Action StepsJan 15, 2024
With our black and white tuxedo cat in her carrier sitting on the conference room floor, we signed the papers. Lots and lots of papers. Buying a house can be overwhelming. But after hours sitting at that table, we were finally finished.
It was a crisp fall day. I admired the trees as we drove along the curving road to our new home where our realtor met us with a great big congratulations.
After taking a family picture in front of the house, we bounded inside with only our suitcases and a few borrowed pots and pans. We blew up the air mattresses and settled in the best we could.
The moving truck would arrive in just two days and we had work to do.
We stepped into what was now our son’s new bedroom. Sparkly silver wallpaper lined all four walls. The closet was painted bright pink. My son had already selected the shade of paint he wanted on his walls and they needed to be transformed before the movers arrived.
Time was limited so we immediately set to work.
With steady movement, we used a steamer to slowly loosen the wallpaper. Persistent work with a paint scraper got the paper and glue off the wall. It was late into the night and after a run to the local hardware store, spackling and sanding, we were finally ready to go to sleep.
Bright light streamed through our windows the next morning, waking us early. We only had one day to paint, but with the help of a couple friends and a few more trips to the hardware store, the room was transformed and ready for the movers.
We reached our goal.
In his book, Great by Choice, New York Times bestselling author Jim Collins tells the story of the 20-mile march. In 1911, two explorers, Amundsen and Scott, led separate teams on a race to the South Pole. Both teams faced the same extreme weather conditions and had similar equipment.
The difference was in their strategy and execution.
Scott had his team capitalize on the good weather days and rest on the bad days. Amundsen’s team was determined to walk exactly 20 miles every day, no matter what. No more, no less.
Which team succeeded? Amundsen's. Because they took consistent action.
Their team broke down their goal of reaching the South Pole into manageable 20-mile chunks. They chose to move at a steady pace. They did not deviate from the plan.
This principle can be applied to our goals.
Dividing our goals into manageable, consistent steps makes a difference. By mapping out our goals into specific chunks and sticking to the plan no matter what, in rain or shine, we are more likely to succeed.
Some people might argue it takes too much time to write out a series of action steps and we should just jump in and get started. But I’d argue it’s a waste of time not to.
Without clear action steps, it might be hard to know where to even start. And once you start, you may either get stuck and not know what to do next to move forward, or you might get caught up doing tasks that don’t move the needle.
Just like a map taking Amundsen’s team to the South Pole, creating a detailed map that you can follow step-by-step will take you to your goal.
To break down our goals into manageable chunks, first ask yourself what needs to be done in order to reach your goal. What key next steps need to take place?
For painting my son’s bedroom, we needed to:
- Pick a paint color
- Take down wallpaper
Having these milestones or smaller goals create a sense of accomplishment every time you complete each step. These mini wins will boost your motivation to keep pressing toward your bigger goal.
Now, it’s easy to stop there and jump in. For us, we made 3-4 hardware store runs because we didn’t have everything we needed to complete the project. Breaking down the steps into even smaller action steps, the more detailed your game plan will be and the more efficient, prepared, and successful you are likely to be.
Let’s take a look at our paint example. In order to pick a color, let’s break it down farther into smaller action steps. We researched paint brands, went to the store to browse and select a handful of color cards, and after a few days of looking at the cards, decided which one we liked best.
For taking down the wallpaper, we borrowed a wall steamer and paint scraper from my brother, asked my dad to help, and bought a tub of spackle. We steamed the wallpaper, scraped off the glue left behind, spackled any damaged spots, and sanded to make it smooth.
Our action steps for painting included buying paint and asking our friend who had a lot of painting equipment to help. We taped off the wall, applied the first coat, ran a fan to expedite drying, and then painted the second layer.
Continue to break down your goals as much as needed to make clear action steps.
So often we have a goal that is not clear and we waste time hemming and hawing over what to do next. Writing out your game plan takes time, but it will save you time in the long run because you will always know what to do next to take you closer to achieving your goal.
By Caitlyn Neel - Cofounder, Speak with People
Caitlyn is the author of "Break Free From the Lemmings: A Guide to Charting Your Own Course", an interactive ebook that walks readers through increasing productivity and executing winning goals.