New Year's Resolutions

So, 2019 begins this week! In preparation for the new year, I’ve recently taken the time to reflect on some of my accomplishments and failures of 2018. Some of these include the new year’s resolutions that I made one year ago.

I’ve never been one for making new year’s resolutions, usually considering the start of a new year a silly reason for making changes in one’s life. If there’s something you want to change, why not just set a goal at any time and just go for it? But at the end of 2017 I decided to give this whole thing a try. Now, one year later, I’ve come to learn a few things.

First, a recap of how I organized my 2018 resolutions. I decided one year ago to divide my goals into three categories: daily goals, other things I wanted to accomplish, and a broad theme to work on. My daily checklist consisted of six tasks. My “others” list had 12 items on it, ranging from really broad goals (“be more friendly”) to much more specific ones (“finish thesis and graduate”—success!). My theme was summarized in a short phrase (“be in the moment”) with an accompanying explanatory paragraph.

I realized during this week’s reflection that I had completely forgotten that I had even set “other” goals and a theme. I don’t even know when the last time was that I thought about these as my 2018 resolutions. Maybe in late January?

My daily checklist, though, has been much more of a success. While I didn’t do a single one of my six tasks every day this year—not even close—I at least thought about these goals almost every day. What led to that difference? One thing: actually adding these to my task management system.

I’ve been using a Mac and iOS application—OmniFocus—on and off now for a few years. About a year and a half ago, I finally read David Allen’s Getting Things Done. In his book, Allen lays out a system for staying organized with all of life’s craziness. His method, which also goes by the name of Getting Things Done or GTD, is quite complex, but it can be broken down into a series of five main steps:

  1. Capture everything: your to-dos, your future goals, your ideas, and anything else that takes up space in your noggin. Do this often and as soon as it comes to mind.
  2. Clarify the things you’ve written down. What are the tasks to be done? How can these be broken down into manageable, actionable steps?
  3. Organize those steps into fitting categories and levels of priority.
  4. Reflect on your organized tasks often. Reviewing frequently ensures that your to-dos won’t fall by the wayside. Learning to trust your system allows your mind to stop trying to keep track of everything all the time, giving you more processing power for creative thinking.
  5. Engage. That is, get to work and do.

“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” —David Allen

GTD has been around for almost two decades now, but it’s still widely discussed in online task-management circles (and academic ones too, as I learned in grad school). Though I had heard a lot about it before and had even tried to implement parts of it using OmniFocus in the past, it wasn’t until I actually read Allen’s book that I went all in. I still have much room for improvement in the task-management department, but 2018 has certainly been the year in which my system has been most effective. I credit this system with much of the success I had in conducting research and writing my master’s thesis, among other things.

So, as I mentioned, I have succeeded at keeping track of the daily goals I set one year ago. I have been fully aware of them almost every day this year, and certainly every week. Though I haven’t always done them—far from it—remembering my goals is the first step. It’s been an entirely different situation with my “other” goals and my 2018 theme. This is why I’ve decided to change the structure of my 2019 goals.

Yes, I know that a new year’s resolution usually consists of one or two specific things. This was the reasoning behind having a single 2018 “theme.” And while I intend to keep a 2019 theme going—though this time I’m making sure to write it in multiple highly-visible locations—I’ve broken down the rest of my resolutions into actionable steps that I can track on a daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis. I’ve also significantly narrowed down my list to focus on those things that I most hope to turn into life-long habits. It goes without saying that all of my goals are going into my task-management system this time, which allows me to set time-frames for reviewing each different type of goal so that I never forget to review my monthly and quarterly goals as well.

If you’ve read all this way expecting to see a list of my resolutions, I’m sorry to disappoint. The very personal nature of some of my goals means they won’t be posted on here. But, I will mention that one of my goals for this year is to meditate on a daily basis. I plan to do a minimum of 10 minutes a day using the Headspace app. I’ve been doing this on and off for a few months now and have found it an incredible experience. I can only imagine how much more effective it will be to actually stick to a daily routine.

I’m excited for what 2019 will bring. I think I finally understand why people tend to make such a big deal about setting goals at the start of a new year. It’s not that there’s anything magical about the night that 2018 becomes 2019. Rather, we humans tend to like organizing our lives into cyclical periods of renewal and change. Plus, “New Year’s resolution” sounds way more exciting than “personal goal.”

I only hope that by breaking mine down into specific tasks and organizing them into a system I can consistently review will help me achieve what I want for this year. Let the test begin.