It’s that time of year again when we evaluate what we are doing and where we are going and how we want to get there. I think it is extra critical for me as I find myself in the midst of a career change. I try not to get too metaphysical and caught up in the melodrama that can be New Year’s Resolutions. I’d rather focus on goals. What is that I want to accomplish? What did I accomplish last year, but I want to be better at or build on?
A former coworker of mine once told me an inspiring story about her daughter’s marching band leader. The band leader wrote this on the school’s white board:
“What do you want? What are you doing? And do they match?”
I don’t know if he was just paraphrasing someone’s philosophy but I have found those 3 questions to be very insightful. If you have children, remember that music and extra-curricular activities teach your children a lot more than the obvious subject involved. Anyway, when I feel like I’m not making progress on a project, I’ve often found what I’m actually spending my time on isn’t really supporting what I say I want to accomplish. That is where the deer-in-the-headlights look starts. And where I believe most people give up on New Year’s Resolutions. They come to the realization that they aren’t really spending time on their goals as much as running around them and so they give up. Instead, we all need to focus our attention and time on what matters. Match our energy to our goals.
First off, you have to be specific in your tasks. Too big and/or too lofty in your goals and it could realistically take years to accomplish them. Saying you want to write the next great American novel may truly take years to accomplish. However, such a lofty goal will likely never get you a finished novel. So don’t bite off more than you can chew.
Own Your Time
Second, remember that time has a way of getting away from you. Make the time you are going to spend on each task small and repeatable until the goal is accomplished. For example, this year I’m going to finish my novel. That would be a very large goal to put as my New Year’s Resolution. Instead, my task is to write 100 words per day for my novel. Now I intend to write more than that per day, but having the task of writing a minimum of 100 words makes me sit down at the computer on those days that I’m sure I have nothing creative to write. I might write crap, but I’ll write 100 words of crap at least.
I’m betting more often than not in crunching out those painful 100 words I’ll find a nugget of something I actually like. And the next day my 100 words will turn into 1,000 words because I now have a spark.
Check Off Your List As You Go
Third, give yourself a sense of reward. Notice I didn’t say give yourself a reward. If you went out and bought a new car after every 100 words you’d be the poorest writer in the world. But keeping a list of your tasks and checking off every accomplished task will show you how successful you can be when you focus your efforts. That can be extremely important on those days when 100 words is as excruciatingly painful to pull out of your soul like a dentist pulling teeth from your mouth without Novocaine.
One way I have to do this is a new web tool called Joe’s Goals. It is a visual check box that let’s you track the good things you are doing. Like writing 100 words a day. And the not-so-good things you are doing, such as sneaking an hour of TV time to watch Ellen in the afternoon when you should be writing. You can assign positive and negative points to each activity and reports will let you know if you are keeping on the good side or not. I like this tool because it has a much more visual aspect than many of the more traditional project management or To Do List apps that you find nowadays. It is simple and doesn’t offer a lot of advanced features but does provide a Logbook and Notes feature so that you can enter comments. This tool is free to use but if you like it please support independent development and contribute to the creator.
Disclosure: I receive no payment whatsoever for recommending any web application. I am experienced in the software industry and use my knowledge of such as an incentive to write more.