January is upon us and I have not just the turn of another calendar year to remind me of goals, resolutions, progress or lack thereof, but also a birthday. As my 30th birthday draws nearer, I can’t help getting more anxious about the goals I’ve yet to meet and the threat of disappointing my adolescent self, who was impatiently counting down to adulthood, sure that was the key to authorship, recognition and (albeit humble) fame.
Somewhere along the line I (with the help of Mr. Rogers) convinced myself that I was too extraordinary not to be a published author by the time I reached 30. I feared that age in particular would brand me as my teachers’ standard report card critique: “Distracts others and does not work to potential.” What I’m saying is, as refreshing as new beginnings are they can be just as much intimidating and stress-inducing.
In 2013 I met every single one of my major goals. I got a second job to supplement my income. I saved enough money to move into a more ideal living situation. I (along with the help of Gin) designed a logo and started a website. Part of the reason I achieved these goals is because failure simply wasn’t a feasible option. Now that I’ve reached a place where I’m somewhat comfortable it’s a little bit more difficult to guarantee I won’t fall back into poor habits and complacency.
I’d been thinking about New Year resolutions for several weeks and, although I had no problem envisioning a long-term future for myself, I continued to come up short when it came to more realistic, immediate goals. I’ve had one hell of a holiday season and as painful and stressful as it’s been to deal with, it has also reminded me how much the universe loves to shake our little snow globe of a galaxy up, if only to watch in amusement as our miniature figures flail while a blizzard flurries around us. So I asked myself, what is the benefit of short-term goals if, when unable to achieve them for whatever reason, they only send me into a self-loathing and unproductive spiral? And what about the inevitable rut when recent goals have been met and life remains in something of a limbo until the next achievement marker is chosen?
And then I stumbled upon this article about installing systems instead of setting goals. To paraphrase the concept:
What if, instead of attempting to predict your accomplishments for the next year, you decided to continuously improve yourself and set up a low-pressure process that also helped you monitor your progress and keep you on track?
If a goal is deciding to read 100 books in a year, a process is making a commitment to read an hour per day with the intention of being more well-read.
James explains systems pretty well, but as I struggled to make my own I found it exceptionally difficult to stop thinking in terms of goals and focus more on daily commitments that would improve my life in specific areas. Why was I allotting three days a week for writing if not with the goal of producing a novel by year’s end? I forced myself to think more abstractly and set aside that objective for a moment. If I just challenged myself to write three days per week, not for any specific amount of time and if it could be any sort of writing, might that not contribute to a novel one day? And in the meantime, wouldn’t I still be practicing a skill and fostering creativity? Some days I can only glower at my laptop, I’m so frustrated with my lack of inspiration towards a specific idea. But what if the goal was just to sit in front of my laptop and write, anything?
I broke each of my systems into a question which represents the overall intention. I know you might be thinking, isn’t intention just a synonym for goal? Sure. It’s just that a goal typically only looks as far as itself and these are habits I can incorporate in my life that will encourage continuous growth.
How do I become a better writer & monetize my writing?
I chose Tuesday and Thursday because I get off work earlier on those days. I chose Sundays because I typically spend Sunday evenings decompressing from the weekend and organizing the following week. I know myself well enough to know that I am not often inclined to pick up my laptop after staring at a screen for eight hours at work. On the days I chose, I have more time to relax and if I’m really not in the mood or otherwise preoccupied, I have the flexibility of writing as much or little as I need to.
I’ve passed up too many opportunities to collaborate and work with talented individuals, usually for no better reason than I didn’t feel like expending the energy or doing unnecessary work. However, if networking is an essential part of engaging or expanding an audience for my work, then I’ll need to at least see where these connections lead before writing them off.
I always read before bed, to the point that it actually puts me to sleep. Sometimes if I’m really into a book I’ll go to bed earlier so I’ll have more time to read before I inevitably doze off. I would estimate I read 10-30 minutes before bed each night so by making a commitment to read one hour at another time of the day, I’m ensuring I don’t fall asleep and retain more of the information.
This has more to do DanielleDorky and keeping me on top of current and local music. I attend concerts fairly regularly, but this way I’ll pay closer attention to affordable events and be more familiar with touring schedules.
James also explains “feedback loops”, which help monitor progress so you can adjust your process as needed.
My feedback loops for this system are as follows:
Tracking my website’s weekly traffic will give me an idea of how engaging my posts are and whether I should be posting more or less. It will also help me gauge whether I’m spending an adequate amount of time writing.
If I change a book’s label from “currently-reading” to “read” on Goodreads, it allows me to chart how quickly I’m finishing books and figure out whether my reformed night time routine is working.
Reviewing the concerts is a way of holding myself accountable while also contributing to my intention to be a better writer and generate income through my writing.
This is just one of my systems but it seemed appropriate to share since, over time and with proper implementation, my site can serve as a demonstration for its effectiveness. And if not, at least I’ll know before January 1, 2015 what I need to adjust.