My favorite holiday is coming up! New Year’s Day is just days away and I get to start my most favorite family tradition: annual goal analysis and planning!
*insert audible snort from my boss here*
No really. The start of a new year is always my favorite time. We spend a few hours analyzing how our past year went, patting ourselves on the back for being SO AWESOME, and prepping a new plan for next year. What could be more fun?
The last time I peeled a fully filled out annual plan off my cork board (strategically located in my bathroom, directly in front of our commode) it was the last in a series of ten charts that led us to our castoff. The day I pulled that chart down, I had chills. It worked. All our planning led us where we wanted to go. I could hear the ironic cheer my partner yells anytime we win a case we worked on for years: "An overnight success!"
People often ask how did we make this sailing trip happen? This post gives you the secret. It's really boring! But I swear it is true. From 2005 through 2007 we wandered around blindly - happening upon sailing opportunities, finding jobs, buying a house, moving to Las Vegas. We had our big dream in mind, but we were also just letting life take us where it might. Already, the business of life and work were pulling us away from the little things that made us happy. In 2007, we hardly mountain biked or camped at all. I started to worry. If the little things we loved were falling away, what about our big dream? How would we stay focused and make that happen?
We needed a system.
In December of 2007, I set to making another chart. (The Oddgodfreys love charts.) I broke our categories into the major things we needed to get done in a year: (1) learn to sail; (2) get some money (3) stay healthy and strong; (4) remain sane while we wait; and (5) grow our professions and our community. I made a column for deadlines. I made a column designed to keep track whenever we made good on something we said we would do. We didn’t need a giant plan envisioning 13 years of effort all at once. I knew if we could organize and keep smaller commitments each year, we would get there.
In honor of the New Year, Andrew and I sat down over a cup of tea and listed a handful of little tasks organized under each category. We asked ourselves one question: "What do we need to do this year to remain happy, keep our health strong, our finances improving and make our sailing dream happen? For 2008, we set out the following:
Sailing: (a) race in at least 10 races on Lake Mead; (b) buy our own boat for $5,000 or less; (c) go sail camping at least once before the end of the year; (d) Take ASA Certification Courses Levels 1 - 3 by end of the year.
Finances: (a) save $1500 per month toward sailing. (b) Save up six months worth of cash in an emergency fund.
Fitness and Health: (a) Weight train three days per week; (b) cardio three days per week.
Personal Sanity: (a) Go camping four times; (b) Do at least 12 mountain bike rides; (c) host at least four dinner parties; (d) Plant a spring and a fall garden; (e) write journal notes at least once per week; (f) travel to Utah to visit family at least four times.
Professional and Community: (a) Write at least 1 professional article; (b) Take at least three depositions (L); (c) Obtain three new customers (A); (d) Prepare Henderson Symphony Orchestra’s 501(c)(3) application.
We printed out the chart and pinned it up on the wall in the bathroom on a cork board. Why the bathroom? Well, it is one of those places a person must go every single day, and it’s not quite as obnoxious for guests as the refrigerator. I tied a pen to a string and pinned it right next to the chart. No excuses due to a lost pen! Then we would track every time we did something we said we would do with checkmarks or tick marks. Whenever we would complete a task as promised, we would do a little dance. If it was a big goal i.e. the day we paid off student loans, we would make ourselves a nice dinner and enjoy a bottle of wine we had saved for such an occasion.
We confronted ourselves every single day with our own high demands.
We also started doing a semi-annual review at six months and a third quarter review at 9 months to check progress and re-jigger the plan. Sometimes we would overshoot, and by six months in, we realized a goal is unrealistic given time/energy/financial resources, we just don’t care about this particular goal as much as we thought we did, or there is something else more important to which we have to divert resources. When this happens, we adjust or delete the goal to realign our plan with what we really want at the end of the year. Before we remove a goal, we think about the impact of ignoring it and make sure we are removing it for the right reasons - not just out of fear, distraction or laziness.
The six month review also helps us spot areas where we would still like to succeed, but we aren’t placing enough focus. Maybe we said we wanted to mountain bike 1000 miles in a year, but six months in, we are only at 350 miles. With six months or three months left to go, we can stop going to the gym three times a week, buy a headlamp and mountain bike in the evenings after work instead. Two birds, one stone. We may not figure out this alternative if we didn’t do a six month review and realize that we were missing the mountain bike milage mark.
Finally, at the end of each year, we complete a full review. What were our major successes? Where did we miss the mark? What did we learn from this year? What did we enjoy the most? Who were we with, what were we doing? Is there anything else on which we would rather be spending our time? What would we like to do differently? What were our happiest surprises? I make photo albums and keep journals along the way.
I bet you, too, are saying: “Leslie, you have got to be kidding me.” But, don't knock it until you've tried it! We really did this every single year since 2008! I know it was a major contributor to reaching cast off. The planning keeps us disciplined and focused, the tracking and analysis keeps us inspired and humble, and the feeling of momentum allows us to have enough faith in the process that we can stay patient.
None of this is new or rocket science. There are thousands of books on goal setting/tracking, and I have nothing to add other than my version of a pep talk. Do it for yourself, and include all the little and big things you love and desire. Too often, goal setting is focused only on career achievement and when we are feeling really ambitious, fitness. What about the experiences we need to feel in touch with the people we want to be? Mountain biking. Hiking. Camping. Travel. Music. Writing. Gardening. These are the things Andrew and I need to do in order to be happy, they can’t be left off the list because they don’t seem big enough or important enough. In aggregate, the little things are always the most important. By making goals for ourselves in every aspect of our lives, we were able to keep better track of our priorities. Because of the way we ordered our goals, we knew why we were hammering away at 60-80 hour work weeks, why we were lifting weights at the gym. Everything we did pointed us toward sailing, a strong marriage, health. Everything pointed us toward our own vision of a happy life. If we are setting and tracking goals, they should be for ourselves. Not because we “should” or because our HR director at work demands it.