So around this time of year, people often make a laundry list of New Years Resolutions in multiple ares of their lives and then dutifully go about trying to achieve them. I remember being one of those people. I remember being so organised and determined with them. I remember setting up automatic, recurring, timed reminders in my personal productivity app (whether on my Lotus Notes, Microsoft Outlook, smartphone, or in my personal notebook).
And I also remember that by mid-year, the New Years Resolution task list was never moving as fast as I hoped. I remember the task list feeling like a set of chores that felt ever more difficult to complete. I remember ultimately deleting some that were very specific, but mostly simply changing the year on the due date, and promising to do better next year. I figured if only I got more specific, more detailed, that would solve the issues. After all, like any person with a good foundation in project management would say, “you plan the work and then work the plan.” And yet, I wasn’t getting anywhere really. I was in this Resolution Cycle that seemed to have no end in sight.
So I decided to test something 3 years ago. I decided to delete my very detailed, very long resolution list and instead focus on a yearly theme.
The concept is that I select a theme early in the year and then I think of things that I can do to help support that theme. The things are not allowed to be short-term things for the sake of themselves (e.g. save up for a new TV), but instead have to be things that make a long-term difference. Something that if I work on it this year and turn it into a habit, will continue to reap rewards for long time to come.
I did this at first because I thought it would be easier, but as it turns out, it required more thought and energy than my original task list. But for me, the results have been more rewarding and I have felt better year after year.
In 2012 the theme was “Enjoy”, but what did that mean? For a few weeks I had to ponder over what do I enjoy doing? I came up with three things that I really enjoy doing and want to keep on doing. And then every month or so, I would take time to reflect on how that was going. For example, one of my goal was that I enjoyed spending more time with family and friends, and was beating myself up for not doing that more. So I made a decision that I would do that and in general it has been success. There has been more time with family and friends and have made for deeper and more satisfying relationships. In my old list-based way of thinking, it would have been an item in the task list to “contact your sister” and then when it was checked off, mission accomplished, but in a really superficial way.
In 2013 the theme was “Help”. This was also the year of my Corporate Service Corps assignment in Nigeria, as well as visiting Tanzania for vacation and some helpful charitable giving, and making a plan to discover how I wanted to contribute to others causes in a sustainable way in terms of both time and money. The charitable giving plan is something I use even now and will continue to do so in the future. There was also a need to help myself as I was beginning to lose something that I treasured since I was very young – the love of learning. So I enrolled in a Master’s Degree programme.
In 2014 the theme was “Experiment” – a reminder to myself to try new things and stop doing things that made me comfortable all of the time. I have made myself very uncomfortable at times during the year, but it all been about growth.
In 2015 the theme is “Me”. There have been things about myself that I have wanted to change. On the surface, I suppose it sounds a bit selfish, but actually what it is about is taking a long hard look at myself and thinking through what are some of the things I need to focus on to positive effect for myself and others. I haven’t sorted everything out here yet. It is not uncommon that I don’t settle down on the activities around my themes until around February. If I am going to understand a resolution, I want to be resolute about it – and to make it matter.
In all of these themes it is an understanding that the plans are not set. I tinker with them as I go along. Some I feel more strongly about that others and I am open to change. I try to link things together because when I do this, my resolutions becomes more than just a checklist, but more like a web of activity where the connections between serve as motivation and reinforcement.
This approach won’t work for everyone. A lot of people do perfectly fine with task-oriented lists. But if you are often feeling disappointed with this approach, then give something like this a try and see how it goes for you. You might be surprised with the results 🙂