This is the time of year when many people who embarked on ambitious New Year’s resolutions discover there’s just one thing missing from their systematic approach for achieving their goals — namely, a systematic approach.
For anyone facing a similar challenge, I am happy to offer up a five-part process I use for projects of all kinds, from health and fitness goals to professional objectives. It’s a system I’ve used myself for years. It’s also been used to carry off an ingenious casino heist.
That heist, as it happens, is the central plot of an entertaining film with a celebrity cast, Ocean’s Eleven. But the process itself can work for anyone and anything, including far more pedestrian activities than those embarked on by Danny Ocean (played by George Clooney in the remake) and his merry band of thieves.
Here’s how it works:
1. First, crystallize your objective. What are you trying to achieve and why does it matter to you? In the film, Danny’s crew is determined to rob three of the best-protected casinos in Las Vegas — in part for $150 million, and in part to settle some affairs of the heart. Whatever your objective is (with luck, it’s both legal and easier to pull off), commit it to paper in simple terms, and then break it down into some specific goals — the big tasks crucial to accomplishing your objective. Early in the film, for example, Danny obtains background information and begins identifying key goals, like mastering the layout of the building, disarming a sophisticated alarm system and tunneling through a thick, underground wall. Your objective probably has some corollary goals — key actions you’ll need to take or barriers you’ll need to overcome.
2. Develop a detailed plan for pursuing your goals. What are the specific steps you’ll need to take, when, and in what order? Do you have the necessary skills and knowledge, or will you need to acquire them? Who are the people involved, and what places and things will be important to your success? In the film, Danny’s team defines specific needs, timelines and metrics for success, and they identify the skills and tools they’ll need to assemble. You’ll want to do something similar. If you’re having trouble developing a plan, try breaking each of your goals into at least six separate steps. Then highlight any steps you’ll need help with, or need more information to define properly.
3. Cast the right people. Nobody accomplishes great things without good help and support. And with your plan in hand, you can quickly develop a sense of where that support will be most critical — in filling in any gaps in your own skill set, for example, or in helping you through steps where you lack confidence. If you’re working on a health or fitness goal, you may need a certified trainer, health coach or nutritionist — or you may just need a fitness buddy. Whatever help you decide is key, be selective, engaging only individuals who are well suited and highly qualified for the roles you will be entrusting to them — even if that’s just moral support or cheerleading. In Ocean’s Eleven, Danny puts together a diverse group of very capable and dedicated individuals. He assigns them specific tasks and entrusts each of them with different domains — based not just on their proven skills, but also their resources and personalities. Follow his example, thoughtfully selecting only the best people for your support team, and being very specific about how you want each of them to perform.
4. Get everyone aligned. Danny’s team carefully plans and practices all their interactions to make sure things go as smoothly as possible. You want to make sure every person on your team — including hired professionals as well as family and friends — is on the same page about what you are trying to achieve, and the role you are expecting them to play. For example, if you’re working on a weight-loss goal, be certain both your trainer and nutritionist are aligned about how much you are trying to lose, at what pace, and by what means. You might let friends and family know that you appreciate them inviting you on walks, but would like them to avoid offering you cupcakes.
5. Passionately and precisely execute your plan. As you begin taking concrete steps toward accomplishing whatever you’ve set out to do, keep in mind that you can certainly adjust your plan along the way (Ocean’s Eleven features plenty of seat-of-the-pants problem-solving). But you must not allow “running out of steam” or “losing focus” to be your excuse for abandoning your plan. If you need motivation, engage someone to help motivate you. If you need focus, take steps to eliminate distractions and create that focus.
If the idea of developing this sort of plan is overwhelming or de-energizing to you, consider reversing the order of steps 2 and 3, and begin by casting someone to help develop the plan for you. We can’t all be Danny Ocean, after all — and, as the film attests, when you delegate the right things to the right people for the right reasons, the rewards can be rich indeed.