A friend recently asked me about turning dreams into plans, into reality. She has great ideas, but feels overwhelmed when she tries to set the wheels in motion – the tasks look gargantuan, and she can’t see the path.
It’s one thing deciding to go for your dreams, but another to put that excitement into action and keep the momentum going – that’s if you can figure out the way there in the first place!
The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu famously said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Likewise, if I gave you a massive cake, you wouldn’t stuff the whole thing in your mouth at once – well maybe you would, and no judgement, but you’re going to get indigestion like that my friend. No; you’d cut a slice and eat it one bite at a time, and when you’d had enough you’d wrap it up and save the rest for later. Plans, big or small, are no different. You can achieve all sorts of wonderful things – the secret is to break them down into manageable bitesize chunks.
Let’s start with a really small, everyday example, one which aids healthy eating and saves time and money – the weekly menu. It’s all about planning. If you go to the supermarket without a plan, you’ll be back there every other day, with unused food going off in the fridge. Be methodical. See what you’ve got in stock already. Think about how you could use those ingredients – have a flick through a recipe book or check out some of the great healthy-eating blogs that are out there now (there are some easy recipes here too). Then write down what you’ll make for each meal this week and stick the menu on the fridge. From there you can write your shopping list, and hey presto – healthy, planned meals for the week and just one schlep to the shops. It might take an hour, but it’ll save you several.
That’s pretty basic, but what about the big plans? The dreams? The best thing we can do with a new, lofty ambition, is to start small and get specific. Here’s how.
– Get yourself a pen and paper. Go on, I’ll wait.
Ok, write down:
– What do you want to do? Dream big, dream daft, just write it down, I won’t tell anyone.
– Who with?
Don’t overthink it, just let the thoughts flow and write down the first things that come to mind before you have a chance to censor yourself. Don’t use a computer or a pencil – you’ll go back and start editing and we don’t want that right now. Just use good old paper and ink and don’t worry if your ideas seem fantastical – this is for you alone and you can always burn it if you’re worried about a housemate ridiculing you. (If that’s likely you might want to have a chat about not snooping and being supportive, but that’s for another day.) This type of stream-of-consciousness exercise can be uncomfortable at first, but it’s very illuminating!
Once you have answers to those first five questions, we get to the big daddy of ‘how’. (If you’re not there yet, keep musing. Take your mind for a walk – stare out of the window, go for a walk, listen to uplifting music, gaze into the fire – anything that relaxes you and let’s your imagination run free.) ‘How’ is where we usually come unstuck, so let’s dissect it, break it down and get practical on its ass.
– Timeframe. What size project is this? Is this the work of a week? A month? A year? Or is it a 10 year biggie? Be honest with yourself.
– Component tasks. Let’s say you want to build your very own Grand Design. There are lots of different areas that you’ll need to get organised – finance, finding a suitable plot of land, designing the building, getting planning permission, finding contractors and so on. So first of all, write down a list of all those big tasks. Leave plenty of space for additions because this is going to be the master-list, and new things are going to arise as the project evolves.
– Now, several clean sheets of paper please – if you really are doing a big project like this example then get yourself a ringbinder and some subject dividers, or start a spreadsheet if you prefer to work on a computer. Write the title of each of those component tasks on its own sheet – this is going to form the framework of your plan. We’re going to draw the big outlines then fill in the details as we go, just like you’d draw a picture.
– Ok, so which of those big headings needs attention first? In the Grand Design example, I’d say finance – you have to know your budget before anything else, or you’ll just waste time. I’m not saying don’t dream and doodle and perv at house-porn on property sites, but if you’re serious then you need to be practical. Find out where you stand financially. Again, be methodical. Putting ‘look into finance’ on a to-do list alongside ‘buy milk, wash the dog’ won’t work – it’s WAY too big and wishy-washy. But ‘ring bank and make appointment for 11am Tuesday’ – THAT’s the kind of little step which forms the journey. So break it down and….
– … list your assets, income, savings, outgoings, debts. You’ll probably need to borrow some money. Have a look at comparison sites and see who’s offering good mortgage deals at the moment. Choose 3 mortgage providers who you want to speak to.
– Take the first concrete step towards your dream! Ring those 3 lenders and make appointments to chat to an adviser to see what you could borrow, and hence what your budget will be.
– And you’re off! Keep applying this ‘break it down, what’s the next step’ logic. In this example, when you know your budget, then you can look for land. Again, methodical. Where are you looking? Go and have a look around and go into local estate agents for a chat. What does your house look like? You’ll need an architect to draw it up – do you know anyone who has a recommendation? In these online days it’s easier than ever to find the help you need, and to make sure they have the correct affiliations. Again, keep it small and specific. ‘Look for architect’ is big and vague. ‘Look online, find names and numbers of 3 architects’ is bitesize, specific and manageable.
You get the idea. Breaking big tasks down into small, realistic, detailed ones that you can start on RIGHT NOW makes even the biggest, wildest dreams feasible. If you spend just 20 minutes a day doing this and cracking on with the next tiny task, you’ll be staggered at the progress you make – and how easy it becomes. Long live the bitesize list, and may you make all your dreams come true!