Resolutions aren’t just for the new year — Photo by Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash

Set and Meet Goals Like a Super User

The Problem

Resolution in modern vernacular is a word tinged with guilt, failure and wishy-washiness. The dictionary says that a resolution is

a firm decision to do or not do something

No wonder so many resolutions fail. All the sweeping resolutions that people make are missing the point. Resolutions set without actions and a respect for the constraints of reality (timeliness and accountability) are begging to fail.

The Promise

This guide isn’t about making you feel good about resolutions that you set and ultimately don’t achieve. It’s not even about setting goals. Everyone set goals (winners and losers included). This is for people who are looking to affect meaningful change in their life through the practical application of a few principles.

If you’re the kind of person who makes a ton of resolutions…If you’re the kind of person who can’t choose just one resolution….or if you can’t seem to accomplish your resolutions then enjoy this (hopefully) fresh 🥕 perspective designed to help you a) pick your goals, b) determine which ones are worth your time and c) how to make them a reality. T̵r̵y̵ DO this and maybe you won’t fail by February.

This is for people who are looking to affect meaningful change in their life through the practical application of a few principles.

What follows is a practical guide for setting and achieving goals. I’m not here to tell you what your resolutions should be. I’m here to provide tools to shift your focus from goal-orientation to process-orientation. Together we’ll take those big lofty goals and reconfigure them into itty bitty steps that — when done with consistency — will yield big results.

Before You Begin

Before you set resolutions, you should revisit what you value in life. Even if you know what you value in life, it might be worth revisiting. Knowing what’s your own personal North star is critical to this process.

Let’s Begin

BRAINSTORM

Open your brain and pour out your hopes and dreams. List some goals you’d like to accomplish. (Yes, I said we’re not going to make this about goals. Stay with me). Write down everything you brain storm.

For this step, I highly recommend you actually unplug from the world, even if it’s for 5 minutes ⏲️. It’s worth sitting alone with your thoughts to help discern what’s really important to you. We’re talking about big goal setting here and you don’t want to confuse your goals with somebody else’s.

Tip: Write down all the goals. When in doubt, leave it in at this point, you’re not committing to anything yet.

If you have trouble brainstorming, try framing it like this. (Remember when I said it’d be useful to know what your life priorities are?) List your life priorities or values out and create an outline like this.

Value 1

  • Short term goal
  • Long term goal

Value 2

  • Short term goal
  • Long term goal

Value n

  • Short term goal
  • Long term goal

At this point in the process there’s no sense in limiting this brain storm. Feel free to get crazy like it’s Cloud with a Chance of Meatballs.

The template won’t fit perfectly with your goals, but the objective here isn’t to perfectly fit your goals. It’s to establish a system for achieving 80% of your goals.

You can spend as much or as little as you want brainstorming. Don’t feel like you have to spend a ton of time ruminating on this (speaking as a person who has a tendency to ruminate).

>>When you’ve emptied your brain it’s ready to move on to the next step. You may have a lot of goals listed (that’s okay!). Next, we pare it down to the goals worth starting with!

Prepare to pare! Photo by Darren Wanliss on Unsplash

BUNDLE GOALS

After you have your list, step back and review the list holistically. Are there resolutions that can be grouped together logically? Bundling is a step where we pare down the list without having to de-commit from anything you’ve written (yet).

An example of two goals that can be bundled:

  • Spend more time with spouse
  • Reduce time spent on phone

Sometimes a goal or resolution can straddle multiple personal priorities. Bundle them together and you can progress towards them both.

>>Once you’ve bundled more goals than a telecom provider, you’re ready to move on.

TAG YOUR GOALS

Next, tag the goals. Time is a zero sum game. There’s only so much time you have. Odds are you already feel overwhelmed before you consider how these goals will fit into your life.

Tag each of your goals with one of these tags:

  • DO — Things you’re not doing today that you want to do
  • DO MORE — Things you’re doing that you want to do more
  • DO LESS — Things you’re doing that you want to do less
  • KEEP DOING — Things you’re already doing that you want to maintain
  • DON’T DO — Things you want to avoid
  • AWARENESS — Things that don’t have specific action on a daily basis, but should be front of mind

An aside on the DO LESS tag — This tag is particularly important. You cannot just do more. You have to choose to do less somewhere to make room for the more. Not making a choice is a choice. If it’s hard to think about eliminating things from your list (or your life) you can reframe the question. Here are some ways to think about it:

  • Eliminate or reduce non-value-added activities that you spend time on. Here, value is imbued by you. You decide what’s value-add time and what’s not.
  • Do fewer things you don’t want to do
  • Do fewer things you want to do, but shouldn’t
  • Do fewer things you want to do that don’t align with your priorities

>>Once every goal is tagged it’s time to move on.

LEAD DOMINO GOALS

This step is critical. Not all goals are created equally. Progressing towards certain goals will likely enable you to be more successful with other goals. I call these goals that help other goals LEAD DOMINO GOALS. These goals trigger progress towards other goals. Identify lead domino goals from the list you have now.

Sample Goals

How to determine which goals are lead domino goals?

  • Which goals are necessary to make it easier to achieve the other goals? (e.g. better sleep hygiene yields more energy, which makes it easier to think)
  • Ask yourself which of the goals you have listed are the lead dominos (i.e. if I do this goal, it’ll help me step in the right direction towards this other goal).
  • Be ruthless. Leave out as much as possible.
  • If a goal something that’s high severity but low frequency, it’s probably not a lead domino goal.

For me this is better than trying to force rank your hopes & dreams. There’s too much sentimentality associated with that and it becomes unpractical.

>>After you’ve picked your favorite children, it’s time to move on.

FILTER

This step is an opportunity to review your progress so far. Look at the goals in your list that you’ve identified as lead dominoes. You should see a mix of DO MORE, DO LESS, DO, KEEP DOING.

If all you see is “DO MORE” or “DO” then you might be trying to do too much. (You can’t just do more).

Lead Domino Goals

>>Keep it moving. Nothing to see here.

PAUSE & REFLECT

Once you’re satisfied with your lead domino goals, those are the resolutions you will start with. Everything else becomes de-prioritized.

This is pretty consistent with how other big wigs approach goal-setting.

Take a look at your list and take it in.

>>Next, we start taking those goals and converting them into actions to get you closer to them.

With our goals pared down, the final product is coming into view- Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash

Turning Goals into Process

BREAKING IT DOWN

The objective is to take our goals from goals and change them to processes that fit into your daily life.

At this point we’ve brainstormed potential goals and taken a knife 🗡️ to that list to pare it down to the most important (the lead domino goals are the most important as the rest are less likely to be successful without them — achieving other goals is PRACTICALLY dependent on these possibly unrelated goals).

Now, this is the (next) really important part. If you don’t do this, you will fail. With this step, the objective is to take our goals from goals and change them to processes that fit into your daily life. The key here is to identify the LEAD DOMINOES of the LEAD DOMINO goals.

Take one goal at a time and hold it in your brain. Break that one goal down to small things you can REALISTICALLY do everyday. Committing to doing things everyday can be a huge burden and a huge detriment to achieving goals, so be very small with your commitments (unless you’re swimming in time).

Once you’ve broken it down, break it down again. Break it down, relentlessly. The objective is to get the goal broken down to steps that can be done in <10 minutes. (Be realistic — you’re not going to read a chapter in that dense book and retain it within ten minutes when you’re trying to fit it in during lunch after back to back meetings).

Additionally, you want each of these tasks to be discrete so you can easily tell when they are complete. You’ve got enough to do. You want to be able to check it off and move on without wondering whether you did enough.

Tip: If approaching a resolution you’ve made before and failed, breaking it down into discrete steps is especially important. Try thinking about it from a fresh perspective.

A note on theory — A common pitfall when setting resolutions is signing yourself up to do too much at one time. The essence of what we’re trying to do here is super small incremental changes done on a consistent basis over time (see: this & this).

  • When breaking your goal down, you may not need a lot of regular tasks for each item. More tasks doesn’t itself mean that you’re achieving the goal better.
  • What if I don’t know the steps to my goal? For tasks where you are having trouble breaking it down, maybe try something like “Spend 5 minutes a day progressing on this.” You may not know what progress looks like today, and by doing this you’re trusting the future version of yourself to trust what to do in the moment.
  • The less time the task takes the better. We’re working with a long horizon, and small changes make a big difference when done consistently in the long term. The key is not setting big goals that we miss. Missing goals is counter productive because it messes with our forecasting and with our psyche.
  • It doesn’t have to be done every day. It just needs to be done regularly enough that we can see meaningful progress / habituation without unnecessary overhead or burden. “Just-in-time”thinking.

DOCUMENTING THE PROCESS

Use a tool to track your checklist and to serve as a mechanism for visibility and accountability. Using a tool helps with measuring your progress and takes some pressure off of you (you don’t have to keep it all in your head).

  • Schedule tasks every day (you can schedule less frequently if you can get away with it and still make the progress you want)
  • The goal is not spend a lot of time on the tool. Don’t worry about finding the perfect tool.
  • Always look for ways to reduce your dependency on the tool. If you don’t think this way, you may fall in love with the tool and not what you’re trying to accomplish.

I don’t have a specific provider to recommend. One type of tool I like is Kanban boards (of which there are many).

Here’s an example of a Kanban board with goals broken down.

Kanban representation of goals with specific steps.

Some of the tasks break down even further

Additional steps where appropriate.

Everything is scheduled so all I need to do is check my tasks due today and do those. If I do those, then that means I’m on track. The beauty of this setup is that all the effort I put into preparation makes the day to day extremely easy to manage.

The beauty of this setup is that all the effort I put into preparation makes the day to day extremely easy to manage.

The End Game

If you focus on the process you’ve established and not the goals (which are distractions), then with time you’ll realize you’re closer to your goals (You can move closer to goals without focusing on the goals!)

The outcome of this shouldn’t be a complex system. You should be left with a set of practice-able steps that when taken will get you moving in the direction of yours hopes, dreams and aspirations.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re setup for success. Keep reading to understand when to implement new resolutions, when to shift focus away from current commitments, and other questions.

And don’t forget to save your results so you can re-visit them next time.

What’s Next?

What’s next?

Execute the plan you’ve created.

What if I’m not achieving my goals?

Stick with it and you will. Science tells us habituation occurs after 66 days.

What if I’m not doing the lead domino tasks that I identified?

Take the task out or change it. Don’t just keep failing at it and lose morale. Finding that you don’t do a task is a learning opportunity. Try approaching the task or objective from another angle to see if there’s a better use of your time with those 10 minutes to move you towards you goal. It’s also possible that your priorities may have changed.

What if I’m feeling overwhelmed?

Do less. You can always pause a goal and come back to it later.

When should I add more or move on? What happens to all the goals I didn’t pick?

  • If you’ve mapped out your goals and designs in terms of slow incremental changes to your daily routine, then it should be easy to introduce other resolutions. Reduce focus on one of the goals you’ve habituated into your daily life and add a new one according to the process above. The idea is to introduce resolutions…establish a habit and then once it becomes a habit, move it to the back burner
  • Feel free to play around with it a bit. You didn’t spend all that time coming up with a list of hopes and dreams to not make them a reality. I keep my list in a spreadsheet as a sort of personal project tracker so I can leverage everything I’ve done here for next time its time to revisit my goals.

Should I change my goals?

It’s up to you. Don’t feel bad about changing or abandoning a goal (you’re human and not a robot 🤖, after all.)

What if I’m feeling burnt out on a goal?

Take a pause if you need to. One way to take a break without feeling bad is to switch to another goal (perhaps one you find more refreshing — for me self-care is a priority).

Template

Here’s a simple template for you to start with.

In summary…

  1. Brainstorm goals
  2. Bundle goals together
  3. Tag goals
  4. Identify Lead Domino goals
  5. Filter
  6. Pause & Reflect
  7. Break it down
  8. Document the steps
  9. Do it!

You can remember it easily using this simple acronym BBTIFPBDD! 🙄

Now go and do great things!

If you found this helpful…

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