This original article was written by Bill Murphy Jr. for Inc.com
For most people (me among them), there are things you wanted to accomplish that you haven’t even started yet. Fortunately, 100 days is a great time period for achieving goals. It’s a sufficient block to achieve progress, but short enough to leave no room for procrastination, which leads to a greater likelihood of success.
I know this from experience, having used 100-day plans several times to achieve big professional and personal goals. Among them:
- Getting in shape to run a marathon, after basically being a non-runner
- More than quadrupling the average monthly readership of this column, from about 250,000 people to well over one million
- Studying for and successfully passing the state bar exam, while simultaneously running a media startup
Below I’ll explain my process for mapping out a successful 100-day plan. The planning likely takes between 30 and 60 minutes to complete. Implementation is then up to you.
1. Draft a goal.
You need a goal, obviously, and steps 1 and 2 of this process are about choosing the right one. To be more specific, you need on objective that is worthwhile, quantifiable, and at least arguably achievable.
- Worthwhile: We’ll discuss this more below in No. 2, but there’s nothing worse than working hard for something that doesn’t merit your time and energy.
- Quantifiable: No wishy-washy goals allowed. To use the example of wanting to train to run a marathon in 100 days, it’s not enough to say, “I want to get in better physical shape.” Instead, you need something you can measure–26.2 miles. Otherwise, how will you truly know if you’ve succeeded?
- Arguably achievable: If your goal isn’t a bit of a stretch, you probably don’t need a 100-day mapping plan to begin with. But at the same time, you don’t want to set yourself up for something you’ll never have a chance of reaching.
2. Question the goal.
A wise man once said, “It’s better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to climb, then halfway up one that you don’t.”
To avoid getting on the wrong ladder, you need to ask yourself “why” while you’re setting your objective. As in, “Why do I want to achieve this particular goal?”
After you answer that question, you’ll need to ask it again, and preferably once more. Each time, it’s likely you will reveal a larger goal. For example:
- Why run a marathon? Because it’s a challenge, and because 26.2 miles is a marker that will demonstrate that I’ll be in better physical shape.
- Why do you want to get into better physical shape? For my overall health.
- Why are you concerned about your overall health? Because I want to live as long as I can and spend as much time on this planet with my family as I can.
Those sound like three good “why” questions to me. The point is to ensure that whatever you’re going to spend 100 days trying to accomplish will ultimately help you achieve a higher purpose. Otherwise, what’s the point?
3. Map the milestones.
You have a goal. You have 100 days. Now you need to map it out. You can divide these any way you like, but I find it most useful to divide everything into three 30-day increments, followed by a 10-day final increment.
This gives you four milestone dates before the end of the year (if you’re reading this article on the day it was published): October 22, November 21, December 21, and December 31.
Next, work backward, as if you wanted to achieve the final milestone–the full marathon, for example–on the 90th day, December 21. The last 10 days will either be a cushion, a time to push past your goal, or a celebration, depending on how successful you are.
I’m still old school enough to like using a large, printed calendar to record these dates and objectives, but a digital one can work as well.
4. Schedule the inputs.
You now have a 100-day calendar with four milestones marked. Next, you need to fill in the remaining 96 days, with the specific things you believe you will need to do to achieve the milestones.
Each day should be filled in, even if–in the case of a marathon training plan–there might be days on which your daily input is: Nothing. Rest. Take a day off.
Unless you’re far better at planning than I am, I’d use pencil (or a digital calendar). You’ll likely wind up revising many of the days’ tasks and inputs as you proceed. And that’s OK.
Literally, this is a marathon, not a sprint. It also doesn’t matter greatly if in putting together your inputs, you realize you will need a bit longer than 100 days to achieve your goal. You’ll still have a lot of reason to be proud if you need a few extra weeks and wind up celebrating your success on January 21, for example.
5. Track the outputs.
Now we move from planning to actually doing–and it’s super important to track your progress each day.
If you were supposed to run five miles yesterday, did you? If you were supposed to cold-call 20 potential widget customers, did you make the calls? And if you didn’t meet your daily goal, how does that shortfall affect your daily goals for the next few days?
Do you need to adjust them to make up?
Or have you overachieved already, and thus bought yourself a little bit of extra time? (This is why we write the daily inputs in pencil; few people can get through the entire plan without adjusting it here and there.)
Tracking may well involve letting others know about your goals and inviting them to hold you accountable. For example, when I was training to run a marathon, I did so with a group of other aspiring runners. When I was working to find more readers for this column, I checked in with my editors.
This is also the reason why you want that extra 10-day cushion at the end. By banking 10 percent of your 100 days, you significantly increase the odds you’ll achieve the final goal on time.
Let me be the first to congratulate you!
I find this plan to be simple but not necessarily easy. However, it’s worked for me multiple times–including one I didn’t mention before: The just-over-100 days that elapsed between the time my then-future wife and I got together, and when I convinced her to say “yes” when I asked her to marry me.
Thus, I’m a firm believer, and I hope it works for you as well.