There’s something about stating an intention with clarity that makes it not only seem attainable, but that also summons up a wellspring of internal energy to get the ball rolling. For those of you who are participating in the Reveal Your Dream challenge (or those of you who, in general, are going after your dreams), perhaps you’re experiencing what I’m experiencing? You set your dream down, in writing, for the world to see, and things are in motion. Whatever apprehension you felt before declaring your dream has now been replaced with enthusiasm – because once a “want” has been revealed the universe starts mobilizing to make it happen. You start to see all of the things that need to happen in order to get where you want to be, and before you know it your head is spinning – partly with your excitement, and partly with the sheer quantity of “what needs to get done”. If you’re not careful, this is the moment when you might start to get overwhelmed, and fall into a “how can I ever make this happen” kind of thinking. Or you might try to take it all on at once, now that you see the big picture – only to get paralyzed by the enormity of what’s on your plate. Let’s talk about how you can sustain your enthusiasm, keep moving on the path to realizing your dreams, and avoid getting overwhelmed by the quantity of tasks that show up in pursuit of your dream. We’re also going to be defining how you can reach your dream, step-by-step.
How to not get overwhelmed when you pursue your dream: An Equipment List
- A working surface. When it comes to keeping thoughts organized, I actually like to use an entire wall devoted to my dream. If your goals that are smaller in scope, an old-fashioned cork (bulletin) board would probably work. For those of you who are completely computer-oriented, a spreadsheet will serve the purpose nicely.
- Index cards. Lots of ’em.
- Post-it Notes. Lots of ’em.
- A memo notebook that you can carry around with you wherever you go.
The antidote to getting overwhelmed: Get Organized
With all of that new enthusiasm generating all sorts of inspiration for moving towards your goals, you need some way to get your thoughts out of your head and into a format that will allow you to make measurable progress. Getting organized will allow you to tackle things in logical fashion, and will also allow you to see, very clearly, what needs to be done…right now. The art of getting to where you want to be does, in fact, involve “doing it all” – but you can’t do it all at once! You need to be strategic in your thinking, so that you can cross off particular tasks when the time is right, and forget about them when the time isn’t right.
Let’s start with #4, the memo notebook. Throughout the day, as something new occurs to you, write it down in your memo notebook. Just jot down whatever information you need to remind yourself of that particular train of thought -and any important not-to-be-forgotten details – you will be revisiting your notes frequently enough that you don’t need every last bit of information written down. Translating your ideas into words-on-paper will save you from having to keep all of that information in your brain, where ultimately it’ll just turn into a jumble.
I’m going to start with assuming that you’re using index cards and post-it notes to organize your approach. You can adapt this paper-and-pen technique to a computerized spreadsheet if you can’t spare a wall. Either way works fine – I prefer pen-and-paper in that it gives me a very tangible relationship with my progress. I have to touch every task with my fingers. But you do what works best for you (of course)!
Take your first index card, and write down your goal. Let’s say your goal is something like “Publish a best-selling book about fly-fishing and relationships”. Great! Now I want you to figure out the steps that you’re going to have to take in order to to make that happen. Try to make each step as discrete as possible, and write each of them down on another index card. Using our example, some of those steps might be:
- Get the cover art
- Select photos
- Take three fly-fishing trips with my wife
- Take three fly-fishing trips without my wife
- Write an outline
- Write the book
- Get a publishing contract
- Write a proposal
- Get a literary agent
- Figure out what I’m going to wear when Oprah interviews me
You get the point. Quantify as MANY of the tasks as you can. Sometimes it’s helpful to think about it in terms of a chain of cause-and-effect. In other words, something like:
- In order to publish the book, I need to have a book contract
- In order to publish the book, I need a book, great photos, good cover art
- In order to have a book contract, I need a literary agent
- In order to have a literary agent, I need to submit my book proposal to literary agents
- In order to submit my proposal, I need the address for 20 literary agents
- I also need to talk to friends to see if any of them know a literary agent or have contacts in the publishing industry – or to see if they know someone who might have contacts in the publishing industry.
- In order to submit my proposal, I need to write my proposal.
- In order to write my proposal, I need an outline.
There are places where your tasklist could branch out into several paths. If you look at the list that I just made, you can see that there will probably be a separate path for finding the right photographer for the book. So I’d make index cards for all the tasks associated with that as well.
Now to organize your cards – left to right, but not quite as you might think!
This is where the entire wall comes in handy. Since we read from left-to-right (and when we make timelines we also make them from left-to-right, with the past on the left and the future on the right), I’m going to suggest that you place your goal on the leftmost part of your wall. Most of you reading this blog know that I’m a firm believer in the power of intent (and the Law of Attraction) – but in order for the LOA to work in your favor, you have to practice imagining your goal AS IF YOU ALREADY HAVE ATTAINED IT. The act of putting your goal at the leftmost place on your wall puts it in a place that we left-to-right readers have been trained to see as “the past” – in other words, it’s already happened! Additionally, having your goal be the first thing you see when you look at your wall will remind you of your ultimate purpose – which will help you stay in alignment, instead of getting caught up in the details with the potential for losing sight of your ultimate aim.
Now you’re going to post your index cards on your wall, from left-to-right, so you can see the chain of cause-and-effect that will lead you from where you want to be (the leftmost part of the wall) to where you are (at the rightmost part of the wall). If you have steps that can be performed in parallel (i.e. they don’t have to be performed sequentially), then you can use the vertical space of your wall. Using our example above, the leftmost card would be our “getting the book published” card. Next to the right, we might place our “Get book contract” card. Below the “Get book contract” card, we would place our “Get Great Photos” card – so it’s still just in the next “column” to the right of our main goal. We post all of our cards on the wall like this, moving from left-to-right, and following the chain of dependency from one task to the next.
By the time you get to your last cards (and towards the right edge of your wall), you will be able to see all of the tasks that you need to do RIGHT NOW (or in the near future). The whole wall gives you the big picture of how it’s all going to come together. It also helps you focus, because when your head is a-spinning with “things to do” you can look at your wall and concentrate on the items that actually need your immediate attention. There’s no point in contacting a bunch of literary agents until you actually have a book proposal in hand, after all. Not that you wouldn’t spend any energy on it – but you should make sure that you’re giving the bulk of your energy and attention to getting that proposal written (or any of your steps that come prior to “writing the proposal” – such as “learn about how to write a proposal” or “talk to my friend who wrote a book proposal and sold it successfully”).
The post-it notes are for the little details associated with each task. They represent things that maybe aren’t “big” enough to warrant being their own index card, but that are important in terms of making the task of a particular index card happen. For instance, in the step “contact literary agents” you might put up a bunch of post-its with the names and numbers of various literary agents next to (or below) that card on the wall. Or you might post notes to remind yourself of questions that you want to ask prospective literary agents.
What if I’m not exactly sure of a particular step in the chain of cause-and-effect?
If you get to a place where you’re not exactly sure what needs to happen, make an index card with a question mark (?) and place it in between the steps that you DO know. It makes sense – because there’s no way that you can really plan out every last detail – and there’s no way that you can completely understand every single element involved in attaining your dream right at the beginning. Make big “?”s and place them on the wall to remind yourself of the spots along your path that will demand more research, or where you’re just going to have to rely on a little bit of luck, mystery, or Law-of-Attraction to get you to the next place. Odds are that something will occur to you as you’re moving along your path, and the ?s will get replaced with whatever synchronicity the universe sends your way (or information you found using “The Google”). Or those questions can be great fodder for brainstorming sessions with your Success Team. In any case, it’s good to be reminded that some things really are up to chance and unplannable. When those things come up, just focus on being in the moment and responding in the best way you know how.
Generally, the ideas that you write in your memo notebook will end up becoming index cards of their own, or post-it notes associated with a particular index card. You can fit them in on the wall where they belong. If there’s no logical place for your idea, consider whether or not your inspiration is relevant to the task at hand. You can always keep another board (or wall) with the new ideas that come your way, and you can decide when it’s appropriate to focus your energy in that new direction.
Track your progress as you approach your dream
I recommend taking time at the end of each day to check in with your wall and figure out whether or not anything needs updating. You can add cards for your new inspirations (or discoveries), and you can take cards down (or check them off) as you complete the tasks associated with them. Over time you’ll see yourself getting closer and closer to the left side of the wall, and to your goal. Seeing the actual progress will help sustain your enthusiasm, and getting organized will keep you from getting overwhelmed as you move along the path and ponder the steps you need to take. To me it makes sense that your goal should be at the left, representing its having already happened – after all, if linear time is truly an illusion, then your dream has already come true. I look forward to hearing all about it.
great article! I’m a periodic practitioner of the “Getting Things Done” method and your idea combines some of the best aspects of that (doing an information dump from your brain onto paper, using index cards to parcelize information, breaking down projects into small tasks) with a solo-project focus and an emphasis on visualization, which I think is indeed very motivating. I think you’ve just motivated me to put my workplan up on the wall!
Awesome! Soon we can compare wallpaper 🙂