At this time of year, my inbox is full of bloggers talking about how to set goals, what their goals are for the year, how amazing it is to have goals and all that.
As a project manager, I work with people who set goals all the time. There’s normally very little challenge involved in setting goals. It’s keeping them that’s the problem.
In this article I’ll share my step-by-step approach to turning those goals into a tangible, actionable plan. Plus, there’s a free worksheet for you!
We see that with New Year’s resolutions. We see it with project failure rates, and companies (and bloggers) who don’t deliver their strategy or hit their targets. Why? Because it’s hard to turn abstract thoughts – however SMART your goals – into a tangible plan.
However, turning good ideas into plans is my job, so I’ve got a technique to share to help you translate those wonderful blogging goals into reality. I’ve also created a simple worksheet that you can use to plan out your work.
BTW, if you are looking for advice on how to set goals, Alex Denning on codeinwp has a good guide. And Ashley has advice on how to simplify goals them once you’ve set them, if you’re worried your goals are a bit too big.
A goal is great, but having goals neatly written in your planner doesn’t get the work done. And if you’ve not felt overwhelmed looking at a list of goals, then you’re either a super-organiser, or your goals aren’t big enough!
First, we have to take your goals and turn them into something that you can actually do. This is what big companies do every year: they take the strategic themes from the corporate PowerPoint presentation and distil those ideas into projects that will deliver their strategy.
But you don’t need to be a big company to do it, it’s easy. Here’s how.
Step 1: Clarify Those Goals
Let’s say your goal is to increase revenue (that’s not a very specific or measurable goal, but we’ll get there).
You need to decide how you are going to track revenue. This is your indicator. It shows you in real time (or near enough) whether you are moving in the right direction. It’s important to use indicators that are close to real time because they give you the best chance of altering your course and doing something different if you notice you aren’t on the right track.
For increasing revenue, sales is a good indicator.
Decide how you are going to measure sales. In this example, you could choose income after tax and expenses, expressed in US dollars.
Finally, set a target. Think about how much you want to increase revenue. How will you know if you have hit the goal? What does success look like? In this example, we’re going with a monthly target of $1,000.
Step 2: Turn Goals into Projects and Tasks
Next, we have to take those goals and turn them into tasks, activities, projects, To Do items – whatever it is you want to call them. You need to think of things to do that will move you closer towards being able to hit your goals.
Brainstorm things you could do that would help you reach your goal. Make a big list, include everything, however ridiculous it might seem when you first write it down.
In our example of increasing revenue to $1,000 per month, you could:
- Launch an ebook
- Offer coaching services
- Add a tripwire
- Create a printable to sell
- Promote an affiliate
- Put ads on your site
- Run sponsored blog posts
- Do a one-off course launch of a big ticket item that would bring in $12k in a single month
- Paint company logos on your face and promote them on Instagram in exchange for payment from brands
And so on.
From your long list, select a few ideas that you think could work. Look for ideas with high benefit and low difficulty.
Tasks that are high in difficulty and low in benefit are definitely ones to avoid for now.
Alone, these might not individually give you $1k extra revenue a month. So you’ll want to pick a few. Make your list, and store it somewhere you won’t lose it, like Dropbox.
You can take this a step further and do a cost/benefit analysis on each idea, working out how much revenue it could bring you per month. Then you’d be able to layer in the amount of projects needed to hit your target.
Frankly, I find it better to choose projects that look like fun and that might not be too much work, and then monitor as I go. I like getting started!
You now have a couple of ideas to implement. These are your projects. In this example, we’ll say we’ve picked one: launch an ebook.
Step 3: Understand the Work
There are two ways of breaking down your work: task-based planning and results-based planning. You do not need to do them both (but you can if you want). Different people think about things in different ways. I’ve included them both below so you can decide which one you think is going to be most help to you.
First, you could create a task-based list of things that need doing. This is my preferred way of thinking, and the method I normally use.
In other words, we make a big list of all the things that have to be done before the project can be said to be complete.
Let’s take the example of launching an ebook. You would need to:
- Create the content
- Research the content
- Write the content
- Write Introduction
- Write Main content
- Write About the author
- Format the content
- Create images to go inside
- Save as PDF, epub, mobi versions
- Create the cover
- Create the front cover
- Create the back cover
- Make the ebook ‘buyable’
- Create Amazon Kindle listing
- Put on Shopify store
- Do some marketing
- Make social media images
- Do a Facebook live
- Write emails and schedule in ConvertKit
- Get testimonials
- Write to friends
- Ask on Facebook
- Share testimonials
Do you see how I’ve laid this out? Some tasks need sub-steps in order to be completed. There are multiple marketing things to do, and even within that ‘Get testimonials’ has multiple sub-steps too.
I brainstormed all the things that needed to be done and typed them up in a list. They are all actions, starting with a verb.
What are the major, big things that you need to do? In our example, it’s writing the book, creating the cover, putting the book up for sale and marketing.
For now, don’t worry about the level of detail or if any tasks overlap. Just think of the major steps involved. Then break down the larger tasks until you’ve got a comprehensive list of work to do.
This approach is best if you have a relatively simple project or set of actions and you are already quite clear on what it is that you need to do.
An alternative way of structuring your thoughts is to write down what the result is that you want to create. List out the component parts; the things you need to finish, build, create, deliver. This is the way taught in most project management textbooks and, if you want to look it up, is called creating a work breakdown structure.
You create a list of outputs, items, component that you need to have in order for the project to be considered finished.
- Book content
- Main chapters
- About the author
- Cover images for front cover
- Cover images for back cover
- Sales channel
- Shopify listing
- Amazon listing
- Listing on business website
- Marketing Plan
- Social media images
- Facebook live video
This might look similar, but it’s a list of stuff, not a list of actions. If you don’t know exactly how to do some of the tasks you think you might need to do, then creating a list of outputs (things you’ll make when you do the work) is a good starting point.
This approach works well if you aren’t sure on the how but you know the what. You don’t have to think about how you are going to do it; you just have to focus on what you’re creating.
How to get started with results-based planning
What are the major, big things that you need to create? In our example, it’s book content, a cover, a sales channel and marketing materials. For your project it will be different things.
Brainstorm what those could be. For now, don’t worry about the level of detail or if any tasks overlap. Just think of the major components involved.
Next, group the components together. There will be some common themes. Cross out the duplicates. Put common items together.
You can display the components hierarchically, and this is useful as you break down the items even further. Create a chart like the one below, which looks a bit like an organisation chart.
The box at the top (where it says Root) should be your final product (the ebook). The next layer down represents the big tasks.
Next, break down the large components into smaller chunks. For example, the cover requires cover artwork, cover copy, a barcode (maybe), and author headshot photo. All these smaller deliverables add up to creating the cover. Each one has to be completed before you have a cover. These items go into the third layer of your chart.
Keep breaking down the items until they are a reasonable size. You’ll have to judge what reasonable is. For me, it would be the list of things above for the cover. I wouldn’t break down ‘author headshot photo’ into photoshoot, hairdressing, make up, clothes, photo, touched up version of photo etc. That’s too much detail and you’re likely to get to a point where you just know it’s OK to stop – you feel that you can grasp what’s required without going any lower.
Can you do both results and task-based planning?
Yes, of course. Who’s going to know? If it works for you, do a mix of both. The point is that at the end of the exercise you have a good understanding of the scope of work involved.
Step 4: Plan the Work
Now you have an idea of the work involved. I know, it’s detailed. But it’s worth it, I promise! The effort you’ve put into identifying what tasks and items are needed for your project.
The next step is to turn what you’ve done into a more detailed, achievable plan.
For each item, think about:
- How long it will take to do: it’s OK to estimate
- What resources you need in order to do it: a budget, a friend to help take photos, a quiet afternoon.
Next to each item, write down how long you plan for it to take and anything you need to help you get it done.
Put your tasks in order. You have to write the content before you can format it, for example.
You’ve now got everything you need for a detailed project plan:
- A list of tasks to do, organised in a logical order
- For each task, an idea of how long it is going to take
- For each task, a list of what’s required to do it (mainly money and people, so you get those lined up before you start).
- For cover artwork, you need a graphics package like Visme or Vizzlo or someone to do the design for you
- To get your ebook up on your website, you need a shopping cart (I use Thrivecart), or time from your web designer or VA to upload it and set it up for you
You see what I mean.
It’s fine to leave your notes as they are – as notes on a page (electronic or on paper). If you prefer, transfer your notes to a task management app of your choice, like Trello, Asana or Teamwork, which is what I use.
Step 5: Do the Work
Work through your list.
You can’t hit your blog goals unless you do the work. So do the work.
Your timelines will help keep you on track. You already estimated how long it will take you to do the work. Hold yourself accountable and do it.
Once the work is done, your indicators will help you track whether or not your project had the desired effect and moved you closer to your goal. Hopefully it did!
It’s straightforward to turn your goals into tangible action plans when you know how. This might seem like a long process, but it’s not rocket science. You’ve probably been making To Do lists for years anyway. All these steps do is help you break down the work required to complete a task or project, so it feels less overwhelming.
When you are less overwhelmed, you’re more likely to succeed!
You can get started easily with my free worksheet. It will help you crystallise your goals and turn them into an action plan with tasks and dates, so you can hit those targets. Enter your email below to download the worksheet.
The diagram in the article above comes from: Praxisframework.org CC BY-SA 4.0. No changes.
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