There will always come a time when you decide to stop relying on others and choose to take your destiny into your own hands. You might be in the middle of that journey right now as you read this. It's an empowering feeling when you start to take action in the direction that, deep down in your heart, you know is right for you. For many, it's the push they need to begin transforming their lives.
However, it's not as simple as deciding that you'll be doing something and go at it with all your might. The initial decision will serve as the fuel that will get you moving. But you don't have an infinite reserve to push you indefinitely, so you have to know where you're going next, how to get there, and where you want to end up when your journey is over.
These are areas where many people trip up and eventually give up on their dreams. One of the main reasons why people don't get the things they want is because they lack either some long-term vision about where to be or the short-term insight as to where they have to go next to get to the goal line.
To put it in a real-world perspective, imagine if you wanted to travel somewhere by car. You decide on a place that you've never visited before and is hundreds - maybe thousands - of miles away, and you determine it will take you a couple of days to get there. Then, just before you embark on your journey, you toss away all of your GPS devices and tear up any paper maps you have, and you hit the road as soon as you can.
How do you think this trip will end up? Chances are it will finalize in one of two ways: you might be lucky and arrive at your destination although much longer than expected after getting lost dozens of times along the way, or you'll be so overwhelmed by the uncertainty that you give up and return right back to your comfort zone.
It might sound absurd that someone would undertake such a massive expedition without the tools and preparation needed, but that's how most people set up their goals. We've all done this before: You decide you want to accomplish something, and you proceed to dive in head-first, thinking you will figure things out along the way. Doing this leads to poor planning and even worse execution.
What you need is something to guide you down the road smoothly - a roadmap.
A road map is your own GPS for your goals
The term comes from the actual maps of the roads that people used to carry in their cars before the days of easily-accessible GPS devices, but it's also used for planning. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a roadmap is "a detailed plan to guide progress toward a goal." That sounds exactly like what you need to get you from where you are now to where you want to go effortlessly.
Roadmaps in the sense of planning and guiding towards goals are extensively used by companies everywhere. Most companies build theirs for company projects, short-term objectives, and reaching their long-term vision as well. It's not uncommon to see company roadmaps that lay out goals for the next quarter, the next year, and even five or ten years down the road.
The benefits of having a clear roadmap shouldn't be exclusive to small businesses and large corporations. Everyone can individually benefit from a well-defined roadmap for any goal that will need some effort and time to accomplish. Even if you believe that you know the end game for a purpose or that it's not a big project, a roadmap will still be helpful for you.
Creating your informal roadmap in less than ten minutes
A roadmap doesn't have to be a long, formal testament that you have to spend weeks or months laying out. You can start with a short and informal document that can help you answer the following questions:
- What can I do now?
- What will I do next?
- How much have I done?
The first pass at writing a roadmap that answers these questions should take you less than ten minutes. It will be ten minutes that you won't regret spending when you're deep in the process of getting towards your goals and dreams. To get started, find a piece of paper and a pen or pencil and do the following:
- On the right-hand side of the page, write down exactly what you want to accomplish. Don't be vague, but also don't spend too much time digging into specifics. Examples of a quick well-defined goal are Lose 30 pounds by the end of 2018 or Launch my new website in 90 days.
- From your goal, start thinking backward and write down 3-4 significant things you need to do before you can accomplish your goal. Again, the point is not to get caught in details, but more of a high-level overview of what it will take. Using the weight loss example, some of the significant things to do are work out 4-5 times a week, buy healthy food to clean up my diet and keep a daily log of my weight.
- Pick one of those significant tasks and break it down into pieces, as small as possible that if you picked one of those pieces, you should be able to start today. Furthering the examples above, let's say you choose to keep a log of your weight. For that, you can break it down into a few items: buy a new bathroom scale, keep a pen and notebook next to my scale, weigh myself every morning before brushing my teeth, and so on.
That's it; you have your first roadmap! It's nothing new or ground-breaking - you might have seen this tactic recommended before, and it's possibly Task Management 101 for most people. But the purpose is to show you that it's effortless to get started.
Road maps aren't just for knowing where you'll go
Of course, this isn't the end of the road mapping process. There's a good chance that during those first ten minutes or so, you found yourself asking questions about how to do a specific thing, or came up with more tasks that you hadn't thought about that need to be done. That's great - it's one of the main reasons why having a roadmap works. Not only will it help you know where it is that you want to go, but it also has many other advantages to assist you on your journey.
Know for sure that you're willing to put in the work
When goals are formed, you might think you know what you truly want and that you're ready to do whatever it takes. But at the beginning of any journey, you won't know exactly how much work you have to put in. And to be honest, a lot of people aren't willing to put in the work for their goals. Plenty of people quit midway through a goal because they're shocked that it's a lot tougher than they expected.
Having a roadmap at the beginning of the process will help you have an overview of the things you will need to do. It'll help avoid the sudden realization that it's difficult and allow you to shape your plan accordingly. Knowing what lies ahead will better prepare you to take them down way before you arrive at those points.
Get a crystal-clear picture of what you need to do
It's good to have a goal, but sometimes goals are so vague that it doesn't serve any purpose at all. Take for example someone who creates a goal of wanting to vacation in Europe. Saying "I want to go to Europe" has so many open questions to answer. Where do you want to go? How much time do you want to spend there? How much money will you need? How will you get the time and money to take your dream trip? Each of these questions yields its own set of questions the deeper you get. It's easy to see why people get overwhelmed when they're unclear.
A roadmap should have the steps that answer all of these questions. More importantly, it forces you to not only come up with answers to the questions you have in your head, but it causes you to think about new issues that you might not have thought about beforehand. Clarity will always find the way to take you forward.
Make it easy to explain and others to understand your journey
Even if your goal is a very personal one, most likely you'll need to involve others in the process. Whether it be asking for help from others who are more skilled at some parts than you are, telling your significant other that you're spending part of your weekends working on something, or planning with your company to take time off, you'll need to eventually explain what you're doing and how you're doing it.
If you're not able to clearly articulate your goal and your steps on how to get there, it will be challenging to get others on board with your plan. With a roadmap, you'll have all the information needed for others to understand what you're doing and what you need to do so that they're in a better position to have your back every step of the way.
Stay on track when the path gets rough
Every single plan - no matter how long you worked on it - will reach a point that will threaten to throw you off track. Life happens and causes issues at the most inopportune times. Things that you wanted to do can't happen for some reason. People you depended on flake out. The list of things that break the flow of your perfectly laid-out plan is endless, and it's more than enough to make you want to burn your entire project down.
One of the most significant advantages of having a roadmap is that it will help you avoid losing sight of the bigger picture. Far too often, we get thrown off by tiny details that we fail to remember the purpose we have for taking the path that we have. Without knowing your way, it'll cause you to feel lost and leave you spinning your wheels in place, getting nowhere fast. Instead, if problems pop up, you will be able to check out your roadmap, revise, and find a new path towards the destination.
Your map will forever be your guide
Your roadmap will serve as your authoritative book from start to finish. If you ever find yourself questioning what you should be doing, a quick glance at your roadmap will put you right on track immediately. You'll have enough details to keep your focus where it should be.
A good roadmap, however, will also be flexible enough to allow you to refine and update when necessary. As you move closer and closer to your goals, you'll be learning many new things along the way, and you will find yourself needing to add more to your roadmap or eliminating unnecessary steps. Always keep in mind that your roadmap is not set in stone.
Once you have a solid roadmap, you've laid the groundwork for success. You'll have far less stress and anxiety just because you now know where you're headed. You will never feel like you're wandering around aimlessly. You'll always have next steps in front of you to keep you moving along. Those benefits are invaluable when you're working hard towards something you want and can be the difference between finally getting what you wanted, and letting go of yet another dream.
Small steps for your Practical Good
If you find yourself feeling lost with something you want to accomplish, follow these small steps to gain clarity and focus, and never feel aimless again:
- Create your own roadmap for your goals. As mentioned above, it will only take 10 minutes to get a roadmap started. When creating it, make sure you can always know what you can do at this moment, what you'll be doing when you're done with that, and how far you've come. Knowing the answers to these will keep you perfectly on track.
- Keep your roadmap easily accessible at all times. A roadmap will be pretty much useless if you can't access it when you need it the most. I recommend using a pen/pencil and paper to create your roadmap and keep it where you'll be performing most of your work. But also scan or take a picture of the document and save it on your smartphone or a cloud-based service like Dropbox or Google Drive so you can have it available whenever you need it.
- Celebrate how far you've come. The good thing about a roadmap is that you can have a view of what you have done. A lot of people focus on all the things that need to be done, but it's more powerful and motivating to know the things you have done so you can see that you're making progress. There's no better feeling than seeing your growth from where you were to where you are now.