Goals, Plans, Reviews

Setting Goals and Doing the Work

It feels great to set goals. You’re probably halfway there if you’re clear about what you want to achieve. It’s as crucial for your career or a personal project.

But if you work full-time, doing the work necessary to achieve your goals with personal projects (or pet projects or side gigs) may be daunting considering the demands of your day job mixed with other responsibilities.

The way out? Abandon the complicated plan! Create a simple system to help you do what you need to do. It doesn’t even matter if you’re crawling instead of zipping towards your goal, the most important thing will be that you’re moving in the right direction.

You need to

  1. Block out time in your schedule to do the work. One hour or five minutes? You set it aside.
  2. Prepare yourself. Visualize or imagine yourself doing the work. You could also prepare your body by raising your fitness level through exercise. Yes, you need your body to cooperate even if you work on a computer.
  3. Prepare your environment. It has to be conducive – furniture, power, lighting, cool or warmth. Prep the tools you need – computer, writing materials, etc.
  4. Make up your mind now to not negotiate with yourself when it’s go-time.

My Experience

I have gotten the best results when I have a simple plan for the daily tasks that lead up to achieving my goal. When it comes to mentally demanding work, I need uninterrupted blocks of time consistent over days to achieve anything meaningful.

It was how I went from zero to passing my first tech certification in four months. I quit my job so I could have enough time to study during work hours, 8-5 every workday for about 4 months. Those hours gave me a good foundation in systems networking and information technology in general.

My daily routine also helped me to complete the first draft of my memoir in 2020. I got up early, sometimes at 4/5 am, updated my work diary, and wrote for about 30-45 minutes (I think) until it was done.

The momentum I gained from that project carried over to completing my first full-length book as a ghostwriter between that year and early 2021.

But I’ve gotten lazy, or maybe burnt out, or maybe too busy. I make excuses for myself now.

It’s not easy…

Establishing a simple routine is what I need to do to take my memoir from draft to publishing, and then to do the same for completing those long-frozen dev courses on Coursera. I need to

Set a simple daily schedule with time apart for the work,

and then show up to do the work at the set time.

Due to work and family duties, the most suitable time for me to get my projects done is currently in the early mornings. Before the day’s demands become urgent. I reckon I will need at least 30 working days to polish the script.

It feels hard, but I will start out easy. One way that’s worked for me is to prime myself for the routine. More disciplined people would probably get revving immediately. The rest of us need some stretch exercises to get going. So, here’s how I plan to handle it:

  • First, I will set up my workspace ready for the job. Laptop charged, placed on the table with the lid open, and the manuscript open in MS Word. The rechargeable lamp has to be ready, too.
  • Between days 1-3, I will take it easy. I only need to wake up at the set time, and then go back to sleep.
  • Then I will extend that to standing up and switching on the light on the next schedule.
  • The next day, I will take it a step further by sitting on the chair for a few seconds.
  • And by the fourth or fifth day, I will turn on the laptop and start to read and revise.

The power supply was decent when I wrote that first draft, but it’s gotten worse in the past few weeks. I hope our people cooperate in the days ahead. I will publish my progress in my work diary as I go and [could] even post details here.


Designing Your Routine

From Farnam Street (this inspired my thoughts in the first section)

The person who carefully designs their daily routine goes further than the person that negotiates with themselves every day.

The most successful people I know follow a routine to ensure the most important projects get the time they need.

A successful and busy friend decided to write a book not long ago. I asked him how he planned to do that given all of his responsibilities at home and the office. He simply said, “I get up at 5, make a coffee, and write from 530 to 7 every day. I’ve been doing it for 9 days now and I’ll do it until the book is done.” I knew right then he’d finish his book. Why? Because he designed part of his life to accomplish that goal.

There are two parts to using this approach. First, you must design your life so the default is to do the work. Second, and equally important, you can’t negotiate with yourself.

One of the most valuable skills you can adopt in life is doing things when you don’t feel like doing them.

A lot of people get stuck negotiating with themselves. A little voice in their head says, “I don’t feel like doing this right now, let’s do it later.” The minute you entertain that thought, it’s over.

Design the defaults and don’t negotiate with yourself.


Plans and Reviews

Plan: As a noun – An orderly or step-by-step conception or proposal for accomplishing an objective. As a verb – To formulate a scheme or program for the accomplishment, enactment, or attainment of.1

Planning helps you to prepare. Plans help you articulate your thoughts, find gaps, challenge assumptions, and detail your next activities.

But what about reviews?

Review: As a verb – To look over, study, or examine again. To consider retrospectively; look back on. To examine with an eye to criticism or correction.2

I have found that reciting what’s in my memory is easier than imagining the future. I don’t know if it’s just me or if it’s like that for other people, but I have this little theory: you can make the mind remember the future and then work with the stored data.

The theory is simple: make out time to deliberately imagine or visualize events so that you can store them in your memory for later retrieval. I’ve been thinking about how this might relate to plans and reviews.

How this might relate to plans and reviews

What if we did our planning as an iterative activity? We can have our very first plans as a kind of seed to generate data we can store mentally. We can then recall the details later from memory as a way to learn and improve on the plan’s details (reviews).

I identify three possible types of reviews: pre-activity, in-activity, and post-activity reviews.

Pre-activity reviews are reviews of a plan before its implementation, in-activity reviews are done at prescheduled times during a plan’s implementation, and post-activity reviews take place after implementation.

Of course, we do all these unconsciously. I only see that identifying this concept and working with it more intentionally would help anyone get better results.

The pre-activity and in-activity reviews help you influence the quality of the plan and its outcome(s). They help you to reflect on the quality of your plan before and in the middle of its implementation. While the post-activity review gives you the opportunity to extract lessons learned and to feed the quality of future planning and outcomes.

Long, short

Plans get better when reviews are incorporated. Reviews help you improve the quality of your next plans or actions. We become better and get better results as we pay more attention to reviews and act on the insights we gain.

When you really think about it, planning and reviewing may actually be twin devices like your biceps and triceps working together to help you get the job done.


Definitions 1 and 2 are from Wordnik.com

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