Success Through Chunking Up & Chunking Down

Chunking up moves from small-scale specifics, to big generalizations.  Chunking goes the opposite way: from broad, general ideas, down to specific details.

Chunking up gives you broad overview thinking. This requires you to visualize what the entire project will look like when it’s complete. Leaders, like C-level executives, are often big picture thinkers. They determine the goal, and then surround themselves with people who like to work out the details that will allow the goal to be realized.  

Chunking down gets into specific, nitty-gritty details. People who prefer to burrow deeper into the details, and pay less attention to the big picture, sometimes are regarded as inferior thinkers. This is not true. 

Let me say it again: one thinking style is not better or worse than the other. Both have very important perspectives to offer. The best results will come from a combination of generalities and specifics. After all, you can’t get the general goal realized without paying attention to the specifics, and you can’t get into the specifics effectively without a general goal.

Is your natural preference to think in big or little chunks? In either case, it is possible to chunk either up or down by asking questions.

Why Would You Want to Chunk Up or Chunk Down?

When you ask chunking up questions, you move from the details and specifics to the big picture outcomes. Conversely, when you ask chunking down questions, you are more able to focus on small, manageable pieces which can reduce overwhelm. 

Use chunking up questions to:  

  • get a better understanding of the big picture – the whole context of the problem, decision or goal
  • identify the values which are underpinning your motivation for a particular purpose or behaviour (Reflecting on your most important values helps you to determine the right course of action, increases your sense of self-efficacy, and reduces stress.) 
  • help us to think more strategically

Chunking up questions help you identify with your big picture, and what is most important to you. This requires that you examine your beliefs. When you identify your purpose, you can easily build your motivation.  

Use chunking down questions to:  

  • get specific
  • find the root of a problem 
  • fill in missing information 
  • identify specific goals to set 
  • find specific ways that a value could be fulfilled in practice 

Chunking down questions help you explore details, and identify specific information. If you catch yourself saying, “I want to do this…but I can’t because…” This is an appropriate moment to chunk down and ask for more details. Listen out for the “but” because it usually comes before a limiting belief.

Chunking Up Questions

  • For what purpose? 
  • What does achieving this outcome give you? 
  • What is important to you about…? 
  • What is that a part of? 
  • What is an example of…? 
  • What have you learned? 

 Chunking Down Questions 

  • What is an example of that? 
  • What is a component of that? 
  • Who/where/what specifically? 
  • What’s stopping you…? 
  • Who, or what is it that’s stopping you? 
  • What is an example of this? 
  • Who, or what is stopping you? 
  • How are they stopping you specifically? 

You can use both of these types of questions in your life. Whenever you have a problem that seems a little overwhelming, chunk it down into smaller, more manageable pieces. This helps you to focus on one thing at a time and find solutions before you move on to the next task. 

On the other hand, if you’re ever drowning in too much detail, then chunking up to find the purpose for what you’re doing will help you get perspective and build motivation. Gaining an overview of the big picture will help you define what you are doing and why you are doing it.  

Chunking For Goal Achievement

Chunking can help you succeed where others fail. If you want to turn a vision into something tangible, then learning to chunk both up and down is an invaluable skill.

In the past, I had plenty of ideas, but rarely saw them through to completion. I would get an inspired idea, but there always seemed to be a huge gap between where I was, and where I wanted to go. ​Where I wanted to go always remained remotely on the horizon. I grew weary and frustrated because I never quite got there.

I’ve had that experience many times where I knew precisely what I wanted to achieve, so I focused on it. I went to sleep and woke up thinking about it. Yet it stubbornly stayed in that misty idea state, and never became real.

By focusing on where I wanted to go, I overlooked the little action steps I needed to take to get there. If I tried thinking of the little steps there seemed to be a zillion details to drown in. I wouldn’t even know where to start. Usually, I gave up, and hated myself for failing…again!

I’m pleased to say that I don’t operate the same way these days. I was fortunate to have a mentor who guided me through a chunking process for goal achievement.

Previously, I had been confusing goals and outcomes. I’d never heard of a well-formed outcome at that time. Unfortunately, I sabotaged my success for many years before I finally got it all sorted. ​

What we’re really accomplishing when we achieve something is not the goal, but rather the outcome of a series of goals. The goal is not the end result, but the action steps you take along the way to achieve an outcome. 

For everything you want to achieve, there will be one or more steps you have to take. Those steps are the goals. They are like bite-sized pieces of a larger meal. Goals are action steps that, when taken together, generate a ton of momentum toward achieving the desired outcome.

Chunking Down From The Outcome To Goals

  • Be clear about the desired outcome, or what you ultimately want to achieve.
  • Brainstorm the steps you need to take to get there. This can be overwhelming too, so consider this an outline. Once it’s done forget about it, and instead focus on only one step at a time.
  • Turn the action steps into goals.
  • Goals need to be things that you can do within a short (24-48 hours) span of time.
  • Accomplish the goal, cross it off, and move onto the next goal
  • Achieve the desired outcome.

By creating a list of smaller goals to achieve over a short amount of time, you will find that you can generate a lot of momentum and progress towards completion of the project. What’s important is that goals are not set far into the future, but are doable now.

Typically, goals are pretty mundane. A to-do list is not riveting reading. However, by commiting to noting your goals, completing each of them, and continuing to check them off, you’ll reach the desired outcome. Write your goals down. This is super-important, and I can’t stress it enough.


While we live in a digital age where smart phones and laptops are found in business meetings as much as a notepad and pen, I am a believer in the power of writing things down. I write on sticky notes, napkins, business cards, and whatever is on hand. Writing things down, I feel, causes the brain to make an imprint or memory of the goals and outcomes that anchors on the subconscious level.

Also, I have to admit that there’s something quite satisfying about taking my pen and scratching off a goal I set for myself a day or two earlier! This process generates a very real sense of accomplishment and momentum. With each crossed off goal, you see yourself moving closer and closer to your desired outcome.

Achieving success in anything takes some work and sacrifice. However, by setting and achieving small, short-term goals that each move you a step or two closer to the outcome you desire, you streamline your productivity, avoid distraction, and allow the goals themselves to propel you to success.

Try this out. It’s been incredibly helpful to me, so I’d love to hear how it works for you!

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