Goal Setting Strategies: Dreamlining

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The 4-Hour Workweek" by Tim Ferriss. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are the best goal setting strategies? Why is goal setting so important and why do you need it?

Most people agree that it’s important to set goals. Dreamlining is one of the goal setting strategies that focuses on achieving your dreams within structured timelines.

Read more about alternative goal setting strategies and how you can make them work for you.

Dreamlining: Goal Setting Strategies on a Timeline

One of the goal setting strategies Tim Ferriss proposes is dreamlining. “Dreamlining” is a method for attaching timelines to dreams. It’s similar to goal-setting but differs in these ways:

  • The dreams are clearly defined.
  • The dreams need to be unrealistic.
  • The dreams are things that you will do in the time you have once you’re no longer spending it working.

There are seven steps to dreamlining:

1. Brainstorm dreams. Create two lists, one for a six-month timeline, one for 12-month. (The author sets even shorter timelines for himself, from three to six months, because the farther you try to project into the future, the more likely you are to procrastinate.) List up to five things you want to have, five you want to be, and five you want to do in each of those time periods. Don’t worry about how you would get any of these things; just focus on what you want. And be honest—don’t put things that would make you look good that you don’t actually want (for example, discovering the cure for cancer). Dreamlining is one of the more interesting goal setting strategies. If you get stuck:

  • Think of something you don’t want, and then write the opposite. 
  • Ask yourself what you would do on a daily basis if you had $100 million.
  • Consider what would make you really excited to wake up every morning.
  • Choose a place to travel to, a bucket-list type item, a thing to do daily, a thing to do weekly, and a thing that you’ve always wanted to learn how to do. (The to-do things tend to be harder to come up with.)

2. Transform the “to be” list into to-dos by finding a specific action that would demonstrate what you’ve become.

  • For example, if you want to be fluent in another language, your to-do could be to have a ten-minute conversation with a native speaker.

3. Prioritize your dreams. On the six-month list, choose your four most important and exciting dreams from all the columns. Do the same on the 12-month list.

4. Do some math: figure out the monthly cost of each of the four most important dreams (cost for classes, rent, and so on.). Think of things in terms of a monthly cost rather than a total cost. You can use the calculator on the author’s website to help.

  • For example, for a one-time expense like a trip to Peru that costs $3000, on a 6-month timeline, it’s $500/month. This is how you apply goal setting strategies in a practical way.

5. Do some more math: calculate your “Target Monthly Income (TMI).” Add up the monthly cost for each of your four dreams and add an extra 30% for safety or savings. This number is your TMI. You can also calculate your daily income. Probably, the amount is lower than you think, and it’ll lower further as you choose more things to do rather than things to have.

6. Come up with three steps to achieve each of your four dreams. The three steps don’t have to get you all the way to the goal; they’re simply designed to get you making progress. Your steps should be simple (doable in less than 5 minutes) and clearly defined. Step 1 should be doable right now, step 2, tomorrow, and step 3, the day after. The “tomorrow” and “next day” actions should be completed before 11 am on those days.

  • For example, step 1 might be to do some research. Find an expert to talk to rather than doing your own research—it’ll be faster and you won’t get overwhelmed.

7. Do all the first steps right now. If you don’t do this step right now, you’ll put it off, and once you’ve done that, you’ll never do it. Use guilt to make yourself take steps—if you set a meeting with someone, you’ll feel bad about canceling it.

Now that you know about dreamlining, think about how it compares to other goal setting strategies and how it might work instead.

Goal Setting Strategies: Dreamlining

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  • The 4-step process to live a "retired" lifestyle now
  • Find out if you're wasting the best years of your life working a 9-5
  • How to create a business that makes you money without sucking up your time

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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