Goals, Plans, Reviews

Setting Goals and Doing the Work

It’s 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 may be daunting considering the demands of your day job mixed with other responsibilities. Here’s a system you can use to help you do the work needed to achieve your goals:

  1. Block out time in your schedule to do the work.
  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.

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 awoke 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.

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 it is:

  • First, I will set up my workspace ready for the activity. I will ensure the laptop’s charged, placed on the table with the lid open, and the draft open in MS Word. If the power’s out, then the rechargeable lamp has to be charged and ready.
  • 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 the powers-that-be cooperate in the days ahead. I will publish my progress in my work diary as I go and could even post details here.

Plan and Review

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 always thought that reciting memory is easier than imagining the future. I have this little theory dancing in my brain: you can make the mind remember the future and then work with the stored data.

This is what happens when you imagine or visualize events, you store them in your memory for later retrieval.

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 and process later in memory recalls.

In other words, you could intentionally chunk up parts of the plan as an iterative process and then piece the details together later as you retrieve them. Retrieving those details might not always be easy, but it may be easier than trying a build a grand vision or plan in one go. This theory!

Now to continue, I identify three possible types of reviews: pre-action, in-action, and post-action reviews.

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

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

Of course, we do all these unconsciously. I just think that identifying this concept and working with it more intentionally will help us get better results whether as individuals or organizations.

Plans get better when reviews are incorporated. Reviews help you improve the quality of your next plans or actions. Pay more attention to reviews and act on the insights you 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.


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.


Definitions 1 and 2 are from Wordnik.com

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