How To Chunk Down Goals Into Tasks And Milestones To Succeed

breaking down projects and goals into tasks and milestones
Photo by Miklos Magyar:

Achieve your dream or mission by breaking it down into goals, tasks, and milestones

How can you fulfil big dreams and visions? How can your overall target be split into goals? What further tasks and milestones should you identify to complete your goals?

Creating a plan to achieve success is all about breaking down our overall mission into smaller, measurable goals. From there we can deconstruct the goals to the point where we have a simple activity, a next step, that is achievable and easily actionable.

In this post, we will look at the importance of having a plan and remaining flexible, then drill down into how to break down the various goals. In the next section, we will then go onto how we go further still and chunk that down to the next actionable step.

Have a plan but remain flexible

Whether you are leading others or just yourself, you are much more likely to succeed – in whatever you want to do – if you have done some planning. If you can produce some sort of written plan, so much the better; especially if you need to communicate your ideas with other people. 

Even if you don’t need to share your plans, the writing process still helps. That is because writing information down forces our brains to express our ideas clearly. In psychological terms, writing something makes it more real to us and connects more synapses in the brain, which in turn will make the ideas stick and improve our chances of success.

Going through the process of breaking down a mission statement into goals and steps is a large part of the planning process. When these tasks are connected to the people, resources and time needed to achieve each one, we have a complete plan. 

When planning there must be a balance between getting the detail we need to act, while maintaining flexibility to adapt to the situation and unforeseen circumstances. To do this we concentrate on developing more detail for the activities that are closer in terms of time than those that are further off. The more distant the task, the broader and more flexible the approach can be. Circumstances will inevitably force you to amend your plan; hence the process of planning is more important than the plan.

“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” 


Turning mission statements into action with goals, tasks, and milestones

To take a mission statement and turn it into something actionable we need to break down the overall mission into constituent parts. We then end up with a hierarchy of larger down to smaller activities. 

These various elements can be called different things, but I think about the overall vision and mission, and then break this down into various goals. Each goal is then broken down into key tasks, activities, and milestones. This then becomes the basis for the overall plan.

We might not achieve every single goal or task. We may need to adapt our plan along the way. But having targets to aim for is important as it inspires action, builds confidence and helps us gain momentum. 

“A goal is not always meant to be reached; it often serves simply as something to aim at.” 


Once we have a goal we can consider what tasks and milestones will help us achieve our aim.

What is the difference between a task and a milestone? A task is best defined as a piece of work, an activity, that has a certain duration. A milestone is an event, a point in time, that indicates important stages of progression.

Example of breaking down a vision or mission statement into objectives, goals, and milestones: The Shard

Earlier in my career I worked as a project manager on large construction projects. One such project was The Shard in London, the tallest building in the United Kingdom.

Building the tallest tower in the UK was the dream but it was a highly complex project. Not surprisingly this overall idea had to be broken down into manageable chunks to make it a viable project. 

The first phase or goal was planning. The next would be demolishing the existing building that existed on the site. The final goal would be to construct the new tower.

Each of these phases had multiple tasks and activities. For example, planning included designing the tower, estimating the costs, and making the planning application. The key milestone at the end of this phase was gaining planning approval which was the green light from the authorities to proceed.

As you can imagine, even for each task there were a myriad of smaller activities that needed to be completed, but when first creating the plan we did not go into the same level of detail for the whole programme. We kept the overall plan as a framework and then added subsequent detail as needed, and that particular stage got closer. 

Examples of tasks and milestones for a personal life goal: The Dragon’s Back

The same process, that I applied professionally as a project manager working on The Shard, can be applied to our own life goals. For example, one target I set myself was to run The Dragon’s Back Challenge, reputedly one of the hardest mountain races in the world. The race covers over 300km of mountain terrain in 5 days. Not surprisingly there is a high failure rate. In the year I completed the race over 800 people signed up, but fewer than 200 finished.

For me, the overall mission was to complete the race. It was simple; I had no set time or place that I wanted to achieve, I just wanted to finish.

Each of the five days could be considered a goal in itself. These stages were 60-70km on average and each was an ultra-marathon on their own. Completing each day became the constituent five goals of the overall mission. 

Each day was further broken into four stages, each of about 15-20 km in length. These sections could be considered the tasks or activities making up the goals.

Each day had a start and finish line, along with three further checkpoints, that marked out the stages. Each of these points along the route equated to milestones

So, as you can see, the overall mission (race) broke down into goals (days), which were then further chunked down into tasks (stages), which then had milestones (checkpoints). To achieve my mission, I had to complete all the tasks and goals. Along the way, I could measure my progress using the milestones.

The Right Questions Route Card Tool

To help with breaking down our overall dream, vision or mission we can use The Right Questions Route Card Tool.

A route card is a document that shows the breakdown of a larger route into smaller sections. For example, when you get directions from an app such as Google Maps, it will break down the journey to list each road and turn you need to make. 

Similarly, when planning a hike, it is usual to create a route card that breaks down the whole journey into manageable sections, often using key landmarks or changes of direction as sensible endpoints for each leg. 

1. Breakdown the overall vision or mission into goals

We can do the same with our own mission or life goal. When creating our route card, we start by stating that overall dream or goal at the top. We then list out the smaller goals down the left-hand column (as per the picture below). The number of goals may differ for your plan but three to five goals is a good benchmark. 

2. Divide the goals into task and activities

For each of these goals, we break them down further into sub-tasks and activities. In the table, there is space for up to five tasks per goal.

3. Add milestone to measure progress

The final column is for milestones. Here you can add the measure that will help you know when you have achieved that specific goal or task. 

The rights questions route card
The Right Questions Routecard Tool

Worked example of using Route Card Tool

For example, your dream might be to start a new career. To achieve this mission you might have several sub-goals such as gaining extra qualifications, researching the sector and applying for jobs. The goal of getting extra qualifications might involve tasks such as choosing the right educational institution, saving up money to pay for the course and then completing the studies. The obvious milestone at the end would be gaining the qualification award but you might also want to add milestones to the other tasks if you find that helpful. 

Adding milestones has the benefit of giving frequent moments of achievement. Whenever we hit a milestone it gives us a feeling of satisfaction which boosts our confidence. This is leveraging neuroscience in our favour. Succeeding in a milestone gives us a dopamine reward (the pleasure hormone) which boosts our confidence and helps us press on to the next marker. If we did not break down our overall mission into smaller chunks we would miss out on these little neural encouragements. 

Making your own route card of goals, tasks, and milestones

The best thing to do now is to have a go yourself. Take the overall vision, mission or life goal that you thought about in the ‘what’ and ‘where’ sections of The Right Questions Framework, and then use the Route Card Tool to break it down into manageable chunks. You can copy or print out the picture to use if you like or you can create your own template.

And remember, you don’t need all the detail at this stage so use the template to focus your mind on the most important constituent parts needed to achieve your target. Ask yourself:

  • What are the 3-5 key goals I need to achieve to fulfil my overall dream?
  • For each goal, what are the 3-5 major tasks or activities that I need to complete?
  • What milestones will mark the completion of each goal or task, so I can measure progress and celebrate the little wins along the way?

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