8 essential steps to make big things happen

If you want to make a big impact you need a personal effectiveness system that is way better than the average.

Have you noticed how some people achieve so much more than others, despite starting in very similar places?

I'm thinking of Claire and Caroline (editor: names changed!), two people who tried to start similar projects here in Paris.  Caroline's project grew rapidly, whereas Claire's never really got off the ground.  Caroline was able to step back and delegate after a while, whereas Claire is still trying to do all the heavy lifting herself.

I'm thinking of Steven and Carl (again, names changed), two consultants in my firm who joined at the same time with very similar education and experience, and yet who had very different career paths.  One plateau'd early on, the other rose rapidly through the ranks.

The difference?  I noticed it was in the different ways these people went about organising their work, the different goals they set, and the different ways they structured their time.

So... if you want to make an impact and get big things accomplished, you need to keep growing in the art of personal effectiveness. It's an essential journey for all of us.

And as it's the goal of Purposeful People to help you live a life of impact and purpose, I'm very excited about this special series on personal effectiveness.

Too much talk about productivity focuses on tools and tactics, with the result is we try different approaches but nothing seems to stick. So in this series I am going to take a different approach and start with proven principles that, once internalised, can allow you to build a personal effectiveness system that is truly optimised for you.

Introducing the Effectiveness Engine

In my 20 years of consulting work, I have identified a chain that effectively links our deepest values and aspirations to our day-by-day and minute-by-minute work. I call it the Effectiveness Engine and it is present, explicitly or implicitly, in all high performers.


Think of the Effectiveness Engine as a stack of eight gears that link:

  • our purpose (the real impact we want to make with our life)
  • our plans (accomplishing specific goals and completing projects)
  • our productivity (daily work and use of time)

There are in fact 8 gears that span these three domains, namely:

  1. Clear Convictions
  2. Vivid Vision
  3. Galvanising Goals
  4. Prioritised Projects
  5. Demanding Deliverables
  6. Tangible Tasks
  7. Aligned Agenda
  8. Efficient Execution

At any point in this stack, we can look down to the next element to find HOW to implement, and we can look upwards to the previous element to find WHY it's important.

As an example, if we want to remember WHY we have certain Galvanising Goals, we look up to our Vivid Vision. If we want to know HOW to implement our Galvanising Goals, we look to our Prioritised Projects. And so forth.

personal effectiveness engine
"We spend most of our days being busy and productive; take your life to the next level by focusing on being effective" - Unknown

The 8 gears of the Effectiveness Engine

You might be surprised that there are so many links in the chain of personal effectiveness.  Well, if impact was a matter of just working harder, many more people would have much more impact.  It's actually because there IS a chain that so many of us struggle to make progress.

Let's have a quick look at each element and discuss what it is and why it's important.

1. Clear Convictions

Clear Convictions tap in to our deepest beliefs, values, passions and energies. They are the criteria by which we will assess our own life when all is said and done. Without a good handle on these, there is a good chance that we will focus our daily energies on goals and outcomes that do not actually satisfy.

2. Vivid Vision

Our Vivid Vision is a picture of the future that we are aiming at. Many people seem to choose an "off the shelf" vivid vision based on society's expectations, but this is a recipe for climbing the ladder only to find you placed the ladder on the wrong wall! The Vivid Vision might be a three-year, five-year or twenty-five-year vision, but the essential is that it aligns with your Clear Convictions.

"People, like nails, lose their effectiveness when they lose direction and begin to bend" - Walter Savage Landor

3. Galvanising Goals

However, it is extremely difficult to move forward directly towards your Vivid Vision. Why? Because it represents a point many years in the future and there will be a daunting gap between your vision and your currently reality. Combined, this means there that the path to your Vivid Vision is long and unclear, and it will not seem like a top priority on any one day.

So how do we move forward towards our Vivid Vision? The answer is through Galvanising Goals. These are desired outcomes that are:

  • specific, highly motivating and meaningful
  • challenging but achievable
  • imminent (probably no more than three months away)

A Galvanising Goal is targeting a specific result or outcome. It might be a specific revenue number, a specific amount of weight lost, a specific audience size established, a particular decision made in your favour.

Galvanising Goals - an immediate "jumping in point"

The Galvanising Goals gear is perhaps the driving element in the entire system, because you can jump in quickly here and start achieving things without all the deep internal work involved in the previous steps. For example, if you've been given a goal at work or if you have a very clear view on your business needs, you can just get going here.

Of course, the previous steps are important for the vital question of figuring out what you really want to achieve with your life or your organisation, but my point is sometimes we just need to execute on a given goal.

4. Prioritised Projects

A Galvanising Goal captures WHAT you want to achieve in the short term; but now you need to decide HOW you want to achieve it. The strategies you decide on become your Prioritised Projects, which are the means by which you plan to hit your Galvanising Goal.

As an example, if your Galvanising Goal is to secure 1000 blog subscribers in the quarter, one Prioritised Project might be to secure and write 10 guest posts for major web sites over the course of the quarter.

Note that whist a Galvanising Goal is defined in terms of an outcome that often you have no direct control over (e.g. grow revenue run-rate 10% by March), a Prioritised Project is defined in terms of the performance that you can largely control (e.g. schedule and deliver 5 sales presentations per week for a month).

Clearly, choosing the right Prioritised Projects and executing on them well is key to achieving your Galvanising Goal.

Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.- Peter Drucker

5. Demanding Deliverables

A single Prioritised Project might take several weeks or months to complete. For example, let's say your Prioritised Project is "organising and running a live event", and you estimate this will take you two months. To keep you on track and focused, you need to break this down into Demanding Deliverables.

Demanding Deliverables are simply the visible milestones that you need to complete to achieve your Prioritised Project. They should be both demanding (requiring you to do real work to achieve them) and a deliverable (a real output: a proposal, a product, a report, a presentation).

6. Tangible Tasks

To achieve your Demanding Deliverables, you are going to need to undertake Tangible Tasks.

Just like a cooking recipe, your Tangible Tasks (Break 2 eggs into a bowl) are the activities you need to undertake to achieve the Demanding Deliverable (Extra-Scrummy Chocolate Cake).

For example, if your Demanding Deliverable is 'publish a blog post each week' then your Tangible Tasks might be: - Decide topic - Research topic - Create an outline - Write first draft - Write second draft - Finalise post - Find & prepare accompanying graphics - Upload and format - Publish - Promote on social media

7. Aligned Agenda

The number one excuse for not delivering? "I didn't have the time" So the only way for your Tangible Tasks to get completed is for them to find their way into your day.

Hence the importance of the Aligned Agenda. What gets scheduled, gets done!

In a nutshell, this step is how you actually spend your days doing the things you actually need to do!

8. Efficient Execution

So: with your Aligned Agenda, you can work on the Tangible Tasks, to complete your Demanding Deliverables, that in turn will complete the Prioritised Projects, that will help you achieve the short-term Galvanising Goals, that move you towards your longer-term Vivid Vision, that is a true expression of your Clear Convictions.

One thing remains: doing the work! And it's here that efficiency truly matters.

All the steps until now have been ensuring you are doing the right things. Finally we are ready to focus on doing things right, and can deploy the productivity tips and tricks that people so often focus on.

So the last element of the chain is your Efficient Execution. This, of course, is the handle that turns the entire machine. That's why it receives so much attention. However, as I hope I've shown, Efficient Execution only really matters once the other pieces are in place.

8 crucial links in the chain of personal effectiveness: which do you need to strengthen?

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Two Pro Tips you need to know

Pro tip #1. It's all about the adjectives!

OK, OK, so I'm pretty pleased with the alliteration in the list above! But the adjectives are actually the critical parts of the Effectiveness Engine.

You see, we all have convictions, vision, goals, projects, and so on. We all work on certain tasks and structure our agendas in some way. The key to the Effectiveness Engine is what each of these components look like. You see...

  • If Convictions aren't Clear, you won't know what truly matters to you.
  • If Vision isn't Vivid, you won't be sure about what you are aiming for.
  • If Goals aren't Galvanising, you won't be motivated to attain them.
  • If Projects aren't Prioritised, you'll end up dispersed and unfocused.
  • If Deliverables aren't Demanding, progress will slow to a crawl.
  • If Tasks aren't Tangible, you won't have clarity on what needs doing next.
  • If Agendas aren't Aligned, you'll fritter your days away on the urgent but unimportant.
  • If Execution isn't Efficient, you'll waste valuable time and energy.

Pro tip #2. Every element is needed

Hopefully it should be clear that every element is needed to successfully link our daily work to our deepest convictions. But just in case, here are two 'traps' that certain kinds of people can easily fall into. I call them the worker bee trap and the bold visionary trap.

Click to expand and read about each of these traps.

The Worker Bee trap (click to reveal)

The Bold Visionary trap (click to reveal)

How YOU can put the Effectiveness Engine to work

The surprising thing about the Effectiveness Engine is that it might look complicated but in fact in turns out to be extremely simple and practical.

Recently I explained the 8 gears to somebody on a coaching call, and she came back within hours very excited.  Notebook in hand, she jotted down what each 'gear' meant for her, which refocused on her top priorities and gave her a plan to move forward.

Now, I'm not going to say it's easy to implement.  If it was easy, we would all be super-happy with our productivity and effectiveness.  These are habits we need to build, and habits take time.

The good news is that this entire series of articles is dedicated to explaining how to make the Effectiveness Engine work for you and raise your productivity and impact level.

To get started immediately, I recommend you download my free Quick Start Guide (see 'BONUS' box below). This is a printable PDF of the effectiveness engine (annotated with what each part does and why it's important) and a set of 8 questions to get you moving forward within minutes.

Even if you don't want the quick start guide, I recommend you sign up for updates so you don't miss the remainder of this series.  I'm extremely excited about what's coming: I think you will find it practical, innovative and - yes - life changing!

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