I’m generally not in the habit of making New Year’s resolutions. I know they’re more often abandoned than fulfilled, and I’ve always thought that if you’ve identified a need for change in your life, why wait for an arbitrary starting date? Why not start right away?
That said, I have a handful of long-standing intentions that never seem to turn into action. Or, really, they’ll turn into a short spurt of action whenever I’m feeling particularly guilty or inspired about them, that quickly fizzles out as soon as something else comes up.
I think part of my problem is that I rarely set concrete goals for these things, only vague notions such as “exercise more” or “work on music” that do nothing to help me gauge whether I’m succeeding or failing. Another problem is that when I keep my personal plans private, I’m accountable to nobody but myself, and it’s all too easy to make excuses about why I did other things instead. So, I think I can beat both of these hang-ups by deciding on a handful of specific metrics and declaring them here in the open. Maybe I can shame myself into keeping on track.
It just so happens that now is one of the more ideal times for me to be refocusing my life. The entire second half of 2008 was impossibly busy for me, punctuated by frequent travel… at least, much more frequent than I’m used to. It looks like this summer may turn out the same way for me, and I’ve got another long trip planned for February, so if I want to establish some new habits, now is the time.
I don’t want to be unrealistic — the whole idea is to make these goals achievable — so I’m limiting it to five reasonable objectives. At the same time, I do want to stretch myself a little, so in addition to five modest goals each one will have a more challenging pair. If I hit the first target, I can feel pretty good about myself, but if I hit the second, even better.
I have a life-long love of music… and a life-long habit of collecting musical instruments and projects, only to let them fall by the wayside. For ten years now (wow, has it really been that long?) I’ve dabbled in electronic music production, but have yet to really finish even one track. I’ve started plenty, but tend to lose interest or become otherwise distracted before any of them are finalized. OK, so it’s a hobby, and maybe I should be happy to just play around, but it would be nice to see something through. I’m going to try to put together a short album of techno and electro tracks, and if that goes well, a second collection of a few more free-form tracks.
Good: A five-track EP
Better: An additional three-track EP in a more adventurous style
It seems like I write a blog post every couple of months about how I need to write more blog posts. In November I said, “surely I can think of something interesting to post at least once a week.” It turns out, thinking of things to write about isn’t as hard as actually taking the time to write them. So I’m going to dial down the ambition a little bit and shoot for somewhere between one and two posts each month.
Good: At least fifteen posts this year
Better: At least twenty posts this year
I’m not getting much of a workout sitting behind a desk for eight-plus hours a day. This is nothing new, but I think it’s starting to catch up with me. When I first moved to San Francisco, I lived at the top of a steep hill, which helped me get my heart rate up every day, but now I live in the flattest part of the city. I walk to work most days, but it hasn’t been enough to keep me from gaining weight in the past year. I’m still far from overweight, but if trends continue I may not be for long. Beyond that, it can’t be great for my health in other respects to be so out of shape.
I’ve never liked gyms, but several months ago Sharon & I got a stationary bike. In true San Francisco style, we found it on the curb outside our apartment. It’s pretty common here for people to leave unwanted items outside on the sidewalk for other people to claim. Usually, there’s a pretty good reason these things are unwanted, but this thing looked pretty clean and in good working condition, and it appeared out there in the time it took us to go out for brunch and come back, so we figured, hey, why not?
Since then, I have been mostly using it as an elaborate towel rack. It’s kind of ridiculous… as a form of exercise, it couldn’t really get any easier or more convenient. I can use it from the convenience of my home, and listen to music or a podcast while I cycle. I don’t need any gear other than what I already lucked upon, and there’s no need to coordinate with anyone else. Surely 25 to 45 minutes per day can’t be that hard.
Good: Average three hours per week on the stationary bike
Better: Average five hours per week on the stationary bike
Considering the times, we’re in pretty good shape. We’re not carrying any debt, we’re renting so there’s no mortgage to worry about, we’ve got relatively healthy long-term retirement accounts and a decent amount in savings. Still, I don’t feel like I’ve got a handle on where our spending is going, and we would eventually like to buy a house or a condo, so I feel like we could be saving more.
There are plenty of tools out there to help people get more of a grasp on their finances. There’s Quicken and the like, and in the past two or three years a number of web-based solutions have appeared. Each of these has tradeoffs, but I haven’t really taken the time to evaluate them fully. I think the first step in any long-term plan is to figure out where you are now, so I’ll take a look at all of the options to help me do that and try to get one set up. Once that’s done, I can try to develop a plan with Sharon for the next few years that will help us reach our goals, even in uncertain times.
Good: Set up and maintain a tool for tracking finances
Better: Create and stick to a monthly budget, including allocations for investment and philanthropy
Part of the reason I think I have such a hard time working on long-term goals — things that I think are personally important but that are not really essential in day-to-day living — is that I have a hard time juggling all of the things that I want to do with all of the things that I feel like I need to do. A few years ago I was introduced to David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” methodology the same way many geeks were, through Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders weblog. The approach appeals to me, and I’ve read the book a couple of times, but I still haven’t found a “trusted system” for capturing projects and actions that appeals to me. I tried the all-paper route for a while, but it felt cumbersome. I really need something that I can use from a computer and from my phone. Echoing what I said about financial planning software, there are a number of web-based and local software-based approaches to task tracking now, and with an iPhone I wouldn’t need to be at a computer to use either. It’s again just a matter of trying them out and choosing one that doesn’t feel like a burden. If I can get that sorted out, I’d like to get the apartment organized better, and the first step in that will be to get rid of the piles of crap that I don’t want, need, or use anymore.
Good: Choose a tool for GTD-style task and project tracking
Better: Sell, donate, or trash everything in the house that we don’t want
Keeping Tabs on My Progress
I know that setting goals is pretty meaningless if I’m not tracking metrics on a regular basis, so as an experiment I’ve set up an account on Daytum to try to record my progress. I’m not sure yet if the site will really fit well, but it’s a start, and since it’s public, it helps to keep me honest. I’ll also plan to check in here a few times this year to note how I’m doing. If it works well, maybe I’ll start to make a habit of doing this every year. And if it doesn’t… I suppose I’ll have to publicly shame myself here so that may be all the motivation I need.
Hey, well at least I can add a tick to the blog post count!