How To Break Down Big Goals | The Ultimate Guide19 min read

If you have an ambitious goal you’d love to achieve (in life or business), but you don’t know where to start, this article will explain exactly how to break down big goals and actually achieve them. This 3 step process for breaking down complex goals into actionable steps will allow you to succeed in achieving the big goals you have for your life and business, while enjoying the process.

Every single day I have the honour of working with unusually ambitious women and men as an entrepreneur coach. I’ve spent over a thousand hours coaching entrepreneurs to achieve a vision for their lives and businesses that’s much bigger than their status quo. Whether you want to launch a new business, scale your existing company to the next level, or achieve an ambitious personal goal, knowing how to break down your big goals is critical to your success. If you don’t know how to break down your big goals into actionable steps, you won’t be able to take the action you need to take to get where you want to go!

Recently I worked with a client who had a passion that she wanted to turn into a business, but she had absolutely no idea where to start or how to get clients. The amount of information on the internet (with its endless options and contradicting advice) trapped her into analysis paralysis and because she didn’t see the path to having a successful business, she wasn’t working toward it — it was nothing but a daydream. On our very first coaching call I helped her create a simple path to finding clients so that she could see exactly how this business idea would work. And once she saw it, she couldn’t unsee it. From there, taking action was inevitably easy. She landed her first paying clients within weeks of working together, and has made money in her business every month since. She quit her job 4x sooner than she thought she’d be able to and is living the life she had only envisioned for herself 3 years down the line.

That is the power of breaking down your goals: clarity creates confidence and from there you’re able to take consistent action and make your wildest dreams come true.

A lot of ‘soon to be’ entrepreneurs come to me with a vision and a lack of clarity on how to make their dream business a reality. I help entrepreneurs that are overwhelmed at everything that goes into starting and growing a business to implement simple strategies that allow them to take back their time, make more money, and leave a legacy. Part of that process is defining your goals, breaking down your big goals into actionable steps, and mastering your mindset so that you can accelerate your success. 

“The best way to grow personally and professionally is to set ambitious goals that stretch you to the edge of your comfort zone. The best way to erode your self trust is to leave it at that, without breaking down goals into actionable steps, and assume it’ll all just fall into place…” ~ Ana McRae

If you’re reading this article, I don’t doubt you value growth and have a BIG vision for your life or business. This article was written specifically to help you break down your big goals into actionable steps so that you can start moving forward and actually achieve them.

If this post resonates with you and you want to explore having me as your coach, book a discovery call here. We’ll discuss your vision, the challenges you’re facing, and how I can help you launch or grow a really successful business that supports a really fulfilling life.

Break down big goals

Why does it feel so hard to break down your goals into actionable steps?

Most entrepreneurs I work with have no shortage of amazing ideas, big projects, or ambitious goals that they want to achieve. But one of the reasons they haven’t achieved them yet is because they haven’t broken down the steps to making it happen. And that’s usually for one of two reasons: 

1. You’re not sure of the process

There’s no shame in admitting you actually have no idea how to go about achieving your goal. In that case… of course you’re not going to be able to break it down into actionable steps! You don’t know what’s involved!

If someone who’s only ever lived in a big city sets a goal of building a self-sustaining farm and has never even watched The Biggest Little Farm before, they probably lack the knowledge to map out the path forward. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible. But you have to go get that knowledge first.However, for most people this isn’t the reason. Most people know the path to their goals at least at a high level, but something else gets in their way.

Related post: How To Define Your Core Values

2. You’re afraid of having to do the work

Perhaps it feels hard to break down your goal because once you know exactly what you have to do to make it happen, you have nothing left to hide behind. You’d have no excuses left for why you aren’t taking action and you’re forced to put yourself out there, risk failure or rejection, and step into this bigger (and completely foreign) vision. Your brain loves the status quo and so it will do what it needs to do to protect you from change of any kind (even the good kind!) Be honest with yourself — are you making this more complicated than it needs to be so that you don’t have to take action? 

If so, it’s time to break down your big goals once and for all so that you can make them happen and live the fullest version of your one life.

Related post: How Your Mindset Is Keeping You Stuck

How To Break Down Big Goals Into Actionable Steps

This article will serve as your step by step guide to breaking down your goals into action steps so that you’re set up to achieve your goals successfully. Do you have a goal in mind? Let’s get started with breaking it down.

The benefits of breaking down your goals

What’s the point of breaking down big goals? Why is setting the goal not good enough? Breaking down your goals clarifies the steps you need to take, which means you’re much more likely to take start moving forward. Also, the excitement of a goal wears off as you start moving forward and encountering challenges and setbacks. Having it broken down into smaller steps allows you to celebrate small wins and maintain motivation. 

The ultimate outcome of breaking down big goals is to get them to a level where they are actionable. By ‘actionable’, I mean something you can time block in your calendar and achieve in a 2-3 hour working session. Where most people go wrong with breaking down goals is trying to start with the lowest level and make a list of actionable steps from A to Z. That’s a difficult approach to take, like writing a novel word by word without having an idea of the plot and the outline. Instead, we want to start at the highest level and narrow our focus until we happen to arrive at an actionable level.

Step 1: Define Your Outcome Goals

The first step to breaking down your goals is to make sure you’re working on the right goals. Goals that actually get you more of what you want and not goals that are set out of comparison or based on what someone else thinks you should want. Your goals should align with your deepest values and move you toward your level 10 life. If you’re an entrepreneur, your financial goals should be purpose driven (which means don’t set a number for the sake of setting a number, but take the time to decide what you actually want and how much it will actually cost you).

If you haven’t done so yet, read this post on How To Set Goals And Achieve Fulfilling Success so that you are working with effective goals.

Most people have a tendency to set a goal and then start thinking of the steps to achieve it right away. Think big before you think small. Zoom out to your big why (your vision for your life, your mission here on Earth, your deepest values) and assess how well your goal fits into your why. Ask yourself how your goal ties into your vision. Is it aligned with your values? Does it move you closer to the life you want to live 10 years from now? Don’t start working on goals for the sake of working on goals. Take the time to think strategically and ensure your goals align with the future you want to create for yourself.

If you aren’t sure where you should be focussing to reach your goals take our personalized quiz to find out!

Related post: How To Find Your Purpose & Work You Love In 8 Steps

how to break down big complex goals into actionable action steps so that you can actually achieve them by life and business success coach Ana McRae with image of mug and black goal setting planner on desk explaining 5 step process for breaking down goals

Step 2: Outline the Goals Process

Every big goal can be broken down into 3-5 step process that will lead to a successful outcome.

Want to hike the Appalachian Trail?

1. Research the route and terrain

2. Purchase your equipment.

3. Send supplies to drop boxes.

4. Train 5. Go for it.

Want to build an online business?

1. Define your product / service

2. Build an audience

3. Market & Sell

4. Serve your clients

Want to build a team?

1. Define the roles & responsibilities

2. Advertise the position

3. Interview candidates

4. Hire candidates

5. Onboard candidates

Want to move to a different country?

1. Decide on the location

2. Apply for a visa

3. Find a job

4. Find a house

5. Move your stuff

Want to build a house yourself?

1. Design the house

2. Get permits

3. Buy materials

4. Build the house

Everything can be broken down into a 3-5 step process. Each part of this process can even be considered its own goal, as it is a substantial amount of work but an essential part of achieving your bigger desired outcome. Defining this high level process is helpful because it gives you an idea of the big elements you need to break down even further, which feels a bit more manageable than starting with step 1, and trying to think of step 2, and so on and so forth. 

What do the 3-5 processes look like for your big goal? Take 3 minutes to write it down right now before moving on to the next step. 

Related post: Why SMART GOALS Fail and How To Achieve Them

Step 3: Map out the Projects

Each part of the process will have 3-5 key projects that contribute to that outcome. (I keep saying 3-5 as that seems to be the magic number I’ve found to be generally true in helping dozens of entrepreneurs break down their goals but it depends on the size of your goal so use your discretion… there isn’t truly a right number). Let’s go with our example of building an online business. If you try to put something like “market & sell” on your to do list, you won’t get very far. So we know we need to drill down a level deeper if we want something actionable. The 3-5 key projects for the “market and sell” process might be 1. Clarify your message 2. Start a blog to position you as an authority 3. Develop a social media presence to build relationships with your community 4. Promote free calls to give people an idea of the work you do, etc. 

Some process goals will have more than 3-5 projects, and that’s okay. Write them all down, but then prioritize which 3 are most likely to get you the result you need with the least amount of effort? You are looking for the fastest path to your success. If you’re not sure, use the 9 square prioritization matrix to prioritize effectively.

Take 5 minutes to identify the 3-5 projects for each of your process goals now.

Related post: How To Prioritize Any List: The 9 Square Tool

how to break down big complex goals into actionable action steps so that you can actually achieve them by life and business success coach Ana McRae with image of mug and black goal setting planner on desk explaining 5 step process for breaking down goals

Step 4: Break Down Projects Into Milestones

Most projects have a few big milestones that mark their path. For the example above (of starting a blog to position you as an authority), the milestones might be:

  • Secure domain
  • Set up WordPress site
  • Create content for the home page
  • Publish live site
  • Map out a content calendar
  • Write & publish the content as per the calendar

If your project is smaller, it might not have milestones. You might be able to break it down into action steps immediately (as outlined in the next step). If that’s the case, there’s no need to add in milestones just for the sake of following this framework. Use your own discretion to determine how many layers you really need to drill down into. You’ll know you’ve gone far enough when you can look at the lowest tier action on your list and not feel overwhelmed at what goes into doing it. 

Related post: How To Prioritize Any List: The 9 Square Tool

how to break down big complex goals into actionable action steps so that you can actually achieve them by life and business success coach Ana McRae with image of goal setting planner and pen on desk explaining 5 step process for breaking down goals

Step 5:  Map the Actions to get to the Milestones

Action steps are the concrete steps you can actually action in your calendar. They’re the things you can achieve in 1-3 hours and can actively be checked off a list in that time. Let’s take “secure domain” from the example above. When you see that step, you might be overwhelmed and not know where to start, and so we need to drill down again and list out the specific actions that are involved in doing so. In this example, you might write something along the lines of the following: research domain providers, make a list of pros and cons, decide which domain provider to go with, brainstorm domain names, check to see if domain name is available, pay for domain name, integrate domain name into WordPress, etc.. If you have experience securing domain names, you might actually not need to drill down to this level at all and be able to accomplish all of it in 1-3 hours.

The important thing here is to get to a level that is actionable — and that varies person to person.

At this point in the process, we’re working at a level that is actionable. You can take each of those actions and achieve them within a one working time block.You can schedule them into your calendar, sit down to work on that specific task, and know exactly what actions you need to take and the result that you’re looking to achieve. When you look at each action on its own, you don’t feel overwhelmed and you know exactly what you need to do. 

Related post: How to Do a Life Audit & Why It’s So Powerful

life and business success coach Ana McRae planner and pen

Step 6: Plan Your Calendar & Take Action

 If you’re a high achiever, a perfectionist, a procrastinator, or a “Quick Start” on the Kolbe Index, you may love to create lists and plans and strategies, but fail to follow through on them. I’ve been there and I get it. It’s fun to plan and dream and it’s hard to do the work. And yet this entire exercise is pointless if you don’t go out there and take the actions you’ve mapped out. 

When it comes to taking action, you must prioritize where to start. Some of the actions on your list can be started simultaneously because they don’t depend on each other (like securing a domain and mapping out a content calendar). But some of them can’t be started until something else is completed (for example, you can’t publish content until the site is live). I highly recommend mapping all of these actions out in a project management software (like ClickUp,, Asana, Trello, or Quire) so that you can map out the rough timeline to achieving this goal and assign due dates and dependencies to the list of actions. It will help you keep yourself organized as you get started on this process. 

Once the to do’s are organized, the best way to start taking action on your goals is to time block your actions into your calendar. Which day will you be completing x action? At what time will you start & how long will you give yourself? Map it out in your paper planner or your Google Calendar. When your week reflects your priorities your follow through rate increases substantially and you’re able to create faster results in your life/business.

I see a lot of high achievers set ambitious goals but fail to achieve them, not because they aren’t capable, but because so many things get in the way. Check out my article on 10 things to do after setting your goals to set yourself up for success now.™

Related post: How To Simplify Your To Do List To The Essentials

life and business success coach shares images of goal setting planner to help you break down your goals into actionable steps

This is how you make break down goals into action steps and make meaningful progress toward your dreams.

  1. Define Your Outcome Goals
    Ensure your goals align with your values and the future you actually want to create for yourself.
  2. Outline the Process Goals. Everything can be broken down into a 3-5 step process that outlines the path to your goal.
  3. Map out the Projects.  Each process goal will have 3-5 key projects that contribute to it.
  4. Break Down Projects into Milestones. Depending on the size of your project, there can be a few milestones that mark the journey to completion. 
  5. Map Out Action Steps. Action steps are the concrete to do’s you can actually action in your calendar. 
  6. Plan Your Calendar & Take Action The most important aspect of breaking down complex goals into actionable steps is actually going out and following through with them!

I will caution you, after you break down your goals, you may start to feel a little overwhelmed and worried that you don’t know enough about what you’re doing to be able to achieve this goal. If your brain is getting in the way of achieving what you really want and deeply believe is possible for you, don’t worry, it’s normal, your brain is simply trying to protect you from shaking up the status quo (link to mindset article). There are 3 things you can do in this situation

1. Write out what you’re really afraid of & journal your way through the fear

2. Take action anyway, Action trumps indecision every single time.

3. Work with a coach. A coach can hold you accountable to taking action, help you work through your resistance, and help you achieve your biggest goals.

I hope this article has helped you see exactly how you can break down your big goals into actionable steps. As you begin working toward these goals, download my Peak Performance Business Bundle for entrepreneurs to help you measure your progress in a few months and stay on track to hit your goals! It is a combination of all of the resources that I personally use to realign my priorities and break down my biggest goals into actionable steps.

achieving goals

If you are an aspiring entrepreneur or business owner with a bigger vision for your future but you’re not making as much momentum as you desire toward your goals, I am here to help you get out of your own way and launch/grow a really successful business that supports a really fulfilling life. Click here to book in time to chat with me and see whether 1:1 coaching is the right next step to help you achieve your wild goal.

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I’d love to know in the comments below, what’s the big goal you’re focused on breaking down right now?

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