I love setting goals. In fact, that’s pretty much the best part of New Year. Oh and of course there’s the partying. New Years is great for that too.
But to me - and to countless other people - New Years is one more chance to pause, take stock, and course correct your life a bit.
Some years I set a bunch of unrealistic expectations. Other years, I’ve set none.
This year I’ve come up with five really practical things I’d like to work on throughout the year. There’s plenty more that I want to do throughout the year than just this list. But, if I can just focus on this list of simple goals, the rest of the things that need to happen will fall in place in order of importance and priority.
1. Say no to things
Even if I improve in no other area this year, learning to say “No” to more things will still make a huge practical difference in my life.
Something I’ve long struggled with is wanting to say yes to every opportunity that comes along and take on any new pursuit I find. I’ve heard that saying no is a really important part of living a creative life, but it’s something that has always been hard to practice.
I don’t know if I’m just hyperactive, or something deeper like trying to compensate for insecurities - but there’s plenty of ways this plays out often:
- There are endless ideas to execute, opportunities to pursue, or side projects to work on.
- At GitHub since we voluntarily work on projects and often recruit others to help, there seems to be no shortage of exciting things to jump into and participate on.
- Opportunities often come up to get together with friends or industry peers at local events.
- Even just in my daily routine I find a myriad of distractions - whether necessary or unnecessary - that keep me from doing what I’ve set out to do.
One of my main strategies for dealing with this issue is now the same strategy I’m using to deal with the next goal on my list: write stuff down, file it away for later, and get back to the task at hand.
But sometimes it just comes down to saying “No” to things, and having the wisdom to know what things to say “No” to.
2. Limit open browser tabs to 10
Some people marvel (and by “marvel” of course I mean “scoff”) that I regularly work with several browser tabs open. For me, it’s just how I work. Each tab represents either:
- Content to read
- A task to do
- Something of inspiration for a project
- A necessary or unnecessary distraction
Typically I’ll have between 75 and 150 tabs open at any given time. It sounds like a lot - okay it IS a lot. But I usually have them broken out across 10 to 15 different windows, so each Window usually represents a category of thing I’m working on. Some people use To Do lists and other ways of organizing; I use browser tabs.
Well actually I use To Do lists also, and I’ve found that they are substantially more efficient, but also require more effort to learn to use efficiently. There is a clear cost associated with the benefit.
However, with browser tabs you just open one, do your task, and shut it.
With lists you have to think about how to translate the task or purpose into words, think about where to store the list (Paper? Evernote? Google Docs? Trello? GitHub?), and you have to think about how to organize and structure the list.
There are absolutely huge benefits to using lists - no question. But I’ve long struggled with the fact that those benefits come with the heafty price of learning to use them efficiently when I’m not a naturally organized person.
That being said - I’m sold on the fact that there’s a better way, and it involves having substantially less tabs open at any given time.
What really convinced me was realizing the cognitive toll having all those tabs open was taking. Even though I tended to just minimize most windows and focus on one particular window with just a handful of particular tabs, those minimized windows were still in my brain’s hard drive. I realized I needed to start getting them out of my brain’s background processes, and out of the browser tabs, and documented somewhere that I’ll be sure to readdress them later (or say no to them altogether - see no. 1 above).
I began to use the Tabs Outliner Chrome extension which my friend Levi referred me to, and was quickly able to keep my average number of working tabs under 50 or 60. Tabs Outliner keeps a working outline of all your current tabs, and allows you to group and name sections of your outline, as well as close them from view and reopen for later reference.
With a little practice and discipline I was able to get my tab usage down to around 30 working tabs on average each day. I’ve been practicing this for a few weeks now, and I’ve been loving it.
So for 2014 I’ve decided to get aggressive, and aim to keep my tabs down to 10 at any given time, or at least make sure by day’s end I only have 10 tabs open when I’m done for the day.
My theory is that my brain can only really track with about 10 things effectively before it starts impairing my efficiency. If I need to reference more web pages than that throughout the day, I’ve resolved to:
- Accomplish said tasks completely so the tabs can be closed.
- If unable to accomplish, document the URL for later reference.
Between saying no to things more, and keeping my browser tabs under 10 on average, I think I’ve got a solid plan for increasing my productivity, my efficiency, and my quality of output as a whole.
I almost made these my only two goals for the year, but they are almost entirely productivity related which I felt was short sighted. I have some other types of goals that are really important to me as well…
3. Dramatically cut back carb intake
I wrote about this recently, so I won’t go into detail much more here except to say that this is my number one health goal for this year.
I started practicing it last year after I read Why We Get Fat & What To Do About It by Gary Taubes, and it’s been changing my life in several ways.
- I’ve had fewer migraines and the migraines I have had have been much less severe.
- I’ve lost about 15 lbs.
- I’ve been less lethargic and had overall more clear thinking.
- My acid reflux has dramatically subsided.
- People have noticed I’m looking a bit thinner than I was, which has helped improve my overall self-confidence a bit.
So this year, one of my goals is to keep striving for a low-carb lifestyle.
4. Get back into weightlifting, skateboarding, and bboying
At 32, these days I’m much less active than I was in my mid 20’s. Age actually may have much less to do with it, and the fact that I have kids and a family who require my spare time and attention, and the fact that I have a sedentary job where I sit all day have probably made far more difference than how old I actually am.
In any case, I’m renewing my commitment to be active by getting back into some of the activities I’ve found so much joy in in times past.
Weightlifting, skateboarding, and breakdancing have been three hobbies which at various points of my life have brought me tremendous joy, and I think pursuing those joys to a reasonable extent is a great way to introduce some healthy activity back into my life this year.
5. Love more
You can never have too much love in your life, and the amazing thing about love is that it’s not exactly a uni-directional thing. So it’s not just that I want to have more love, but I want to give more love too, because they are the same thing in a lot of ways. Receiving love produces an overflow of love which flows back out.
So this year I want to love more. I want to love more deeply. I want to love more generously, and without prejudice. I want to love with reckless abandon, not protecting myself from the vulnerable place that loving freely inevitably leaves you in.
As a Jesus follower, I know the depths of God’s generous, unreserved love through his example. In Jesus I have a call to love God, and to love others. I have a call to love those who do not love me. I have a call to love unceasingly, and with perseverance. I have a call to love even when it costs me something, and when there is no perceived benefit to loving other than simply the privilege of acting out that very love.
This year, walking and growing in the love of God as expressed in how I relate to God, and how I relate to people, is an area in which I deeply desire to grow.
Dem goals, dem goals
The thing about goals is they are only useful if you give life to them. In and of themselves they are meaningless and powerless, but to the extent that you use them to grow deeper in life they can be a powerful tool.
The goals I’ve set aren’t necessarily profound, and they aren’t necessarily huge. They’re not exactly moving mountains. They are intentionally simple, and they’re pretty actionable.
After all, it’s not the size of your goals that matters, it’s the implications those goals have on your life, and whether you actually pursue them or not.