The key to long-term success in one daily formula

Stick to it.
Stick to it.
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It is the new year and for most of us that means reflection, resolutions, and goals. I love this time of year because it a fresh start, a new beginning.

Did you take the time to look hard at your last year?
Have you set goals?
Have you established your theme for the year?
What are your resolutions?
Do you have habits you want to start or stop?

I hope you have some big dreams and big goals you are working towards. But this post isn’t about “big”. Quite the opposite—I want you to think small instead.

While big ideas are great things (and important, since you can’t hit a target you can’t see), sometimes thinking big slows us down. When things are big, we don’t know where to start. The end goal may seem so big and far away that the sheer size of it stops forward progress.

And when that happens, instead of working on the big important things, we favor tactical things that give us a high when we complete them—like answering email or other trivial tasks—and we put off making progress on the really big things because we don’t know where to start.

Change doesn’t usually happen in big waves; it’s really, really unlikely that one thing you do today will be the difference between success and failure in the long run. Instead, success and failure usually happen little by little, over time, when you consistently do the small things that add up to big results in the long run.

Take losing weight—taking the stairs today won’t result in a pound lost tomorrow.  And eating an extra cookie won’t add a pound tomorrow.  However, those same behaviors repeated everyday for an extended period of time will have an effect on your weight.

So today I want you to think about your work as more than just things you need to get done this week or this quarter.

I want you to really pick out your top priorities—the things that will make the biggest difference for you in the long run—and then devise a plan to make them happen. And I wrote this as a guide to help you do just that.

Step 1: Pick your priorities

Start by asking yourself: what are the most important things you want to accomplish in 2015?  These are the things that you really want to do, and if 2016 came around and you hadn’t done them, you would be super disappointed.

Try to choose two or three things maximum. Some people say it is good to start with one and then move onto the second one, but I usually choose two things—one in my professional life and one in my personal life.

Sometimes they are projects I want to finish. Other times they are less tangible ideas like being more focused and deliberate. This year my top two priorities are: launch a software product for Popforms (professional), and to feel and look good again by losing my baby weight and putting more effort in my appearance (personal).

Step 2: Identify the things that need to happen

This is a pretty traditional part of goal-setting. You want to think about the things you need to do in order to achieve the goal. These are the different pieces that go into completing them.

Just to give you an example for my two things they are:

  1. Launch a software product
  2. Come up with a viable idea
  3. Do a bunch of customer interviews to validate the idea and hone in on the killer features
  4. Wireframe the product
  5. Show the wireframes to customers and get feedback
  6. Build the product
  7. Come up with a marketing and sales plan (this may need to happen earlier)
  8. Look and feel good
  9. Work out regularly (at least five days per week)
  10. Eat healthy
  11. Pay more attention to the clothes I am wearing (spend more time on Pinterest and online to get up to speed on the current fashions—ideally I want to repurpose clothes I have and not spend a bunch of money blowing my budget)
  12. Set aside more time to get ready with hair and makeup, etc.

If you read through my examples, you can see I have a bunch of to-do tasks, which is good. But if you really look at the lists, none of these are super easy. And that is a big problem.

This is where so many people get stuck on their goals, but can’t understand why they never make any progress.

When I look at my lists above, I think it would be hard for me to really know—what do I need to do this week to make forward progress on these steps?

For example, “come up with a viable idea” for my software product. That sounds actionable, but it’s actually really vague. There are a lot of steps that go into coming up with an idea and then making sure it’s viable, so if I tried to just sit at my desk and complete this step, it would be nearly impossible. I would be setting myself up to fail.

And that is why the next step is so important.

Step 3: Make it small

For each of your priorities, I want you to think about how to make it smaller. So small that you can do it in less than 10 minutes.

If one of your priorities is more of a project, like my “Launch a software product” one, then this is going to be a little more work.  Initially you only need to come up with five to seven really small things, but then you are going to need to repeat that every single week (this is a great thing to add to your Monday Ninja Planning Session).

For my example five small items could be:

  • Email my friend Amir to set up a time to brainstorm ideas
  • Call Kate and brainstorm ideas
  • Write a list of target customers
  • Write a template email to send to target customers for customer interviews
  • Draft a list of questions and topics for customer interviews

As you can see, each of these things should take me less than 10 minutes, and all of them make forward progress on my larger list of tasks.

Notice how different this list is from the one above, though? Instead of being vague, I have a set of simple tasks. Now I have something I can do every day this week to make forward progress, and all of the items are so small they won’t take time away from the tactical things I need to do in my regular work and personal life.

If your priority can be described as a habit, it is a bit easier to come up with a small thing.  The key with a habit like this, though, is that it needs to be really small, and something you can do no matter what. That means you need to be able to do it when you are sick, when you are traveling, and when you are at home.

For my “Look good and feel good” goal my small item could be:

  • Walk an extra 1000 steps per day

While it may not seem like much, those extra steps will add up quickly, if you take an average of 7000 steps in a week and 364k per year. Assuming I burn 50 extra calories per 1000 steps, all that walking will help me lose over five pounds. Just by walking a little bit extra each day.

I like to keep a calendar where I can mark off each day I do it; the little checkmarks really motivate me and help me stick to these small goals.

The secret to success is really about consistency.

There are lots of great examples of small habits that can help you lead a better life.  If you need some fodder for inspiration, I have included a few of my favorites:

  • Read 10 pages in a good book. I got this idea from the book the Slight Edge (which I highly recommend), where the author talks about how just 10 pages may not seem like much, but can add up to 3520 pages or about 12 books over the course of a year.  And I have no doubt reading that much information will make you smarter and more capable in your line of work.
  • Use one commute per week. Most of us hate our commutes and yet we can spend a lot of time each week getting between here and there. Make one of your commutes each week productive—whether it is listening to an audiobook in your car, reading industry-related articles on the bus, or walking a little further to squeeze in some extra exercise—each of these small things will add up week over week.
  • Figure out your to-do list ahead of time. Before I started time blocking, I would spend a lot of time each week just thinking about what was the most important thing I should be working on right then. And more often than not, what I would end up doing was whatever was right in front of me (like my email or social media). When you get deliberate about your days and your priorities, you will be amazed at how much more progress you can make on the things that matter.
  • Write down all your TV time. Most people spend far too much time watching TV. Why watch other people be successful instead of being successful yourself? Instead of trying to quit your habit, though (which is hard), just start writing it down. Track the amount of time you spend in front of the TV every day. Anyone I know who has done this started watching a lot less television.
  • Eat breakfast. Even if you just grab string cheese, a hard boiled egg, or a lara bar, just put something in your stomach. There are all kinds of studies that show that people who eat breakfast weigh less than those who don’t. Plus your brain burns up a lot of energy, so if you want to tackle your important tasks in the morning, make sure it has fuel to burn.
  • Send one praise email a week. Most of us don’t say thank you enough. Whether it is people on our team, or people in our life (like our spouse and parents), we don’t tell them how much we appreciate the things they do for us.  Put an appointment on your calendar to send one praise email each week.
  • Keep a happiness journal.  Write down one thing every day that made you happy. It can be a flower you saw on the way to work, or the fact you had a good hair day—just write one little thing down each day. I did this for a year and I swear it turned me from a pessimist to an optimist. I just kept the journal on my nightstand and wrote one thing every single day before my head hit the pillow. Try it!

This post originally appeared at Popforms.