2021 Goal Retrospective

I’ve been doing yearly retrospectives on my yearly goals for awhile now. My belief in incremental improvement being the key to achieving anything great life has only been strengthened as time has gone on. Here’s my review of last year’s goals and my thoughts about what I can change going forward.

What Worked Focusing on just two habit changes for the year is the right balance for me. I think of a habit as a recurring behavior I want to change, as opposed to a specific one-time event or project completion. I implemented the two habits I targeted. Setting goals that are just hard enough is really critical. I set a couple goals that were just enough of a stretch that I felt like I could push and get them across the line. If they were 20% harder I probably wouldn’t have made it, but if they were much easier I would have left something on the table. It’s impossible to get this 100% right, but you get better at this with time. Defining the why behind goals has been really important. This helps filter out goals that don’t matter as much (if you can’t articulate a compelling why, you shouldn’t include it in your goals) and a crisply-written why helps maintain motivation over time. Tracking habit-like goals weekly on an excel sheet is a great tool for remembering to do them. However, (a) you can’t track too many goals and (b) tracking them has to be easy (< 30s to record).

It’s been interesting & rewarding to see over time how I’ve become more effective at setting goals. Sure, goal planning systems are more effective than nothing out of the box, but there’s a lot to learn by iterating on your own goal system that takes into account your specific psychology and quirks. It’s worth putting in the time to really think seriously about your goals and how achieve them each year.

What Didn’t Goals without very clear, measurable metrics—or metrics that were hard to track/observe—were hard to hit. Even if you "complete" them it doesn’t give you the same feeling of acomplishment, and the lack of specifics doesn’t give you the motivation to push when it gets challenging. I wanted to do a screen-free day each week. Instead, I did ~20 over the course of the year. This was strangely hard to remember to do, and I’m not sure why. Weekly discplines (as opposed to daily discplines) are harder to build, especially when you don’t have anyone to hold you accountable. For example, I used to hate working out, but committed to a weekly time with a friend and now it’s a habit and I enjoy it. I need to determine how to pull that same sort of energy into changes that are not dependent on another person. I think part of the issue with the screen-free day and some other related habits is exatly what it means isn’t clear. Does it mean I should put my phone + laptop in another room? What if we committed to be somewhere and need to use the phone to get there? What exceptions exist? This muddies the waters and makes it hard to focus on this sort of goal during the whirlwind of daily life. What Should Change I want to look into apps, or some other low-friction reminder tool, to help build habits. There are some smaller, micro habits (like taking a vitman every day, flossing, etc) that don’t fit well into the goal planning process. Streaks looks like a simple app that was recommended by a couple folks. If there are goals or habits which seem hard to build, put some time into really clarifiying the actions you need to take to make progress on the goal or the exact actions that the habit requires. As an example, I need to think on the screentime goal and determine how I can really intergrate this into my daily life and be reminded of this automatically.

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2020 Goal Retrospective

Another year, another yearly goal retrospective. This year included a grab bag of curveballs, most notably COVID. Although there was a lot of loss this year, I’m blessed to be able to say this year was really good for me and my family.

Without further ado, here’s the retro!

What Worked Not doing the quarterly reviews and focusing on the monthly reviews. In this season of life (young kids) quiet/focused time is precious and it’s not possible to spend too much time planning together (or individually) for that matter. Small, specific goals that created a habit or helped figure out a workflow worked well. We should continue to pick key habits and work on them through a focused goal. It’s important to have only one or two of these per year to prevent your goals from becoming too boring. The simple habit tracking sheet (gsheet with the number of times per week I did my target list of habits) provided a nice weekly reminder of the habits I want to build. I started this year reconnecting with a group of friends focused on changing a handful of specific habits. It’s been a great motivator to ‘flip the defaults’ on some behaviors at the beginning of the year. I spent a lot of time over the last year being more intentional about my screen time usage. This has paid off: I feel more focused and less distracted than in the past even if it means I’m the "horrible texter" in group chats. It’s worth continuing to improve my systems & disciplines around controlling screen time, it pays a handsome dividend. What Didn’t Goals that required lots of communication/coordination with my wife and weren’t essential to this year, didn’t get done. Getting time alone to work on common projects is challenging with young kids. I don’t think there is a great solution to this other than being very careful about committing to goals that fall into this category. Goals that weren’t impactful to get done this year were hard to prioritize. Be thoughtful about goals that are ‘nice to haves’, or something that is very exciting/an important long-term goal, but not something that can be tied to real progress this year. If the goal isn’t really important to get done by the end of the year, don’t include it. For example, one of my goals was completing a list of house projects. Most of these were not essential and I made progress on these without intentionally prioritizing them. I enjoy learning new skills and doing things with my hands, so I’d made certain improvements a priority without any additional willpower. We didn’t hold each other accountable for goals that didn’t make any progress by default. In our monthly review, we spent time reviewing the month and what we could improve, but not tracking against the goals we committed to. We didn’t adjust our goals and revisit some of the things that were just impractical after covid hit. Historically, we’ve been bad at adjusting goals after setting them. It feels like admitting defeat, which is something I hate doing. I need to get better at just accepting that life is dynamic and the focus of a year could change on a dime. I naively thought we had the parenting thing down. Kids pushed the limits of our parenting skills this year. My wife and I have spent a lot of time in the second half of the year talking, reading books, implementing new ideas, etc relating to our parenting. This took a lot of time and was the right place to put our efforts, but it was not reflected in our goals (either explicitly or by reducing the number of additional goals). I don’t expect this year to be too different as our oldest continues to get… well… older and we continue to attempt to figure out how to parent well. What Should Change? Don’t include goals that impact us more than a year out. Don’t include goals that aren’t critical and will partially get completed by default. Think about which goals require dedicated willpower to change behavior or make significant progress and focus on those. Make reviewing our goals and keeping each other accountable to them part of our monthly review. Either have goals tied to parenting or leave lots of margin to include time for parenting over the next year.

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2019 Goal Retrospective

I’ve been doing retrospective’s on my yearly goals for a couple years now. Although it’s a little late, I wouldn’t want to break the habit (plus, I’m trying to open source my thinking).

Let’s go!

What Worked Creating a distinction between habits and goals. I have a separate “habit document” where I document habits that are important to me. Setting a goal to kickstart a habit. Habit-goals shouldn’t be all, or even most, of your goals for the year but having one or two habit-goals can be really effective at changing behavior. It was useful to commit to an action (like hiring a personal trainer) to force building momentum for a specific habit. If you’ve set a goal for the last couple years and haven’t been able to make it happen, consider doing something drastic. How can you up the ante and put something on the line associated with the goal? Maybe it’s hiring a coach, tying money to it, making a commitment that you can’t back out of without causing issues for someone else, etc. Figuring out how to raise the stakes has been hugely helpful. Including a just-for-fun goal: vacation, hobbies, etc that you’ll be really motivated to accomplish. This has helped me be excited about the year and maintain motivation for the important but not exciting goals. Setting aside project time as a married couple. It was fun to work on our goals together, and we got some important and run things done during this time. Looking forward to more of this. Joint goals or projects with my wife was really fun and motivating. For instance, we built a garden together this year. Zero-targets. Setting a non-action goal was a great way to break some behaviors I wanted to change. What Didn’t Goals that weren’t exciting or specific enough fell to wayside. We didn’t do the quarterly review at all. This is the second year that this wasn’t an effective practice. In the season of life that we are in (little kids), we just don’t have the time to really set aside the time to do a proper quarterly review. We need to rethink this. This may be obvious, but having a kid is a goal in and of itself. We knew we were going to be growing our family, but I didn’t account for this in my list of goals. Make sure to a in that year and you need to plan for that. We didn’t create “project time” that often individually or as a couple. I wish we blocked off time for projects 2-3x more than we did. What Needs to Change? Remove the quarterly review. We haven’t stuck to it for the last two years and with two young kids carving out that amount of time just isn’t practical. Next iteration on this is adding reminders to our monthly review to ask a couple of the questions that we wanted to incorporate into the monthly review. More project time. This is super fun if you set goals at a couple and helps create focus around making progress on goals that are slipping.

Here are some other reflections I had about the year:

Many of the exciting life changes have come and gone (moving, buying a house, etc) and we are in a season where family (kids) take up the majority of our time. This means that most of our goals are less exciting, and that’s ok. We have to remember that raising amazing kids and being present to them is our top priority. What that requires shifts and changes throughout the year. Some things in our life which need to change are hard to tie to a specific and measurable goal. Mostly because we don’t know exactly what needs to change. With two young kids “improving our family balance” is a thing we need to improve, but what that exactly means isn’t clear. What we decided to do was pick a specific thing that represented the best forcing function we could think of for improving on the vauge state that we are marching towards, and then adjust the specifics of that goal as we move through the year. Most of your goals shouldn’t be actions that you naturally motivated to take. I tend towards this mode and need to think hard about what goals work against things I don’t

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Life Categories for Your 2020 Goals

Each year my wife and I go through a review process where we set goals and habit targets. We’ve been doing it for five years and it’s amazing to see the progress we’ve both made. It’s also been powerful to set joint goals that we can work on together.

I’ve found it helpful to think over the "categories" of your life. A couple of years ago I wrote out my main life categories and it’s time to update that list:

Spiritual Marriage Kids Health Intellectual Work Adventure, beauty, and fun. Intentionally pursuing outdoor adventure and just-for-fun activities with friends is a new thing for me. In the past the first thing to go with this sort of self-care, but I’ve found this to be more and more critical to achieving the life I want to have over the long-term. Financial Relationships

This list is stack ranked against what my long-term priorities are. For a season, one category will be more important than other aspects of my life but over the long term, I want to ensure I prioritize my life against this stack-ranked list.

It has served as a good gut check for me at the end of each year: is my time aligned against how I want my life to look?

 

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2018 Goal Retrospective

Every year I enjoy doing a retrospective on last year’s goals. I believe there is value is "open sourcing your brain": your ideas may help someone and you may get invaluable feedback to help you improve.  There’s also a strange sense of social accountability created for myself that helps me ensure I improve this year.

So, with that in mind, here we go!

What worked Doing something small to move a goal forward. Once you see progress you’ll be motivated to dig into the goal more and make progress. Reduce friction on goals which you are not naturally motivated to achieve. For instance, if you want to drink more water everyday, buy a water purifier to make the water taste better. Scheduling time on Sunday to work on goals. Other days of the week are very busy and my mind is generally “spent” by the end of the week.

Some additional context on #1 & #2:

One of my goals this year was improving my health: losing weight, eating better, etc. This is something I’ve never been good at or motivated to improve.

I’ve found that if I’m not making progress on a goal, especially when I’m not naturally motivated to hit it, it’s because there is not a clear path to making progress. For instance, my health goal was to hit a specific weight and BMI. I don’t know how to work out: my family, friends, and school never taught me and I never invested in it. I have such little knowledge of the space I don’t really know where to get started.

What was really effective for me was setting up a little space in my house where I could do pushups and planks. I’m not sure if those exercises were the "best" to do, but I know how to do them well enough. I can do them at home, they don’t take much time, and it’s easy to see progress. I walk past the area I setup and it requires so little mental energy to take 10m and do the exercises that I’ve ended up doing them more consistently.

The lesson here for me is to break down large goals into a small actionable task and reduce the friction involved in accomplishing the task.

What didn’t Quarterly review. We (my wife and I) did a great job on our weekly and monthly reviews, but just didn’t do the quarterly reviews. We also didn’t acknowledge this and adjust through the year. Health goals. I don’t enjoy working out. It has always been a chore that required a bunch of my daily “decision making quota” to push myself to do it. I started making progress at the end of the year, but overall I barely made progress. Not scheduling enough time on Sunday to work on goals. There was one goal this year which I didn’t hit just because I didn’t schedule a couple more hours to create a plan and strategy that I could easily execute on throughout the week. Not bringing in help/accountability on a goal that is slipping. I’m wired to figure things out on my own, but sometimes (ex: exercise) it’s best to bring in a professional to help provide external motivation and personalized information to put me on a clear track to accomplishing my goal. Developing new habits. I only have so much decision making power, or discipline, each day. Each time I need to make a decision I withdraw from my “decision bank account”. This is why automating or eliminating as many decisions as possible is very powerful. It’s also why I can’t seem to develop more than one or two habits at a time. This last year I was not intentional about which habits I was working on and didn’t ensure I had enough “discipline budget” to effectively build the habit. Running a business by yourself can take over your life. It’s very hard to do anything but work on important and urgent items for the business. I created a “2018 Goal Dashboard” and didn’t look at it at all. Keeping yet one additional thing up to date wasn’t effective and it wasn’t inspiring keeping a digital sheet full of gauges up to date. The meta-lesson here is being aware of adding more weight to a process. Be thoughtful about what the minimum overhead is required to accomplish your goals. What am I going to change? We didn’t stick to our quarterly reviews. I think we need to shorten the review to make it quick: ~30m. The length of time that it takes to effectively do the review is what caused it to be harder to execute on. Don’t attempt to make big life or habit changes when you are starting a business. Be honest with yourself and realize that creating a successful business is going to take every ounce of effort you have and every other major category of your life will be on autopilot. The type of business does matter here: if you are creating a coaching business, a small info-product business, etc that you aren’t relying on to provide for your family this is a different story. Every 2-3 months we need to schedule a 3-4 hour block of time on Sunday to work on our goals. This dedicated time on a day when there’s no other urgent obligations is critical to creating a strategy for moving forward on the more challenging goals. There’s got to be an easy physical way to update the large goals for the year. Maybe some sort of board with the goals written down that you visit throughout the year.

I’ll report back in 2020 with how this year’s goals went.

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2017 Goal Retrospective

I love yearly goal planning with my wife. It’s been an awesome practice that we started years ago thanks to The Best Year Ever program and the promptings of David DeWolf. It’s truly changed our lives: it’s amazing to see how many big, important goals you can hit each year if you have focus and clarity at the outset of the year.

I try to do a retrospective in most areas of my life, but I especially enjoy doing one in regards to my yearly goals. I’ve found identifying and implementing small, incremental improvements to important aspects of life to be incredibly useful.

What worked:

Our weekly review reminded me of key goals and maintained momentum towards hitting them, even when I lost motivation or felt overwhelmed with other demands on my time. This last year was a busy one for us, and we paired down our goals from the outset to account for this. Being realistic about what can be accomplished based on your season of life is important. Although our goals were “boring” this past year, they were the right ones for our season of life. It’s ok to have boring goals that are important—but not every year! Over the long-term, they need to be exciting. Two of my goals were habits that I wanted to develop. I think if there were more than two habits, this wouldn’t be as effective, but having two habits to focus on each week was very powerful.

What didn’t:

We only did our quarterly review once. We use the quarterly review time to edit our goals (and sometimes remove!), change our strategy, or adjust goal metrics if what we originally set out to do was unrealistic. Additionally, not having this time set aside eliminated the possibility for us to have dedicated time to work on key goals that were slipping.

I also find that keeping goals around that need to removed or edited is demotivating. I skip over them and immediately discount them, which affects how I perceive the rest of the goals on my list.

Here’s what needs to change:

We need to add more fun to the quarterly review process. For the yearly review, we try to take a trip and get out of our normal life for a couple of days, but for the quarterly reviews we’ve never done this. Combining the process with a fun experience will help us look forward to the process more and make sure it happens. A Groupon hotel deal is a great (and cheap!) way to make this happen. There’s a distinction between key habits and goals. For us, we’ve always treated habits that we want to develop as goals. However, there are important habits that we’ve developed (or are still working on!) that we want to make sure we maintain. I’m going to try to develop a list of habits and creatively think of a way to track our commitment to critical habits over time. Not sure how to do this yet without creating more work/time for us.

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2015 Goals Retrospective

I’ve been making intentional yearly goals using Michael Hyatt’s Best Year Ever program for the last couple years. The simple workbook that Michael provides is effective in reviewing the past year, and defining goals for the upcoming year.

A "retrospective" is a process common in Agile Software Development, but I’ve started applying it my personal life planning lately. I made a lot of progress on key goals this past year, but still made a lot of mistakes; below is a retrospective on my 2015 goals.

Here’s what worked:

Getting clear on my goals, and the reasons (or motivation) behind those goals. Adjusting my actions and strategies to align against my goals.

Here’s what didn’t work:

I didn’t track my progress against my goals in a consistent and disciplined way. Although my goals were trackable (a key element of a successful goal!) I didn’t track against the metrics embedded in the goal. I didn’t adjust my actions and strategy, even though it was clear that my original strategy wasn’t bringing me towards my goals fast enough–and in some cases–was just the plain wrong strategy. I didn’t have a process in place to remove goals that weren’t right anymore. A goal that makes sense at the beginning of the year may not make sense mid-way through the year, and that’s ok.

My plan is to fix what went wrong with two simple tweaks:

I’m setting up a monthly recurring task in my task management application (todoist) to review progress on goals in a simple google spreadsheet. I’ve blocked off a day each quarter for a "quarterly checkin" to ensure that 1) all my goals are still the right goal and 2) the strategy and actions aligned against each goals are correct.

I’m thrilled to jump into 2016 with all I’ve got. I’m excited about these changes to my goal planning process; I’ll report back next year to see if it worked!

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Are You Being Deliberate About Long-term Goals?

Recently, I met with a mentor about some of my past and future goals. After listening and understanding my goals, he started to dive into the motivation behind my goals.

Why did I want to build that product? Why was I interested in that type of business? What did I want my life outside of work to look like? What type of people do I enjoy working with? Am I working with those people? What type of work did I enjoy? What type of work am I excellent at? What type of lifestyle do I want to live?

I had good answers to the first round of questions, but as he kept digging I realized my answers were becoming more and more thin, and I had a lot of thinking to do.

I’m a planner by nature. I’m a checklist-driven high achiever who loves to build, create, and get things done. What the questions by this trusted mentor made me realize is my thinking and planning had been very short-term and short sighted.

My goals and ideas were aimed at the next 1-3 years and not the next 5, 10, or 15 years.

He challenged me to get intentional. To be deliberate about defining what I want to achieve. To get clarity on what I want all aspects of my life to look like: professional, family, spiritual, financial, social, etc. I was challenged to define in detail what I’m excellent at, what there is a market for, and what I’m passionate about; and to develop and find opportunities at the intersections of those three things.

It’s our duty to strive towards greatness in our lives, and through my time with this mentor I realized that I was falling short. Are you being deliberate and intentional about defining and striving towards greatness in your life?

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