The 20-20-1-1 Rule: What Is It And How To Use It To Reach Your Goals In 2012

goal setting process

One of the common problems with goals and resolutions is that without proper planning and execution, they are useless. Also, there is another big danger when setting goals: Trying to reach too many of them at once.

What are your goals for this year?

Have you yet written down your goals to paper or to a document? No? Then do it now!

If you already have, how does your list look like? I bet that it contains many different goals for different areas of your life. For example, my list (on a rough level) looks like this:

  • Business

a) Create information products

b) Start my own time management consulting business

c) Start freelancing work on the side

  • Self-Improvement

a) Improve my self-confidence

b) Learn how to photo read

c) Learn better (written) English

  • Hobbies

a) Run a marathon in 3 hours, 10 minutes

b) Focus on quality and not quantity in exercising

c) Hire a running coach

  • Health

a) Cut down all the extra white flour and sugar off my diet

b) Learn to sleep enough on a nightly basis

c) Learn to do some healthy cooking myself

  • Family

a) Spend time with my family as much as possible

b) Spend quality time with my wife as much as possible

c) Go for a family vacation

I have set five different goal categories and inside them I have X number of sub-goals I want to achieve in 2012. As you can start to realize, having a list like this is a bit overwhelming.

On the other hand, what if you could just identify the core goals and focus solely on them? This way you could cut overwhelm and make the biggest progress in most of the categories at once.

What is the 20-20 rule?

Enter the 20-20 rule. It is a derivation of the 80/20 rule and to be honest, I came up with the 20-20 term myself. But before we go to he 20-20 rule, let’s define the 80/20 rule first.

The 80/20 rule states, that 80% of your results comes from the 20% of focus. For example, 80% of your sales are coming from 20% of customers.

In this context, 20% is identified as an essential (important) thing to focus on. When you work on that 20%, you are able to generate the biggest results in return.

Now, let’s take this idea even further and talk about your goals. When we talk about the 20-20 rule, you identify your 20% goals (the most important ones) and inside that 20% goal, you take the most important/biggest step (20% action) for reaching that goal.

Does that make the goal setting any easier?  Does the cut the unnecessary overwhelm? I bet it does!

Taking couple of steps further with 1 and 1

Once you have defined your 20% goal and 20% task inside that, it’s time to dig a little deeper. This helps you to actually get started on your path to reaching that goal.

The first 1 in this rule means the first simplest action you can take regarding the 20% task. For example, if you identified that you want to lose some weight (20% goal), you might have decided that you want to hire a personal trainer (20% task)to keep you on the right path.

The simplest task to hiring an personal a trainer is to call him/her or send him an e-mail. That’s all it takes when it comes to taking action and get started.

The latter 1 means the first possible moment when you can take that simplest action. In our weight loss example, you could decide that the first possible moment to call or send an e-mail to the personal trainer is tomorrow before the noon.

How to use 20-20-1-1 rule for reaching your goals?

Using the 20-20-1-1 rule is very straightforward. You pick one or two goals which make the most profound effect in your life when you reach them.

Then, you identify one or two actions that have the biggest effect on your journey towards that goal(s).

Earlier in this post I identified my main goals by category. However, when I run through the list with 20-20 in mind, I came to the following list after the first iteration:

  • Business

a) Create information products

b) Start my own time management consulting business

c) Start freelancing work on the side

  • Self-Improvement

a) Improve my self-confidence

b) Learn how to photo read

c) Learn better English

  • Hobbies

a) Run a marathon in 3 hours, 10 minutes

b) Focus on quality and not quantity in exercising

c) Hire a running coach

  • Health

a) Cut down all the extra white flour and sugar off my diet

b) Learn to sleep enough on a nightly basis

c) Learn to do some healthy cooking myself

  • Family

a) Spend time with my wife and son as much as possible

b) Go for a family vacation

c) Be a great and loving husband for my wife and awesome dad for my son

All those lines marked red are my 20% goals for this year. Instead of having 15 goals, I have now cut down the number of goals to 5. That is much more reachable than the figure 15.

To finalize my 20-20 goal setting for 2012, my 20% goal is to build my self-confidence, since I feel that it has a positive effect in every other category I have defined: it affects to business, to hobbies, to health and to family goals too.

Inside that 20% goal, my 20% action is to take public speaking training. I would love to join Toast Masters or similar organization, but currently that option is out of my reach in my town. This means that I have to be creative and find other ways to achieve the same results as with Toast Masters.

My 1-1 part in this example are:

a) Participating to public speaking training by phone or e-mail (the simplest step you can take)
b) Sending the e-mail or calling the organizer tomorrow, before 10 AM (the first possible time for taking that simple action)


Although people are very excited to enter a new year and make lots of resolutions and goal settings, it is very easy to overboard. Having too many goals ensures that you are not able to reach any of your goals, since you a lacking focus. To avoid this, try to use the 20-20-1-1 rule to focus on just the essential goals you have.

To define a good 20% goal, try to find one which has a big impact in your life (in many areas of it) but also the one which supports reaching other goals too. When you have defined your 20% goal, define the most important action you can take when reaching the goal. That action is called 20% action.

Your next tasks:

1. Put this blog post into action!

  • Define your goals for 2012
  • Identify the most important goals and actions by using the 20-20-1-1 rule

2. Share your experiences and tips on the comment area:

  • What is your most important goal for 2012?
  • Do you have any goal setting tips you would recommend to others?

3. Spread the word:

  • I would appreciate it if you share this post on Twitter or on Facebook.

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  1. Great advice Timo. Really think this makes it much less overwhelming and doable. I have cut down dramatically on my goals for this year too and it feels much more focused.
    Natalie Sisson recently posted..5 Ways Outsourcing Can Be Your Business SuperheroMy Profile

    • Timo Kiander says:


      Thank you!

      Yes, I made this same discovery. Focusing on fewer goals makes things so much easier.


  2. Timo,

    This is great advice. Many of our members have exactly the sort of problems you described – too many (parallel) goals!

    Your 20-20-1-1 method is a great way to solve this problem. In addition, we should properly structure our goals, so that we only have 1-2 top level/yearly goals for each life categories, and then further break down the top level goals into sub goals on a monthly basis. Once we got the structure in place, it usually won’t feel that overwhelmed like before.

    Also check out this post on 5 goal setting tips for more ideas:

    Like your blog, keep up the good work!
    Harry recently posted..Ending iPhone App Beta TestMy Profile

    • Timo Kiander says:

      Thank you Harry for your feedback :)

      Yes – I’m really looking forward to tackle my top-level goals this way, because I feel that this gives me the best results by the end of the year.

      Sure! I’ll check out the article you mentioned!


  3. Love this strategy Timo! Going to review my plans for the year through this new lens!
    Sandi Amorim recently posted..Good News, Bad NewsMy Profile

    • Timo Kiander says:

      Thank you Sandi!

      Actually, I have been planning of writing couple of additional posts related to this topic, so stay tuned!


  4. Great post Timo – The most important part of goal planning is writing them down, I think you’ve nailed the 2nd most important part, identifying which are most important and then breaking them down into actionable steps and acting on the 1st small step immediately. Great advice for EVERYONE to follow :)

    • Timo Kiander says:


      Thank you :)

      I decided to drop the amount of goals this year and focus on just the essential ones (those life changers instead :)


  5. Hi, Timo. I Liked the article. You are right, we usually overwhelm ourselves with our desires for a change. The problem is that most of the time we don’t put those desires into actual plans and they stay just that – desires. My personal goals for this year is to remain calm. I have a lot of big changes coming my way and it’s going to be challenging to stay calm. So, that’s my biggest goal.
    Mira Crip recently posted..How to Do Mouseover Image Swap?My Profile

    • Timo Kiander says:


      Thank you!

      A lot of different goals can overwhelm you, that is true.

      Also, it is not enough to define your goals but also to create a action plan which you can follow (on a regular basis).

      Good luck with your personal goal for this year!


  6. Thank you, I will tweet this! It’s a nice reminder that is easy to act upon.

  7. One thing I really like about this post is that it doesn’t just focus on business goals. I wonder how many people make goals for their business but haven’t thought about how those goals fit into the rest of their life? How do you plan your time if you discount the time spent on personal things when you make your plan? How will you sustain your energy levels and health if you prioritise your business over your personal wellbeing?

    Clearly, if we sit down and reflect on our life as a whole, we are more likely to succeed in business, and have a healthy and happy personal life as well! This insight is implied within the article (taken as read) and that makes it a most convincing article…

    So if, like me, you don’t want to succeed at the expense of other things in your life, listen to Timo! ;-)
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  8. Hi Timo,
    I really like the insights you shared in your post. It was indeed worth reading.

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