Here we are, the start of 2014, and the time of year when people talk about their New Years Resolutions.
I’ve never really been the sort of person to make them. When I was younger, I was pretty much of the attitude “Well, I could make some, but I’m never going to stick to them, so why bother?” As I got a bit older, it was more “Why set an arbitrary date to turn your life around? If something needs fixing, start working on it when you recognise it.”
I never really considered myself to be a goal-setting kind of person either – I think because of the fact that when I was a teenager, my friends were setting themselves resolutions, and even goals throughout the school year, but I wasn’t. So it was a bit of a surprise recently when I met a friend of a friend, who had earlier that evening also met my husband. When she twigged the relationship (he wasn’t present), suddenly she was telling me how awesome and inspiring she thought I was, based on how Ryan had described me to her. Apparently I’m a closet goal-setter after all!
He’d told her about how when we bought the house, I set us some objectives for paying it off, and along the way we’ve got rewards for when we got to certain points (a dishwasher (check!), new lino (check!), new carpet (coming up sometime this year), and when it’s finally paid off, a pizza oven for the patio). She thought that was ace; she’d never even considered setting goals for paying off a mortgage more quickly. He’d also been telling her about my cycling goals, which were a stretch goal for last year, but which kept me getting on my bike fairly regularly through the year, and got me back on my bike in winter as soon as my wrist would allow.
So how did I learn to become a goal setter? Several years ago when I was working as a vendor training consultant, I was attached to the company’s sales team. This meant that I got to go on lots of their retreats, and one of those was around how we as a team and individuals set and achieved our goals. Now, while I’m generally considered quick on the uptake, there have been certain skills that I haven’t known how to approach until they’ve been spelt out to me. Essay writing was one, goal setting was another. The two are kind of similar, in that there is an overall point to the exercise (the thesis of your essay, the objective that you hope to achieve), and that you need it to break into parts in order to achieve that point (the argument and main points of the essay, the actions you need to take in order to achieve the desired outcome). Confession time: I made it to my late 20s before I figured out that there was two parts to achieving your goals, and even then it had to be pointed out to me. Luckily my 6th or 7th Form English teacher gave us a hand out at some point of an example essay and how it should be structured – I’m so glad I got that down before I tackled University!
Now, most often when I hear people talking about their New Years Resolutions, they’re talking about the action “I’m going to go to the gym every day”, “I’m going to eat healthily”, without the goal – or vice versa “I’m going to get fit”, “I’m going to lose 10kg”. The truth is, I’m really inclined to tell myself those sorts of airy-fairyness, and then do absolutely nothing about them. For example, I’m constantly telling myself that from now on, I am going to be the new, improved, ORGANISED Elisabeth.
If it was me, I’d need to map out both the end picture, and the actions, for there to be any hope of success. So, instead, it might look like this:
In 2014, I am going to become the new, improved, ORGANISED Elisabeth. In order to achieve this, I am going to:
- Physical space
- keep my desk tidy
- use my white board and cork board
- keep my fabrics neatly stored
- set aside a day each week for administration
- keep my income and expenses spreadsheet up to date
- keep the sales reports up to date
- use a to-do list
- set up auto-payments or Direct Credits for regular bills
- keep my invoices for contract work up to date
- Get my tax return in on time
This is starting to look a bit more achievable – I know what some of the things I need to do in order to achieve my objective are. I’ve also broken them down into areas that contribute to the overall goal. (I used to organise my 5 minute essay plans like this too – jot down key points, and under them (or colour coded so I could group them) the quotes, examples and ideas I’d use to argue those ideas. I still use a similar technique, as a trainer, when I’m planning out user documentation.)
But I’m still missing something: nothing is timebound, and a year is a very long time if you’re inclined to leave things to the very last minute. So, how could I rejig this in order to make it more achievable for me? I’m going to put in some timeframes.
So now, my plan looks something like this:
In 2014, I am going to become the new, improved, ORGANISED Elisabeth. In order to achieve this:
In January I will:
- tidy my desk by 5/1/2014 – put my to-do pad in a prominent spot
- send any outstanding invoices by 6/1/14
- process the sales reports each Monday
- set up APs and DCs on 13/1/14
- work on monthly sales report during shop hours 21-23/1/14 and process payments evening of 23/1/14
- invoice contract hours from January by 31/1/14
In February I will:
- review what I got done in January by 3/2/14
- map out what needs doing in February on 3/2/14
- get income/expense spreadsheet up to date
- continue with fabric organisation started in 2013
In May I will:
- ensure I have all invoices and statements needed for home office expenses part of tax return
In June I will:
- file tax return
Notice a couple of things about this: firstly, I’ve set firm dates for things that are really close. If I don’t, I’d be all “yeah, I have to get this done in January” and you know what would happen? I’d get to Friday, 31 January 2014, and would have got through very little of it, and what’s more, it’s a shop day, so I wouldn’t be able to get it done. I also haven’t set myself everything to do right at the start of the year. Baby steps, baby steps, and I also know that I’ll be doing extra hours in the shop in January.
Secondly, from February on, things are a little looser. I’ve got a couple of things that I KNOW need to happen, but the rest I’m willing to review and plan as I go. There’s a very good reason for this. You don’t always know exactly what the journey to your objective is going to look like. A few years ago I was doing some study to back up and refresh my teaching/training experience, and one of the sessions was on course/lesson planning. The lecturer, Cedric Hall, made a very good point about semantics. If you call what you want to achieve “Outcomes”, if you don’t achieve exactly what you stated, you’ve failed. If you label them “Objectives” instead, you’ve given yourself a starting direction in which to head. You’ve also given yourself permission to divert from the roadmap and to follow exciting new directions, which may lead to far more awesome outcomes than the ones you envisaged at the start.
Take my cycling objective for 2013. I started out the year having never cycled more than 20 km in a day. I decided that by the end of the year, I’d be able to do 100. In my mind, I was going to buy a road bike, designed for easily riding 30-40km/hr, and this 100 km would be mainly flat. In the end, I covered just shy of 90 km in 24 hours, in the last 36 hours of 2013, and that ride included traversing a mountain range. Oh, and I did it on the same bike I had at the start of the year: an 8-speed internal hub (read: heavy) bike built for city riding and gentle cycle paths. I pushed my limits in ways I couldn’t have imagined at the start of the year.
And this is why I prefer to set myself objectives rather than making New Years Resolutions. If I’d set myself a resolution to get fit in 2013, I’d have no measure of whether I’d achieved it. If I’d set my self a resolution to go to the gym 3 times a week, I’d have felt like a failure by the end of January. And if I’d told myself that the house had to be paid off in 5 years (it wasn’t, it isn’t) I’d never have let myself take a year of productive non-employment in 2011 that led to me being involved in opening Made it, which in itself was the fulfilment of a long term secret dream of mine AND continues to be a very satisfying and fulfilling occupation 2 and a half years on.
I haven’t sat down and sorted out a set of objectives for the 2014. I do have a few simmering away that I’ll nut out in future. Things like:
- Cycle at least 2000 km by the end of 2014 (an objective that could take me anywhere!)
InboxLaundry Hamper Zero! (seriously, I’m at ease with never having an empty inbox. I have search tools, and they are much speedier than my regular hunt for matching socks)
- make 12 new garments for myself by the end of the year (Friday Night Makes was such a good idea until I blogged about it and suddenly had an influx of Friday night engagements)
- and, of course, continuing my work on becoming the new, improved, organised Elisabeth! (Score! I have a plan for this already!)
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably face-palming at the basicness of the concepts in this post. And in truth, I often forget how effective it is to plan things out. But when I do, it is also true that my live becomes a lot easier.
I’d love to hear whether or not you’re a resolution-maker or an objective-setter. And if you are, do you follow a method to ensure that you achieve what you want?