With only a couple of weeks left until the new year, it’s time to start thinking about plans and targets for 2007. The word “resolutions” doesn’t work for me, and my guess is it doesn’t for you, either— think back over your new year’s resolutions from years past and be honest about your failure-to-success ratio of projects you started on the first day of the year. Yeah, that’s what I thought. Me too.
But ever since I was a kid I’ve always been a list-maker and goal-setter, and many times people ask me how I manage to get such a high percentage of my to-dos done. The key for me was changing the way I set my goals. Writing out a magic list of ways in which you’re suddenly going to start being the perfect you on the first of January is ridiculous. As a life coach friend of mine once said regarding the passion to succeed, “if you don’t want something badly enough that you’re desperate to start down the road to it today, right this second, then you probably don’t want it badly enough to ever complete it, period. You’re sure as hell not going to magically shoot out of a cannon on January first and straight over the finish line, if the state of your life isn’t disturbing enough to you right now to start doing something about it immediately. You’ll get an initial burst of energy from the cannon, sure, but it won’t carry you far enough, and eventually you’ll land with a thud. Better to have a system in place by which you can make small, consistent steps at any time of year and gradually chip away at those goals.”
So about ten years ago I switched from the Big December Resolution-Setting Extravaganza to a more reasonable system of writing goals down exactly when they formed in my head (be that in December or May or whenever), and measuring my commitment to them by my ability to tiptoe towards those targets in small, measured increments. At first I used to go through my list once a month and tidy it up— remove goals that were no longer relevant, cross completed goals off the list, and reorganise the remaining items by priority. But I still missed the hope and excitement of sitting down in December. There’s just something about the turn of the year that makes one want to have a fresh start. So I did what I always do and took all the parts I liked from each system and combined them into a custom plan that works for me. Nowadays I do light list management on a month to month basis, just reorganising obvious things and adding items as necessary, and I save my big list overhaul for December. I enjoy doing things that way, and for the past decade or so it seems to have worked for me. I certainly get a lot of comments about how much I get done.
You, of course, might not find my system works for you, and the good news about that is that now it’s easy to create your own custom way of working on your goals, thanks to the internet. Back in the day, it used to be that your options for practical goal list management were few and simple: pen and paper was the most likely choice. And the good thing about that system was that you could tape your goal list to the wall for easy, constant reference. Of course, you can still do that, there’s nothing wrong with it, but these days there’s no need to bother yourself with it if you’d rather hang out on the web (and let’s face it, you would— after all, you’re spending your free time reading this right now).
There are a few online options open to the serious goal setter, but far and away the best service I’ve found is the Robot Co-op‘s flagship site, 43 Things (this is not to be confused with Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders, which, although a fantastic personal development site in its own right, deserves separate consideration and is not associated with 43 Things except in that the names are similar, which I’m told is just coincidence). I’ve had a 43 Things account for quite some time, they’ve been around a long while, but I just never got around to really digging through the site and discovering everything that it has to offer. But since it’s that time of year, yesterday I decided to have a look and see if I could improve on my current goal list management system (which for the past few years has been a spreadsheet I keep privately on my local drive).
I’ll admit it, I got sucked in hard. I must have spent twelve hours there yesterday excitedly getting myself settled in and organised and motivated. The great thing about 43 Things (aside from the fact that it’s my favourite price: free) is that what initially appears to be the entire site, the part where you set life goals and define ambitions, is only the very tiniest tip of an iceberg that extends up and down and all around your core list of targets, supporting you from every direction. In addition to the community aspects of the actual 43 Things site (e.g. the ability to cheer other people on, give advice on goals you’ve already achieved, or seek help if you’re having trouble moving forward on a goal), there are also four additional web sites, all related to 43 Things, which don’t require separate registration and which you can use freely to supplement your 43 Things experience. Here’s an overview:
- 43 Things: Set goals, show off achievements, get help with your obstacles, help others over theirs, cheer each other on, and get ideas for new things to try.
- 43 Places: Same basic idea as 43 Things, but all about places you want to visit and places you’ve already been— anything from countries and cities to attractions and restaurants.
- 43 People: Half social networking and half role model setting… this is the part of the system I’m still getting to grips with.
- Lists of Bests Here you can make lists of anything you want, and work through your own lists or the lists of others. For instance, one of my goals on 43 Things is to “read 50 books in 2007,” and so I’m going to make a list of 50 books on Lists of Bests and keep track of my progress there.
- All Consuming: A great companion to Lists of Bests, All Consuming details the list items you’ve consumed, and makes it easy for you to share your experiences with others and get suggestions for new items to consume. Consumption categories include anything and everything from books to CDs to films to food and any other custom category you care to invent.
You see now how I spent so much time on this yesterday. It’s a labyrinth. But once you get the hang of how everything seamlessly works together, it becomes fun and I think in the long run it’s going to help me become a lot more productive even than I already am. The one thing that was really missing from my previous spreadsheet system was the aspect of accountability and support— if I failed or gave up, no one knew, and no one was there to console or encourage. With 43 Things, it’s possible that items in danger of sliding downhill can be salvaged, because there’s the help (and let’s face it, pressure) of all those who have already accomplished the same goal and are willing to show you how they got past the obstacles.
So give this to yourself as a holiday gift— sign up here, and get excited not only about 2007, but about the rest of your life.