Find a quiet space and grab a notebook—this guide may be all you need to achieve a more fulfilling, goal-oriented 2015.
It breaks my heart to watch as well-intentioned men and women see their New Year’s resolutions slipping away into oblivion, sometimes (read: usually) less than a month into the new year. It is not that their intentions were bad, or that they lacked willpower. There is no magical missing piece; they are not the only people in the world who couldn’t find success in slimming down, finding a better job, quitting smoking, and so on.
The truth is, the resolution is only half the equation. What needs to be resolved? Problems need a resolution. Picking a resolution without identifying the problem that you want to resolve is kind of like throwing a dart at a bulls-eye in the dark. You know you want something, you know you should go for it, but if you can’t see the bulls-eye (aka your goal/resolution), you are very unlikely to hit your target, let alone even get on the board. Identifying the problem is like turning the lights on- it is not a solution, but it is a vast improvement for your dart game.
The good news is that you are an executive. You get stuff done. You make plans. You review how those plans went. And your life should be no different. You are officially [Name], Inc. And you’ve got a quarterly review coming up in March 2015, so how are you going to impress the board of John Doe, Incorporated?
One of the most effective ways to make goals that can be met is to spend some downtime in the beginning of the year reviewing the year you just lived through- an annual review of sorts. To see what is ahead, it is valuable to take a glance back at how you got here today. Whether you are pleasantly or unpleasantly surprised with the past year’s events and accomplishments, take a moment to appreciate the great opportunity to start over this year if you wish.
To complete an annual review, I recommend setting aside a few hours and furnishing a space that makes you cozy (read: kids at a friend’s house, candles, hot chocolate, acoustic music… anything that makes a space happy and calm.) If you want to take it a step further, you can even buy yourself a nice notebook or planner to remind yourself this is a great opportunity to grow, not just more stuff to do. I highly recommend Moleskine notebooks or mini notebooks (and accessories) from the Container Store (depending on your preference for modification and ease) and the Moleskine daily planner for this exercise.
To begin an annual review, Chris Guillebeau, author of The Art of Nonconformity, suggests you answer these two questions:
- What went well this year?
- What didn’t go so well this year?
You may only answer those two questions. If you don’t want to do more, that’s okay. Trust the process—you are learning valuable information about yourself.
Chris takes it a step further and then writes down categories. His are geared towards his life as a writer and entrepreneur, and are as follows:
- Friends & Family
- Financial (Earning)
- Financial (Giving)
- Financial (Saving)
As an executive, your goal categories might look something more like this:
- Charity (Giving + Service)
- Financial (Earning)
- Financial (Saving)
If ten categories seem like too much for you, it is! Respect that and choose only the top 2-3 categories of importance in your life.
The next step after you have answered the first two questions and picked out your categories is to fill in the categories with goals. I like to write a category on the top of a page and fill the page in with 3-4 goals. If you know your goals off the top of your head, go for it. But for most people, I recommend taking a different approach: pick your problems before your goals. For example, if you are unhappy at work, that is a problem. We will discuss problems more in a moment. At this point, you are only looking for big picture problems.
Once you know your meta-problem, you can set a goal. Let’s stick with the problem identified above- “I am unhappy at work.” This problem might be solved by leading different projects/cases/teams, creating your own company or maximizing family time. A goal, or resolution, is anything that resolves the problem. As you can see, the goal you set is very dependent on why the problem exists. That is, the goal of “maximizing family time” would not make everyone happy unless they are unhappy at work because they are missing out on family activities. Name all the reasons why a problem is bothering you and address them individually. It is helpful to write complete sentences for the “problem” and “why” sentences, and if you can start them authoritatively, e.g. “I am unhappy at work [the problem] because…[the why]” it helps you to take ownership over the problem and start moving forward toward a solution that makes you feel better. Do your best to state facts and not judgments, e.g. “I am not eating healthy food” is a fact; “I am bad at eating healthy foods” is a judgment.
Write your resolutions in the present tense. E.g., “I spend abundant time with my family and get to tuck Jack and Jill in every night.” When you write in the future tense, e.g., “I will spend lots of…,” you are mentally putting off the resolution of that problem to a future, ill-defined date.
After that, or skipping ahead to this next step if that feels right, it is time to create an Action List for each goal. I like to do this in the pages following my list of goals for each category. My action list has the goal at the top of the page, ALL the steps I need to make that goal a reality (no matter how small they sound!) and recommended dates of completion. This is where you can stay safe or get really creative. I like to use post-it notes so I can move the ‘steps’ towards the final goal around, and peel off and trash each completed step so that the progress is literally tangible.
Remember that daily planner? It comes into play during this final step. You can go through and pencil in all of your recommended dates of completion. If that is too much to do, just make space four times a year for your reviews. You might even find yourself scheduling in your annual review to look forward to next year!
A Review of the Steps:
Step 1- Two general questions:
•What went well this year?
•What didn’t go so well this year?
Step 2- Listing your Categories
•Choose from pre-made categories: leadership, business, relationships, friends and family, charity, travel, religion, spirituality, health, learning, education, financial (spending, saving or giving).
•Make up your own categories.
Step 3- The Nitty Gritty of Goals
• Write down 2-4 problems you face in each category.
- Formula: “I am X.”
- State a fact, not a judgment.
- Examples: (a) “I am unhappy at work.”
(b) “I am not eating healthy foods.”
(c) “I am not happy with my spending habits.”
• Write down why you are experiencing this problem.
- Formula: “I am X because…”
- Examples: (a) “I am unhappy at work because I feel underappreciated.”
(b) “I am not eating healthy foods because I don’t know how to cook them in a way that makes them taste good to me.”
(c) “I am not happy with my spending habits because my credit card bills make me feel anxiety when they are due.”
• Write down your resolution, or goal, for each problem.
- Use the present tense, not the future tense.
- Examples: (a) “I feel great about my work product. I
know it is high quality and I do not need validation from others to know my work is conducive to the mission of the company and effectively helping my team.
(b) “I bring lunch to work three days a week because I have learned healthy, quick ways to cook food that nourishes my body”
(c) “I invest in a financial planner and have my salary automatically debited into an account/mutual fund/401K/et cetera so that less of my salary is capable of being used as spending money. I set aside 10% of my monthly income to go shopping and use that money however I want.”
Step 4- The Action List
• List all the steps you need to make your goal a reality.
• For example, if your goal involves planning a trip, your steps might look like this:
- Decide on beach or mountain vacation.
- Research beaches/mountains; choose five within a four hour flight distance or less.
- Block time off at work.
- Notify team of absence.
- Delegate stand-in leadership for questions/decisions during absence.
- Book accommodation.
- Book airfare.
- Book rental car.
- Record confirmation numbers, any addresses and other important information in my planner.
- Make arrangements for dogs.
- Get dog’s food and medicines ready- set aside in basket.
- Make a packing list.
- Buy XYZ.
- Pack bags using checklist.
- Print/download boarding passes.
- Do one last work check before going offline for X amount of time.
- Set auto-responder and change voicemail.
And so forth… as you can see, the list can be as long or as short as you want it to be. However, instead of lumping things together, such as all the booking activities, it helps to separate them out so you can feel like you’re making progress as well as to keep you sane so you are not trying to do everything at once.
Step 5- The Final Schedule
• Investing in a day planner helps keep your goals on track.
• Write down all your recommended dates of completion from the steps you listed on your action list.
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