Baby Steps: Progress Towards A Goal


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baby steps towards a gray toy ring

When making a big change or tackling a big project, where do you start and how do you get through it all? The smart money is on identifying your problem, turning your problem upside down to find your goal, and breaking the goal down into chunks you can do. Baby steps.

SMART goals review

I have identified a problem in my worklife.  On June 28 I will spend my last day at work.  After 27 years I’ve collected a lot of stuff, some of which is not useful to my successor.  In my job I’ve worn many hats, some of which have gone out of style.   They have to go.  There’s the problem.

My goal will be to make the old stuff gone, of course.  But to be SMART, I ought to answer who, what, where, when and why.  So here goes the goal:  In my office I will purge irrelevant and outdated materials and properly dispose of them by June 28, so my successor will have space in which to easily find current materials and to store his/her own stuff as it accumulates.

For more about SMART goals read thisIf you need more guidance on easily setting up a goal, try here.

Making baby steps

From there I broke it down into baby steps, each of which is a drawer or shelf in my storage furniture.  There are 5 drawers in my desk, 2 in my little file cabinet, 4 more in my big file cabinet, and two in my cabinet with 2 shelves on top.  That’s a lot of baby steps.

My first step was the lower drawer in the cabinet with shelves.  In that were over a decade of old day planners, which I never threw out.  Why?  Dunno, just didn’t.  I tend to need the last year’s book for lookbacks the first few months of this year.  And then they got thrown in the drawer.

Well, they’re gone.  After finishing all my visits, paperwork, phone fun and teamwork, I ripped those books up and bagged them for disposal.  That took a total of 3 hours, spread over 2 days.  Step One complete–the rest of that drawer has evidence-based practice materials that need updating, but that’s another goal.

Baby steps are as little as they need to be

You may not have all your baby steps planned out as you start.  That’s OK.  Just get started with something you can finish in a short time, so you get a quick victory.  That gives you momentum for the next baby step.

So my next baby step might be to clear out  the next drawer in that cabinet.  That means I must go through and see what is in there and leave the good stuff while disposing of the junk.  From there I’ll clean off the shelves for baby step 3.  And so on around the furniture till it only has useful stuff left.

None of my steps is more than a drawer.  The operation is binary.  Leave the good; trash the junk.  No one drawer ought to take more than 3 hours, most of them less.

If you had a goal to lose 10 pounds by June 28 you could lose 2 pounds a month for your baby step, then rinse and repeat.

For a more detailed baby step, you might walk 5000 steps a day and eat no more than 1500 calories a day for a month and see if you lose 2 pounds.

You might prefer to do 2 baby steps, first nail down the walking, then keep the walking and add the reduced calorie regimen.

You stay in control with baby steps.  Just remember to check in with yourself every so often to make sure you’re still on track.

What if my baby steps don’t work?

Sometimes we set up a plan that doesn’t go well.  The baby steps we set up didn’t do what we wanted to get.  As long as you know what you want to get, you can map out a way to get it.  So be sure your goal is pointing to the right outcome.

Next, look at your baby steps.  Are they too big?  If my office cleaning steps were by furniture piece rather than by drawers or shelves, I’d be having trouble.  My success with the planners would be a small dent in that cabinet, not the victory of last week.  At that rate I’ll lose interest fast.

Do you have to do too much per baby step?  If you’re painting a room, you might break it down by first masking off things like woodwork.  Then cut in on one wall, fill in that wall, cut in another wall, and so on.  If you make 3 baby steps of painting a large room–masking, cutting in, and roller work–that’s a big baby you’ve got.  It’s easier to manage in smaller steps.  It might look better when you’re done too.

In my case, some of the materials I’ll throw away will need to be shredded.  That means I will have another baby step to do–shredding the secrets.  That step may have to happen two or three times during the cleanout process.  But I won’t combine it because I have enough to do to clean out a drawer properly.

Baby steps should make sense to you

By this time in your life you’ve gotten a handle on how to organize a process.  You can wash a car, make dinner, drive to the movies, mow the lawn.  Setting up baby steps you just map out another process.

My baby steps are simple.  Yours could be more involved depending on what you want to do.  If you want to quit smoking you might be using a nicotine patch at Strength A for two weeks, then go down to Strength B for two weeks.  Then you may substitute spearmint gum for the oral treat, or go for a walk instead of having a puff after supper.

Smoking cessation may take more than one goal because it’s complex.  You are quitting one behavior and maybe starting another one to compensate.  So if your baby steps are goofed up, maybe you need to sort out your goal or goals.

Good luck with your change-making goals, and feel free to comment on how it’s going.



baby steps up to a stoolbaby steps along between parentsbaby steps towards gray toy ring



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