Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year, New Resolutions

Well, it's here. 2018. To be honest, 2017 felt in many ways like a decade more than a year. My 2017 resolutions did not survive all that well into the year, either. I did update the site and get a few things out there, including a planning guide and my report analyzing Twitter marketers, but I did not get that course built (only module one), and I didn't finish the book I was working on. I did, however, write a first draft of a completely separate book and added another 15,000 words to the other book (only 50,000 to go). I'll do a year-in-review post in a few weeks to see how I hit in other areas.

But since it's a new year, I'll review some of the things I'll try to do to hit those goals a little better this year.
Maybe this list of things helps you, maybe it's trite advice. I don't know. But for me, at least, it's worth a review as I look at 2018 ahead and see how best to try to tackle it.

Focus on Action, Not Outcome

You often cannot control all variables of a given scenario, so if your resolution has outside dependencies, then you have either set yourself up for failure or provided yourself an excuse to bail on your resolution.

Focus on actions you can control.

So, instead of "I'll get my book published with a million dollar contract" (which would be lovely if you know anyone that can help make that happen), perhaps "I will complete edits on the final draft of my book and submit it to agents in an attempt to get it published" is a more controllable target. 

That doesn't mean you shouldn't stretch. Push yourself. Have that end outcome of a million dollar contract in mind, but don't make that the benchmark of your success or failure. There are too many others that you have to depend on to make that happen.

I read an interesting parenting article recently in Time (even if you are not a parent, bear with me, I'll summarize quickly). Basically, some researchers at Stanford and the University of Chicago found that kids do better when you focus your praise on their "process" rather than their "person." So, basically, encourage them by cheering their effort and hard work rather than their innate skills or talents. Do not tell them they are great because they are brilliant, tell them they are great because they worked hard on a project.

Same theory is what I am applying here. 

I can feel like I've accomplished what I wanted to if I focus on the action that I plan to take and call it a win when I have completed that action rather than keeping sights on a longer-term goal that may or may not be within reach as the only standard for success.

Write Stuff Down

I make lots of lists. Lately, I've focused just about everything that would fall on most of my longer-than-one-day to-do lists into an app called Workflowy (that's a referral link - I don't get paid if you click it, but I do get some sort of vague Workflowy perks if you sign up). It is a completely stupid app that might as well be just a hybrid of a bullet-list in Microsoft Word and the ability to mark those things complete. But it also has the ability to focus into different areas, and use tags and hashtags to organize your thoughts and items. And my ability to access this list anywhere makes it a brilliant app.

I've even got blog posts planned out in there, which lets me start fleshing them out just as I might in an outline, and then check stuff off as I complete it.

Let's be honest, there's also a satisfaction in hitting a "mark Complete" button that draws a line through that item. That little dopamine hit can really keep you on track.

I used it to outline the book I drafted out in November, and just ticked my way through chapter after chapter. Worked pretty well, and I could break each item out into a smaller and smaller sub-item until I got to the point that I was pretty much writing the book in the outline, so I needed to stop outlining and start writing.

Whether you use Workflowy (there's that pesky link again) or Microsoft Word or a notepad does not really matter. Just write stuff down. You'll need to refer to it later. Just like I reviewed my 2017 list of goals (while wincing painfully) before writing this post.

Don't Be Afraid to Fail

OK, obviously I don't fear failure, since I didn't hit every cylinder on my prior goals, but this is an important one for me in some areas, and possibly for many people in others. 

If you fear failing, you may never start. It's that simple. And starting is one of the most important steps in accomplishing something (the other might be finishing). 

Part of your goal is better than none of your goal.
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Let's take this book that I am taking way too long to write. I had planned to finish it last year. Instead, I wrote somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 words on it. If I had feared failing that goal enough to not start on the process, I might still be sitting on the same 5,000 words I started the year with. Instead, I'm now closer to 25% of a first draft than I was January of last year. Sure, there's more left to do, and I didn't finish the goal, but I didn't let that stop me from starting, and those words are the product of that.

The moral of that story is that part of your goal is better than none of your goal. Just because you can't make a million dollars doesn't mean you should turn down the opportunity to make an extra $20,000. 

Don't chase failure, but don't let fear of it prevent you from winning, either.

Set Checkpoints

This year I am popping a couple of checkpoints in my calendar. Hold, please, I'm chunking them in there right now.

There, I now have a reminder at 8:00 AM on the first day of every month from February to December to take a look at my list and see where I am. And, via the magic of asynchronous blogging time, you didn't even have to wait on me to do that.

Part of the issue from last year was lack of reminder to check in to my goals. It's a good excuse at least. If I am not reviewing what I set out to do for the year, then I may forget those objectives, or at least lose the momentum I had in December and January when I set those goals. I'm always really eager to get rolling in early January, just like everyone else, and that wanes if I'm not reminded. So for 2018, I'll be sufficiently reminded.

You should too.

Set some reminders in your favorite app or with twelve or twenty Post-Its on the fridge, or whatever works for you. But do it somewhere you won't ignore it. Push the snooze button on that reminder at your peril. You'll be snoozing the reminder, but really you're building up a callous to the nuisance that nags at you when you don't finish your goals and it's your fault. Because it is your fault. Nobody else can take the blame for your failure (if you set your goals correctly around target actions and not magic dependency goals).

Scale Back Your Expectations

One of the best pieces of advice I pulled from Jon Acuff's book, Finish, was to scale back the scope of your goal. (Side note, if you buy his book via that link, I get a few cents in affiliate cash). Basically, he says we should give ourselves permission to hit a smaller goal than the more grandiose one we initially set out to do.

Once upon a time, I wanted to blog every day.

What that resulted in was massive amounts of guilt when I didn't publish a post, which spiraled into longer and longer gaps between posts. That made my goal seem less attainable, and I ended up bailing on it. The end result was long gaps between posts and justifying it based on the idea that my initial goal was unattainable.

For 2018, I'd like to write a post every two weeks. That's only 26. Substantially fewer than the 260 or so that every business day would account for. But more attainable. Still, given my track record, my official goal for 2018 isn't even 26, it's 18. 18 posts for the year. 

That's a pretty scaled back goal.

But it takes into account the reality that I have other things that come into play. I have other writing that I like (and want) to do, and every keystroke on those other projects is a keystroke not happening here on the blog. That, and 18 for '18 is nice and catchy and an easy way for me to track my progress.

Keep your goal meaningful, but scale it back. Don't expect to do a million things your first year. Work your way into it.

Take Your First Baby Step. Now!

Break your goal down into chunks. For my blog post goal, I've listed out every two weeks and tagged 20 of them so far with a topic that I can tackle that week. Once you do that, you should have manageable items that you can tackle pretty quickly.

Go do the first one now.

For me, that's drafting my January 1 post, which I am doing on December 28 (I know, I broke the magical appearance that I wake up and hover my finger over the "Publish" button on Monday mornings at 7:00 AM and somehow send a bunch of emails and tweets simultaneously, but hey, this is how it works). In the background is the TCU and Stanford game (don't tell me who wins, it's not over yet), where TCU is down eleven points in the second quarter. 

But the important part is that I am doing this small piece now. Because I still will have editing to do over the weekend (this will be odd to read when I am editing both because of the weird time-shift in the writing, and also because I will know whether Stanford held onto its lead - Spoiler Alert: now that I am editing this post a couple of days later, the game is long over, and I am aware TCU came back and won by 2 with a huge second half performance) to get this post out by the 1st.

In fact, after this, I may draft out yet another post. It won't be done, but it will be drafted, and that's a third or so of the battle (maybe a quarter, if we count social media posts, etc.).

But getting that first step is important for two reasons. First, though perhaps less important, it gives you that momentum that you need to carry you through the rest of the goal. Seriously, though, when you start a new project, the enthusiasm you have is like a turbo boost when playing that motorcycle game my kids play at Dave & Busters where the rider does handstands and crazy stuff when going over a ramp. But that turbo boost can push them ahead of the guy with the mohawk who didn't do the handstand.

Most importantly,though, it let's you get something done.

When you take the first baby step, you will have accomplished some of your goal. And that's more than none of your goal. By the time I add images and social media schedules and all of this for this post, I will have completed 1/18 of my blogging goal for the year. And that's about 5.56% according to my math.

Read that and weep. I will have accomplished 5.56% of my 2018 blogging goal BEFORE JANUARY 1, 2018. Because I'm that awesome. Or just because I took my own advice on this one and knocked out the first baby step.

My Resolutions

So, in the spirit of resolutions and all that good stuff, here are my goals for the new year. Since I like writing, most of them are writerly sort of goals, but they're goals, nevertheless. Don't criticize, just go do your own goals. But I'm putting mine out there so I have something to measure against and you, my accountability partners of random internet strangers.
  • 18 in '18 - Write 18 blog posts. By the time you read this, I've done 1. So 5.56% complete. Boom.lo
  • 18 in '18 - What? A second one? Yup. I am looking to write 18 essays (a new genre for me) with some little non-fiction narratives in 2018. Again, I WANT 26, but I will try for 18.
  • 18 in '18 (part 3) - Read 18 books in 18. I usually target 12 (so a book a month) and end up easily kicking that with 15-20. This is not a stretch goal, but it is one that ups the low low bar from my previous reading goals. If you're interested in playing along, I'm currently working my way through Neil deGrasse Tyson's Astrophysics for People In a Hurry (oh look, another affiliate link) 
  • Edit the book I wrote in November - I plan to crank through the first draft of the book I wrote in November and work out all of the missing notes and research points that I tagged through the draft, as well as give an overall structural assessment of it and fix any elements there. Move everything to second draft status.
  • Draft another book - I'm not sure if this is finishing my IT Transformation book or drafting out yet a third, but I look to end 2018 with a second draft to go edit.
  • Take some health challenges- I'm looking at 3, so one every 4 months, as my conservative target. I get all these reminders on my phone for 30-day challenge apps that I've downloaded (30 day pushup challenge, 30 day plank challenge, etc.) to start the challenge, so I'll knock a couple of these out in the new year.
  • Monetize my writing somehow - However fun and entertaining I find writing, it is time consuming. While I could treat it as a free hobby that could continue indefinitely, at some level, I would like it to at least pay for itself in terms of keeping a laptop that works well, and hosting fees, a better mailing list, and a PO box for "real" mail, if possible. So that means finding a way to make some money through the blog. I'm not sure I have the time yet to invest in building out a great online course, but I will look at a few options. One's certainly submitting a book and trying to get that published traditionally, but also quick e-pub things may help, and affiliate links within blog posts (did you notice those, because I tried to be 100% transparent on that?). I also intend to write a few longer posts (though difficult to get longer than this) for Medium, which allows you to put certain content behind their paywall to try to earn a little scratch for the writer. If you want to help with this goal immediately, go buy one of the books I link to above, and boom, I have a few cents I didn't have before.
So there you go, a giant post to kick off the new year. You're welcome. Or I'm sorry. Honestly, I don't know how you view it.

But either way, I'm 5.56% complete with one of my goals. Where are you?

Hey, here's something else for you - I'd love to connect and try to keep each other accountable on these things. I'll give you three options. If you're a writer, and a Facebook kind of person, you could join my writing group Crushing the Writing Thing. If you're a Facebook person, but not a writer, follow me on Facebook. And if you're more a Twitterer (like I am), follow me on Twitter.