How did I plan my year to achieve my set goals?

2017-02-14

Climb all you can

Miniature view of Shanghai City - My metaphor for planning your goal

Flat tyre and Goals

My simple goal was to get back home from my vacation at Tarkarli on the Western Coast of India. I filled up my old faithful steed and meandered through the Western Ghats successfully. Although, I love the mountains, I am not very fond of driving on the serpentine, undivided roads. Another 20 kms for my Mooshika (my steed mentioned earlier has a name, that of a mouse) and me to hit the divided 6-lane motorway.

25 minutes later, cruising down the Asian Highway 47 connecting Bangalore and Pune, I set my eyes on attaining my immediate goal of reaching home driving on the highway. I heard a dreadful noise and I cursed the other vehicles for NOT checking their tyre pressure. As it always happens, it was not the others who had a problem, but it was me. My steed had one problematic horse shoe (to continue the steed metaphor).

25 minutes later, I wiped my dirty hands on a piece of paper from my pocket. Remember, I am a guy who writes goals on hotel bills? So, no surprise that I use pieces of paper to wipe my greasy hand.

But, as luck may have it, my goal sheet winked at me. Oh God, I had just wiped my dirty hands on my goal sheet!?! How am I supposed to plan for a year when I can’t even keep my goal sheet intact for a day?

Sheet…

Things are always happening to me, time to take action and break down those goals

When I came back home, it took me a while to figure out under the greasy mess, what goals I had written out. Thankfully, I had a matrix of Strengths vs Audience and hence it was easy to figure out what I must have written.

However, when I rewrote the goals in a computer file called Org mode, realization hit me like a cart full of mangoes. Some of the goals made me very uncomfortable.

So decided to make it easy for myself and decided to break it down. But how? What logic do I apply? I have had goals before and I have usually failed in achieving them. How should I stop myself from going down that path?

Simple enough, using the GTD methodology or Getting Things Done method (Watch intro video here - https://youtu.be/Xduzwk04l2E). No, I don’t work for David Allen, the author of GTD, neither am I an affiliate. I am a practitioner of the GTD method.

What is this GTD method?

There are many things in the GTD method, I have picked up only one of the features.

Any venture or project that one takes up can have 2 things:

  1. What is the successful outcome? (the project is a done deal if this is achieved)
  2. What is the next immediate action to get the project off the ground? (usually begins with an action verb - write, design, call, email, dance, whatever, who am i to judge)

A tip from experience using this method:

For seeing if you have written out the successful outcome part well or not is to answer the following question - is the project done or not?

If the answer to that question can potentially be “Yes” or “No”, then you have done a good job. However, if your response lies between the two, in the dangerous territory of “maybe”, please consider rephrasing.

So I wrote down all my goals and wrote down these two things.

Example - if “writing” is one of your strengths and the audience is “children”. Then, “write a book for children” could be the goal you set for yourself for 2017.

  1. Successful outcome - “Children’s book published on Amazon”
  2. Next action - “Write outline of the book”

You do this for all your goals. You can use a simple excel sheet to do this.

I had these goals in front of me, but there’s just too many of them

Then I stared at the list of goals. That’s too many strengths and too many audiences vying for my attention and hence too many goals. X x Y = XY :) scary!

Let’s start by first chunking the goals into categories

First of all, let’s try and chunk these goals into a manageable list. It is said that we can only handle a max of 5 + or - 2 things at a time in your mind. Now, who said that and why did they say that I leave it to you. However, I realize that our human brain has a few limitations. Once, the list had a few goals under a few categories, I was satisfied.

So here are the few steps that one do to set a plan to attain those goals.

Assign 1 goal per quarter per category

Remember that you have 4 quarters in a year. You can split the quarters as 13 weeks in one quarter. I find this much easier because it is easier to set a reminder on Google Calendar later. But that is a matter of personal choice. You can use the frequency as once every 3 months or 13 weeks. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you have one goal per quarter per category.

Next part of self-doubt crept into my mind - When do I achieve them?

I started allocating these goals and I want them all to be finished in the first quarter. So, if that were true, by the end of the first quarter, you should have one yourself 2 Grammies, 1 Nobel Peace Prize and a few awards along with it.

That won’t happen, so you will have to assign 1 goal per quarter per category. If you do, by some quirk of fate, do achieve a goal or two in the first quarter, then, leave yourself some stretch goals. Stretch goals are not fancy corporate words. This is a goal, that if you achieve will get your some self-brownie points.

The common place where my goals went out of focus was in tracking progress

All right. Goals are set, quarters are assigned. Stretch goals are also there. Now what. Well, for one, things slipping through cracks when new stuff starts appearing throughout the year.

How does one make sure you are on the right track. The answer is in that sentence - ‘track’ing.

I will have a weekly, quarterly and yearly review meeting with myself

My favorite way of tracking is through review meetings.

Week 1-13 will have 13 weekly reviews and at the end of that period 1 quarterly review. No, no, not with your manager or your boss or your seven year old kid. With yourself. You will look at how things are going. You can do this tracking thing with pen and paper or get yourself a fancy, shiny app to do this. I leave it to you. But the important thing is to track or else your quarterly goals go haywire.

Week 14-26, 27-39 and 40-52 or 53 will be the last quarter.

My weekly reviews are on Friday afternoons - the dullest part of my week. At the end of the 13th week, for the 13th week, you will replace the weekly review with a quarterly review.

How do I know if I am dedicating enough time to each goal?

If your head is spinning at high velocities, I don’t blame you. This productivity thing is not easy to comprehend. It takes a lot of practice and patience. Once, you are past the initial phase, you are on to the intermediate level - time tracking. Here, you will know exactly how much time is it things take. You can use a kitchen timer like they do with the Pomodoro technique (aaawww, named after Tomatoes :))

I use org-mode which comes in-built with a timer application.

Usually, they seem fine on paper, but how do I not go off track?

The review process will help you in case things go awry. My technique is to block the self weekly review on my calendar and I’ll never cancel this time (I may postpone or advance, but never cancel).

Put them all on the calendar and I will have to delete them if I don’t do it

Lastly put the tasks on your calendar and never dismiss them. You can postpone them, however.

And that’s how you achieve your goals in 2017

No, No, wait, let’s recap

  1. Examine every goal and write the successful outcome and next action
  2. Chunk the goals and their next action into 5 + or - 2 categories
  3. Assign one goal per quarter per category
  4. Add in a stretch goal or two per category
  5. Track progress using Weekly, Quarterly and Yearly Reviews, all Reviews scheduled on your favourite calendar
  6. Put all the next actions on your calendar and never delete them

If you scrape through this for one year and having read this post till the very end, I’ll reward you with some used hotel receipts.

You can do some vision things after a year of being at this goal thing. (How to set your life’s vision in 5 minutes - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVsXO9brK7M)

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