I've got the hang of keeping my daily to-do list actionable, but I'm struggling to include some of my large and vague goals. How would I go about creating actionable items for a to-do list from a list of non-concrete goals, like ideas or self-improvement concepts?
Ready to Act
You're definitely on the right track with creating actionable to-dos, but one thing that's important to keep in mind is the fact that goals and to-dos are two different things. In order for them to work together, you have to break goals down into smaller chunks. That might seem difficult for non-concrete ideas, but making those ideas concrete is the first step.
Focus Your Goals Into Concrete Terms
Just like you want to focus your to-dos into actionable items, you should do the same for your goals. Otherwise, you just have a vague idea of what you want and that's not helpful. For example, a couple of the more common goals people have, "be happy" or "have more money" mean nothing on their own. You need to turn these into concrete goals and ask yourself what "being happy" means, or "how much money do I need?" Your answer should be clear, concrete and achievable.
We've talked about breaking them into a hierarchy before that might be helpful in making those goals concrete. If that doesn't fit your bill, you can also use mind maps, and get started by writing everything out on paper.
As we've pointed out before vagueness in itself isn't bad and it's handy to keep yourself from quitting, but you still want to figure out what terms and goals really mean to you in order to get somewhere with them. Once you do you can start thinking of milestones that will help you break goals down even further. Photo by Paul Wilkinson.
Develop Three Month, Six Month, Or Yearly Milestones
Before you can start turning your goals into actionable to-dos you might need to break them down into smaller milestones. This is helpful for any goal, but it's especially needed when your goals are vague and hard to quantify. The S.M.A.R.T. system works great for this. Take a look at your big goal, find where you can insert milestones throughout the year, and then you can create actionable to-do list items.
For instance, let's look at "happiness" again. You should have defined what that really means to you in the above section, but let's say you define happiness by being well traveled. Long-term goals might include travelling to new countries or visiting more of your own. However, a six month milestone might be something like, "visit the national parks in my own state" and a three month goal might be as simple as "visit 10 new neighborhoods in my own city". Once you have these plans it's easier to create daily or weekly to-do list items.
We've talked about doing this with Google Calendar before and it's still the simplest way to get your milestones in order. Any calendar app will do the trick and once you have your milestones marked you can start thinking of to-do items. Image: Brook.
Create Smaller Actionable Building Blocks With Daily Activities
Some goals are more ambiguous than others. If you have a project-based goal, it's easy enough to add to your weekly to-do list. Take, for instance, the goal of wanting to write a book. On your to-do list all you need to add is something like, "Write 10 pages a day" and you'll have the pleasure of crossing that out every day.
For something like financial goals, you can take a look at the priority pyramid and build from there. Putting "Transfer $200 into savings account" might be a little odd on a to-do, but keeping that goal in front of you on a monthly basis will be helpful.
For even more ambiguous goals, say, happiness, or stress-free living, you'll have to get creative. For a goal like stress-free living you might find it beneficial to schedule brief meditation blocks into your schedule, or make a point to do one thing a day that relieves stress for you. If we continue the happiness example from above with being well travelled, your daily to-dos might be as simple as walking around a neighbourhood, or visiting a new part of your city. Image: Lazurite.
Regardless of what your goals are, once you break them down you can follow the same basic rules for making your to-do list doable or use them to to form habits. If you need a little assistance from technology, we've talked about using tech to achieve your goals in public, as well as webapps like Day Zero and 43 Things that help you keep your goals in the forefront of your mind.
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