How do you set goals and then pull them down into weekly and daily actions? How do you take all the ideas that buzz through your head, and get the vital few done?

The first thing you need is a set of filtering documents.

When I start a new notebook I do the regular Bullet Journal stuff I’ve talked about, but I have a number of other sections I use to help focus me on what’s most important to get done with my time at work.

These are my filter documents and I redo them every time I start a new notebook. Yes they take a few hours to do. Yes doing them regularly helps make sure I’m focusing on my goals and developing actions that are in line with those goals.

Let’s look at the filtering documents that are at the start of every Bullet Journal I start.

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5-Year Life

This is a long form essay that should be handwritten. I know that most of you are going to think of the hand cramps and groan. I know that many of you may skip it or do it digitally.

I can’t stop you from short-circuiting the process. I can tell you that those that do all of this work by hand end up with much greater detail. The detail is important so you have the filters you need for your business ideas.

The act of doing it by hand is slower, which means you have more time to think about the process. To think about where you want to be in 5-years. Feel free to move the hand-written copy into a digital format after you’ve done it, but start with paper.

This long form essay should be a look at your life in 5-years. What will it look like? Where will you live? How many kids (grandkids) will you have?
What types of clients will you work with? What will your days look like? How many hours will you work?

This ends up at least two pages in my Bullet Journal, but more often 4 pages. If you’re stopping after a single page, you didn’t go deep enough. You’re leaving work undone. Stick through it and go deep.
Give your clients names and children. Talk about the types of vacations you’ll take.

4 Quadrants

Next up is your 4 Quadrants. Yes there will be some overlap between this and your 5-Year Essay. They are designed to overlap because they inform each other.

Everyone I walk through this ends up going back and adjusting the essay as they work on the quadrants, or adjusting the quadrants as they work on the essay. The two different methods bring out different ideas that inform and build on each other.

To build your 4-Quadrants, take a sheet of paper and fold it top to bottom, then side to side. At the top of each box you’re left with, write down the most important areas of your life. Stuff like Family, Work, Income, Travel, Church…

Then under these headings write down some bullet points about what you want your life to look like in 5-years. You’re looking for more broad strokes here.

Make sure you watch the ideas here to see how they inform your essay. Update or rewrite your essay based on the quadrants.

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This also has some repeat, but is looking at your ideal life and day from the opposite side. What do you never want your days to look like?
Where your life can subjectively look awesome, like me working for myself all over when and where I want, it may be objectively crappy. I’ve got an aunt quite possibly dying from some brain infection that is causing brain swelling.

For others, maybe it’s just the highlight reel that we show. I’ve worked with coaching students that look like they’re running a hugely successful business, and they’re barely paying the bills. I can see what’s really going on, and it’s 100% opposite of the image they show online.

Antigoals are about what you want to avoid. Much of your success will come from saying no⁠ to the things you know you never want to get involved in. Knowing what those things are is where your Antigoals come in with this question: What does your worst possible day look like?

This single question has caused new coaching students of mine to revamp their whole schedule before we’ve had our first 1 on 1 coaching session. They sat down with their spouse and realize that everything they were currently doing was their worst possible day, every day.

My worst possible day looks like:

  • Meetings with non-coaching opportunities
  • A calendar I’m not in control of
  • No big blocks of time aside for reading/thinking/writing
  • Travel without my family
  • No time for exercise

Out of this you build your rules for an ideal day.

  • I will only take meetings with non-coaching opportunities if it’s a business opportunity to grow my coaching business
  • I will only take meetings on Friday
  • I will work 6am-9am 5-days a week without any interruptions
  • I will only travel outside local events without my family twice a year
  • I can only go to local events twice a month, and a babysitter must not be hired to make that happen
  • I will build in exercise time during 3 work days in a week

Now take a look at your day, does it conform to the rules you built out of your Antigoals? You’ll use this document as a check to help ensure that you’re building days that you want to have.


The world is not daises and roses. If it is, there are bees hidden inside waiting to sting you because bees are insidious creatures that find stinging you fun. At least that’s what my 7-year-old says.

Acknowledging that life doesn’t go as planned and planning for these inevitable issues is why we’re looking at our roadblocks. Far from being terrible things, obstacles are the way to find our best path forward.

In The Obstacle is the Way⁠, Ryan Holiday says:

You will come across obstacles in life — fair and unfair. And you will discover, time and time again, that what matters most is not what these obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure.

Look back at your Quadrants and Essays, what will stand in the way of those things happening? Your marketing plan for your business could fail because you don’t know how to increase your reach. If you know that is a roadblock you can build a plan to learn how to increase your reach.

Your conversion funnels could fail, because they’re setup poorly. One of the projects for your quarter could be figuring out what a good email conversion funnel looks like so that you can test and implement it in your business.

I don’t only use this process as a filter document, I use it again as I’m planning my quarterly goals. Specifically, I use it when I’ve decided the items I’ll work on and I’m working on the actions I need to take to make it happen. I walk through what could block me from accomplishing the goals and try to ensure that I build in the extra steps that need to happen to make sure that I have the best chance to avoid the roadblocks.

What Would it Look Like?

I have a friend I’ll call Sally to protect the guilty. Sally is a stellar programmer. She loves to dive deep into things and come up with solutions. She learns new languages and uses them quickly. She’s helped Fortune 500 companies save parts of their systems just as launches were going down the toilet.

The problem that Sally has, is that she’s seen a few setbacks recently. She just couldn’t work for her last company any longer. She was philosophically opposed to the new products they were releasing. She felt that they made the Internet a worse place to be.

So she left and got very picky about where she wanted to work. She wanted to work with company that was doing good for developers and the internet.

Unfortunately, she found it hard to find a company that lined up with her ideals. The few that did had random ridiculous “problems” to figure out in the interview process. Like when two swallows would meet if they flew towards each other and you had to account for weather on a specific day in history.

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Eventually, discouraged, she landed a job that was passable. They’re not making the Internet a better place to be, but they’re not solving an interesting problem. Sally is discourage and just showing up day to day.

But she wants so much more. She’s phoning it in, but she wants to find that company that is making awesome internet tools for developers. Unfortunately, they’re not looking for someone like her.

They’re not looking for someone that’s phoning it in. They’re looking for someone that’s doing awesome work, even if just on the side.

I don’t think she’ll find that position where she sits currently, because she’s not ready for it.

You’re not ready for your first 5-figure client, until you’re serving 4-figure clients well.

This is where you start looking back at your Quadrants and Essays and Antigoals and ask yourself: “What would it look like if…?”

“What would it look like if I could write for 4 hours every day?”

“What would it look like if, I could go hiking with my kids at least one day every week?”

“What would it look like if, I could help with homeschool at least one day a week?”

Now you’re building some of the big picture items in your business and life. You’re starting to tell yourself that if you want to help with homeschool at least once a week and go hiking once a week, you need to have income that is not directly tied to your hours because you’re not going to be working two days a week on top of your weekends.

What do I do with all of this?

If you do all this work, it’s going to take a few hours. I’ve done it many times now over the years, and it takes me 2-3 hours. That’s a fairly big time commitment, and I don’t expect you to do it every quarter.

I don’t even expect you to do them every 6-months like I do. But you’re going to get closer to your goals faster if you do.

The longest you should be going between rewriting these documents is a year. Every year they should get a full rewrite. I read the old ones one day and then a few days later as I’ve mulled them over in light of where my business is currently, I rewrite them without referring back to the other work until I’ve done first drafts of the documents.

Once I’ve done the first drafts, I’ll look back at the older work to see if I’ve missed anything crucial. It’s rare that I have, and the few times when I have missed something and thought it was crucial, I think more and realize that it’s not something I care about.

Missing it was a great filter for it’s importance going forward.

Every quarter, you should be reading through them and using them as filters for the next bit of work we’ll be doing. The work to establish your real problems, and then build out projects and actions to address those problems.

Photo by: activars