How to chunk big goals down into achievable steps

While it’s great to have an ambitious goal to aim for, if you spend too much time contemplating the huge distance between where you stand now and where you want to get to, there’s a pretty good risk that you’ll never get started on it.

The truth is, ambitious goals can be as intimidating and demoralising as they can be inspiring and motivating. The secret to making them come to life is to break your big goal down into lots of smaller steps that will gradually get you to where you want to be – and focus on them. This is called ‘chunking’.

So, whether you’ve decided you want to relaunch your career and find flexible work, become a freelancer or start your own business, we’ll show you how to chunk your ambition into easy, achievable steps.

What is chunking?

Chunking is a way of breaking down larger goals into more realistically achievable steps. The process helps you to understand all the smaller tasks that are involved in achieving a bigger aim, and create a timeline to get them done.

By creating a series of realistic mini goals along the way, you can also feel a constant and building sense of achievement, spurring you on to work even harder.

How do you start?

To start chunking you need to work backwards from your end goal. So, for example, if your ambition is to run your own successful business, you need to think about what you need for that to happen. That may be a great product or service, and customers to buy it. If so, you need to then consider what you have to do to develop your service or product, and where you will find your customers – and so on.

Each time you identify a smaller goal, see if that can be broken down into more mini goals. So, when you understand where you will find your customers, you will then work out what you need to do to reach them – and then how you will communicate to them, etc.

By logically working back from everything you need to make your goal happen, you can create tasks and a timeframe.

Create a visual map

If you’re a visual person, it may help to create a visual map of your goal. Start by drawing a circle in the middle of a big sheet of paper and inside it write your ambition, for example ‘get a flexible job I love’. The draw lines out from that circle of everything you need to do to achieve that goal, such as:

  • Look for recruitment agencies
  • Search advertised positions online
  • Research potential industries
  • Revamp CV
  • Create LinkedIn profile
  • Ask friends and ex-colleagues for any leads
  • Contact companies I want to work for
  • See what companies are based in my local area
  • Research childcare options

You’ll soon start to notice patterns of tasks (for example, revamp CV and create LinkedIn profile from the above list) that make sense to group together.

Build a timeline of your tasks

When you have a comprehensive list of all the smaller tasks that will help you get towards your end goal, you need to create a timeline for them.

Start putting your tasks in chronological order, working out what needs to happen for another task to begin – and which jobs can happen alongside each other. Eventually, you should have a logical list of everything you need to achieve in order for your goal to happen. Each step should be something that is comfortably do-able, and helps you to see your ambitious end goal in a more achievable light.

Decide how much time you need

Once you have your chunked list of steps, decide when you want to reach your goal. Don’t try to be too ambitious – give yourself enough time to realistically achieve your aims. If you set yourself too strict a programme, you risk missing deadlines, becoming despondent and giving up.

Once you have a timeframe, you can work out how much time you have for each step. Some may take more time than others, so make sure you allocate enough time for each.

Work out what you need to achieve each step

Before you start working towards your goal, there’s one more important piece of preparation to complete – identifying what you need to make each step happen. Think about what practical things, knowledge or professional assistance you will need. Start making plans now to ensure they’re in place at the right time, so you don’t get held up once you’ve started.

Keep your eyes on the next step – not the summit

The real power of chunking is in the creation of small, achievable steps – keeping your mind confidently on what you know you can achieve, and preventing you from being intimidated by what you want to attain.

Imagine standing at the foot of Mount Everest and gazing way up through the clouds to the distant summit. How impossible would it feel to climb up there? Now look much, much further down the mountain to the first camp, just a few hundred feet above where you’re standing now. How much more achievable does that feel?

That is the perfect example of the wonders of chunking. It takes an ambitious, maybe impossible-seeming goal and breaks it down into a series of achievable steps.

But for chunking to work, you need to keep focussed on those steps. Don’t be tempted to stop and gaze at the faraway top of your mountain – keep your eyes firmly on the next step and work steadily towards that. And soon enough you’ll be sitting on the peak, looking back in amazement at how far you have come.