How Setting Daily Goals and Splitting Up Larger Tasks into Micro Ones Makes Your More Productive

Note: This is an excerpt from Growth & Productivity: 14 Principles to Achieve More, a free e-book from Grove Ave, a new startup that helps individuals focus on their growth. Click here to get your free download of the 70+ page e-book.

Knowing what and how to prioritize is critical to ensuring that your daily goal gets done.

Setting daily goals and splitting up large and daunting tasks into smaller ones works hand-in-hand with proper planning. I usually assign myself one daily goal related to a core work priority. For example: “write five pages of my dissertation prospectus” or “design experiment for investigating probabilistic posturing.” Staying on task has been as simple as making sure I keep that one goal in mind. By setting a key goal for each day, I know what I need to focus on, and even more importantly, I know what I can ignore.

Knowing what and how to prioritize is critical to ensuring that your daily goal gets done. Many of us suffer from the “tyranny of the e-mail inbox.” But you really do have to stop and ask yourself why you’re beholden to some small box inside a small screen. Instead of letting the tiny inbox tell me what to do, I choose to let the small stuff that comes across the desk during the day fall off in the interest of accomplishing the core task. If it is really that important — someone will call you. That urgent, time-sensitive thing is probably not urgent and time-sensitive to you. If you never accomplish the tasks that keep your life going, and that keep you marching towards your goals, no one is going to accomplish it for you. Do this for long enough and pretty soon you’ll be very far away from where you wanted to be. Ultimately, this means prioritizing yourself over the demands (which are sometimes unreasonable) of others.

Have you ever heard the saying, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any way will get you there?” I firmly believe that. I also firmly believe that people who get derailed and sidetracked when they are working forget their goals. Keep that daily goal in firm focus and you won’t go wrong. You’ll be able to look back on 365 days of work at the end of the year and say: I accomplished 365 goals. Lots of people don’t accomplish that much in their LIFETIME.

Each small step, taken on its own, seems doable, while trying to summit the peak can seem incredibly daunting.

Breaking up a larger task into a smaller tasks, in the form of a list or an outline, is also a really useful tool. Would you make your grocery list by writing “buy groceries”? No, you’d want to write out the specific things you need. So why would you approach life less diligently than you’d approach a grocery list? You’ll never finish writing your dissertation, novel, or finishing the big project if you put it on your to do list as, “write dissertation” or “work on project.” Those big ticket items are more like overarching goals. If you were planning to work on a project, you might break it into smaller subtasks such as “create project schedule,” or “determine delegation plan,” or “outline project presentation.” Each item on your task list should be actionable and specific — start each item with a verb such as “write” or “study” or “buy.”

Another added benefit of breaking up a larger task into smaller ones? It makes the larger task seem more conquerable — like taking small steps up the side of a huge mountain. Each small step, taken on its own, seems doable, while trying to summit the peak can seem incredibly daunting. For example, if you want to write an e-book in 30 days, plotting and planning in detail makes a seemingly impossible task doable. Use this psychological trick to your advantage! Breaking up a larger task into smaller tasks also gives you a sense of micro-accomplishment as you cross things off your list. Don’t discount the motivating power of these small victories. In my mind, having any victories in a day means that it was a good day.

I’ll leave you with this: “one foot in front of the other.” That’s a saying I picked up from my Army days. That was something I repeated to myself all the time. Repeating this mantra helped carry me through the last mile of a forced march at 0500 in the Arizona desert carrying a 45 lb pack. At the time I weighed around about 100 lbs soaking wet, so that huge a portion of my body weight. But I made it in under three hours. I still sometimes say this mantra to myself when I face a particularly daunting task. When you’re really struggling, tell yourself you’ll get through. One step, one page, one assignment, one memo — remind yourself that you will get there eventually. And you will. Believe it. Believe in yourself.


  • Set a daily goal for yourself and keep it in focus at all times
  • Break a larger task up into smaller tasks
  • Prioritization to deal with critical tasks is essential — let the other stuff fall away

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