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Forget Resolutions: If You Only Do One Thing to Get Ready for 2014, Do This!

Forget Resolutions: If You Only Do One Thing to Get Ready for 2014, Do This!
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Many people, stuffed full of Christmas goose, spend the last week of the year mulling and ruminating over what worked and what didn’t and how they hope the next year will be better.

The problem is, without the right structure, there will be too many loose-ends, and too much unfinished business. Without new goals, and new ways of tackling them, 2014 will almost certainly be a Groundhog Day version of 2013.

Making resolutions without a good structure for reflecting on the previous year is like putting icing on a mud pie.  Sure, the resolutions look good, but the foundation is still muddy.

I’ve been using 12-day process with CEOs, celebs, and entrepreneurs for two decades called ‘Reboot Your Life.’  It takes just a 20-30 minutes each day and structures your reflections, ruminations and goal setting so that the past is in the past, and the goals, dreams, and vision for the coming year are do-able.   

“Reboot” is just twelve 30-minute sessions and adds up to less than a day.  Investing a day to make the next 364 outstanding seems to me a no-brainer.

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Nevertheless, people are people, holidays are holidays, and people want to chill.  I’m often asked if there’s a “light’ version?” (Why would you want a “light version” of something as important as this? Go figure.)

But here it is.  If you do no other “work” on 2014 this holiday period, do this:

Step 1: Create a list of areas of your life that you care about.

In one sense, you are “just” going to make a list, but there is a huge trap here: making this list is not a descriptive process, but rather a creative one. What do I mean?

You already have five or six things you care about: a job, friends, and maybe children, hobbies, and school. There is some value in listing those and setting goals, but the gold is to be found by looking more deeply. By creating a new category, you declare that you are going to pay attention to that category in a new way.

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Some examples are:

1)      You may not have a category called health or finance, but there are minimum levels of attention needed to live well (and long), and very high levels of excellence are possible in such categories.

2)      You may have other neglected areas. I sometimes find very successful people who neglect (not willfully) friendships or extended family due to their high-demand schedule.

3)      Adding an area can enrich your life. Perhaps ‘culture’ (maybe Bieber, maybe WWF, maybe Wagner,  or crafts fairs/ museums). Perhaps ‘being of service,’ or ‘learning something just for the sake of learning it’, or picking up a new hobby (or reconnecting with an old one).

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4)      There might be “stuff you just do” where you would be inspired by a new level of achievement or focus. Play golf? Take five shots off your game. Kids like sports or music? Find them the best instruction you can. Married? Make “Spouse” a category and make that category inspirational (to them). Enriching an area might be adding an absurdly distant goal (like me doing a 10k when my previous best distance was a 100m.)

5)      You should have at least two work categories: “Career” and “Job.” Career is the management of your long-term productive activities, which will include (at least) skills building, brand building, networking, and having a plan for either your next promotion or retirement. “Job,” meanwhile, is an uninspiring description, so choose another one that is more descriptive. If you are a “portfolio person” (as I am), you may have several. I have “Writer” and “Consultant” categories now.  When I ran a company, I had “Chairman” and “Rainmaker” categories, with different goals in each.

Some areas pretty much everybody has, some are areas people sometimes miss and are deeply enriching, and some can be quite specific to your life.  Here is a table of things to choose from, but make this specific to you!  You should come up with 8-12, some of which you already have.

‘Standard areas’ ‘Enriching areas’ ‘Specific areas’
Well-being, health Giving back Dream vacation
Finances Cultural enrichment (could be fine art, could be WWF) Habitat for Humanity service
Family Community service Second home
Education Politics International travel
Primary relationship Church Soccer coach
Friends Spirituality Golf league
Home (the house or apartment) Travel PTA role
Career Sports
Job Hobbies

Step 2: Rate 2013 in each area on a scale of 1 to 10 in the next column of your page

If “10” is deliriously happy and grateful for every second, and “1” is “I would not wish this on my worst enemy” where are you?   Go with your gut, but take off the rose-colored glasses if you wear those, and take of the mud-stained glasses if you wear those. (There are people for whom “okay” actually means “horrible,” and people for whom “horrible” actually means “okay.”)  Get honest with yourself.

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Step 3: In each area, jot down a few words or a sentence that answers the question, “What does a ‘10’ look like?” (This should also take about 15 minutes.)

By doing this, you create a vision for excellence in each area.  This creates a clarity of purpose and a new level of ambition that can make every area of your life extraordinary.

There is more to do.  The “whole enchilada” is eleven more days like this, but this gets you in touch with reality, and gives you a general sense of where you need to go.  Most people who do just this feel a renewed sense of aliveness and passion.

.Productivity tip:  Don’t let this be something you will ‘get to’.  Just reading this will do you no good.  Block off 30 minutes in your calendar to do it this week.

And have a great 2014!!!

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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