Have you broken your New Year’s resolutions yet? Or maybe you don’t set them anymore?
Either way, you’re in very good company.
Did you know that almost 11 percent of all gym memberships are made in January?
That’s WAY more than in any other month. And, the most common of all resolutions is to exercise more.
I’ll let you guess how many people keep those resolutions—and have to continue paying for those gym memberships they never use.
So making a resolution—a commitment to permanently change forever—may not be the best way to actually make any changes.
What can be a lot more effective is setting SMART goals.
Resolutions vs. Goals
First, let’s talk about the difference between a resolution and a goal.
A resolution is a decision you make—something you intend to start or stop doing. It has no end in sight. You know, like deciding this is the year you’re going to exercise. Or eat well. Or save money.
A goal, on the other hand, is finite. It has a start and an end, and something specific you want to achieve in between.
I like goals because they can be SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based.
So, instead of saying, “I’m going to go to the gym this year”, your goal can be to go to the gym three days a week for the entire month of January.
Then, in February, your goal can be to go to the gym three days a week with a partner (to hold you accountable).
In March, when the sun stays out longer and it gets warmer outside, you can add a fourth day of exercise, but perhaps it’s outside versus in the gym.
Take it in tiny chunks like that and suddenly you’re me, riding 1,000 miles a month on your bike and extraordinarily grumpy if you miss a workout.
I’m going to take you through some strategies to help you achieve your goals or resolutions.
Make resolutions if you want, but I fully intend to keep setting goals, crushing them so I can drink wine and eat French fries.
The following techniques come from a blog post we wrote last January.
What I’m going to do today is talk about how I use them for my personal and professional goals this year.
My 2020 Personal and Professional Goals
Our goal for Spin Sucks this year is to increase revenue by 54%.
It’s a very specific percentage (versus a nice round number) because I have a specific dollar amount I want us to reach.
So 54% it is.
And personally, one of my goals is to finally learn how to do a handstand.
I’ll use both of those goals to show you how to use goal-setting techniques.
Focus on Three Tasks a Day
All of the experts say a human being cannot accomplish more than three tasks in a day.
First, it’s far less overwhelming than a gigantic to-do list, and it allows you to stay focused on accomplishing something every day.
Every morning at Spin Sucks, we do a daily check-in on Slack.
We do a rundown of the meetings we each have and then our top three priorities for the day.
I’ll admit I often cheat and write “content” as one of my priorities.
What this does for us, team-wide, is it allows us to see what our colleagues are working on, where we might be able to help, or where something might have already been done.
It also helps me, as the leader, to see what my team deems important and where they might be procrastinating (it happens to the best of us!).
So, if our goal is to increase revenue by 54% this year, we can’t use “increase revenue” as one of our three daily priorities.
That’d never work.
But we CAN say, “Close $XX amount of sales today.”
(In fairness, we don’t have a daily revenue goal. It’s a monthly goal. Every week in our leadership team meeting, I show what the monthly goal is and where we are against it.)
Chunking Down Your Goals
Last month, I had a financial priority on my daily check-in every day.
It did two things, showed my team I was whittling away at our year-end goal and it kept me accountable.
This year, we have very specific monthly financial goals to help us increase by 54% so my check-ins already have that number so everyone can see how we’re working toward it every day.
The same doesn’t really work for your personal goals—having three tasks.
But, like I broke down your going to the gym goal by month, you can do the same thing for whichever personal goal is yours.
For instance, if your goal is to eat well, you might cut fried foods out of your diet every day of the week except Saturday (cheat days work really well).
After a month of doing that, your body will start to reject fried foods.
Then, in February, your goal can be to add a vegetable to your plate three times a week.
For my personal goal of learning to do a handstand, I might start with doing pushups every day to get my upper body in better shape so it can hold my weight upside down.
After you’ve committed to having three key things to focus on each day, it’s time to move on to actually getting them done.
Block Time to Do Deep Work
A lot of the time when we feel like we’re too busy, we still finish days or even whole weeks feeling like we didn’t accomplish much.
I hate that.
Have you ever seen that video of David Covey filling a glass up with rocks and water?
The gist of it is, if you start with the smallest things, your day will fill up in no time, but if you plan to have time to work on big goals—in a dedicated, uninterrupted way—you’ll get them done, and everything else can fit around them.
In other words, put the rocks in your jar first and then fill it with water.
If you fill your jar with water and then try to put the rocks in, well, you know what happens.
For instance, I jest a bit about my “content” priority that makes it to our daily check-in, but that truly is a big project, or a rock so to speak, that I need to get done in a given day.
The smaller things—or the water—are the actual tasks such as recording a podcast episode or writing a blog post.
Deep Work and Filling Your Jar with Rocks
Now, if you’re an employee at an organization rather than the boss, or a solopreneur, you may have less control over what you’re expected to get done in a day, or how you arrange your time.
But the idea still works.
You know what your deadlines are and what needs to be accomplished.
You have to be focused on getting those things done every day.
And, when the emergency projects come up—and they will come up—you can fit them in around your rocks or deadlines and not the other way around.
If you haven’t already, read the book Deep Work.
It has some excellent ideas for how to block time to get your rocks accomplished, no matter where you fall in your career.
Now, just like the road to hell is paved with excellent intentions, the beautifully organized calendar filled with chunks of time to make meaningful progress on big personal and organizational goals is constantly under threat of well-intentioned, but progress-destroying distractions.
Let’s talk about those progress-destroying distractions.
They come in many, many forms—and some you have more control over than others.
At work, you may have colleagues checking in and asking for updates or “just a little favor.”
Our lives are made up of doing one another little (or gigantic) favors all day.
That’s good…and it’s bad.
But those aren’t our only distractions.
Online, there is social media and YouTube and cat videos galore.
At home, you have a million chores—pets, family members, housekeeping, laundry (the bane of my existence), grocery shopping, eating, Netflix.
It’s not even safe inside your head!
All of the head trash that takes up space in your brain is distracting, too.
There are a lot of things to get in between you and deep, productive work.
And you can’t change everything, but anyone can help protect their deep work time.
How to Eliminate ALL Distractions
I will admit I am the WORST at online distractions, particularly when I’m doing something that isn’t exciting me.
That’s honestly and truly why I do my best deep work in the early morning hours.
There are very little distractions that early—online or off.
I also do a fairly decent job of blocking time to work on bigger projects.
Those actually go on my calendar so that no one can schedule over them.
Laura Petrolino does the same thing.
If you look at her calendar, you’ll see blocks of time that say “work block”, and that’s what she spends that time doing.
It’s significantly easier to do deep work when you’re remote.
The water cooler talk or stopping by your office for a minute is completely eliminated. And it’s really easy to close Slack and use software to prevent you from going to the social media sites.
But in the office, you can do things to signify you can’t be disturbed.
Close your door, if you have one. Put on noise cancelling headphones. Take your laptop into a conference room. Get permission to go work at Starbucks (if you don’t find that distracting).
The key to doing this, though, is communicating WHY you’re doing it.
If your door is closed, it’s not because someone is about to get fired. It’s because you’re working on something where you can’t be interrupted.
If your headphones are on, that’s not an invitation to tap on your shoulder for a quick favor.
Pretty much everyone (unless they are a real jerk and that’s a different conversation) will understand and appreciate that.
I don’t see a very compelling reason why your professional goals should be treated any differently than your personal goals when it comes to designating and dedicating specific time to them.
If something matters to you, you have to make time for it.
Book that gym time. Schedule in your writing hours. Sign up for the cooking class.
Then treat those times as commitments as real as any you make for work.
Evaluate Your Day
This is one of my favorite strategies.
You’re probably tired of hearing me say, “You can’t measure what you don’t track.”
But it’s as true for your personal and professional goals as it is for your communications campaigns.
If you don’t check in with yourself regularly, you won’t really know if you’re making the kind of progress on your goals, and then it will be December and your business or career is in the same place and you still can’t do a handstand.
At the end of every day, I clean my desk, gather up my post-it notes and put them in my to-do list, outline my priorities for the next day, reflect on what I did during the day to help me reach my goals, and write down three things I’m grateful for that happened during the day.
That last part sounds a little woo-woo—and it is—but it freaking works!
Get Back on the Horse
You can easily turn something like this into a daily (or weekly, depending on your goal) review of what you’ve done, where you are, and what’s next.
Whatever schedule you decide on, the key is that you’re consistent and honest with yourself.
When you fall off the wagon, get back on.
You know how easy it is to miss a day at the gym and say to yourself, “It’s OK. I’ll go tomorrow”?
And then tomorrow comes and something else prevents you from going?
Suddenly it’s been a month and then longer since you’ve been to the gym.
Don’t do that!
It’s OK to have a bad day or fail to achieve your smaller chunk goals every day.
Just get back on the horse the very next day. Not the next week or the next month or the next quarter. The next day.
If you consistently miss your deadlines or fail to make any progress at all, there’s likely a reason why and you need to evaluate what’s going on.
But for the most part, the reason you aren’t making progress is because you’re not focused on it every, single day.
Get yourself on the horse and keep riding, my friends.
What Are Your Strategies?
Now it’s your turn!
What are your personal and professional goals for this year?
How are you going to use the techniques we discussed here to keep yourself on track?
Is there a productivity strategy you love that we’ve missed?
We want to hear it all, so come hang out in the best community of communicators on the internet or let us know in the comments below.