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What’s the difference between a goal and a plan?

They sound similar and you may even use them interchangeably, but they’re quite different.

A goal is where you’re going. A plan is how you’ll get there.

You start by defining what you want to accomplish. This becomes your goal. Then you convert that goal into a plan that you can act on.

I give you a 5-step process for turning goals into plans in this episode.

Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
  • If you don’t have a goal in place, you’re much less likely to implement a plan.
  • A goal is where you’re going; a plan is how you’ll get there.
  • Even if you accomplished all of your goals last year, you have to start new for this year.
  • It’s a lot easier to experience a win when you make attainable micro-goals.
  • Normalize your big goals and make them feel like everyday things.
  • Every day is a success if you take one small step toward your goal.
  • You have to earn the right to think long term.
  • Don’t define success by reaching a goal—define success by having putting in the effort today.
  • Solidify your actions by adding accountability to the process of planning your goals.
  • Triple the amount of time that you think something’s going to take if you haven’t done it before.
  • Whether or not you get the results you hope for, practicing toward your goal every day makes you become a person who does that thing every day.
Show Notes
  • 01:41 Sean: Ben, when you look out into 2016, is it this big, vast, dark void, or is it a clear picture? Is there scaffolding of what you want it to be?
  • 01:57 Ben: It’s somewhere in between for me. I’ve done the zoomed out stuff, but I haven’t done the zoomed in stuff yet. I intend to do that before the new year. It will be a very clear picture.
  • 02:20 Sean: I remember that, for most of my life, the end of the year felt like the edge of this cliff. It goes to December 31, and then there was everything else beyond that. I didn’t have a clear picture of what was beyond the end of the year. It felt like the edge of the world in my mind. Do you visualize the months in your head? When you see December, January, and then March, all the way to the next year, 2017, do you have a visualization of that? Is it laid out in your mind, or is it purely a concept?
  • 03:02 Ben: I have a visualization of that, definitely.
  • 03:06 Sean: Some people see certain months and certain days or numbers in colors, too.
  • 03:12 Ben: I don’t know if it’s quite that for me. I can’t liken it to something I’m familiar with, visually. It’s more of a mental distinction. I do that with the months, and I also do that with sabbatical periods and quarters. With years, this weird thing happens, where mentally I have a really hard time visualizing the chunk of the next year and any part of the previous year in the same space together. As much as it makes sense for March and February, who are right next to each other, to live together in the same space, for some reason December and January feel separated. They’re kind of like magnets that repel each other because you’re putting the same poles together.

What Do You Want to Accomplish?

  • 04:41 Sean: What is the difference between goals and plans? Do you need both? Should you start with one or the other? The first thing you want to ask yourself is, what do you want to accomplish in this next year? Maybe you have a big thing or a few things that you want to accomplish—that becomes your goal. It’s a check point, a finish line. Once you’ve gotten there, you know that you’ve accomplished this thing you want to do. The goal is where you’re going; a plan is how you’ll get there. You don’t want a goal with no plan to get there. You also don’t want a plan with no end in sight.
  • 05:31 Ben: It’s like the Lambo Goal. When I think about that, I think about all of the details, the work Sean is putting in, and the process. You could employ those same methods and not have a Lambo Goal, but you wouldn’t have something pulling you. It’s a motivator, something you can see and walk toward.

If you don’t have a goal in place, you’re much less likely to implement the plan.

  • 06:13 Sean, you didn’t even mention the word resolution, and I was curious as to why that might be.
  • 06:20 Sean: I guess it is about to be the new year and a lot of people are making resolutions. I think of resolving as something I do on a daily basis. For me, there isn’t anything new about it. I’m always operating in a sense of plans and goals. I know that this is a popular time to be thinking about making plans and resolutions. What about you, Ben? I resolve to do things every day, so there isn’t anything special for me about the new year and making resolutions.
  • 07:00 Ben: As somebody who is less self-disciplined than Sean, this is the thing that a lot of people experience, we say, “This is going to be one of my resolutions.” People don’t follow through with that, and it teaches them that they can’t depend on themselves or trust themselves. There’s something really dangerous about that in the first place. You don’t want to go on the other side and never resolve to do anything. A failure with a resolution is kind of the end. That’s the way a lot of people think about it. They think, “If I make a resolution, as soon as I break it, I can’t get back on that horse.”
  • 07:52 Whereas, when you set a goal, the road to reaching that goal is fraught with failure. It’s filled with mistakes. You fall off the horse many times. There are going to be days when you’re not making progress toward your goal because you didn’t feel like it or because something came up. It doesn’t do the same thing to you mentally as breaking a resolution does. I like that language much better, of setting goals rather than making resolutions.
  • 08:27 Sean: That’s a very astute observation. I agree with you 100%. I haven’t really thought it through that fully to realize why I didn’t like it, but I think Ben’s dead on. I did a seanwes tv episode that will be going out talking about how you set big goals without feeling overwhelmed. That could be business related or health related. Maybe you want to lose a certain amount of weight, and you know that means that you can’t eat certain things or you have to work out regularly. Maybe that means that you can’t have ice cream. You want to lose 10 or 20 pounds, and you might say, “I resolve not to eat ice cream.” It might take 100 days to get to where you want to be.
  • 09:16 It becomes this 100 days of no ice cream, which feels really overwhelming and sad. That’s not what you want going into this new year, thinking, “I resolve not to eat ice cream, and if I ever eat ice cream, then I’ve ruined the whole thing and maybe I’ll try again next year. I’m going to go back into my old ways.” Break down the big goal you want to reach into what is required to get to that goal. What small steps do I need to take every day to get to that goal? The way you define success is on a day to day basis. Today, I can check the box that says, “I woke up early and I ran.”
  • 09:59 Or, “I got to the end of the day, and I didn’t have ice cream,” or whatever the thing is that you need to do. If you’re growing your business, rather than thinking, “This month didn’t hit the revenue that I wanted,” in the big picture, you know what you need to be doing to get to where you want to be. You define success by whether you did that, every single day, one day at a time. Kelsey was asking in the chat earlier, “What are some recommended things to tell yourself if you didn’t accomplish all your goals for this year and you need the courage to get out there and try again?” Like tomorrow, today is a new day.

Tomorrow is a new day and today is a new day.

What got you here won’t get you where you’re going.

  • 10:56 Even if you accomplished all of your goals this year, you have to start new for next year. If you didn’t accomplish your goals this year, you still have to start new for next year. Everyone is starting new. That’s where the timeliness comes into play with resolutions. We’re kind of resolving something, but it’s not so much just on the act. It’s about the day to day acts in the context of the bigger picture and seeing it as, “If I fail today, tomorrow’s a new day.” Tomorrow, I get to define success for me that day. It’s not that I broke a resolution and everything is ruined.

Setting Micro-Goals

  • 11:32 Ben: Resolution failure feels like failure for the entire goal. When you set a goal and you have a plan, on a day that you don’t work that plan, sure, you failed that day, but you get to continue working the plan the following day. It’s a mental thing. As I was thinking about goals and plans, I had this idea about micro-successes and micro-goals. You’ve got your big goal, and you come up with a plan to get you there. Just the other day, I was explaining to Rachel what my goals were for my business and the things I wanted to do to get new clients. I have the big goal in mind—I know where I want things to be. The plan I wanted to put in place to get there was really ambitious, overly ambitious for the amount of time that I had.
  • 12:47 Rachel’s really good at calling me out on that stuff. She’s hearing me talk about all of the things I want to do, and she says, “That’s way too much. You need to work up to it.” It got me thinking about micro-goals. Let’s say 25% of what I hope to be my content marketing is what I can actually handle right now. What if I make it my goal, for the first three months of the year, to do 25%?
  • 13:27 Sean: That’s what I recommend. A lot of people want to do daily output and they haven’t even done weekly yet, so I say, “Do weekly for a while first. Build up a buffer and prove that you can do that consistently, and then increase the output.”
  • 13:44 Ben: I think 100% is what’s necessary in order to get me to my big goal, but I’m neglecting the steps I’ll need to take in order to get to 100%. When I make those steps along the way, those check points, it makes it a little bit more manageable. When we experience wins, that gives us a lot of energy and fuel toward the next win.

It’s a lot easier to experience a win when you make your micro-goals attainable.

Competing Goals

  • 14:26 Sean: Cory Miller asked me, “What goals did you set for 2015 that you weren’t able to complete, and what did you learn from that to apply in this next year?” I was thinking about this because Ben mentioned having a big goal and other goals leading up to that. I had a similar situation, except that the two kinds of goals I had were completely at odds and I didn’t even recognize it. I didn’t accomplish my bigger goal for this year because the other goals were fighting against it. I’m only just now recognizing it as I reflect back on it.
  • 15:14 For four or five years, I think this would have been the fifth year consecutively, I have doubled my annual income. Obviously, that was one of my recurring goals—to continue doubling my annual revenue. It’s not personal income. This year, we didn’t. We came up short of that. We made more than we made last year, in 2014, but we didn’t double it. I realized that it was because I had these other goals that were based around spending a bunch of time on a lot of big, free things that I gave away at no cost. Those two things don’t go together at all. If one of my goals is to give away free things but my main goal is to continue doubling revenue, that’s not getting me there. I didn’t recognize this at all.
  • 16:11 I wonder how many other people aren’t recognizing that maybe they have opposing goals. Goals that are competing with each other can keep you from accomplishing either of them. Look what happened! One of those goals continues to be that I want to write my book and get it out there. I also had some free courses that I wanted to do, and none of it got done. We ended up doing a lot of things, we accomplished a lot this year—at the beginning of the year, the network didn’t exist and I had only launched one course in 2014. Now, we’ve launched many of them. We announced seanwes conference for next year, I spoke at a bunch of places, did workshops, and did meetups across the country. It was a really big year.
  • 17:06 I did live workshops, opened up the Value-Based Pricing pilot program, Supercharge Your Writing, Learn Lettering 2.0. We accomplished a lot, but we didn’t accomplish either of the big goals that I had. I started out saying, “I want to write my book,” but I got distracted by these other big projects and thinking, “I want to make this year double the revenue of last year, but I have all these competing things.” We did a lot of things and doing things out of necessity, but we didn’t purposefully get any closer to the big goals that I had.
  • 17:47 Ben: On the outside, it appears like there’s nothing but success. Sean is saying that he fell short of his big goals, but that wasn’t for lack of execution. It was because those goals can’t coexist for seanwes as it is today. Eventually, as seanwes grows and has more capacity and more help, those things can coexist, but this wasn’t the year for that.

seanwes 2016 Goals

  • 18:39 Sean: I think the order you need to go in is to have a goal first and then a plan. The goal is where you want to go, the plan is how you get there. Start with where you want to go and the reasons for it. Steve said, “Does it make sense to set goals first or to plan first? Example—if you want to release three new courses next year, is the creation of those courses a plan you devised to reach a certain financial goal you set, or, did you say, ‘Since I plan to create three courses, the goal is to make X dollars’? Which should come first?” The goal comes first, the plan comes second. What the goal is, that’s something that’s up to you. You have to determine what your goal is. Is your goal to be able to say, “I’m a person who’s put out three courses,” or is your goal a revenue goal? Or, is your goal impacting X number of lives?
  • 19:40 You have to set that goal for yourself. One of my goals is to make 2016 our first seven figure year. There are certain things that lead up to that. It means that I have to sell things and not just give everything away. Part of that is producing courses, and I have three courses in mind for next year. Supercharge Your Writing will turn into a full course. The workshop as it exists on the website will go away, as I’ve promised, and there will be a more premium course in it’s place. I also want to do a course called The Creative Professional, which is similar to Learn Lettering and the business material I have wrapped up in that. I will take that business material out and make it more generally applicable.
  • 20:31 There is a wealth of knowledge locked up inside of there that people aren’t getting to because they don’t want to be letterers. Really, just like the podcast, all of this applies to people in a wide variety of creative fields. I want to make something called The Creative Professional that goes into client communication, pricing, contacts, process, and everything that goes into working with clients. Value-Based Pricing is launching publicly in May, but there was still one more. I have three courses I want to launch next year. I have also publicly committed to publishing three books in 2016. It’s a lot of things. We have seanwes conference later in the year, and we’re still doing seanwes tv.
  • 21:44 I’m meeting with Aaron. We’re going up to Dallas, and we’re going to talk over the goals and the plans, respectively, for 2016. This is something he and I did last year, and from that came the seanwes network, the platform we have, and the idea to make seanwes more than just me to where we opened up the infrastructure to other people and not just to my own projects. A lot of good things came from that. I plan to meet with him, because one of my goals is to write three books. I’ve already committed to it, and maybe that was foolish. It’s something I really want to do. Ben and I talked about this in a recent episode (Related: e229 Behind the Scenes With Sean & Ben). I want to write books, and I need to figure out the why, the reason behind.
  • 22:51 Is my overall goal to be an author, or is my overall goal something else? Maybe being an author can give me some of the benefits I’m looking for, but it may not be the only route. My goal is not necessarily books, so maybe that’s not what I should be focusing on. I want to talk through this with Aaron. We’ll see if he talks me out of it, but I’m seriously considering carving out a month in 2016 to bear down and focus.
  • 23:24 Ben: Do you believe that you could produce three books within that month?
  • 23:26 Sean: Yes, in a month, pretty easily. If each book was a basic 30,000 words, all we’d need was 90,000 words. There are 30 days, which is 3,000 words a day, and that’s pretty decent. If I’m focused, I can do it.
  • 23:57 Ben: I think books make sense because they’re a mew medium, a new channel. So far, Sean has done really well in the other channels he has created for his content, but there is a portion of his audience that would prefer to experience the content that he has through that medium. I think that’s something that’s good for Sean to take advantage of and consider part of his “why” for the books. I absolutely think that he should take off a month, focus on it, and do it. He can easily crank out three books during that time.
  • 24:42 Sean: I can because I basically have all of the information for them. It’s a matter of execution. Very little of that time will be spent sitting around going, “What do I want my book to be about?” Certainly, I could spend a few weeks worth of weekends and evenings planning it out and outlining everything so I can go in and know exactly what I need to write on. I’m excited about that. I think it’s going to be good. I’m going to talk more with Aaron about it.

Goals Become Plans

  • 25:18 You start with a goal, but to get there you need a plan. If you’re going to take anything away from this episode, this is the one thing I would write down or take a note off. There are five steps for turning goals into plans. First, write down your goals. Don’t just have them in your head, because you aren’t going to remember them. It’s going to change in your mind and you won’t realize that it’s changing. Writing it down and putting it somewhere that you’ll see it is very important. You need it in front of you all the time.

Normalize your big goals and make them feel like everyday things.

  • 25:58 Second, set a deadline. I have a goal of writing three books in 2016. That’s great. Everyone has a goal to write books in their lifetime, but it isn’t going to get done unless you have a deadline. The reason I will be able to do it is because I will set aside a month and say, “This is what has to be done.” If I’m going to write three books in a month, I have to write a book every ten days. There’s a deadline. You’ve got to have deadlines for yourself. I know when Value-Based Pricing is coming out. I have deadlines for the other courses I’m doing, although those are a little more fluid. I’m making sure these are sustainable deadlines, but I’m planning it right now. You’ve got to plan these deadlines. You can’t say, “At some point, I will get these things done in the next year.” That’s not going to work.
  • 26:53 Third thing—list all the action steps. What are the things that are required to accomplish your goal? What are the steps you have to take to get there? List out every possible thing you can think that you will have to do, either on a day to day basis or every month. List them all out. Step number for is to compile a plan. I use the word “compile,” because you have this checklist of things that are required of you, so you now need to compile that. You know everything that it’s going to take, so now you need to come up with something systematic. Since this is what’s required, what do I need to do on a daily basis? What do I need to have done every week? What are my check points? That becomes the actual plan.
  • 27:45 Finally, take action. It’s not just getting started, but taking action every day. Every day you need to decide to take action on this, and every day is a success if you can check the box on the one small step you needed to take that day toward your goal.
  • 28:06 Ben: Going back to step four, part of that compiling is ordering things. It’s knowing what order those things need to happen in, if there’s a sequence. It’s also knowing how long each of those things is going to take so you can set check points. You may need to section some of those off so you have tasks one through ten in it’s own section, and that’s where you create a micro-goal. You say, “Completing steps one through ten gets me to this point, and I should expect to get to this point by this time.” You can create a deadline for that. That’s a great way to not just know what is on your plate and what to do first, but to know what progress you should expect to see along the way. As you do that, it makes it easier to adjust and tweak things if you need to. If you’re running behind, maybe you need to batch things together and prove a process somewhere. If you’re running ahead, maybe you can move this goal up or add something to it.
  • 29:21 Sean: Rachel said on the book thing, “It’s not just writing. Be sure you also plan for editing, compiling, setting up the book on all the necessary channels.” That’s totally true. The good news is, with everything I’m doing, I’m distilling everything down to the things I need to do, which are voice and vision. What I can’t outsource is, “Someone go write my book for me.” I could, but that’s giving up the voice part of voice and vision. Something I can outsource, though, is editing, compiling, getting the printing done, and setting up the book on all the necessary channels. I will be outsourcing all of that.
  • 30:00 I have contacts for that, and I’ll be paying them. I value my time more than I value the money I would be giving them to do that work for me. I’ll sit down, do the work I need to do, and then delegate.

Planning to Leave the Day Job

  • 30:19 Sarah says, “I’m planning on going full freelance in maximum two years. Ideally, one. How should I plan 2016, to prepare for this?” Emphasize the financial. Yes, there are a lot of logistics of setting up your freelance business, working on your schedule, your process, and clients, but if you’re planning on going freelance full time, you need some cash reserves in the bank. You need to be able to sustain yourself for a certain amount of time. Ideally, I would say that you should have six months worth of expenses in your bank account. That might be hard, especially if the job you have now is barely getting you by.
  • 31:10 Here’s what I would do. Some people say that you should just quit and figure it out, even if you have to bum rides off of people or sleep in someone else’s house. They’re desperate, but they’re getting out and doing their own thing without any money in the bank. Some people are like that. If you have that kind of drive, maybe it can work for you. I’m a little more conservative on that end, so I like to have some savings built up. I don’t want to risk any Scarcity Mindset. If you’re in desperation mode and you don’t have cash reserves to fall back on, I know that it’s really easy to get into Scarcity Mindset and maybe not even realize it. To protect myself against that, I give myself a buffer in terms of being able to afford expenses for a certain amount of months.
  • 32:01 That way, I can approach the situation with a clear mind and be able to build up my business without compromise. I would focus as much as possible on making money. When I was doing lettering and I wanted to overlap to teaching and producing my own course, I worked for six months overtime, 18 hour days. I was working with tons of clients, taking on a ridiculous amount of work, just to save the money. You can work more, make more money, and save it, or you can lower your expenses. Maybe you have frivolous spending, so if there are areas where you can downsize or downgrade your lifestyle to free up some cash and put it aside, that’s something you could also do.
  • 32:49 You could do a combination of that. In 2016, I would focus on building up a significant cash reserve. It’s awesome to have a goal of two years, saying “ideally one year.” That’s a great place to strive towards, but allow yourself to be flexible. If you’re not making much beyond your basic expenses with your day job and it’s taking up all of your time and you don’t have time to do other side projects where you could make money, you get to the end of this year and you only have two months worth of expenses saved up, don’t rush it just because that was your initial goal. Recalibrate at that point.
  • 33:33 Ben: The important thing here is knowing yourself. Under those circumstances, are you the kind of person who’s resolved and scrappy enough that even when there is true scarcity, you don’t succumb to the temptation of doing stuff that’s outside of your process and acquiescing to requests from the client that aren’t in their best interest? If that’s you, that’s great, but be realistic. When there’s any real scarcity, I have six kids to take care of, so all of that is weighing on me. If I put myself in a position where I’m having to make a decision between taking a client and going a month without income, I’m not going to make good decisions. I need to overlap. I know that about myself. It’s important to know that about yourself. I love the way that Sean explained overlapping and some of the methods you can take to get there. Know yourself—know what luxuries you have.
  • 34:54 Sean: If you’re single, you have more freedom. You don’t have to think about taking care of a family and you don’t have to factor that into your decisions. Ben had said, “If you’re in a position where you need to take a client or go a month without bills when you have a family,” in the business sense, Ben said that he may not make a decision that helps the business long term because he has to take care of the short term. That’s a big deal. I’ve had to learn that this year. You have to earn the right to think long term and make long term decisions. Before that, you need to cover your short term needs and expenses, and then give yourself the luxury of making those decisions.

Planning by Projects

  • 35:42 Robert says, “I’m interested to hear about how detailed your plans are when you lay out an entire year. Do you chart out the general course and the goal for year’s end, or do you try to set up milestones and measurable monthly targets?” It’s more the latter, but I don’t know so much that it’s monthly targets. Months are arbitrary for me. It’s project-based targets, and the projects are the pieces that make up the whole year. Maybe some of the projects are a month long, maybe they’re ten days long, maybe they’re two or three months long. Whatever those are, I see those chunks making up the whole year, and those define the milestones for me.
  • 36:25 If I have a revenue goal, and I do have revenue goals and project goals for next year, this time I’ve made a point to align the project goals with the revenue goals. When I know that I’m on track to meet the revenue goals, then I can pursue other side goals that don’t further the revenue goal, like doing a big free project that I’m going to give away. I was planning on doing The Overlap Technique book this winter, and then I went on the Mastermind retreat, and the guys there said, “You’ve got to stop giving stuff away for free.” I’ve already promised, way back when, that I’m going to give away the book for free. I’m not going to go back on that promise.
  • 37:07 If I write the book, I’m giving it away for free. They said, “You can’t do free stuff,” so I had to push it aside, even though it pained me knowing that I overcommitted in the past. I didn’t finish the book, and I really want to finish it for my reputation, but if I focus too much on free stuff, there won’t be a seanwes here and we can’t continue helping people. It was a prioritization thing.

Planning & Personality

  • 37:35 Ben: That question is really interesting, because a lot of it depends on your personality and your approach to daily work in the first place. It surprises me, as much of a detail person as Sean is, that he zooms out and makes it more project-based. At the same time, it doesn’t surprise me, because he is a big vision person. Rachel is working out her goals, and she’s done the more detailed work that I want to do for myself. She’s gotten down to the blocks of time for each day and what she’s using them for. She knows herself, so she knows that if she has this time set aside for something, she knows she’s going to do that and how long it’s going to take. As long as nothing significant changes in our schedule, she’ll adjust if she needs to, but if I were to do that level of detail and commitment for myself, I would feel like I was putting myself in a cage.
  • 38:53 Still, it’s really important for me to have some level of detail and clarity for what I’m going to do. Otherwise, like Sean said, it’s like having a goal without a plan. It needs to be better than just, “Okay, here are the things I think I need to do to get there.” Following that process that Sean outlined, those five steps, is a great place to start. Beyond that, add some accountability to what you’re doing. Sean has made some public accountability (Related: e107 Why You Need an Accountability Partner & How to Find One). Do those five things—come up with your goals, come up with a plan, and decide you’re going to take action.

Solidify your actions by adding accountability to the process of planning toward your goals, because accountability will help drive you.

  • 40:04 Sean: We are all predisposed toward one zoom or the other. Some of us are naturally detail-oriented, others of us are very big picture. Both of them have their pros and cons. The detail-oriented people can be nit-picky with no respect to the big picture and whether we’re actually accomplishing our goals, and the big picture people can be a little bit too lofty, too high in the sky, not getting things done but being big dreamers. You need both of them. You need the big picture people, but you also need the detail-oriented people, so you get things done and you head in the right direction.
  • 40:48 We’re all predisposed to one or the other. I’ve observed that very successful people have a well-exercised zoom muscle. They’re able to zoom between the two modes, regardless of which one they’re predisposed to. People with detail-oriented and goal-oriented mindsets can work really well together as a team. Goal-oriented people help the detail-oriented people go in the right direction, and they get the things done. The people who are individually able to be the most successful have developed that zoom muscle, so they can say, “Are we heading in the right direction? Now that I know that I am, I’m going to actually get the work done.”
  • 41:44 Ben: Being married to a person who is very zoomed in where I’m very zoomed out, I get to learn from some of her tendencies. I’m definitely much more of a detail person than I was ten years ago. I wonder if that can be a little bit self-defeating, to say, “I guess I’m just a detail person, that’s it.” Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, any of us have the capacity to exercise that muscle and get pretty good at zooming out and in as needed. We shouldn’t count ourselves out just because we recognize that we tend toward one or the other.
  • 42:38 Sean: It’s valuable to see it as predisposition. You’re going to fall into one of two camps, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ever visit the other one.

Success is Showing Up

  • 42:50 Steve also said, “Sean, you said you know what you’re going to accomplish in 2016. When does it make sense to know what you’re going to accomplish within the next year, versus what your goals are next year? How do you set realistic goals while still being ambitious? Or, in other words, how do you distinguish between setting goals and having a plan?” We touched on distinguishing between goals and plans, but what do you think about his question here, Ben? How do you set realistic goals while still being ambitious?
  • 43:24 Ben: It’s really difficult to set realistic goals unless you know yourself really really well.
  • 43:30 Sean: That’s exactly what I wrote down—“Knowing comes from experience.”
  • 43:36 Ben: In the meantime, you have to gain experience, and that might mean setting goals without knowing whether or not they are realistic. As you break it down and you come up with the steps to reaching that goal, it may become a little bit more apparent whether or not it’s a realistic goal. You could ask people who have accomplished something similar, show them your plan, and ask them, “Am I being realistic here?” Set the goal, get as much information as you can to work with, and go through the experience. Don’t worry about whether or not you’re going to reach that goal.

Success is not reaching your goal—success is that you tried

Now you have something tangible to apply toward your next goal.

  • 44:45 Sean: That’s 100% true. Experience and success are defined by the day to day. I checked the box of showing up today, of doing the one small step I needed to take to get closer to my goal today. I think a lot of people, standing at the starting line, think, “What if I put in the action and the effort, and I go for 20 miles, for 365 days, I don’t eat ice cream for 100 days, and what if the results aren’t there?” They ponder and conjecture at the starting line without even taking a step. The only way to get there is to focus on putting one foot in front of the other.
  • 45:35 It’s the combination and the culmination of all these steps together. You cannot predict the person you will be after having taken 100,000 steps, after having showed up for 365 days. That’s the missing piece in your conjecture here. If I have showed up for 365 days and I’m there on the 365th day, whatever the results were that I wanted at the start of this, maybe they’re not there. You have a different mindset at that point. You’ve showed up every day, so you define success differently, which means that you have what it takes to keep going. At that point, you’re not going to stop.
  • 46:21 Ben: This is something I’ve heard a couple of times from Gary Vee that is really inspiring. He started to focus on fitness, exercising, and working out. He has complained that, after so many months of working out, he’s not seeing the results he expected. Now, it’s a thing he does. He started doing it because he had a goal and he was hoping for some results. He arrived at the place where he thought he would see the kind of results he expected, and they weren’t there, but now he’s a person who works out every day. When I think about goals, the goal of reaching some business milestone or whatever, the daily output of valuable content or whatever it is that’s required to get there, the better goal and the bigger win is becoming the person who does that thing every day.

Whether or not you get the results you hope for, by practicing toward your goal every day you become a person who does that thing every day.

  • 47:44 Sean: That’s such a valuable asset. You can apply that to the next thing. You can keep going when you say, “Wow, when I set out on this journey, I thought I was going to do my first course in three months. I thought I was going to have a six pack in six weeks. I thought I was going to make my first six figures in a year.” You realize that your goals were pretty ambitious. Now that you know what it takes, you realize that a more realistic time frame might be 18 or 24 months. Now you know how to get there because you have this perspective, and you know that you’re going to get there.
  • 48:24 You have to realize that who you are at that point is a different person. Overthinking it at the starting line isn’t productive. At the starting line, before you’ve even taken a step, on the first day of the year, you’re going to think, “If I get 365 days into it and I don’t see the results I want, I’m going to quit.” You’re thinking that now because you don’t know who you are then. It’s keeping you from taking the first step, which is such a shame.
  • 48:58 Ben: You don’t start doing those things because you’re that person. You start doing those things, and that action is what helps you evolve into that person. There are a lot of identity issues in the way we talk about this, but I’m talking to the person who’s thinking, “I can’t take those steps because I’m not that person yet. I have to wait until I become that person, and then I’ll do those things.” It’s the action that helps you become, not the other way around.
  • 49:44 Sean: That’s why you have to focus on it as one day at a time. You define success by whether you can check the box today that says, “I showed up.” I keep coming back to that because it’s really easy to get overwhelmed by the big picture when you’re thinking about big goals and you don’t have a developed zoom muscle. You can get caught up in the big goal and say, “I’m not that person. I can’t accomplish that. 100 days seems overwhelming. A year seems overwhelming.” A year is just a bunch of days strung together. Focus on one at a time, and you’ll get there.

Are Your Goals Realistic?

  • 50:22 Steve is asking what a realistic goal is and how to set realistic goals that he can attain but still remain ambitious. What’s a realistic time frame? To answer that, I’m going to bring in Robert’s question. He says, “When you plan the year, do you plan in the margin? Not just identifying which weeks are going to be sabbatical weeks. What I mean is: do you create a plan for the year with some margin built in to account for things taking more time than you expect?”
  • 50:58 This ties back into the knowing comes from experience thing that I said. The more you have experience, the more accurate your projections will be. Once I’ve done half a dozen courses, I have a pretty good idea of what it’s going to take to do another one. When you haven’t done a course before, here’s my rule of thumb:

Triple the amount of time that you think something’s going to take if you haven’t done it before.

  • 51:33 Ben: Reduce what you think you want to do as your first course by a third. I don’t know if that’s always true, but a lot of people don’t get started because their first thing is too big.
  • 51:55 Sean: People think my big success was Learn Lettering. It was my first course. It made $100,000 in three days and half a million in 18 months. They think that’s my big first debut. They think, “I want to make a course, but what I have in mind isn’t nearly that big. I guess I need to upsize what I’m thinking. I need to make a really big course. I want to make a splash.” People aren’t going to notice your first course. They’re going to notice your twelfth course. You’ve got to start getting things out there. Let me roll back the clock a little bit further. I’ve told this story, but even people who have listened to all of our episodes have forgotten.
  • 52:41 The first place I taught lettering was not, it was not my own platform where I made $100,000. It was on another platform where you can share your skills with people. I made $20,000 or $40,000 there, which is also a really big success. It was still a smaller success, and I put in a lot of effort. People forget that. They forget that I started smaller than that. You can start smaller. As Mark Cuban says, “You only need to win once.” People only remember when you win. They don’t remember your failures, that you tried to teach something smaller than this that wasn’t a runaway success. Yeah, you helped a few people, but it wasn’t crazy. They don’t remember that.
  • 53:38 That’s okay. That was a stepping stone. I learned so much from that first teaching experience, and you’ll learn so much from doing your first course. It may not be the success you want it to be. Don’t see that as a failure—see it as a learning experience that contributes towards your future success that everybody knows you for, that everybody thinks is your first thing. Triple, that’s the rule of thumb. If you haven’t done something before, I say triple it.

A Year is Nothing

  • 54:06 Sarah says, “What room should you leave for things you will think about during the year, when you plan out your year in advance?” That is a great point. Number one, tripling will help. Suddenly, you’ll think, “Oh, wow, I can only do four things now. I was going to do twelve things.” Trust me. It’s going to take longer than you expect. You’ve got to stop thinking about years like you did when you were eight. A year is a lifetime, tomorrow is forever away. I want a snack now. I want to play video games now. In a year, I’ll be dead. That’s how you think when you’re eight. That’s like walking across the desert with no water.
  • 54:50 A year is nothing—you have to start thinking in bigger units of time. It’s not this thing where you can accomplish twelve big projects. It isn’t going to happen. You need to think in incremental progress. This is a stepping stone.
  • 55:07 Ben: I don’t like thinking about a year as a smaller unit of time, because that means death is sooner.
  • 55:14 Sean: Does it? Death is always the same distance away from us, no matter how we view time, if we sleep in, or if we’re in a coma. It’s always there. That’s just a reality. It’s a finite amount of time. We can push it back and think of years as these really big chunks of time because it feels better to think that we’ve got 60 big chunks of time on the planet. Let’s start thinking about months that way. Months are the new years. They’re super long, and we’ve got hundreds and hundreds of month-years until we’re dead… It doesn’t really change anything.
  • 56:30 If anything, I welcome seeing years as smaller blocks of time, because it makes me fully acknowledge and face the limited amount of time I have left. If years aren’t very big and I need to think in three, five, or ten year chunks, I’ve got five or six of those left. I’ve had a recurring thought that you get in these rhythms where things are repeated. There are routines, you have your groups, your friends, your band, your podcast, your job, your projects, your vacations, and the things that recur seem infinite. “I’m always going to meet my friends on Wednesday. I’m always going to come into the job. I’m always going to do this podcast.” We think that way because they recur.
  • 57:37 Suddenly, something changes. Your dad says, “I got a new job. We’re moving the family.” No longer do you see your friends anymore. You look back and you think, “Wow, I had a finite amount of hang outs with this friend. We had a finite amount of time to play video games, climb trees, skateboard, or whatever.” You look back when it’s over, and you realize that you had a finite amount of time.

Everything’s finite, it’s just obscured by repetition.

  • 58:05 When you’re in a routine and you do something religiously, regularly, you think there’s an infinite amount, because it’s something that you do, that always happens. You really need to see everything as finite. The number of episodes that will be in this podcast is finite. Whether I do it until I die or not, the number will come to an end. When people look back on this from the future, there’s a finite number of conversations you and I have, Ben. There’s a finite number of songs I can compose in my lifetime. As sobering as that thought might be, it helps me see things for how limited and precious they are.
  • 59:03 Ben: I was speaking a little bit tongue-in-cheek earlier. I want to think about a year as a larger unit because I don’t like thinking about death, but you’re absolutely right. Facing that reality adds some urgency to what you’re doing. It’s a useful tool, if you can get over the discomfort of that. It’s a discomfort that’s kind of like chronic pain, something that becomes a part of your life. You feel it, but you learn to live in spite of the discomfort. Some people just don’t like to think about it, because of how uncomfortable it is. If you can learn to live with that discomfort, the value and motivation that can come from thinking about life that way can be a huge driver. I’m not there yet.

Planning for Margin

  • 1:00:18 Sean: I do want to deliver on Sarah’s question. We took a little detour there, but I think it’s valuable. She had asked about margin. Robert had a similar question. He said, “Besides your sabbaticals, what about margin?” I started off saying that I think the tripling will help. If you haven’t done something before, quit your job before, done your first course, worked with your first client, or sold your first product, triple the amount of time you think it will take, because you don’t have the experience right now to know that it will take longer. That’s going to help you.
  • 1:00:57 Beyond that, let’s say you’ve tripled the time and it’s going to take ten or eleven months. You’ve downsized your amount of projects and tripled the time, so you’ve added it up, and you say, “Okay, I’ve accounted for about ten or eleven months worth of time.” Just like the episode we had on reducing stress and creating better work by creating margin, you don’t want to see that gap in time as more to be filled. You need a healthy amount of space. I have a little bit more liberty to fill in the gaps and the cracks of my life because I take sabbaticals. Most people don’t take sabbaticals. They go, “Oh yeah, Sean does that sabbatical thing,” they push it aside, and then they compare themselves to me.
  • 1:01:50 They say, “Look at how much Sean’s doing and how much I’m doing. He’s constantly filling in all the gaps, he’s so productive, and he’s constantly focused on things. I need to do that.” They wonder why it feels like too much, why it feels like burning out to them. It’s because you dismissed the sabbatical part that I already take. I take a week off every seven weeks, and that gives me an advantage. It allows me to operate at the height that I do.

If you don’t have sabbaticals, you need more margin.

  • 1:02:25 I would say that you need two months of margin in your year. Plan out ten months of projects and goals, but leave yourself two months of margin. I might cram in a little bit more because I have sabbaticals, but even then, I think I could benefit from some margin and allowing myself some space to either expand existing projects and do better on them or just allow myself the freedom to not do something. That’s scary to some people, but that allows you the ability to say yes to doing something, some opportunity that comes up. Maybe you have some kind of wonderful opportunity where, if you overbooked yourself, you wouldn’t be able to take that.
  • 1:03:13 It’s a balance between making sure you have a full roster, so you’re not sitting around doing nothing, but also giving yourself enough margin to be healthy. I’ve done a lot of thinking on it, and for me, Small Scale Sabbaticals are the solution to that. I feel like I can go all-out when I’m on and be completely off when I’m off.

5 Steps for Turning Goals Into Plans

  • 1:03:39 I want to repeat the five steps to turning goals into plans. Figure out what you’re going to accomplish. What do you want to have done in 2016? I’m going to have three books published and three new courses out in addition to what we already have planned to launch. We’re going to host a conference. Since I’m batching all of this, with the baseline of doing a seven day a week video show and me doing three podcasts a week, honestly, I think that’s seven, eight, or maybe nine months of work. I could cram more things into 2016, but I’m not. I have about nine months worth of stuff right here, and I’m not planning anything else. Hopefully, that helps people.
  • 1:04:38 Figure out what you want to accomplish. If you haven’t done it before, triple the amount of time. That is your goal. Now, turn the goal into a plan. Here are the five steps:
    1. Write down your goals. Look at them every day, and normalize them, even if they’re big goals.
    2. Set a deadline. It can’t be “sometime in 2016,” but set aside milestones, checkpoints, and a deadline. If it’s a course, announce it right now. Say, “I’m launching a course on June 6,” or whatever the date is, and be Backwards Building toward that.
    3. List all the action steps, everything. Brain dump. Open up a text document, write in your notebook, or whatever. Every single thing that comes to your mind that is required to do that, write down.
    4. Compile that into a plan.
    5. Take action on it every day.
  • 1:05:33 Cory: I really wish I had heard this this time last year. My goal was to make five films this year. It was too much. I almost have one done, and it was discouraging. I wish I had heard to triple the time you think it will take. I wanted to be ambitious, so I said five.
  • 1:06:04 Ben: You set your goal at five and you said that you almost have one finished. Do you think that if you had set your goal at two, you would have been closer to getting two done?
  • 1:06:18 Cory: Yeah, especially if I wrote down everything that needed to be done. I didn’t really do that either. There was a goal and some planning, but the planning is what lacked.
  • 1:06:32 Sean: There are several things for me next year where I still need to write down all the things. I’m probably still going too much off of my experience. Experience is good, and it’s going to help me make more accurate projections, but don’t go completely off of experience. Don’t say, “Yeah, yeah, I know what it takes to do a course.” Write it down anyway.