Turning Big Dream Goals Into Doable To-Do Lists

Most people use lists at least once in awhile, but they tend to use them for day-to-day goals.

groceriesFor example, I may go to the store with a list that says:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Blueberries
  • Fritos

When I successfully find, purchase, and bring home those things I have completed my list.

When I go to work at the office, I keep a running list for the week and a more particular list for each day. On Wednesdays I run a certain audit and call every customer on it. On Fridays I try to make sure that all customer documents generated over the past week that need mailing are, in fact, in the mail. These are very specific goals I can easily anticipate that take a finite amount of time.

If my housecleaning list says I need to dust and vacuum our main living areas, do up all of the dishes, and clean the bathroom… I know about how long those things take. I can plan the rest of my day around them. I can achieve the items on my list with a pretty high degree of certainty.

The whole point of keeping a to-do list is to maintain focus and therefore achieve goals. But what about the goals not so quickly or surely achieved? For many, to-do lists only help if they make you feel like you’re making progress. No one wants to be reminded of inertia or how impossible a big goal might seem.

Don’t write on your list “Save $5,000” or “Travel to Europe”. Those goals are too big. Instead, make a longer list of the steps you want to take to reach your goal, such as “save $100 from each paycheck” or “get my passport”. Your list looks longer, but you’ll be marking things off more quickly and therefore are more likely to notice the progress toward your goal rather than the fact that you have not yet met it.

I believe this practice can be invaluable for creative goals.

I mentioned in my New Year post that I would like one of my goals to be that I get at least one publication acceptance letter this year. This isn’t like getting milk from the store. It isn’t something I can just do. If getting a poem published is the only thing on my list, I don’t know if I can mark that off in 3 weeks or 2 years. This uncertainty can very quickly make this goal seem not just overwhelming, but impossible to me. “Impossible” is not fun to chase. Writing a book, getting published, having your first art exhibition, getting a leading role, being chosen as soloist in your dance company… these are end goals. The ones we dream are possible even though they feel impossible when we are just starting out. Motivation to achieve these end goals comes in the form of smaller goals that can be realistically accomplished in not just a reasonable time frame but with a fair amount of certainty (provided you put in the personal effort required).

How am I applying this to myself right now?

I want to read more this year. But instead of telling myself I have to read a specific number of books, I’ve told myself I have to set aside time to read at least twice a week. I did not specify what I should read or how many minutes I must do it for, I just told myself to read. Sometimes this means 10 minutes. Sometimes this means an hour. The point of the goal is consistency. Creating the habit of making sure I read at least twice a week means I will probably read much more frequently than that, but even on the tough weeks the goal is manageable.

I want to start seeing my work published. I can’t control the editors’ decisions, but I can control how many times they see my work. My goal is to complete at least one submission every month. Again, this is about consistency. Last year I sent 19 submissions, but I did so mostly in a handful of lump time frames. I had zero consistency and several months when I did nothing at all. I plan to send out far more than 12 submissions this year, but if I have a monthly minimum of even just one, I’ll not let myself ‘forget’ about sending my work out for months at a time.

I have more goals much the same. They are small, but even at their minimums mean progress, and because they are small I don’t feel like it is impossible to accomplish them.

So how can you break up your goals, creative or otherwise, into smaller goals? How are you breaking them down into attainable steps? I’d love to hear your own methods in the comments!

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6 thoughts on “Turning Big Dream Goals Into Doable To-Do Lists

  1. My main problem is trying to tackle too many goals at a time, and when I break them into manageable steps there’s still so much to do that I easily get overwhelmed! I used up my lifetime quota of multitasking when I worked at CFA, I think, and so I’m retraining myself just to work on a few things consistently, rather than trying to do everything at once. It’s doing me well with the garden this year!

    • Not getting overwhelmed is something I’m still working on and progressing at bit by bit. I’m glad to hear you’ve found a way that is helping you manage things better!

    • Thanks! It has its own possible pitfalls too (depending on personality type and how you deal with lists in general) but for me it’s been working very well for awhile now!

  2. I’m a habitual list maker – I have one for everything! Yes, there’s even one for writing. I keep poetry prompt lists for my daily practice. I keep lists of competition deadlines. I keep lists of possible ideas. It really does help me stay on track for all the different branches that are part of my poetic life. 🙂

    • I’m not alone!!! I love lists so much. I think my last major problem with lists is I’m terrible at making them and then LOSING them somewhere in the house. Most of the time I find them relatively quickly but still, I need to create a central list station where all of the lists live…

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