This post about the 5-4-3-2-1 Method is one of the most popular posts on the blog—but it’s also the post that I get the most questions about.
If you haven’t read that post, I recommend starting there. However, if you’re really short on time or need a refresher, the 5-4-3-2-1 method involves setting a 5 year goal followed by 4 month, 3 week, 2 day, and 1 hour goals that help you work toward the 5 year goal. Finally, you create a regular time to revisit your goals to assess your progress.
This method gets you thinking about and writing down your goals and gives you a plan for getting to them. If you don’t currently have some sort of goal-setting system, this an easy one to help you get started. Getting your ideas out of your head and into the world is one of the most important steps you can take in turning them into reality.
Since it has now been more than six months since the original 5-4-3-2-1 post came out, today I want to answer some of the most frequently asked questions, offer some tips and tricks, and talk to you about what the point of this method really is.
How do I break my 5 year goal into a manageable 4 month goal?
This is probably the question that I am asked most often. Though I’ve never found this a particularly difficult thing to do, I can see where it comes from.
We approach goal-setting as a big, serious, intimidating thing. We don’t want to mess it up. We want perfect goals that will challenge us without being impossible. And yes, it’d be great it all of our goals met those criteria. But the thing is, they won’t.
Goal setting isn’t a science. Especially when you’re setting larger goals on the scale of months or years, it’s nearly impossible to determine exactly what those long-term goals should look like.
Even more importantly, your goals will morph as you’re working toward them. Let’s call your current 5 year goal Goal 1.0. It’s the first iteration of your goal. What you might not realize now is that, in 6 months or a year, the chances are very good that your goal will change.
It might change a little. You might modify it slightly into Goal 1.1. Or, it might shift significantly, enough that you could call it Goal 2.0.
And you have no way of knowing how much your goal will change. All that I can tell you is that people aren’t great at predicting what they want and how they’ll feel when they get it. Circumstances, needs, and priorities shift, and your goals will change with them.
Think back to five years ago. What kinds of things did 5-years-ago-you want? Are they the same as the things 3-years-ago-you wanted? Are they the same things that you want right now? Probably not. They might be similar, but I doubt you wanted the exact same things 5 years ago that you want now.
This is why it’s important to continually revisit your goals. They will grow and change as you do, and it’s best if you’re present and thoughtful as those changes occur.
What I’m getting at here is to let go of perfectionism. Just take a stab at it. Thinking about your goals and getting started is the important part. Spending too much time searching for the “perfect” goal is a form of procrastination.
Remember that your goals are not immutable. In fact, they should change often.
Do your best at setting a 4 month goal that sounds reasonable, but if you find two months from now that it’s not going to work out or you’ve already reached your goal, set a new one. This is one of many reasons why it’s important to continue to revisit your goals.
As you continue to set and revisit goals, you’ll develop a better understanding of what you can accomplish in 4 months, helping you set more accurate goals. But in the end, this exercise isn’t about nailing down precise long-term goals, it’s about considering, setting, writing, revisiting, and realizing your goals. You’re learning to take the things that are floating around in your brain and turn them into real changes that you have a plan for.
How often do I revisit my goals? How often should I set hourly goals?
When I first wrote the original 5-4-3-2-1 post, I was revisiting my goals every Monday. As I got more comfortable in my routines and found systems and schedules that worked for me, I found myself needing to revisit my goals less often.
I built habits that helped to push me toward my goals, and because the things that I need to do don’t change much month-to-month, revisiting my goals every week became redundant. Now, I revisit my goals when it becomes apparent that I’m not making the kind of progress that I’d like to be seeing.
Should I decide to make any significant changes to my goals or feel the need to create new habits and routines, I would go back to checking in on my goals more often. When you’re new to goal setting or new to your current set of goals, it’s often necessary to check in more often.
If you’ve never been an avid goal-setter and aren’t great at building habits yet, you’ll likely want to check in on your goals often—anywhere from once a week to once a day.
As you continue to work toward these goals, you’ll start to take action without needing as much conscious planning. You’ll create routines and find a schedule that works for you. At that point, it may only be necessary to revisit your goals biweekly or monthly.
Don’t overthink it. Create a plan and try it out. If it doesn’t seem to be working, adjust it.
Also, don’t forget to work on your 3 week and 4 month goals while working on the 1 hour and 2 day goals. I’ve gotten a few questions from people thinking that the 3 week goal was only done once every 3 weeks. This isn’t so. You should be making consistent progress toward all of these goals on a regular basis.
Can you give some practical examples of what this looks like?
5 year goal: Get into the best shape of my life.
This may include a number of smaller goals like reaching a healthy body weight, finding a type of exercise that you like, having a fitness routine nailed down, developing the skills that it would take to cook healthy, delicious meals, etc.
4 month goal: Explore different ways to move my body and find one that works for me.
At the same time, you could set additional goals like “4 months from now, I want to be working out at least three times a week,” and “break my soda habit.” Aim to tackle one moderately sized step toward your 5 year goal.
3 week goal: Try out three new types of exercise.
This may seem like a small goal. That’s only one per week. That’s okay. If you find that you’ve already tried two new things in the next week, you could adjust this to trying 4-5 types of exercise. Or, if this still seems too big, you could set a goal of trying one new type of exercise in the next three weeks.
2 day goal: Sign up for and attend a fitness class.
1 hour goal: Research climbing gyms, boxing gyms, yoga studios, barre studios, or kayak rentals near me.
As you can see, each of these goals feeds into the next larger goal. In order to complete your 3 week goal, you have to complete your 2 day goal. In order to complete your 2 day goal, you have to complete your 1 hour goal.
This method has you simultaneously setting and scheduling your goals. Otherwise, it’s easy to get wrapped up in one or the other without ever making much real progress toward anything.
5 year goal: Run a blog that creates a steady income and allows me the freedom to travel often.
4 month goal: Have the blog and associated social media up and running with a minimum of 10 published articles.
3 week goal: Publish my first blog post
2 day goal: Set up a website to host the blog.
1 hour goal: Brainstorm potential domain names.
This is a similar set of goals to the ones that I first wrote when I started this blog.
Often, it’s easy to get caught up in the planning phase with a new project like this. You want to have the “perfect” idea, “perfect” niche, and a few thousand followers before you even get started writing. I’ve seen this countless times on /r/juststart. I hate to break it to you, but your first readers are months away. Getting the content out there is the most important thing you can do.
The 5-4-3-2-1 method encourages action. In the next hour, you have to do something. Rather than wasting time planning and scheduling, the time frames that you’re working with are pre-determined for you. All that you have to do is fill in the slots and get to work.
Tips and Tricks
Don’t overthink it.
If you’re not sure, just write something down and give it a shot. Creating a goal that is too big or too small isn’t going to ruin your progress. There are no right or wrong answers, and there’s no way to know exactly how you’re going to get to your goal because we never know what life is going to throw at us.
Your aim here is just to get moving.
Think in multiples
There are 15 4-month chunks in 5 years. There are about 6 3-week chunks in 4 months.
You want each 4 month goal to take you about 1/15 of the way to your 5 year goal. In other words, if your 5 year goal was scaled down to the span of one hour, your first 4 month goal represents the first 4 minutes.
(If that didn’t make any sense to you, skip it. This is for my analytical people.)
WRITE IT DOWN
Write your goals somewhere that you definitely won’t lose them!
If you spend time setting goals but promptly forget about/lose the goals and consequently never work on them, all you’ve done is waste time. You may feel more successful because you did some goal setting, but that has no impact on your life if it doesn’t change your actions.
Write your goals down somewhere that you won’t lose them, and then create a reminder to revisit them regularly. This step is just as important (if not more important) than the initial goal setting!
It’s easy to feel that goals are a “set it and forget it” type of thing, but they’re not.
You may decide today that based on your current place in life, your passions, your priorities, and your needs, your #1 goal in life is goal X. For instance, for much of the last year, getting in good shape was one of my highest priorities.
But recently, my place in life shifted slightly, and my passions, priorities, and needs followed suit. This meant that though fitness is still important to me, it is less important than it used to be and has to take a back seat for a moment.
Take time often to check in with yourself. If you’re paying attention, it typically isn’t difficult to see when your goals need to be reevaluated. If you’re struggling to stick to them or something new and more important has come up, it might be time to make some adjustments.
This doesn’t mean that you’ve failed or that you should entirely abandon your old goals, just that isn’t time to readjust.
What’s the point of the 5-4-3-2-1 Method?
One of the criticisms that I received when I first shared this method for goal setting is that there’s no scientific backing for any of this. Rather, this is a system just like countless others out there and all it does is offer a distraction from your work, and all that’s necessary for reaching goals is to set a goal and then work toward it until you get there.
Admittedly, that isn’t entirely untrue. I have no scientific backing for this method. You don’t have to use this method. You don’t have to use any goal-setting method. If you’re content without any sort of structure and need no help reaching your goals, then 1. Congrats and 2. I don’t really understand why you’ve read this post.
But, if you’re like most people, and you sometimes get overwhelmed or frustrated when it comes to setting and working toward your goals, then this will likely be useful for you.
Goal setting can be overwhelming if you don’t know where to start. It can be overwhelming if you don’t have any sort of structure. It can be frustrating if you feel you aren’t making any progress toward your goals. And it’s incredibly easy to get stuck in the trap of using planning and research as a tool for procrastination.
That’s where this method comes in. It is not the be-all and end-all of goal setting. It is a tool that gives you structure and gets you thinking about where you want to go in an organized manner.
It takes away the endless possibilities and gives you a simple framework that encourages you to get started. For many people, goal setting comes with two main hangups: 1. Not knowing how to turn a large goal into something manageable and 2. Never getting started.
The 5-4-3-2-1 Method prevents both of these major issues, giving you a significantly better shot at reaching your goals.