Doing a little at a time is the best way to reach your big ambitious goals
Editor's note: This piece was written by May Busch, senior adviser and executive in residence in ASU’s Office of the President. She is also a professor of practice in the W. P. Carey School of Business and chairs the Idea Enterprise. Find her at maybusch.com/asuthrive.
We often associate “big wins” like closing an important deal for your company or a job promotion you’ve been working toward with career success and satisfaction.
But as you focus on the big wins, it’s easy to lose sight of the small wins along the way that mark your progress toward achieving those big wins. And that’s a mistake.
Big wins take time and hard work, so when you neglect your small wins it can feel like you’re not making progress even when you are. Like hiking up a mountain but feeling like the summit is no closer at lunchtime than when you set out.
Not only is this discouraging, it can even derail your progress toward those bigger goals.
Winning as progress
Instead of waiting until the big win to celebrate, why not reframe “winning” to mean progress?
This means looking for milestones that represent progress toward your big win. Celebrating each progress step as a “small win” builds positive momentum, the kind that keeps you (and your team) motivated to move forward.
“When you neglect your small wins it can feel like you’re not making progress even when you are. Like hiking up a mountain but feeling like the summit is no closer at lunchtime than when you set out.”
Small wins are everywhere once you learn to spot them. Like finally getting a call back from a client that you’ve been calling and calling, getting a compliment from your department head, or beating the traffic to get to the office in time for an important meeting.
The beauty of “small wins” is they can lead to bigger impact and broader implications later on. Celebrating small wins as significant steps toward your larger goals helps you focus on the path or the process rather than the endpoint alone. This in turn changes how you feel and perform … for the better.
How to create small wins in your career
Many small wins will be things you’re already doing without giving yourself credit, like finishing a presentation deck on time or helping a new colleague navigate office politics. Start celebrating them!
Other small wins will be the kind you create by investing in your development, which stacks the deck in your favor. Instead of just speaking up at a meeting, you could develop the skill of speaking with impact. And rather than run from meeting to meeting without time to think, you could learn strategies for getting a grip on your calendar and finally feel productive.
It all comes down to what you aspire to in terms of the “big wins” in your career and life. Is it a job promotion? Growing your business? Or something else entirely?
Whatever those future “big wins” look like for you, start focusing on the path by asking yourself:
- What are the “small wins” I can celebrate?
- What investments can I make in my development along the way?
The best way to create more small wins (that lead to big wins) is to make your career development part of your normal day. Don’t wait until “later” when you have “more time” to work on your big ambitious goals because we all know that time never comes.
Take a moment to ask yourself, “What small win will I celebrate today?”
This story originally appeared in the spring 2020 issue of ASU Thrive magazine.