It's almost February—do you know where your resolutions are? If you're in need of a reboot on your fresh-start goals, we've got 10 suggestions on tips and techniques for your long-haul commitments.
Photo by dumbledad.
10. Schedule your goals inside your high-energy times
Ask almost anyone who's seen a gym membership lapse, and it's not the workout itself that killed their best intentions—it's the momentum to get off the couch, strap on sneakers or hop in their car, and just walk through the gym door. Everyone's got their personal energy schedule—your Lifehacker weekday morning editor, for example, tends to lose his workflow right before noon and pick himself up again at 2pm. So, rather than settings aside some arbitrary block of time for accomplishing your goal (After work! In "the morning!" Before I go to bed!), spend a few days figuring out when you can really get it accomplished. It works for Michelle Dunn, and if you can pinpoint when you have just far too much energy to put into television browsing, it can work for you too.
9. Make them S.M.A.R.T.
The difference between "I want to know more about computers" and "I need to master security protocols in PHP programming" is pretty vast. You've probably got much more intriging goals than either of those, but the same key criteria should apply to making your goal a realistic one. Use the way-older-than-this-blog S.M.A.R.T. guidelines to shape them: Specific ("Run 5 kilometres, three times a week"); Measurable ("Improve my times by 25%"); Achievable (Avoid pie-in-the-sky goals that you can't expect to achieve.); Realistic (Give yourself the time necessary to achieve the goal. Don't expect overnight success.) Timely (Have a real deadline with progress check-ups; get your first 5KM under your belt by Sept. 1, instead of "Run a long race this year"). A more thorough schooling on S.M.A.R.T. is offered by Robert Bogue at TechRepublic. Photo by striatic.
8. Organise your finances
The original US Lifehacker post raved here about the virtues of a bunch of US-specific finance management sites. There's really nothing in Australia to compare in scope, sadly.
7. Channel your Inner Seinfeld—Don't break the chain
We won't rehash the whole story, but one of our frequent contributors shared Jerry Seinfeld's productivity secret with us a while back, and it's an elegant mix of middlebrow motivation and simple technique that works perfectly for fresh-start resolutions in January. Use a wall-sized, year-at-a-glance calendar, use a webapp like the previously mentioned, Seinfeld-inspired Don't Break the Chain!, or, hey, start chaining together paperclips. The point is, create a day-by-day series of something that you won't want to see broken, and before you know it, it's become a ritual you'd be ashamed to break. Perfect for day-by-day fitness plans like our favourites, One Hundred Push-Ups and Couch to 5K in Six Weeks
6. Track them all at once with Joe's Goals
Why not let your resolution tracking be kinda, actually fun? Joe's Goals is a minimalist, colorfully adorned day-by-day tracker with more flexibility than you'd think. The basic use is simple—do something good, give yourself a +1 point smiley, bad, a -1 point frowny face—but you can also track things you shouldn't do, like grab fast food, smoke, or whatever's on your kill list. You can embed your results grid on your blog or other pages, but it's not one of those social feel-good-and-tell-everyone trackers—it's just a simple way to be honest with yourself about how you're doing.
5. Keep your reminders/motivators away from your computer
Heresy, we know—can't computers track everything? Problem is, the resolutions that benefit from a note with, say, your ultimate weight goal, or a "spend less" reminder, often have nothing to do with your online life or working day. If you keep those notes in a text file or management app, they're prone to getting lost when you get swamped at work or overdue on your email.
4. Remember the Milk
We're quite aware that, to regular readers of Lifehacker (or even just our Top 10 series), we sound like broken records/recursive text loops in recommending this ubiquitous, web-based organiser. And in terms of resolutions, RTM is limited to broad ideas that can be broken down into separate tasks—"Keep a cleaner house," "Invest 50 percent more money each month," and the like. But Remember the Milk's strength isn't in its clean AJAX interface or numerous tools for nearly any computer—it's that it goes everywhere, and isn't tied to any one system. If you're a text-a-holic, you can get reminders and set up tasks through your phone's SMS system. If you need actual paper lists every week/month, RTM can pre-format your tasks for you. And, yes, if you use Linux at home, a Mac at work, and Windows on your spouse's laptop (and, wow, what a marketing anecdote you are), you can get to your tasks online or off on all three system. Breaking down big ideas into little to-dos is a cornerstone of smart productivity, and RTM gets that done.
3. Be a dweeb and write them down
If yours is a year-long goal with a result greater than, say, 20 kilograms or five waist centimetres, it's definitely the sort of thing you should commit to actual writing—and hand-writing, at that. Our esteemed emeritus editor, Gina Trapani, is no fan of self-help hype or mindlessly yelling "Be positive!" at herself—in fact, long-term life goals kinda made her cringe. But when it comes to goals, one year or longer:
Something potent occurs when a thought graduates from a couple of synapses firing off in your head to a statement on paper: the idea gets a life of its own, it becomes a possibility that can stare back at you, and asks what you're going to do about it. Writing down your goals means you'll have a reminder, a record, and most importantly, the experience of promoting an idle thought that deserves to be more than that to a written statement.
The reason many of us do better on tests when we write down notes? Same reason writing down a life-altering resolution should take place.
2. Advanced calendar tweaking
If you're already proficient at plotting out work and obligations in Outlook, Google Calendar, or even the dead tree grid, a little re-thinking of your calendar use could be perfect for reminding you of the year-long (or life-long) race you're running. Blogger Zee created a functional goal-tracking calendar, setting up five-year, one-year, three-month, and other goals in separate, color-coded calendars. There are certainly many multi-calendar webapps and desktop tools that fit this kind of mold; Google Calendar is just what Zee happened to be rocking.
1. Remember Ryan Adams' creed—It's just a simple task today
It's similar to setting the S.M.A.R.T. goals mentioned above, but it feels a lot less like corporate speak and gives you great visuals to help stick to your guns. Asked how he manages to stay shockingly prolific for a rock song writer, alt-country/indie-rock icon Ryan Adams said:
What I do and what all musicians do is easy. All we have to do is sit down for a couple hours a week and write a song or two. That simple task is all the world asks of me, so I do it. The other musicians who don't are just lazy, because again, we aren't being asked to tar rooftops or clean out dumpsters. We just have to write a couple songs!
As contributor Brad Isaac explains it, that kind of creed or mantra can work for any goals, and day-by-day resolutions in particular. You don't have to re-plan your entire life's storage solutions; you just have to straighten out the top shelf of your closet, and do it today. You aren't being asked to win a swimsuit competition today; your job is to drive by Wendy's on your way home and eat what you planned instead. It's all too easy to feel like you're fighting against the Roman Army of personal problems every day, when all you really need to do is pick up a shovel and dig one foot of a moat. (Okay, we'll save the realistic working-man analogies for the songwriter)
What's worked for you in sticking to and recording your resolution progress? What goals have fallen by the wayside, and which have you been able to keep up? Open-source your progress in the comments.