This is the year (part 2): Break it down

Posted on Dec 17, 2018

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tl; dr Your action plan

  1. Use two techniques to write your goals: ask Gary Keller’s focusing question and be specific.
  2. First, break down your life goal until you’ve created an annual goal: e.g. 5 years, 2 years, 1 year.
  3. Next, break down your annual goal until you have ONE next first step that feels easy.


In the first post of this series, you defined your big inspiring life goal. Now, you’ll break that goal down into actionable steps without losing your mind in details.

Simplify with this question

In The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, Gary Keller shares what he calls the focusing question. It’s a question I’ve started to use in all of my goal setting and action planning, and it has made life oh so simpler.

“What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else would be easier or unnecessary?” – Gary Keller, entrepreneur, bestselling author

What’s the one thing you can do to achieve your biggest dream such that by doing that one thing, everything else would be easier or unnecessary?

Be specific

In my corporate days I heard the acronym S.M.A.R.T. regularly, which is intended to help you set valuable goals. It stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound, or some similar variant of these words. It’s good, just boring. Hah! Let’s simplify.

Make your goals exciting by being specific!

Don’t say you want to go somewhere fun. Say you want to go to a country where little English is spoken before the end of next year. Don’t just say you want to garden more. How often do you want to garden? Where will you garden? Will you plant rare species of roses or enough produce to feed your family all year? Notice how much more exciting a specific goal feels.

Instead of  being specific, I could have set a goal to be a published author. To meet this goal, I could write something sloppy, self-publish cheaply, and move on. But that’s not what I want. To ensure that I put out my best work, I want to traditionally publish, which requires an unbiased third party to work with me.

Get specific to help yourself get clear about what you’re after, and to keep yourself excited along the way.

Bring your big dream into this year

Using the focusing question above, break your goal down into time periods that make sense. For example, what one thing could you do five years from now that would make everything else easier or unnecessary? One year from now? You might prefer to start with present day instead. Given where you are now, what could you accomplish towards your goal in one month? One year?

Here is my breakdown:

All you need is the next first step

Once you have a specific goal that’s related to this year (or quarter or month or week), continue to break it down using the focusing question from above. Your intention is to get to a step that is soooo tiny it feels easy. I’m serious!

Your intention is to get to one step that feels easy.

This is where I’ve made the same mistake time and again. While you could break your goal into every baby step needed to achieve it, don’t! You can do that later. First, things change. Ask any project manager. Second, it’s not fun. Imagine sitting in front of your list of every step that’s required to achieve your big goal. Even a monthly goal is going to be made up of dozens of steps. Does that feel empowering?

One of my small steps is to re-read my memoir in full, making sure it still flows well following my last stage of edits. Does that feel easy, like something I could jump in and do right now? No way. So I keep going. I have 22 chapters. I could write a bulleted list of 22 items, each saying “re-read and edit this chapter.” Not fun. Instead, I write the next step: re-read and edit chapter 1. For me, this does feel easy. Chapter 1 is my favorite chapter. It’s been revised more times than most, so I know the revisions will be limited. If it didn’t feel easy, I’d keep going — re-read my introductory scene, for example.

Additional reading