27 September 2023

Using milestones to achieve your goals

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Carl Pullein* says there is nothing wrong with setting goals that look near impossible at first sight – the trick is to break them up into a series of achievable milestones along the way.

When you set goals for yourself, you are taking something you are not satisfied with and creating actionable steps to achieve your desired result.

Common goals include achieving a weight gain or loss, making financial purchases, or finishing a personal endeavour like running a marathon.

Choosing project milestones is the key to reaching your desired goal.

This helps you stay on track and keep you focused when achieving that goal may seem impossible.

A goal’s purpose is to change something permanently, and for the better.

If you set a goal to save $10,000 over the next 12 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 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.


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.

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 1 January.

You could set a monthly milestone of $834 sent to savings.

This way, you ensure that you have sufficient funds at the end of each month to send $834 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.Top of Form

However, you could set yourself milestones for running a 10-kilometre race and a half-marathon.

In this scenario, you would give yourself six months to prepare for your marathon.

After two months, you want to run a 10-kilometre race in under one hour.

That would be your milestone.

Then, set a milestone to run a half-marathon in under two hours at the five-month mark.

Meaningful goals need to be beyond your current abilities — they need to stretch you.

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 head your organisation within the next 10 years, but currently you are on the lower rungs, it may seem impossible.

However, if you break that goal down into milestones, you could set a milestone to be a manager of your team 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 a reasonable time away.

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.

Your milestones also 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.

*Carl Pullein is a productivity and time management coach who has helped thousands of people around the world get better at managing their time and become more productive.

This article first appeared at lifehack.org.

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