Reverse engineering goals to make them actionable. For real.


Photo by Elliott Stallion on Unsplash

Hey, Curiosity Club! We’re talking goals again in this post to gear up for 2018.

For those of you that are REALLY not into this goal stuff, hang in there! One more post to go and then I’ll cover other topics.

For those of you thinking I’m going to talk about SMART goals…Ha! You’re wrong! That is too elementary for this crowd, my dear Watson.

This is the 4th post in a series of 5 about goals for 2018. So far we’ve covered your goal-setting personality and a method for picking your goals. Up on deck for today, we are reverse engineering your goals so that you can crush them in 2018. And I mean CRUSH. So let’s get started!

Reverse engineering…ooh, fun!

Now that you have your goals picked out, you need to figure out what it’s going to take to get them done. I’m going to show you a way to find a path to success, regardless of the size of the goal you have, so stick with me.

Step 1: Mindmap

I don’t know about you, but when I’m planning anything, if I sit down and try to write down all the steps necessary I always miss something. But this helps catch it all: the one and only mindmap, baby!

I don’t know why this tool is so magical, but it is. It helps me see the relationships between things better and whenever I have to start a big project and am feeling overwhelmed, this is where I turn. Every. Time.

  1. Grab a blank piece of paper (you’ll need one for each goal).
    P.S. You can do this electronically if you want, but I find paper and pen is the fastest and most effective way for me to do this.
  2. In the center of the page, put the goal.
  3. Now, draw bubbles off the center goal for all the major pieces of that goal. For example, if your goal is to be able to do a pullup by the end of the year (or 20 because you’re badass), what are the major things that need to be done to make that happen?
    • Do you need a gym membership or do you have a home gym you can do this with?
    • Do you need a trainer?
    • Do you know what exercises you need to do to build up the strength you need to do a pullup?
    • Do you need some workout clothes?
    • Do you need a workout partner?
    • Got the tunes you need to power through picked out?
  4. Go until your brain is numb and nothing more will come out. Seriously.

Step 2: Build a timeline


Photo by Jazmin Quaynor on Unsplash

This is where I usually fall down with my goals. I never put my tasks on a timeline and then I quit because I’m overwhelmed or I forget to write down what needs to be done to reach my goals and it all goes to shit. So don’t skip this step because it’s where the magic happens. (LOTS of magic in this post today I see.) 😀

What we’re shooting for with this is to not have EVERY little task of what needs to happen to be mapped out, but we want a timeline to shoot for so that we can honestly say whether we’re off the rails or not.  Right now, you’ve got a mind map of things you need to do for each goal. We need to figure out when those things need to be done so that you can plan accordingly.

Here we go…

  1. Take another piece of paper and put the numbers 1-12 on it. Or, if you want to write words, write each month of the year on there.
  2. Look at your bubbles and find the things that need to be done first. Put those items under the “1” or “January” section of your page.
    • Sticking with that pullup list, you probably need to figure out the gym situation and the exercises first because without those, you ain’t doing squat. (Ha! See what I did there? So clevah!) So put those items in the January spot.
  3. What has to be done next and when does it need to be done? Put it on the calendar.
    • Let’s say you want to find a workout partner by the end of February.
    • Workout clothes, well those can come in your birthday month and can serve as a reward if you stick with this for a couple months, so let’s plot that in March.
    • Get a trainer…let’s throw that in May, so that they can teach you new tricks after you get the basics down.
  4. Now that you have your bubbles on there, let’s add the milestones to work toward.
    • Maybe you need to be able to carry 80-lb weights in a farmer walk by March so that your hand strength is up to snuff.
    • Maybe you need to be able to lift half your body weight in an assisted pullup by June.
    • And of course, you need to put the deadline of the pullup (or 20) at the end of the year on there.
  5. Do a gut check.
    • How’s that looking? Still feeling doable? If so, great! If not, rework either the goal or the milestones until it’s doable.
    • Did you get all the milestones you can think of on there? Add as many as possible because not only do they give you a goal to work toward, but they also let you know when you’re falling behind plan or if you’re ahead of schedule. Boom!

Step 3: Figure out your check-in cadence

Depending on your goal-setting personality and the goal itself, how often you do a review of your progress or a “checkin” will vary. If you are an Obliger and need a lot of accountability, you may want to do these reviews daily. If you’re an Upholder, maybe once a month is enough for you. It depends on what sounds reasonable and not suffocating to you. Suggestions to consider:

  • Daily
  • Weekly
  • Bi-weekly
  • Monthly

I wouldn’t go longer than a month without checking progress against my goal. I think anything longer than a month would make that goal just to easy to forget about. However, I’m not your boss, so do whatever you think would be best.

Step 4: Create your check-in checklist


Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Think about your checkin or self review. What is that going to consist of?

  • I’m guessing that whether or not you’re on track is a question you’ll want to ask.
  • Maybe you’ll want to note if you’re getting all your workouts in (to continue with this pullup example) or if you missed some.
  • If you missed some, ask why and what you’re going to do about it to prevent it in the future.

You need to be really honest with yourself in these checkins. You need to know where you are showing up for your goals and where you’re not.

Make a list of all the questions you need to ask yourself and be ready to make copies of it. You will no doubt forget a key question in your checkin, so write it down. You can’t keep all this stuff in your head!

Your checklist might change throughout the year as you find more things to measure and account for and that is perfectly fine, but have it written down.

Step 5: Plan your days

You know what you want and what it will take to get there. Now you need to get there. This is where planning your days comes into play.

You can do this a multitude of ways, but here are a couple of the most effective options I’ve come across. You can do either or both of these depending on your personality, or you can figure out another way to do it.

Most-Important Tasks

Each day write down the 3 things you need to do to move closer to your goals. At the end of each day, see if you were able to do those 3 things. If you were, sweet. What’s next for tomorrow? If not, what happened and how can you get them done tomorrow?

Note: This is NOT a standard to-do list. No “do the laundry” allowed here. No work tasks either unless your goal involves your work.

This is all about what you need to do to move YOUR agenda forward. The other stuff will get done like it always does. But these 3 things are ONLY goal related.

The beauty of this is that it will get you into the minutia of what it takes to move the peg on your goals.

Should you have all your tasks planned out?

In my opinion, it’s ok if you don’t have these tasks all lined up right now because creating this daily list will make you figure those tasks out. Things shift as you get into the real work, so even if you did write all the tasks down now, they’ll likely not be what you want to work on in 3 months.

However, I tend to follow my intuition a little too much for most folks comfort level, so if not writing down all the tasks is freaking you out a bit, then go ahead and do so. Do you!

If you have more than 3 goals, how do you pick your 3 tasks?

Remember those dominos from last time? That may be a daily task for you. Or, if you’ve been working really hard on one goal and ignoring another, maybe give the ignored one some sunlight. You gotta juggle some plates here, but as long as everything is moving in the right direction, you’re solid.

If juggling stresses you out, then try having “seasons” for each goal where the “in-season” goal gets more focus than the others. Or, maybe you drop some less important goals until you have the others under control. Do what you need.


If you have studied David Allen’s GTD system in your quest for ultimate productivity and have drank that Kool-Aid, you will likely cringe at this idea, but I’m going to put it out there anyway.

Put the time that you’re going to work on your goal on your calendar. Make it recurring if that helps. Add your checkins to your calendar, too!

Are these GTD-quality calendar events? No. It’s a task in most cases. *GASP!* Will it help you anyway? Probably, so take that GTD baggage elsewhere. Sincerely, a GTD junkie.

Here’s the deal. If you make time for this work in your calendar, it’s more likely to happen. But here’s the key: You have to do the work when you schedule it.

Don’t “snooze” and “dismiss” your way to disappointment. Schedule it. Do it. Done.

Next time…

I have one more post in this series and it is on accountability systems.

If you haven’t figured out my goal-setting personality yet, I am an Obliger. So this is an area that I need to work on, as do many people since it’s a more common tendency.

Good news: I have some ideas on some accountability systems that might be the answer to your goal-setting needs. Also, hint: That checkin, checklist, and planning your day bit are also accountability systems. (Sneaking them in early!)

So, make sure you don’t miss the next post by SUBSCRIBING! 🙂 You knew that was coming, right? Also, please share this blog post with any of your friends that might find it helpful. Share the love, man! 😀

Also, my comments section has been absolutely barren since I kicked this thing off and that makes me sad, so don’t be shy! Speak up and let me know if this stuff helps you or not or if you want to see something on another topic.

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