4 Principles for Accomplishing Big, Audacious, Unrealistic Goals

You have set your unrealistic goal. You have the right expectations going into it. But last night, while you lay awake in bed, that goal taunted you. It dared you to give up on it before you even got started.

How do you get started on your goal before it scares you back into mediocre ministry?

Get to work on projects.

4 principles for accomplishing your goals with projects

A project is an outcome that takes multiple steps to complete. In a simliar way, a goal is made up of multiple projects. By breaking your goal down into projects, you can accomplish the biggest of goals. Here’s how.

1. Aim to complete projects, not individual actions. You might think that, since you complete projects one action at a time, and goals you project at a time, that you therefore complete goals one action at a time. But this isn’t true in practice. You are closer to achieving your goal if you complete one ten-action project compared to getting ten actions done for ten different projects. The goal game is won with projects.

2. Don’t confuse really big projects with goals. For example, “write a book” is not a goal, it’s a big project. But “publish a book”? Now that’s a goal. Your first project: write a book.

3. Avoid the temptation to over-plan your goal at the beginning. As you get into your goal, your path will manifest twists and turns you didn’t see coming. So alternate between planning projects, then completing projects, planning projects, then completing projects

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. method to plan your projects. This is what I’ll talk about in the rest of this post.

Accomplish unrealistic goals with S.M.A.R.T. projects

I’m not totally against the S.M.A.R.T. method. While I think it’s pretty poor for goals, I think it’s great for planning projects that accomplish unrealistic goals. Here’s why:

1. Your projects toward your goal must be specific, even if your goal may not be. A football coach’s goal is to win the game. That’s specific, but not too specific. He leaves open the margin of victory and how many points it will take to win. But each play in the game will be very specific. Each player will have to execute his role precisely (a.k.a., a next action) in order to advance toward the goal.

2. Your project should be measurable. It should be apparent that you have taken a step toward your goal after each project. Some steps will be bigger than others, but each one aims to visibly move forward.

3. Your project should be action-oriented. It must break down into individual, physical actions.  David Allen has very helpfully shown that you can’t “do” projects. You can only take single actions that lead to the completion of projects.

4. Your projects should be realistic. If you swing for the fences on every project, you’ll strike out on your goal. Consider what the most reasonable next project is, given the progress you have achieved and the resources available.

5. Your project should be time-bound. Give yourself deadlines on what you can do to meet your goal. This maintains momentum and increases accountability.

Yesterday, one of my examples of an unrealistic goal was “invigorate evangelistic effort in your church.” Here’s an example of a S.M.A.R.T. project that would get this goal underway:

Brainstorm ideas for evangelistic training at next elder meeting.

1. This is specific. You are brainstorming. Not planning. This is for an evangelistic training. Not a church-wide outreach program.

2. This is measurable. Either you will leave with some ideas, or you won’t.

3. This is action-oriented. Some actions you will need to take are: “email so-and-so to add brainstorming session to the next elder meeting agenda” and “prepare to lead brainstorming session.” Furthermore, you will come out of the brainstorming session with plenty of ideas for future steps.

4. This is a realistic first project. Brainstorming is a great way to start moving toward a goal. It would be unrealistic to start with “initiate church-wide outreach program” before you have trained your people in evangelism.

5. This is a time-bound project. You will do this at your “next elder meeting.”


These past three posts pretty much sum up my philosophy on goals. The bigger the goal, the better. Approach big goals with the expectation of hard work and discomfort. Plug away at big goals one small, but S.M.A.R.T., project at a time.

Now go and accomplish the improbable.