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
View all posts by Stacey Curnow

{ 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.
Cathy | Treatment Talk´s Last Fabulous Post ..Love Them Until They Can Love ThemselvesMy Profile

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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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