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How to make a milestone map

Many of my clients are looking to make progress in their work or personal lives: to make a change, develop their career path or build personal habits. Many of us have goals like ‘progress in my career’ or ‘be happier’… but it can be hard to break down exactly what to do in order to achieve our aims and define what ‘success’ means to us. Here are five tips that will help you create a milestone map that works for you:

Choose a format that works for you

It’s hard enough to set out a milestone map without having to do battle with the interface. Maybe you are someone who thrives on learning all about a new productivity tool (hello, fellow Asana fans), and if that’s the case, then use that extra motivation to get you started in a shiny new template. If pen and paper seems more attractive, or post-it notes on a whiteboard get you thinking, then choose those. You can use pretty much any format you like. The key is that you need to pick something you can easily work in, add to over time and access, and something that will enable you to add a lot of information if you need to (when you break down goals like ‘develop my career’ into smaller, actionable tasks).

If you have a work tool that you need to use for a performance review or appraisal, then ideally start somewhere else and late copy your finished thoughts into the required format. Give yourself space to think first and foremost.

Pick your goal(s)

Is this map going to help you plan out the next five years? Focus on finishing a book or a project? Is this a map to a career transition, a healthier you or a bucket list? Do you already know exactly what you are aiming for?

  • If you have a clear goal: then set out your parameters first. For example, if you are planing for a writing project, note all the specifics such as word count, deadlines and so forth. For example, if your goal is to: submit a paper to a major conference; this could be made more specific: Submit a 5,000 word research paper to a conference by July.
  • If you are searching for clear goals: often it can be hard to set out goals straight away. It’s helpful to think about broad categories to start focusing, e.g. ask yourself what timeframe you are planning for; what aspect of your life you want to think about, such as work, family, relationships, hobbies, self; consider what’s important to you and how this can be reflected in your plans. For inspiration, have a look at the Wheel of Life tool or List of 100 Dreams I have previously blogged about or start with a list of your values to help guide your thinking.

Turn goals into milestones

Once you have your blank page in front of you and picked your goal(s), it’s time to turn the goals into milestones. Earlier I used the example of a writing project, where the goal is to: Submit a 5,000 word research paper to a conference by July. For this kind of project, ask yourself questions like: who else is involved? How will they input? Are any parts of this time-sensitive? What is the end product? How do I get there? Or what is the first step? What is the next step?

Group tasks that go together and define a milestone for each group. For example:

  • Write 500 word outline
  • Research initial references
  • Share with colleague for feedback
  • Milestone: Draft a full paper structure

Then, consider how to move from your first milestone to the next.

The same approach works for much bigger goals, such as working towards a promotion or leading an initiative. Whatever you choose to focus on can always be broken down into individual steps and milestones.

Check your map

Part of the magic of this kind of planning is that it really works, provided that the map is true to you. By that I mean that the map reflects what can you can reasonably achieve. If you usually write less than 500 words a month and your plan is to write 5,000 words a day, then you will very likely not achieve your goal.

The trick is to dream big and allow yourself to set goals that are truly meaningful to you, which you then turn into achievable actions that fit within your life.

Similar to prioritising your to do list, you can prioritise your milestone map. A long term goal might go on the back burner while you focus on a more urgent opportunity for example. A map is not a to do list, but a tool for you to make the changes you want to make happen.

Ask why?

I often come across milestone maps that are all about what people feel should be on them instead of goals that align with what’s truly important to us. So my final tip for when you have your map, is to check in with yourself about the why.

Why is this goal on your list? Why is it important? Why do you want to spend the next three years working towards this?

Milestone maps often bring out our inner need to conform to other people’s expectations. Maybe there is a specific deliverable you need to meet to get more funding for your project. Or maybe there is a hoop to jump through on the path to tenure. Whatever you are aiming for, remind yourself of why it’s important to you.

Make your hybrid working milestone map

I recently worked with the wonderful folk at Reclaim EdTech on a course all about hybrid working, and as part of the course I designed a roadmap for professional practice in hybrid working. If this is something you are interested in, drop me a line and I’d be happy to send you a template so you can make your own.