By Carl Pullein
Before we get to the heart of using project milestones for our goals, we first need to look at what a goal is. A goal’s purpose is to take something you are not satisfied with and create actionable steps to achieve your desired result.
Common goals include achieving a weight gain or loss, making financial purchases, or finishing a personal endeavor like running a marathon.
Therefore, choosing project milestones is key to reaching your desired goal. This helps you stay on track and keep you focused when achieving that goal may seem impossible.
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Goals and Project Milestones
A goal’s purpose is to change something permanently, for the better.
If you set a goal to save $10,000 over the next twelve months, the purpose is to change from being a spender into a saver.
You may say that a goal to complete a full-course marathon (26.2 miles) would be complete once you finish the marathon. I would argue that, on the contrary, completing a full-course marathon has turned you into a marathon runner.
This contrasts with a project. A project is something you do in a given period. Once complete, you move on to the next project.
For instance, you may have a project to create a marketing campaign. Once the campaign finishes, the campaign is over. Done.
You may have learned a few things along the way, but for all intents and purposes, the project is finished, and you move on to the next one.
How Can We Combine Both Parts to Achieve Our Goals?
A goal is your higher purpose, and a milestone is a way to measure your progress.
To give you an example. Imagine you set the goal to save $10,000 in 2022, starting on the first of January.
You could set a monthly milestone of $834.00 sent to savings. This way, you ensure that you have sufficient funds at the end of each month to send $834.00 to your savings account.
However, milestones are not always as simple to set. For example, let’s take the marathon running goal. How would you set milestones to achieve that goal?
It would depend on where you are starting. If you are already a runner, running five miles may not seem very much of a milestone. You may already do that several times a week.
However, you could set yourself milestones for running a 10K race and a half-marathon (13.1 miles). In this scenario, you would give yourself six months to prepare for your marathon.
After two months, you want to run a 10k race in under one hour. That would be your milestone and then, set a milestone to run a half-marathon in under two hours at the five-month mark.
The Benefits of Project Milestones
Meaningful goals need to be beyond your current abilities—they need to stretch you. By “stretch”, I mean they have to pull you out of your comfort zone to help you expand your capabilities.
Often, when we set a goal, we have no idea how to achieve it; all we know is we want to achieve it.
If you set a goal to become the CEO of your company within the next ten years, but currently, you are on the lower rungs of your company’s corporate ladder, it may seem impossible. However, if you break that goal down into milestones, you could set a milestone to be a manager of your own department after two years—a much more realistic achievement.
Once you achieve that milestone, you would set yourself the milestone of becoming a director and then on to the leadership team.
Milestones are stepping stones towards a bigger goal. All you need to do is focus on the next milestone.
If you focus on achieving your milestones, then step by step, you move closer to your bigger goal. It’s more motivating because the next step is always just a few months away.
Big Goals, Manageable Milestones
Let’s say you run your own company, and by the end of the decade, you have the goal to have revenues of $10 million. This allows you eight years to achieve your goal.
Often, a goal that far away will seem impossible because you are looking at it from where you stand today, which may be owning a business with a $50,000 annual revenue.
For you to own a $10 million business, you will need to change. How a person who runs a $10 million company today will be different from how a person who runs a $50,000 business. To become a $10 million business owner, you will have to go through a series of targets and change as a business person along the way.
In this case, you could set yourself eight milestones. Then, you would need to calculate how much you need to grow your business each year to achieve that goal.
For example, in your first year, you could set the milestone of doubling your growth to $100,000. That’s all you would need to focus on. What do you have to do to double your business revenues?
If you achieve that in the first year, your next milestone might be to double it again. You will have learned a lot from that first year, and you can use that experience to work out how you could double again.
In this example, your milestones are breaking down a goal that may initially seem impossible into achievable steps that, taken together one after the other, will ultimately have you reach your goal.
You could break annual milestones down still further. For instance, if your yearly milestone is to achieve $100,000 in revenues, your quarterly milestone would be $25,000. So now, the question becomes: what do I have to do to bring in $25,000 in revenue over the next three months?
This means you do not have to worry about what will happen in eight years. Instead, you only need to focus on the $25,000 in the next three months.
Milestones Give You Data Points and Direction
Milestones act as the waypoints to show that you are moving in the right direction towards the bigger goal. If you find yourself falling behind, you can review your approach and adjust it to get back on track.
For instance, you may find that after two quarters, you are behind in achieving a revenue of $100,000 for the year. You might be on $35,000. This now gives you two choices. You can either adjust your milestone for this year to $75,000, or you could modify your sales strategy.
Milestones give you data points you can use to adjust your approach if you fall behind your goal.
An example would be if you find that May and June are poor sales, but August and September are great sales. You may not be aware of this in your first year, but once you know this information, you can use it to maximize sales in those months in the following year.
Milestones and goals go hand-in-hand. Your goal needs to seem impossible (or almost impossible) when you set it. Luckily, having a way to track your progress will help you keep your eyes on the bigger picture.
Your milestones give you mini-celebrations along your journey. They inform you that you are either on or off track and provide you with data you can use to course-correct your journey towards successfully achieving your goal. Use these key takeaways and the combination of goals and milestones to achieve success in all areas of your life.
*Carl is a renowned productivity and time management coach who has helped thousands of people around the world get better at managing their time and become more productive using technology they carry around with them every day.
*This article first appeared on the lifehack.org website.