The year is still fresh, and so are our goals, plans and resolutions. Most of us have probably heard that plain New Year’s resolutions don’t work, but still we often make them because there is something so refreshing about starting a new year and filling it with aspirations and dreams that have been dormant in our minds. During the year, we often know that some things need to change but life just gets in the way. So the time around Christmas and New Year’s Eve is often quiet enough to think more thoroughly about what the next year will bring, and since we usually don’t work during that time, the mind has a funny way of filling that space with important thoughts.
From New Year’s resolutions to goals and habits
Resolutions become powerful when we transform them into goals, and make them measurable. But even more importantly, we need to develop habits that support these goals. Otherwise it just won’t happen. And we have a lot of habits already, good and bad, and they are the most powerful drivers of what we do. So my thinking for the new year has been around which habits I want to install, maintain or improve. Some people claim that you can only change one habit at a time, but I am trying to be more ambitious. And my means of making this happen is to focus on one cornerstone habit for the new year that can empower all the other ones. It’s a habit that can start off other good habits. (Charles Duhigg has a great book, The Power of Habit, in which he develops this idea of ‘keystone habits’. I will talk about his ideas in a future post.)
Am I crazy? Quite possibly, yes
A word of warning: when you read the rest of the text, you will probably think one of three things:
- “This is great, I am doing something similar (or: I could totally do that, and maybe I should right now)”.
- “This sounds great but I could never do that – he has it all figured out. I am already discouraged because my year didn’t start this way, and I don’t have 10 goals in place, so I might as well close this right now and forget about it (and optionally: feel bad for myself.)”
- “This guy is crazy. I wouldn’t want to do that.” Maybe I’m weird this way, sometimes I don’t even know.
But one thing is certain: I do not have it all figured out! I experiment, I drop stuff, I write things down that I never get around to doing, I change the method, I abandon it completely, I feel bad for myself and start again… all of this has happened and could happen at any moment. But I really really want to be more systematic about the goals in my life because without the right priorities in place I will most likely not achieve them. So don’t be discouraged. If you are interested in starting small, just pick a couple of things that you like and try them. Or shoot me an email and we talk about it.
My new cornerstone habit: weekly planning and reviews
My most important goal for the new year is to take 1–2 hours every Sunday afternoon and spend them reviewing the previous week and planning the next week. I have blocked 5–7 pm in my calendar and so far I have done it every week.
What is my process? I review my previous week, based on the planning of the previous week and ask myself a few questions. I fill them out in a Word document and save a new version for every week, which I will then review the next week and transform into the new plan. Actually, it is not a big deal and can be done in 30 – 60 minutes. But it has given me so much clarity already!
My (and your?) game plan
Let’s review the game plan here. It has been inspired by different people, mainly Tony Robbins (and his ‘The Time of Your Life’ program, Scott Dinsmore from ‘Live your Legend’, and Robin Sharma). So it’s basically mix and match, which means that you can mix and match as well.
I. Visualize the Big Picture in my Life:
- Visualize my most important outcomes in my life (3–5 minutes): I have a list of categories in my life, such as my health, intimate relationship, family and friends, adventures, company, self-expression. All of these have a vision tied to them. I read the categories and aim to visualize them. This sounds more of a big deal than it is. It is already enough to name your ‘health’ category ‘World-class health, energy and vitality’ and I can already imagine myself running or exercising somewhere, looking fit and feeling great. That’s enough.
- Review my painted picture for the year (3 minutes): I have written down what things will look like on December 31, 2015. For example, one statement could read “I will be healthy, without pain, full of energy and vitality from daily exercising and eating consciously.”
- Review my three words for 2015 (3 minutes): I picked three words for 2015 that I want this year to be about. I let them come to mind and review what they mean for me. If you are interested, my three words are Focus, Father and Value.
- Review my top 6 values (3 minutes): I have written down my main 6 values that I want to focus on and let them come to mind. I am asking myself if I currently display these values in how I spend my days and how I behave.
- Review my most important goals for the year (5 minutes): I have about 10 goals for this year which are specific, measurable and tied to a date. I read them and think about them. Example: “Spend 30–120 minutes every week on Sunday reviewing my previous week and planning my next week”.
II. Review Last Week:
- Celebrate last week: I am writing down everything from last week that I can remember or find in my calendar or journal that I enjoyed, that I am proud of or that I am grateful for. The things can be big (like completing a project) or small (like having a nice lunch with someone). I write down at least 10 of these in order to make a real effort and remember the small things as well.
- Write down major lessons from last week: they could be lessons, learnings, meaningful quotes, sources of inspiration, people who have inspired me and who I would like to meet. For example, a quote from last week is “The person who sweats more in training bleeds less in war” (Spartan warriors).
- Write down what didn’t happen: I am trying to be honest and review my planning from last week to determine which tasks didn’t get done. Sure, there are always reasons for why that was the case but still it is important to see the disconnect between what I aimed to accomplish and what actually happened. By the way, there are normally tasks on your to do list that are being pushed from week to week, every week! I wouldn’t even have noticed if I didn’t do the review. It really helps me to be more conscious about progress.
III. Planning Next Week:
- I write down a list of my top 7–10 outcomes for next week. It is important to note that I am not talking about To Dos yet, but about outcomes. Outcomes are so much more motivating! One of my top outcomes for next week is to “Stay healthy and fit for maximum energy”. That is quite empowering and I already look forward to being healthy and energized.
- I transform my top outcomes into my most important tasks for the week. Here, my number one task is to “go running every morning”. Well, it is cold in Berlin, often rainy, and I don’t always enjoy running in the mornings. So if that was my stand-alone ‘to do’ I would probably get VERY tempted to not do it when I get up. Who the hell wants ‘to do’ something that is so horrible as going running in the cold or rain. But I just connected this ‘to do’ to my vision ‘world-class energy, health and vitality’ and my weekly outcome ‘Stay healthy and fit for maximum energy’. So now I have a strong motivation to go running no matter if it is cold or not.
I distinguish between daily and singular tasks because daily tasks usually happen at the same time, and they tend not to change a lot from week to week.
After ‘most important tasks’, I add ‘other tasks’ at the end of the list. They are not ‘most important’, but they come to mind and I don’t want to forget them.
- In the third step, I schedule my most important tasks into next week. Now let me admit that this is causing me some problems. The daily tasks are not so difficult because I try to do them all in the morning. But as an entrepreneur I have a pretty free schedule and I tend to not schedule the singular tasks. The result: the daily tasks usually get done, the singular tasks don’t! This should tell me something. Tony Robbins says ‘If you talk about it, it’s a dream, if you envision it, it’s possible, but if you schedule it, it’s real.’ So as I am writing this article I know that I want to do a better job of scheduling my tasks next week!
IV. Turning weekly plans into daily actions
So this is basically it! The last step is to have this document ready or printed whenever I start my days so that I can quickly review what my most important goals, outcomes and tasks are for the week and for the day. This way, I start every day focusing on my goals, not on someone else’s goals that coming floating into my inbox at lightning speed and in infinite numbers.
As I said, I am far from perfect, and I am adapting this process continually to fit my needs. And yes, I still have to force myself to do this on Sunday. But as I progress, I start feeling the benefits of the method, and sitting down on Sundays will probably become much more natural to me. I have noticed that I have already become much more conscious about how I spend my time every week and day, and I think this is an amazing benefit.
If you want to give it a try, you download the workbook in MS Word format by clicking HERE.
This site is all about taking action. If you want to get unstuck, you need to do something, not only read about doing something.
“The most important thing you can do to achieve your goals is to make sure that as soon as you set them, you immediately begin to create momentum” (Tony Robbins)
So here is what you can do right now to create momentum:
- What is your key habit in 2015? It doesn’t have to be so dramatic, small things can also give you confidence and enable a whole lot of other good habits. So, what s it? Exercising for 15 minutes 4 times per week? Flossing your teeth? Spending time with your family at the dinner table? Please tell me in the comments.
Download the weekly planning workbook if you haven’t done so yet.
Block some time in your calendar. If you want to start small, block 30 minutes. Friday afternoon is a great time, so is anytime on the weekend, or Monday morning. Make a decision and schedule it right now (put a recurring event in your calendar). You can celebrate this ritual, put on some music and drink your favorite coffee while you do it.
When the time comes, open the Word document and start small. You don’t have to fill out everything. Your first step could be just to come up with positive things from last week, set some goals for next week and schedule them. This is enough! You can do a little more each week. Don’t be intimidated.
I hope you enjoyed this!
All the best, and keep learning,
Great post Johannes and know you’ll be do many more too! Advice that I have to return to but it isn’t very easy to break lazy habits.
Hi Nick, thanks, and very true: lazy habits are hard to break. This one has made a real difference for me, though, and I think you can take off the pressure by starting small: just set a calendar reminder and pick one part of the weekly review and planning. For example, only do the most important tasks for next week and schedule them to do one each day. That should only take 10 minutes or so, and it will already make a big difference in terms of clarification of priorities. If you like it, pick a second part after 1 week or several weeks.
Fabulous job, Johannes,
I am very interested in your work/life hacks, since I want to get most from my potential.
Thank you very much and before I will read this article I want to say that it seems a little long to me because, you know, I have a lot to do, do sports, learn German and etc.
Would you consider to make articles a little short and write intensely in your book? ;)
Ok, now it is time to read your article!
Thank you for your time
I just finished reading and want to comment that ignore my previous comment! :)
It’s brilliant. Will spend time on weekend to try to set up my keystone habit and do weekly planning and review.
I am glad you like it and you see it this way :-) I know the articles are long but I try to provide more a lot of value. Let me know if you have questions or trouble with the routine!
Ha. Such a long list of great advice about how to make lists and schedules made me think of this article. http://zenhabits.net/no-goal/
Full disclaimer – I am not even remotely zen and endorse nothing! No really… maybe there’s a middle ground. You gave a good talk the other night at 4HWW. I’ve already mentioned it to a few people.
Hi Alex, there is definitely a middle ground. I’m a big fan of Leo / Zenhabits and I can definitely see the point of having no goals and enjoying the present. Very zen ;-) But I think most people will just end up procrastinating even worse because they have no direction. Especially if you don’t follow you passions, like Leo from Zenhabits does. So for me, setting goals has been a big thing in 2015 so far, and I can see the progress. Other big parts of the weekly review are being reminded of what’s important in your life, so if you do that and pick some actions along those lines you may not even need concrete goals. (And thanks on the presentation!)