Don't just complete, smash your resolution

  • Post by Maxime Cote
  • Jan 15, 2020
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Do you have a lot of resolutions that you know you won’t complete? If you took the time to think about them and set them up, it might signify they’re essential to you. So why not take some time to see how to get them completed. Last year was a very transformative year for me on my levels. I went through a lot of learning about myself and new skills. Mainly, I finally got a long term productivity system done and got into writing here. Yet I didn’t achieve all of the new year resolutions I had set for the year. I failed some of them despite having planned and set up all the steps and goals. Why is that? There are a couple of reasons as to why. Some of those reasons are just that life happened, and some are of my own making. So I’ll try to help you avoid some of those for your resolutions.

Project list

“Most people couldn’t give you a full inventory of their projects if their life depended on it.” - Tiago Forte

The project list is where everything starts. That was my biggest mistake last year. I didn’t have a full view of my projects. And yes, new year’s resolutions are projects or goals. Unless you don’t want to complete them. The project list is an excellent way to see where your time is going. If you don’t know where your time is going or how many projects you have, you can’t plan accurately. Having a good sense of your current load will help you see how much you can take on. One of the problems people often face doing this is, what is a project? How do I know if X or Y is a project? Well thankfully Tiago Forte also has a definition for this:

Any outcome you're committed to that requires more than one work session to complete.

For example, building a new computer is many projects: researching new parts, compare prices and buy the parts, then finally assemble the computer. That may feel like a lot, but all those steps will take time away from other projects. So it’s better to be able to see them and give them their own space in advance. Smaller easier to complete projects are also the best way to have progress toward a goal. Otherwise, you will end up slugging thru projects that never seem to end. Then you will wonder why you don’t have time to develop your meaningful projects. To prevent this, simply make a project list and try to keep it up to date.

How to make the project list:

  1. Take a blank sheet of paper or a new note, document etc.
  2. Write down everything on your mind, every task, every project, everything without any filter
  3. Now go thru the list and remove everything that doesn’t fit with the definition of projects
  4. Put tasks or projects together into megaprojects. Megaprojects are just a chain of smaller projects to reach your ultimate goal.
  5. Now go through the list and “explode” megaprojects you didn’t realize were megaprojects. Put the tasks in their projects and put the ideas in another note somewhere to come back to later.

That’s pretty much it, and you should now have a better idea of where your time is going. The tricky part now is to keep the list up to date as you go. If you think it’s too much or you’re interested in the concept, I recommend reading on P.A.R.A (Projects, Areas, Resources, Archive) from Tiago Forte.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals that motivate

Now that you know what you already have going on let’s focus on making resolutions better. Do you know when your goals will be done? Do you know how to measure their progress? Do they motivate you to work on completing them? All of those things are pretty important for a goal. Something that can help you with those questions is what is called S.M.A.R.T. goals:

  • Specific: You know exactly what needs to get done. There’s no ambiguity or vagueness in how and when your goal will happen.
  • Measurable: You have a meaningful and motivating way to track progress and measure your results. You’ll know if you’ve hit your goal 20%, 60%, 100% or missed the mark entirely.
  • Achievable: You’re not shooting for the moon (unless you think you can realistically hit it).
  • Relevant: You’re working towards something worthwhile, timely, and deeply connected to your skills and long-term goals. You’ll be motivated to work towards this goal.
  • Time-bound: There are clear start and end dates you’re working towards. (It’s important to note that SMART goals are most useful for more short-term goals one month to one year).

Here is an example to give you an idea.

I will schedule 2 hours every Sunday morning to sit down and write a full draft of at least 1K words for next week's article.

That goal is specific; on Sunday, I sit down and write a draft of at least 1K words. It’s measurable, did I hit 1K words or not? It’s achievable as my current rate is around 1K per hour and a half. It’s relevant as it will help my blog grow and help people. Finally, it’s time-bound, two hours every Sunday morning. That definition is also a lot more motivating to get going and keep at it. Now, it’s straightforward to track your progress and your achievement. Tracking progress is often a significant factor in completing a project/goal as it helps momentum. Some of you might have noticed that S.M.A.R.T. goals look a lot like habits. You’re not wrong. Those will often make great habits, which is where we are going next.

Habits

“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems. Your goal is your desired outcome. Your system is the collection of daily habits that will get you there.” - James Clear

Now that those goals are more defined and realistic, how will you accomplish them? With habits and systems. They are what will most likely get you to achieve and finish those resolutions. Habits can often be as simple as:

Every day, I sit down from 6 PM to 7 PM and do research.

Then you would know to put all your research tasks, between 6 PM and 7 PM. To be fair, habits might not work for all projects, but they do wonder for goals and resolutions. You might be surprised by their effect and power if you give them a try. There is a lot of benefit to building habits into your life. An important one for long term goals is, no willpower required once they’re going. So how do you create those habits? James Clear has a pretty simple framework for doing so:

framework for habit sticking:

  • Make them obvious: put the sports clothes in plain view. Get your lunch done the previous night in plain sight in the fridge
  • Make them attractive: You could replace things you want to stop eating with something else more appealing.
  • Make them easy and simple: you can start with something like every day I will read one page of this book. Every day I will watch one video on the topic I want to learn.
  • Make them satisfying: You need to get joy and fun from doing them. Try to see what it satisfactory to you and how you could use it.

Those elements can also compound to work even better together. If you make a habit visible, easy and satisfying, it has even more chances to work. Another thing you can do to help yourself is habit stacking. That is using a current habit you already have to help build a new one. For example, you want to learn the alphabet of a new language. Every day you also take a nice cup of coffee in the morning for 15 minutes. Well, you could stack the coffee with learning and learn some letters while you drink your coffee. That will make learning this new alphabet a lot easier over time.

Now to create habits that will guide you toward the goal, you need to do some backward thinking. We already have the outcome of the resolution in mind. You need to go from there backward to see what habits need to happen for you to reach the goal. If I want to learn to draw, it could be “I spend 30 minutes from 8 to 8:30 every morning drawing”. That’s an excellent way to get you in the right direction, and it also works as a smart goal.

Doing

Now you should have a good view of your current workload and how to create better goals and habits. The final part is well doing them. There’s still one last problem to address with doing, don’t do too much at once. If you have to keep track of 5 habits requiring daily focus, you will get overwhelmed. Start slow here; you know what your goals are and how to get there. Give yourself time to reach them. You do not want more than one or two new habits taking daily focus at once. Once they’ve turned into real habits then add more, that will also make the new one more manageable. The same goes for goals and projects. Focus on fewer projects to be able to give them your full attention then move to the next batch. You have a whole year to achieve all of your goals. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.