Buckle up … this is a long one. But I’ve been wanting to record what I’ve been working toward and learning the past couple of weeks, months and years about success and achievement, about goals, chief aims, habits, routines, and incremental progress. Take a deep breath and let’s go.
For the first couple weeks of 2014, I’ve been aligning my personal, professional and business goals and objectives for the year. It’s been some of the most energizing days for me as I’ve never been this happy and fulfilled in my personal and business lives. (And yes, at the same time.)
I’ve always been a goal-oriented, goal-driven person. I want to take on big summits (projects and causes that amp me up) in life. I love to look ahead at a big, huge task or project and set out toward it. So I really, really like goals and big ones.
In fact one of my favorite quotes is: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” (Lao-tzu).
But I’ve been starting to rethink or clarify how I approach accomplishing my goals. And in this post I’m going to share my experiences, lessons learned, ideas and actions with you … mileage may vary, but I’m just offering my experiences for help for you to achieve your own definitions of success.
First things first, here are some ideas and exercises I’ve been working through, trying out or used in the past related to it:
- 10x Goals — This comes from Dan Sullivan, creator of the Strategic Coach® Program. A dear friend loaned me his book titled “How the Best Get Better” and as billed it was revolutionary for me. The idea of 10X is to that when setting goals most of us think how can we double our growth. But Sullivan says that’s harder. It’s easier to think 10X. It gets you thinking bigger and bolder. (Learn why 10x goals are easier than 2x here.) I did this 10X exercise for both personal and business. It was very enlightening and worthwhile exercise I’ll be doing more.
- 30-day Challenges — Matt Cutts of Google fame has a TEDtalk about trying something new for 30 days. Something you want to add to your life and trying it for 30 days. This is something I want to do in 2014. I’ve read frequently that doing anything consistently for around 30 days helps you establish new habits. (Now I’m going to add it to my Big Picture board.)
- Future Facts or Visualizing Dec. 31 — this is something our business coach did with us a couple years ago. It was extremely enlightening for me. I love visualization, especially of goals.
- The Painted Picture — this comes from BackPocket COO Cameron Herold, who I had the opportunity to meet in OKC a couple months ago, it’s more Future Facts in 3 years. I haven’t done this yet, but want to do the exercise soon.
- Keeping a Daily Journal of What I Accomplished — I read about the benefits of keeping a daily journal on the HBR blog and even watched a video on it. Taking notes, I signed up for iDoneThis and have been doing it for a couple of weeks. It’s forced me to be reflective about my day and think back about what I actually achieved. (I’m looking at DayOne App right now on the iPhone.)
- One Page Strategic Plan — I had to hunt around for this (and found a recap here), but found it in the WayBack Machine archives. I did this several times at iThemes.
- Big Things To Get Going in 2014 — In December, I did a Big Things mindmap about what key areas I needed to focus on for our company. Out of that exercise came 5 key things for me to personally champion. When I showed it to my COO, Matt Danner, he asked for one for himself, which I promptly did. Then I’ve since done it for our Marketing / Communication Team at iThemes. Most of this formulated my/our Big Picture boards I’ll talk about later.
- 3 Year-End Questions — I saw several people do blog posts answering these three questions about last year: What went well this year? What didn’t go well this year? What am I working toward?
- “Goals are for losers.” It’s all about systems — I got this from reading the awesome book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” by Scott Adams, the cartoonist behind Dilbert. “Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous presuccess failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do.” He goes on to say: “A system is something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run.” This got me thinking about processes and habits and making incremental progress.
- Listed of key things I need to do on a weekly basis to be happy, productive and successful — this comes down to 5 buckets, which are: 1. Leading, dreaming, planning, aligning — I need to be always looking for what’s next and how to lead us there. 2. Reading, learning — I have to be learning or else I’ll whiter and die. 3. Writing, sharing, communicating — I
need an outlet for what I’m learning. I have to share it. And I feel like I haven’t done this as much as I’ve wanted to in a while (more on writing later). 4. Connecting, building influence and impact — this is a big reason why I’ve been successful so far in life, and want to focus on connecting with new people this year while also growing key existing relationships. 5. Optimizing, refining, reflecting — I always want to be improving everything I do.
That’s all kind of background (and a healthy list of resources) to get here ….
How I’m Approaching 2014
Confession time: In the fall last year, for the first time in my life, I had a hard time visualizing what the next stage of success looks like for me. The reason? I’ve accomplished all of the big, audacious dreams I had since I was a teenager. I got to the point that the things I had always dreamed and worked for, I had finally achieved. And was left somewhat empty when, again, as a goal-driven person, started to look for that next summit to climb. It was a tough time.
Then I watched a documentary/biography of Ted Turner who said his father told him to always have huge dreams so that when you accomplish some you’ll always have something next to look forward to.
I think I had reached a level professionally where I knew the next stage might require sacrifices I wasn’t willing to give (namely time with my family). And simultaneously, I have never been more fulfilled and happy in my personal life. I have an amazing life partner, lover and friend in Lindsey and I have a beautiful, amazing, sweet baby boy (the highest item on my Bucket List).
So I set out to find new ones. And here’s where I’m at currently on two big areas of life — personal and professional:
- Professionally — I want to keep growing iThemes and ensure its continual health and prosperity for all involved. The key things we did last year have energized me and made me very confident and excited about our future there. I have the best job in the world and want to keep it for as long as I can. Any strategies and effort I employ in 2014 will be to only bolster and build on to that success.
- Personally — This was the soul searching one. But they centered around my wife and son first and foremost. Being healthy for them. Doing some family estate planning (it sucks, but we had to do it). And then starting to dream about extending our family with a second child, while also wanting desperately to eventually be a grandparent. Mostly it just involves cherishing and maximizing the time we have together on our little adventure.
Back to success now, and what I want to achieve in 2014 ….
I love Scott Adam’s philosophy on establishing systems and processes that increase the odds of luck and happiness and success. I agree that setting a very specific goal and feeling constant failure if you don’t reach it gives off negative feelings. Success is “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.”
So along those lines, I tweaked my life’s purpose to Nurture Greatness in Others. Several years ago, I had established it as Inspire Greatness in Others. But last year, I realized I don’t want to just inspire it, I want to nurture, guide and be intentional about it. To know my life’s purpose has tremendously helped me establish and focus on the right goals and the right priorities.
And so here’s how I’m going about 2014 (so far) and what I’m setting my sights (my energy, time, focus, efforts) on this year.
My big aims or targets (yeah yeah, another word for goals right?) are:
- Make the most out of our family time together — I have an amazing life partner and best friend who I cherish. We have a baby son who is turning 1 this month. It’s been a tremendously exciting year for our little family and only getting better as we are building our dream home this year and are hoping to get pregnant with our second child. This is the top of my list as I want to cherish every moment we have together. Learning to be a dad has been so awesome (something I hope to blog more about soon).
- Build influence and impact — I want to be intentional about building new relationships and growing existing ones this year. This has been a recurring theme for me for the past several years. But this year, I’m setting my sites on key people and events where I can connect with those key people. Setting my 2014 calendar has helped me be a lot more intentional about it. It’s one of the areas I want desperately to focus on but seems to get pushed down the priority ladder more often than not.
- Learn and grow, teach and share — This is foundational to my happiness. If I’m not learning, I’m dying. And if I’m not sharing what I’ve learned I feel like I’m wasting those lessons. Thus, I’m seeking to build processes and habits (which I’ll discuss later) around this key priority. One of the exciting things I want to continue to learn about and share is being a father. Additionally, I want to hone my public speaking and learn about angel investing. All subjects I want to impart what I’m learning on to others (mostly in the form of this blog).
- Make steps toward living a healthier life — when we had our son, Caloway, I put a new item on my Bucket List. I want to be able to meet my grandchildren one day. (Sorry for that pressure, Cal!) But I am 37 currently. And have known I will be an older father than most. Last Father’s Day I asked for a FitBit in order to make progress toward being healthier. It’s been a great reminder to walk more. Now I want to start adding in other healthy elements in my life — like trying to walk on our treadmill at work at least 15 minutes a day, drinking two glasses of water (minimum) a day, eating breakfast (I’m currently eating oatmeal), and being conscious to make smarter food choices. I think I’ll try some 30-day challenges a la Matt Cutts (above) for this. Honestly – this is going to be the toughest thing to do all year. They involve adding and changing habits. If I can make 1-2 healthier choices a day consistently, I’m going to be happy and hope to add on to that foundation with even more as the year goes on.
- Keep optimizing for joy, health, love, happiness — For the last 3 or so years in particular, I’ve been intentional about optimizing every element of my life for happiness. Sometimes it’s meant ending relationships. Mostly it’s been about establishing healthy boundaries. The one great lesson my wife Lindsey has imparted to me is that time is precious and valuable. I don’t want to squander what time I have being miserable.
So this all begs the question:
How do I make progress toward these big overarching aims in 2014?
I believe in incremental progress. The steady, bite by bite, kind of progress that I’ve seen throughout my life make a huge difference in taking my life to the next level (sometimes beyond my wildest dreams). I know that my happiness depends on feeling like I am making progress — daily steps in the journey of a thousand steps — toward my goal.
And if each day I’m giving my best of my time, talent and treasure toward those summits in my life, I don’t need to necessarily put some arbitrary, lofty, fictitious, unrealistic goal on them.
So here’s how I’m setting out to make incremental progress on my chief aims this year:
- Create and make a Big Picture list of my chief aims and refer to it daily. You’ll read more details on that next.
- Keep a list of strategies, tactics and ideas for making incremental progress. What are all the things I can do that will make a meaningful impact toward my life summits, while also make the best use of my limited resources? Willpower, as Adams and others suggest, is a scarce resource that you have to manager well. I want to create this list so that as I make daily progress and time opens up I can pick from a pre-defined list of tasks to do.
- Document progress so I have something to look back on. I’m still working on how to this efficiently and effectively. Lindsey and I were just chatting about how it’d be neat to be able to score points for things you do (like Weight Watchers for life goals). In the past I’ve been very bad at remembering and recording what I’ve done and accomplished. I’d much prefer to look to the future than the past, but realize this might help me remember and rejoice over the journey I set out on and steps I made.
Some Foundational Things I’ve Done So Far To Make For the Best Year Yet
Out of all of the above came a couple of key actions already that I think are going to pay rich dividends for me/us in 2014. Here they are:
- Mapped out our iThemes 2014 Big Picture Board (using Trello) — This is what we’ve called our Strategic Plan in the past. Matt and I met for almost a day in early January to work through our company goals for the year and are in the process of meeting with each team and team member at iThemes to connect the dots and work through plans for achieving them. Matt is a Trello guru-genius. So much of how we did that board was his own insight and recommendations. For instance, on our Executive Big Picture Board, we have 7 key themes/areas, then we prioritized them (labeling them 5 as the highest to 1) and put one of our faces on them for action. Priority 5 (our top level) items must have due dates. Now we’re fleshing out notes and to-do items each week to ensure we’re making progress on these items. We’ve both been giddy about it frankly because we know it’s going to make a huge impact throughout the year toward reaching our goals.
- Mapped out my Personal & Professional 2014 Big Picture Board (using Trello) — After doing our Executive Big Picture Board, I was inspired to do one for myself, both personally and professionally. Since then, I’ve since shared and work through it together with my wife, Lindsey, and she’s included her own personal goals and aims on it. We are partners. Wherever we go, we go together. And having one Big Picture Board together has been awesome for me. Overall, we’re still working and crystallizing it. But I have high hopes to accomplish key things this year.
- Reviewed and set my 2014 Calendar — Several of the items on our Big Picture board had to do with personal and professional travel. One night (for maybe an hour) Lindsey and I worked through our 2014 calendar to think through and plan our year (without it planning us as has happened). I had set a goal of attending two WordCamps and two professional events outside of WordPress. Most of the dates are tentative, but we even set a tentative date for our annual Halloween party.
- Wrote this post. It’s 2800 words so far, but I’m so happy and fulfilled doing it. It’s a recording for me and others to look back on. #BOOM
OK, so there are my thoughts, ideas, plans, research, lessons learned on goal setting. If you’d like to share your tips, please do so in the comments below!