08 January 2020
A new year brings New Years’ Resolutions. I’ve lost track of the number of social media posts I’ve seen about this.
I’m devoting most of this post to describe how I will achieve my goals.
My process for making 2020 goals has 6 parts:
Here’s what I came up with:
(I’m leaving out anything involving my partner, politics, or work goals, for privacy reasons)
I spent a week thinking about goals and priorities. I wrote them on scraps of paper, and spent a day ordering them by asking 2 questions:
n+1? Is that the result I want?”
That’s right, folks. I used bubblesort.
The steps we take change the path of our life. I sorted and re-sorted until I had a good result:
I spend 96 hours a week working and sleeping. I’ll allocate the other 72 hours via priorities.
“Life is what happens while you’re making other plans” - John Lennon
A huge to-do list is a wish list. Unlike my 25-year-old self, I’m painfully aware of the cost of context switching.
I know how well I
don’t multitask, and it takes 18-254 days to form a new habit. So, I will limit myself to 6 goals before July 1st:
The rest I am
There are science-based strategies to achieve what you set out to do:
I will construct a system to reach goals:
I’ll call this the Seven Ascending Steps (SAS).
I’m not a natural or experienced writer. I get frustrated, distracted, and swear.
I read a book on writing well, and struggled with the first 3 bits of advice.
Writing is mentally daunting, and yet I’m committing to write 15 posts before July 1. It is good to push past your comfort zones. Let’s break this down…
I am here for 147 days before July 1, so I need to complete a post every 9 days. I’m going to reduce that to once every 8 days plus 27 days’ buffer.
I already have ideas for posts; the effort is writing and editing. So, I broke up my writing process into micro tasks. I’ll spread them across 8 days, because consistency matters:
|1||Write substantive points on paper|
|2||Make a blog post file with tags & title
Make an outline from points
Add relevant research + links to the post
|4||Write half the post body|
|5||Write the second half of the post body|
Find images and add them
|7||Print out, and edit with a pen|
Reflect, and adjust for the next post.
None of these steps takes more than 30 minutes, so this will take 3.5 hours a week.
To accomplish these steps, I use a spreadsheet of micro tasks. Breaking a task into tiny pieces is the best way I know to do something daunting. I also put a comfy chair in the office, because changing our environment matters.
I’m using systems (to-do lists) I already have, and techniques (micro-tasks) I already know will work.
Finally, I’m going to use incentives. For each finished post, I will reward myself:
I’m choosing rewards that are topical, cheap, and that I already want. I’m granting permission to do what I hold back on, framing them as an earned reward.
I want to do 50 pushups in a row.
It is an indicator of how often I’m working out, and therefore my health. This way I can take care of people, and do work that matters. Oh, and it’s good for brain function.
Right now I can do 15 pushups. I need to gain the strength to do 35 more. There are 169 days (24 weeks) left, so I need to gain the strength to do 1.5 more pushups each week. I’ll round up and do 2 more pushups each week, reaching the goal after 18 weeks. That’s mid-May, well before the deadline, so I have a comfortable buffer in case I slip.
I’ve read that it’s important to rest when strength training. I made reminders to work out 3 times a week. I’m going to adjust workouts to build in intensity every two weeks.
My workouts take 30 minutes, so this is a 1.5 hour commitment per week.
I’ll associate some rewards with achievements (‘30 in a row!’, ‘40 in a row!’):
I created biweekly ‘validation’ tasks, to verify I’ve gained the endurance I am aiming for. I’ll adjust if needed.
This seems realistic. It uses SAS-y steps, and builds on systems I already have.
The lifespan of languages and frameworks is limited. I need to learn constantly to stay relevant in my profession. Thankfully, learning plays to my sense of curiosity. I was the kid who was always building with Legos. Learning has a similar feeling.
I learn frameworks in several steps. I want to build on previous steps, so I do this:
I’m allocating 35 days per framework, plus 7 days’ buffer:
|1||1||Install & “hello world”|
|2-3||2||Set up with a basic dataset/application|
|4-8||5||Play around with questions/curiosity to figure out things work. How do the components of the framework interact? What are the design decisions?|
|9-14||6||Learn popular uses for the framework. What are common themes in its use? How does it compare with similar frameworks I already know?|
|15-30||15||Use a more complex dataset/application to learn. Can it do something weird, when I want it to? Why or why not? What patterns am I finding?|
|31-35||5||Write about what I’ve learned. Reflect, and adjust|
I will work on this for an hour each day, or I’ll allocate a day to a big step. The time commitment is 8 hours a week, making this the goal with the biggest time commitment.
I’m productive immediately after work, before my commute. I’ll find a cozy spot and get to business.
I’ve made to-do reminders, micro-tasks, and a biweekly task to reflect & adjust the process. Yay neuroplasticity!
Oh, and of course we need rewards:
Once again this uses SAS-y steps, and fits well with existing systems I have.
Building habits and practices is an unreliable process. Sometimes everything works the first time. More often, I have to experiment and adjust.
So, I use ‘safety net’ reminders. Every two weeks I will ask myself: what has been working, what hasn’t, and what should change? Reflective practice is an effective way for me to incrementally and reliably improve.
Change is challenging, especially for a creature of habit like me. And yet, I value growth periods…in hindsight.
I try to improve myself using habit formation, simple steps, reducing the mental load per task, working on a regular basis, and pausing to adjust.
How will you achieve your goals?