So what is the Small Steps Technique? It’s simple! In a nutshell: you can take any dream, goal, task, or aspiration, however daunting, and break it down into smaller and smaller steps until it becomes manageable. You can do small things in your everyday life to allow you to achieve what you want to. That’s it! See? Told you it was simple! I wrote about it in a book called A Small Steps Guide to Goal Setting and Time Management, in 2012. You can get a free chapter, which explains the basics, here.
Want to run the marathon?
Say you want to run the marathon. What’s the first thing YOU would need to do to make it happen? You might come up with a general answer at first, or a non-committal one. I know I’d probably say “Get fit” with a bit of a shrug of the shoulders if I were put on the spot!
What you do next – if you really want to achieve your goal – is crucial. (If you don’t really want to achieve your goal, move on.)
You GET MORE SPECIFIC. You GET SMALLER. “Get fit” could get smaller and more specific in a whole bunch of ways. Here are some:
Get a health check at the doctor’s.
On the doctor’s advice, start walking for half an hour a day.
Pick up a leaflet for the gym / local swimming pool.
What’s at the heart of your goal?
Notice that the small step is not: go onto the marathon website and sign up today! Immediately signing up – especially online – is usually not a small step. It might feel like one, but it misses the next important point: the small step you take has to be related to the HEART OF YOUR GOAL. This depends on the person and it depends where you’re starting.
If you’re already fit enough for marathons then “get fit” might not be the main point of your goal. You’ve got to get to the heart of it. That’s where your first small step lies. Think of it this way: it will be impossible to achieve you goal without this thing. For instance, if it’s impossible to run a marathon without getting fit first, that’s where you’ll find your first small step.
Now I don’t know anything about running a marathon, so don’t take advice from me about that, but I do know something about small steps, because (although I didn’t know it at the time) it’s how I wrote and published my first novel. It was the book Your Best Year Yet that helped me break my goal down into manageable chunks all those years ago.
The two rules that make an action a small step:
- A small step seems like a manageable thing. You can conceptualize it. You can imagine yourself doing it. I can imagine going to the doctor’s, going for a walk for half an hour a day, or picking up a leaflet from the gym on the way home.
- A small step can be carried out today. Firstly, it’s time bound. You know how much time (roughly) it would take. You could do it today, and you can identify a point in your day when – even though it might be difficult or inconvenient – you could carry it out. Planning to do it tomorrow works, as long as you make a concrete plan. Otherwise, your step isn’t small enough – get smaller.
Because of these two rules, you should be able to:
WRITE DOWN YOUR SMALL STEP, starting with a verb. Click here to find out why verbs are so important.
Work out how long it will take and when you’ll do it, and WRITE IT DOWN.
Let’s try breaking these down into small steps:
Write a novel.
Get a new job.
Build your own home.
Remember, your first reaction might be too general and non-committal. Your immediate emotional response is a good test – if you don’t really want to achieve your goal, move on. So, next stage is to get more specific.
Here are some specific steps for “Write a novel”:
Research local writing classes.
Borrow a book on novel writing.
Write 500 words.
The small step has to be related to the HEART of the goal. Like I said, this differs from person to person. I might realise that my goal isn’t “Write a novel” but “Find time to write a novel” – and therefore my first small step needs to relate to tracking my time during the week to discover when I’ve got an hour or so to add some writing time. To find out how to track your time click here. If I discover, actually it’s not time to write, it’s fear of the blank page – fear I have nothing worth writing about – that’s holding me back, then scouting out a local half-day ‘starting to write’ class is likely to be my first step. Note that ‘buy a new laptop and immediately download Scrivener (or other novel writing software)’ is not the small step here! That might happen later on. At the start, it’s procrastination.
Want to start a novel but don’t know how? Get a FREE guidebook called How to Start a Novel.
Here are some specific steps for “Get a new job”:
Write down what, ideally, you want to do, and look for some online profiles.
Identify your skills (and any new skills you need).
Register for job updates on relevant websites.
Again, the HEART of a goal differs from person to person. The heart of this goal might be organisational – allocating the time to look and apply for jobs, or it might be about your skill set – identifying what your ideal job involves and the skills you need to learn in order to do it.
Here are some specific steps for “Build your own home”:
Speak to someone who has built their own home (after some Facebook research perhaps).
Write down what, ideally, your home would look like, where it would be, how many rooms. Get a vision board going.
Borrow a book about self-build.
Research classes in D.I.Y.
The HEART of this goal could be aspirational – or to do with your ability to dream. Do you dare to dream that one day you could build your own house? In which case, the vision board is a good place to start. Or it might be that you need more information. If so, stopping off at the library and borrowing a book on the subject is a good way to go.
Notice any patterns?
Notice that a lot of these first small steps are similar or the same. Borrow a book, sign up for a course, speak to someone who’s already done it, write down the goal, identify your skills, try out a new skill in a small way. All of these could apply to running a marathon, writing a novel, finding a new job, or building your own home. Most of these are either free, or low cost, or could be. The great thing about small steps is that once you’ve broken it down, you get to something you could fit in today, and that is usually free. Time and money – the two big reasons we use not to do stuff – no longer apply. Remember: great things start with small steps!
Happy planning! x Louise
Next up: Small Steps Project Management
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