Intro

We all have big dreams at some point in our lives. Yet so few people actually live their dreams. Some even forget about them all together.

Why is it that people give up so easily and some don’t even try to fulfill their dreams?

At our jobs we can achieve amazing things. We find the strength to spend about 8 hours everyday working on someone else’s dream.

But when we need to do something for ourselves we can’t seem to find the energy for it.

The need for a system

The difference with work is that there is someone telling us what to do. And we have procedures, processes, trainings, internet tutorials, etc. to help us in our tasks.

When it comes to working on our own dreams, you find only vague articles that don’t really help you get started.

I did a quick search on Medium and these are some articles I found:

  • Change Your Goals Into Quests
  • Always believe you’re good enough
  • Start Before You’re Ready
  • Wake up early and do these 5 things

The problem is that the internet is full of quick win tips but there is a lack of a system on how to get from A to Z.

That’s why I decided to work on a practical approach for reaching your dreams. In a series of post I’ll describe a step-by-step plan to help you achieve your goals.

It’s not magic. You will still need to do all the hard work. But having a system will help you to keep on track.

Goals

A dream is a goal. Calling it a goal is better. Goals are concrete. Dreams are associated with something unreachable.

First of all we need to determine what are goals actually are.

Sometimes we need to tweak our dreams to turn them into a reachable goal. There is a chapter in The 4 hour workweek talking about this.

If your dream is to own a Ferrari, ask yourself why you want this. Maybe you just want to drive a Ferrari. Renting a Ferrari for a weekend is much cheaper than buying one. You can rent a few times a year and drive it, without breaking the bank.

But if driving a Ferrari is your only dream, then you don’t need a system. Instead I will focus on big, long-term goals.

Think big

When I was talking about dreams I’m sure many things popped up in your mind. And most likely you discarded some of them because they seemed impossible to you.

Go back and collect your discarded dreams. Thinking big is very important.

When Elon Musk was still young he decided that he wanted to save humanity from global warming. He also decided that he wanted to colonize Mars as a backup plan in case he failed at his first goal.

Many people laughed with such naivety. How could a man that just started to make his first steps into the software business even think he could ever achieve such goals?

But look at what Musk achieved already since he started! (It’s no secret that I admire Elon Musk as I put him in my list of the 10 most inspiring people of the 21st century.)

By discarding his impossible dreams he would never have gotten where he is today. But for Musk, he is only a few steps further in his plan to achieve his long-term goals.

I’m not saying we should all build electric super cars and space rockets.

Just don’t discard your biggest and wildest dreams too quickly.

Here’s a quote from James Cameron:

“If you set your goals ridiculously high and it’s a failure, you will fail above everyone else’s success.”

High-level plan

Once you’ve set your goal you need a plan.

Having a plan is one of the most important things in achieving your goals. It is your life line, your guidebook, your friend.

To make a realistic plan, you need to start at the end.

One of the 7 habits of highly effective people is ‘Begin with the end in mind‘.

Start with your end goal. Write down this goal and your motivation. It’s the first piece of your plan.

You can keep an old-fashioned folder if you prefer writing on paper. If you are a 21st century digital boy, you can create a folder on your computer, Dropbox, Evernote notebook or whatever software you prefer.

Just keep everything together in one place.

Timeline

Think about how long it would take to reach your goal. It could be anything from 1 to 20 years depending on your goal.

Just pick a date that looks realistic to you. You can always adjust later. Your timeline will not be static but will adjust based on new input along the way.

Now you have a timeline with a beginning (today) and an end date to use as a starting point for your plan.

Tasks

Think about all the things you need to do reach your end goal.

You may not know all but you can probably think of some. Focus on the big tasks, not the little ones.

Let’s take for example your goal is to publish a book.

On a higher level, we have tasks such as:

  • writing storyline
  • writing book
  • editing
  • illustrating
  • cover design
  • publishing/printing
  • promotion

Mind you, I’ve never published a book so I might be missing some important parts…

A good way of doing this is to use a Mind Map.

Here’s an example.

mindmap

As you can see, you add random thoughts and group things together. It’s a nice tool to visualise your ideas.

I’ve been using Freemind since forever because it’s free and it runs on Windows, Mac and Linux. If you prefer a web tool there is Wisemapping and plenty of other tools online.

And you can even do it on a piece of paper…

Prioritise

Once you have your list of tasks, you can arrange them over your timeline.

Maybe you have noticed that there is a certain order in these tasks. Some tasks will depend on others to be finished.

Make sure you document your dependencies. For example, you can’t print a book before you’ve written it.

Rank your tasks by priority.

The goal of planning is to not worry about all tasks at once but to focus on the most important task of the moment.

Risks and obstacles

The next step is to think about risks and obstacles for each task.

A risk is something that can go wrong, while an obstacle is something that could block your progress.

It’s good to already think about risks and obstacles in the beginning. Make a list of possible risks and obstacles for each task. Write them down and keep them in your folder.

You don’t need a solution for each risk or obstacle. One of the reasons to list them down in this stage is to put them into your sub conscience. But simply by thinking about them, you might already have ideas to prevent some of the risks and obstacles or work around them.

These ideas can be separate tasks. If so, add them to your list of tasks.

Now look back at your original timeline. Does it still seem realistic to you? If not, adjust your timeline.

Example

The book publishing example was very concrete but it doesn’t have to be this way. If your goal is to colonize Mars, you will think in very big and abstract steps.

For example, this could be a list of tasks:

  • make the atmosphere of Mars breathable.
  • build accommodation.
  • build farms and water supplies.
  • build a fleet of spacecrafts to carry items and people to Mars.
  • build a space station to make it easier to launch rockets out of Earth’s gravity.
  • build reusable rockets.
  • make space commerce cheaper.

You may have noticed that these tasks seem to be in a reverse order. Actually, they are not prioritized yet. But since you begin with the end in mind, the first tasks will be closer to your end goal. Next you will see some dependencies from other tasks and this way you work your way down to your current situation.

Once you order and prioritise your task list, you can see a step-by-step path forming itself.

After adding risk and obstacles, drafting and adapting your timeline, your high level plan is finished.

What have we done so far

Now you should have a good high level overview of what the different steps or phases would be in your long-term plan.

Here are the steps again:

  • Start with the end in mind.
  • Choose your goal.
  • Write down the step to take to get there.
  • Think about risks and obstacles.
  • Order and prioritise.
  •  Draft your timeline.

We took the bird view approach. We looked from above and could see the big picture.  But we were too far away to see all the details.

Next we will take the frog view approach. We can see things close to us but don’t have the full picture.

And this is okay because our full picture is already documented in our timeline.

The journey

Every journey starts with the first step. No matter how long our journey will be, we will only be able to move forward one step at a time.

The reason why many of us don’t move forward is because we prefer to sit on the side of the road waiting for someone to give us a ride.

But these days nobody stops to pick up a stranger anymore.

We should rely on our own strength and just start walking. You will be amazed how far you can get.

Start at the beginning

Let’s look back at our timeline and take the first task on our list. If you ordered your list well, this should be the first thing we need to finish before moving ahead.

How much time would it take to finish this task?

Less than 5 hours

You either have a simple end goal or you did already a lot of thinking in the start to split your goal into many small tasks.

That’s okay!

Finish this task in your first week. Try to work on this task every day until it’s finished

More than 5 hours

Your task is over 5 hours. Let’s make this your first milestone.

Try to split this up into smaller tasks.

You can use the same technique as we used in Phase 1:

  • Look at this milestone as your new end goal.
  • Write down the step to take to get there.
  • Think about risks and obstacles.
  • Order and prioritise.
  •  Draft your timeline.

Micro-tasks

Now, look at the first task on your new list that you just made.

How much time would it take to finish this task? If it is more than 5 hours, go ahead and break it into smaller tasks.

Repeat this cycle until you have a micro task that doesn’t take more than 5 hours to complete.

Baby-steps

The idea is to move forward using baby-steps. Most of us have a busy life already. We don’t want to burden us with too much extra work to do.

But we also have a goal and want to move forward.

It’s better to work on your goal only a half hour a day than to wait until you have some spare time. Because there will always be distractions and urgent things that try to steal your time.

If you’ve read the 7 habits, you know that urgent is not always the same as important.

One way of dedicating a small fraction of your time to your goals is to use the Pomodoro technique. Use the app or just start a stopwatch and focus on your task for 25 minutes without any distractions.

You will be amazed how much you can achieve in 25 minutes if you are completely focused.

Track your progress

In the movies, you often see someone locked up in prison counting the days using stripes on the wall.

Progress tracking is a good way to stay motivated.

Off course, you don’t need to use your wall for this. There are many tools available that can help you.

You could use your calendar and mark the days you worked on your goal. Or you can use apps like Habit Tracker and Way of Life, to name a few.

These apps are based on the Seinfeld method (also know as Don’t break the chain).

Celebrate your wins

Whenever you reach a milestone (or even a task), you should celebrate.

You did all the work so you deserve it. It will give you a mental boost.

It is important to celebrate because your progress is not always visible. But there is progress nonetheless.

Acknowledge this progress.

The next milestone

When you have reached your first milestone and you have celebrated, look at your plan to find your next milestone.

Create your list of tasks to reach this milestone.

Look at the risks and obstacles you’ve written down before for this milestone. Maybe by now you already have a solution. Or you have thought about tasks to avoid these risks and obstacles.

Make sure your tasks are small enough, like before and get started.

Conclusion

If you take baby steps and try to work on your goals daily, eventually you will get there. There will always be some risks and obstacles but you have thought about these and will deal with them when they happen.

As things change, your plan might change too. Since we take a step-by-step approach, it’s actually very easy to adapt to changes.

Once you make progress, your motivation will grow and you will notice that it becomes easier to find the time to work on your tasks.

And you might even feel inspired to take on bigger goals in your life. Because now you know that you can achieve anything you want.

Inspiration

My system combines a number of known techniques, such as the Seinfeld method and the Pomodoro technique.

I’ve also used my experience as a Project Manager. You might see some concepts that are used in Prince2 or Scrum methodology.

But the main idea is that you don’t need to follow a strict set of rules.

There are only 2 parts:

  • a long term vision
  • a short term approach

Everything else are just techniques to help you along the way.

P.S.

I’m planning some updates on this article in the future. I will add some visuals and I’ve also wrote some follow-up posts.

You can come back or subscribe to my newsletter to get notified about updates.