Tuesday, December 21, 2010

2010 Personal Review, Thoughts on Setting Goals

Back in January I set some goals on a personal blog. I was pretty diligent following most of them well into the year (say June), but at some point I fell off the wagon and realized that some of the goals I just didn't really care about enough to keep going. I thought I'd review my successes and failures:

  1. Live better
    • ✖ Lose 15 pounds (down to 190) and be able to do 50 push-ups in a row. I was pretty well disciplined about both the weight-loss and push-ups until June. In fact I was over 50 push-ups for a little while, but I let it slide for the rest of the year. It just wasn't a priority.
    • ✖ Drink more green tea and less coffee I drank green tea reliably until June, and then again August/November when I was experimenting with "healthmonth.com":http://healthmonth.com
    • ✔ Succeed at gardening planted a bunch of varieties of veggies, had small harvests, ran a composter, etc.
  2. Code more
    • ✔ Finish my Den Manager cub scout app and get it ready so that another pack could use it.
    • ✖ Learn a new programming language (erlang, Clojure, Haskell, etc.) I just didn't have a reason and with the programming time that I put into Den Manager I didn't have leftover time to explore something else.
    • CANCELED Integrate twitter or some other BB system into the church website.
    • ✔ Finish ripping family videos into digital form and ✖ turn them into a more usable format (DVD, YouTube videos, etc.) I have it all available on a network drive and it's ready to distill into a more usable form, but I just didn't have the motivation to finish. That said I had the idea to write a program that automatically summarizes video content and it looks like now there is at least one service to do that highlightcam.com
    • ✔ Get our home backup solution in order so that all photos, videos, documents, etc. are consistently backed up in a redundant way and available from any machine on our network.
  3. Learn more
    • ✔ Finish all of the books on my nightstand (Uncle Tungsten, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Mathematics, Statistics, Leading with Questions, Age of Wonder, and a few others) Technically I didn't finish all of those books, but I finished many of them and I finished some others as well. The goal should've been "read N books" instead of specifically enumerated books.
    • ✔ Finish the MIT open courseware courses. Same thing holds for the MIT courseware... I finished several classes but not ALL of them.
  4. Write more
    • ✖ Finish my NaNoWriMo novel Writing... I just got bored with it. In the case of NaNoWriMo I don't really even like reading fiction so who am I kidding that I would write it (even if I did have a good story)
    • ✖ Write my daily morning pages reliably.

So, it looks like I batted about 50/50... What did I learn?

  1. Goals should be measurable in more abstract ways.... Saying "I'll read one book a month" is better than "I'll read books X,Y,Z this year". You never know which higher priority books are going to come along and really for the most part you care about the pursuit of knowledge in general not specific knowledge.
  2. Be careful choosing goals that compete against each other for time because you *will* prioritize them either implicitly (you'll do what you like better) or explicitly (you'll schedule them explicitly). In my case being a husband, dad, and involved member of church and civic organizations (in addition to work) I just plain have a limited amount of time and not everything would fit without giving somewhere so I did what I liked.
  3. When setting goals like this the temptation is to "eat your broccoli." Goals are supposed to be hard and not enjoyable, right? So you end up setting goals that aren't in alignment with what you really want out of life because it's what you're "supposed to do." Those sorts of goals are important (it'd help my health if I lost weight and exercised more), but if you don't like "broccoli" then it's probably wise to make yourself eat only a little of it and make sure you've got plenty of stuff that you do like.
  4. Review often and don't go it alone. The two times when I had most success in the things that I ultimately failed at were when a. I reviewed my list of goals often to see my progress b. I had a community of folks I was accountable to (at least a little bit).
  5. Take advantage of the fact that it feels good to check things off. Have small enough goals, or perhaps milestones so that when reviewing your list you often get to check things off. For example consider spliting your "read 12 books this year" into "read a book in January", "read a book in February"... That way every month you get to have a success or failure that can either motivate you to keep going or give you a chance to course correct.
  6. Be honest during the year and let yourself change... If you set goals that just don't look like they're realistic or if your context changes then don't hang onto goals just because you set them in January dammit! Kill them off or transform them into something more appropriate so that they can be more helpful than reminding you of your failures (or how bad you are at setting goals).

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