February 17, 2024 - 14 min read

Breaking Down Goals Into Smaller Steps to Become Successful

Breaking Down Goals Into Smaller Steps.
Nicolas Moore
Nicolas Moore Growth Mindset Expert

If someone asked you to build a house, would you grab a pile of wood and just start nailing things together? Probably not! Every big project needs a plan, and your goals are no different.

Let’s talk about goal setting: why breaking down your goals is the blueprint to successfully getting what you want.

Step-by-Step Breaking Down a Goal into Smaller Steps with An Example

Let’s turn that dream at the top of the staircase into reality! Here’s a simple breakdown of how to tackle those massive goals:

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

break down goals. Lao Tzu

Step 1: Identify Your Main Goal

This step is all about turning your ambition into a focused target. A vague goal makes it hard to create a strategy for success. Let’s define the finish line with clarity!

Alex’s starting point can be as simple as, “I want to become a tech lead”. Now, let’s refine this further:

  • Get Specific: What aspects of being a tech lead excite him? Project management? Mentoring? Architecture design? Specificity clarifies the type of development direction he’ll focus on.
  • Understand His “Why”: Is it leadership, salary, prestige, or maybe an intrinsic love of shaping new developers? Alex’s motivation fuels his persistence later on.
  • SMARTer Goal: Alex could restructure his goal like this: “Within two years, I want to secure a tech lead position on a product development team, where I can focus on architectural design and mentorship.”

Key Actions for Alex:

  • Research: Investigate different types of tech lead roles (some are highly technical, others more people-oriented) to find his ideal path.
  • Reflection: Consider WHY this goal is important – identify the internal fuel for when obstacles arise.
  • Rewrite the Target: Refine his main goal statement using the SMART approach to become realistic and measurable.

Studies show that tasks with clearly defined milestones have a 75% higher completion rate than those lacking clear goalposts.

Step 2: Break it Down into Milestones

The smaller steps for goals are the signposts guiding your progress. Achievable milestones keep you motivated and help track whether you’re on the right path towards your main objective.

The Right Number: Too few milestones, and you lose that sense of tangible progress. Too many, and it can feel like you’re never hitting targets. For Alex’s two-year goal, around 3-5 major milestones likely strikes the right balance.

SMART Milestones Matter: The same principles that make his target goal powerful also make milestones meaningful. Some examples Alex could focus on include:

  • Specific: Instead of the broad “Gain leadership experience,” consider aiming for “Secure a mentor from the senior developer team” or “Complete an online leadership course for developers within three months.”
  • Measurable: Milestones need clear evidence of success. Consider milestones like “Shadow a senior developer for X hours on a complete project cycle” or “Develop a project plan and lead a team of junior developers through a small development task.”
  • Achievable: Don’t make them leaps of faith – realistic progress is motivating! Instead of expecting to take charge of a major project immediately, perhaps an early milestone focuses on contributing significant improvements to an existing process.
  • Relevant: Every milestone must directly support his journey to an architectural/mentorship tech lead role.
  • Time-bound: Smaller goals also gain power from a due date. “Spearhead development of an in-house tool within six months” adds motivation.
A path to the sky, achieving small steps.

Key Actions for Alex:

  • Brainstorm a Long List: Write down every possible achievement that gets him closer to “tech lead.” This could include certifications, specific project experience, skills he needs to master, or even networking milestones.
  • Rough Timeline: Even without rigid deadlines, loosely connect milestones to when he feels they’re realistically reachable.
  • Revisit and Revise: Milestones aren’t fixed in stone. He might realize along the way the best course for him changes slightly, or maybe discover he needs smaller milestones before tackling a big one.

Step 3: Define Smaller, Actionable Tasks

This is where your goals shift from abstract concepts to daily to-dos! For Alex, milestones are his destinations along the journey, while tasks represent the individual steps he’ll take to reach them.

Let’s focus on his milestone: “Complete an online leadership course for developers within three months.”

Breaking Down the Course: Here’s how Alex can approach breaking down his target:

  • Course Structure: Most courses are divided into modules or sections, each representing a major sub-task.
  • Individual Lessons: Within each module are distinct lessons. Completing a certain number per week is a smaller, concrete goal.
  • Associated Work: Many courses offer assignments or require extra study time. These become action items on their own.
  • The Power of the Task List: Once Alex understands the course breakdown, he needs to translate it into a comprehensive task list. Each module, lesson, and associated study session become actionable tasks.
  • Prioritize and Schedule: With his comprehensive task list, Alex allocates them into his calendar or task management system. Scheduling dedicated time to each task prevents procrastination and creates structure.
  • Start Small and Focus: Overwhelm is the enemy! If researching options sounds daunting, break it down: first he could focus on simply brainstorming where to FIND these courses. Once he picks one, the next immediate task is figuring out enrollment requirements.

Important: It’s tempting to try and schedule everything perfectly before beginning, but that often leads to analysis paralysis. Consistent small steps towards daily tasks add up quickly and help maintain motivation.

Alex would repeat this process with each of his milestones, breaking them down further until he has a clear plan of action supporting his ultimate journey to becoming a tech lead.

Step 4: Create a Timeline or Schedule

A clear timeline transforms an impressive collection of ideas into a road map. It not only ensures progress but also helps identify potential bottlenecks before they derail your goals.

Honesty is Key: It’s tempting to overload the schedule with ambition. Before finalizing his commitments, Alex must do a reality check. How much time, factoring in work and life, can he realistically devote to his development plans each week?

Timeline Types: Here are options Alex can consider for structuring his goals. The method is less important than choosing what keeps him on track!

  • Calendar Blocking: Dedicate specific blocks of time each day or week to milestone/task completion.
  • Deadline Focus: Break the two years and milestones into quarters, months, or even weeks with clear targets for each smaller timeframe.
  • Project Management Approach: Tools like Trello or Asana can provide visual breakdowns of goals, giving satisfaction as tasks are marked complete.
A big calendar representing short term goals.

Life happens, and things rarely follow a script perfectly. Building flexibility into his schedule will prevent discouragement when hiccups arise. Maybe ‘buffer’ days/weeks allow him to catch up without stress.

Key Actions for Alex:

  • Assess Available Time: An honest analysis of his daily and weekly obligations allows him to carve out realistic windows for working on his tech lead journey.
  • Choose a Method: Whether calendar blocks, deadlines, or a visual system works best depends on his personal work style. Experimentation is okay!
  • Draft a Schedule: Don’t feel it has to be perfect immediately. A starting point can always be tweaked if it’s not serving its purpose.

Motivation shouldn’t be reliant on rigid structures. Consistent efforts, even small in quantity, are better for his long-term goals than intense bursts with massive burnout periods.

Step 5: Take Action and Stay Flexible

The best-laid plans are useless if they aren’t put into action! It’s time for Alex to make those tasks happen. However, growth rarely follows a perfectly straight line, so the key is adaptability.

  • Start Small, Start Now: Even the grandest journey begins with a single step. Waiting for the “perfect” moment is the enemy! Alex needs to identify his smallest, most immediate next task and simply do it. This builds momentum and defeats procrastination.
  • Celebrate Progress, Not Perfection: Recognizing every milestone achievement, no matter how small, is crucial. This creates a positive feedback loop, keeping him motivated to tackle the next step. A reward system (even simple ones!) can work wonders.
  • Accountability Matters: Share his plans with a supportive friend, mentor, or even an online community. Knowing someone else is aware of his journey adds external motivation when internal willpower waivers. Regular check-ins help gauge progress and provide additional support.
  • The Pivot Plan: Goals shift all the time, often organically. Don’t see this as failure, but a chance to improve the plan. Alex might discover his tech passion shifts; that’s okay! His milestones now focus his development effort for this new trajectory. Perhaps new skills become mandatory, but his process for breaking down these goals remains strong.
  • Be Kind to Yourself: The journey itself is as valuable as the outcome. Celebrate the growth, not just reaching the top of the mountain. Alex will make mistakes, and fall behind a schedule on occasion. What matters is the ability to recover, reassess, and keep moving forward.

"Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out."

Goals into small tasks. Robert Collier

Action Point for Alex:

  • Find His Accountability: Does he work well with regular updates to a mentor? Maybe setting public goals online works better! It’s about finding what helps him own his process, not forcing an “ideal” model.

Importance of Breaking Down Objectives for Achieving Big Goals

Big dreams are awesome, but they also have a habit of leaving us feeling a little small in comparison. Don’t worry, this feeling is normal!

The trick is in transforming that awe-inspiring goal into an achievable journey. It’s all about breaking it down and here’s why…

  • Overwhelm to Opportunity: Staring at a massive goal can be paralyzing. Breaking it down turns the insurmountable into manageable, shifting the mindset from daunting to doable.
  • Progress Feels Possible: Instead of fixating on that far-off endpoint, celebrating those milestones creates a positive feedback loop. You see yourself succeeding, which makes working towards the next step feel achievable.
  • Momentum is Your Friend: Small steps build momentum. Instead of a single huge undertaking with immense startup cost, smaller goals are easier to get started with. Once progress feels real, motivation builds with it.
  • Flexibility is Built-In: Change is the only certainty! Life will throw curveballs. With smaller milestones, you’re constantly able to reassess and shift trajectory. It prevents a single setback from causing complete derailment of your larger ambition.
  • Mental Bandwidth Saver: Focusing on single tasks instead of the daunting mountain is surprisingly liberating. You regain mental space because there’s no need to hold everything in your mind at once.

The overwhelm factor is real, but it doesn’t have to defeat you. Breaking down a goal unlocks incredible potential by turning massive targets into smaller victories. Don’t just hope for big results – create a strategy to get them!

Making Small Goals a Habit

So, you understand the logic, appreciate the benefits, and have some fantastic examples for breaking down your big goal. But how do you translate this into an actual lifestyle change and avoid reverting to the “overwhelmed and stuck” phase? Here’s the scoop:

  • Mini-Goals Every Day: Don’t just tackle massive milestones! Think about one achievable “extra” that directly advances your goal to take on each day. This could be 10 minutes of research, an extra coding review, or even scheduling a coffee with a mentor lead. Small steps build the habit of breaking down ALL projects into smaller ones, not just the intimidating ones.
  • Embrace the Imperfect Plan: Your first shot at defining smaller goals is a draft, and that’s fine! Perfectionism kills more action than almost anything else. Maybe a task ends up too big, or a milestone proves unnecessary. Adjust things and just keep moving!
  • Find Your Visual Tool: Everyone’s brain works differently. Maybe post-it notes on a wall are your perfect motivator. Maybe you thrive on detailed Gantt charts, or enjoy crossing things off on a bullet list. Embrace what feels easy and engaging, not what a productivity guru recommends.
  • Setbacks Don’t Equal Quitting: Everyone stalls and falls behind sometimes. Instead of focusing on failure, reframe it as a data point! What needs adjustment in your process? Maybe the smaller task could be even smaller, or you need to switch your focus time in the day. Learn and adjust.

Goal crushing isn’t just about your ambitions, it’s about evolving to work the way YOU work best. Remember, consistency combined with flexibility is how those ambitious milestones turn into impressive accomplishments!

Quiz Time!

Frecuently Asked Questions

What if I don’t know where to start with choosing my main goal?

This is incredibly normal! Take time for reflection before launching into milestones. Ask yourself questions like, “What truly excites me?” or “What problem would I love to solve?” Your motivation matters deeply, so don’t rush the process.

I broke down a goal, but now my tasks seem HUGE. What do I do?

Time to break them down further! This is normal when you’re first tackling this mindset. Aim for tasks you can visualize finishing to ensure they’re truly actionable. It’s better to feel slightly underwhelmed for your first go, then build success confidence instead of tackling too much.

I find setting deadlines really stressful. Is this still doable?

Absolutely! While deadlines have their advantages, the core skill is breaking things into manageable chunks, dated or not. Consider a “completion order” instead, or focus strictly on daily achievements and weekly reviews! The process can still be customized.

What if I fail to complete a milestone on time?

Life happens! Instead of beating yourself up, investigate. Was the workload unrealistic, or did you simply fall off the bandwagon? It’s information, not judgment! Adjust the next milestone accordingly, and make sure you’re celebrating the effort as much as completed targets.

Can I use this system for multiple goals at once?

It takes some trial and error, but yes! Avoid overlapping milestones if possible – that leads to burnout. Prioritize and stagger your major goals so that your daily focus remains clear. This is where tracking tools (even simple journals) become invaluable.

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