One of the things folk tend to do around this time of year is think about their goals and targets for the upcoming year, and how well they did with those from the last year. I just did it myself in fact. Fortunately, they’re all in Evernote so it’s very easy to pull them up.
I had some great objectives for the last year. They were all mind-mapped out (I use XMind for this) and categorised into different areas - health, career, learning, reading etc.
Some of them I achieved. My health levels have way improved over the last couple of years, although I’ve typically not been very big on exercise.
Some of them I’ve failed at. I’d planned on submitting abstracts to lots of conferences this year, but that never happened in the end. I’d also set a target for 52 blog posts this year (presumably 1 per week, though the goal doesn’t really state this explicitly.)
If I go back to my 2014 goals, my track record for non-achievement gets even worse. Or better, depending on which way you look at it!
Pilates and push ups didn’t fare so well. Neither did journaling, moving house and ramping-up our investment in property.
So I can’t help but ask myself what the point is? Why bother to set goals when there’s a strong likelihood that a few days later I will have either forgotten or disregarded them?
Probably - not much. Fortunately though, over the last few months of 2015, I found a much better way of achieving the things I set out to do.
Systems, not Goals
Instead of having a specific target or objective, I try to implement a system for actually getting things done instead. I’ll give you a few examples of what I mean.
It’s important to me that my family and I have a relatively healthy diet. So instead of setting a goal for healthy eating and changing our diet completely - I just implement a few rules for the food we purchase, what we cook and how we approach mealtimes, and what we try not to have too much of hanging around in the kitchen. Those rules look something like the below:
- Don’t eat anything that’s white or that can be made white - bread, potato, pasta, sugar, milk
- Replace carbs with beans or legumes
- Eat a high protein breakfast
- Keep nuts in the house for snacking (if I have nuts, I’m less likely to eat unhealthy alternatives)
I hate going to the gym, so I just don’t do it. I don’t mind playing racket sports but it’s difficult to find other people to play them with at the times I want to play. So that doesn’t happen too often either.
I have a fitness tracker, which helps a bit because it means my activities are at least being tracked, and in theory what I pay attention to should improve. The problem is, it’s too easy not to pay any attention. So the system that works for me in terms of exercise is this:
- Put on trainers, sweat pants etc so I’m ready to exercise
- Use a running coach (an app on my phone is fine for this)
Exercise tends to be a bit of a hit and miss affair for me, but the system above is working currently. I’ve been out running more in the past few weeks than I did the entire rest of the year, so I’m doing something right.
I love to learn, so this is a pretty easy one for me. Still, I need to have some way of making sure that I’m learning the right things and that I’m doing it regularly. As such, I have a couple of systems to help me out:
- Use Wunderlist (or a notepad, or whatever works for you) to track stuff I need to learn about
- Set aside one day each week to learn new stuff
- Turn off the TV and read instead
Wunderlist works great for tracking stuff that I need to do, and stuff I need to learn becomes just another list. Since I have my list and one day a week specifically set aside for learning related activities - it’s just a matter of choosing or continuing with something from the list. Whatever I have energy for at the time.
Turning off the TV is a more recent addition to my collection of systems. I’m not a big fan of the media generally and try not to listen to, read or watch the News for example (too depressing). Further curtailing my TV watching so it’s even less of a distraction seems like a natural next step.
Systems work better
I could go on and on. I have a ton of systems for achieving all of the things I want to do.
Personally, I think they work way better than goals for several reasons:
- They’re actionable - systems like the ones I mentioned above are made up of specific activities and things that need to be done. They’re not vague, pie-in-the-sky ideas about things I’d like to do or achieve. They can be done right now!
- They don’t specify a result - where diet is concerned for example, none of the actions I talked about were tied to weight loss, though that has been a natural consequence of eating more healthily. Along with more energy and an easier life in the kitchen.
- I don’t have to think about them - having systems made up of specific activities and actions mean I conserve willpower. I don’t need to think about how I’m going to achieve my goals, I just implement the system and trust that it’s moving me in the right direction.
So here’s the thing. If you’re thinking about some things you’d like to achieve in the New Year… Rather than writing a list of goals, hopes or dreams - try to think about what activities you’re going to need to perform that are going to keep YOU moving in the direction of your goal.