s me. Thanks for the great tips and inspiration!
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Stacey July 10, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Hi Marquita!

Thanks so much for your kind comment and you’re so welcome!

I completely agree that 15 minutes related to writing could make you crazy. I find it’s most successful to use it when I’m feeling resistance to doing a project.

I can “talk myself into it” by saying it’s only 15 minutes and I’m always amazed by how much I accomplish, but most of all I’ve overcome the barrier of getting started, which is always the most daunting to me.
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Cathy | Treatment Talk July 10, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Hi Stacey,

Great post. I like the 15 minute timer idea. I’m in the middle of a project right now, where if I focused for 15 minutes, something more would get done. I also like the idea of getting up in the morning and working on your project first thing in the morning for a bit of time. But you can squeeze 15 minutes into any part of the day. Sounds like a good plan.
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Stacey July 10, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Hi Cathy!

Thanks so much for your candid reply!

If I’m honest, I can admit there are many projects I wish I was further along on, and the only person responsible for the inaction is myself.

My most recent blog post (you can find the link below my comment) is all about how I almost missed an opportunity to apply to give a TEDx talk — a dream I’ve had for over a year.

I’ve done *nothing* to pursue it until I happened to hear last week that the deadline is this Sunday!

If only I had taken my advice I would be in a much better place related to this talk!

Ah…live and learn, right? :-)
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David Stevens July 10, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Hi Stacey,
Distractions and excuses are Big…I write about them a bit..they can pull you down big time. I’ve fallen foul of these two often however am gradually getting them beat. Thankyou
be good to yourself
David
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Stacey July 10, 2012 at 7:58 pm

Hi David!

Thanks so much for your kind comment! I always love “seeing” you here and on Facebook!!

Yes, it’s a wonderful thing that we get better at overcoming obstacles with continued practice of the tools and patience with ourselves! We’d all be sunk otherwise, wouldn’t we? :-)
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Evan July 10, 2012 at 8:20 pm

I think what I need is to be more popular

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Stacey July 10, 2012 at 8:23 pm

Hi Evan!

Well, you’re in the right place! Lance has the biggest heart in the blogosphere and the BEST community!!
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