Living More Deliberately in 2017

My birthday is on December 28th, so I have the fortune of reassessing my personal growth at the same interval the world runs on. In other words, “how has the year been” and “how has your year been” are the same questions for me.

Every December 27th, the night before my birthday, I sit down to reassess my past year and plan ahead for next year. Over the past four or five years, I’ve come up with a short list or high-level goals I’ve wanted to accomplish. Time and time again, most of these do not get accomplished, and those that do happen in ways I couldn’t predict or didn’t actively work towards. For example, during one such session, I committed to save $X (at my then-income) by next year. I was failing miserably until I changed jobs and got a significant raise, which made saving $X a breeze. Although I worked hard to get a new job, within my initial plan, the increased income was effectively a windfall and not the product of deliberate action.

The yearly check-in is useful to remind me of my high-level priorities and I always walk away feeling re-centered. However, like many other people whose New Year resolution fail, I then get completely sidetracked. I commit to friends’ projects and follow new ideas that come to mind. I find myself paralyzed by inaction, not sure where to begin. Finally, I tend to massively overestimate the amount of and quality of work I can do in a short period of time. I procrastinate, then I hit the “oh shit!” moment, and then I chide myself for not doing high-quality work.

Last year was a little different. First, the sheer amount of time and energy I spent at work pushed me to seriously consider how I spent my free time and whether I’m building my own life, or letting others build it for me. Second, I went back and reviewed my goals a few times during the year; in Apr, Aug, and Sep. This didn’t have a major impact (because it was sporadic and not supported by planning,) but still provided a serious kick in the butt. Third, after a really great trip to Iceland, I reviewed my past accomplishments to try and zero in in on what type of work makes me happy. Finally, I sat down and wrote down a list of common mental traps I repeatedly fall into.

So, in 2016, I did a lot of good thinking, but not a lot of good doing. In 2017, I want to implement the lessons I learned. In an effort to live more deliberately, I want to make a few commitments.

1. I’m going to keep an up-to-date, definitive list of all the projects I’m involved in. These focus on three themes – coding, writing music, and getting fit. Undoubtedly, I have other goals – like straightening out my finances, getting my own place, creating my own ventures, etc – but I believe that doubling down on these three themes will build the foundation for everything else.

2. I’m not taking on or starting any new major projects, and cutting my past ones. There are a bunch of projects from my past that I was fully intent on finishing – projects I believed in, like the Explo coffee-table book, or the article on how writing code and writing music go hand in hand. However, I have to cut my past projects in order to focus on the present ones. This is difficult to do – I have to admit that I cared about these, but ultimately didn’t care that much – and will undoubtedly disappoint the people involved. While it’s possible I’ll come back to these in the future, when I feel that I have a better grasp on my current goals and do a better job staying disciplined about my work, for the time being, these projects are over.

In years past, I’ve chased after many  other projects, hangouts, and other commitments that distracted me from my main goals. It’s easy to come up with a new idea and say “yea! I’m doing that now.” This often leads to half-baked, unfinished, disappointing projects, and further stress. While I don’t want to shut away serendipity and spontaneity (never say never), I plan to focus on my existing, high-priority projects and not take any new ones.

3. I’m going to write out the specific benchmarks and actions I’ll need to take in order to succeed. This takes guesswork and inspiration out of work. I’ve long found that all my greatest accomplishments are built on the back of focused, sustained effort – and yet I keep counting on inspiration (and am discouraged by lack of it) to get things done.

4. I’m going to track and constantly revisit my goals. My friend James does a great job of this with his budget, regularly logging and reviewing his purchases. I think doing the same with all my goals will help motivate and keep me focused. Tracking and revisiting is uncomfortable, because it forces me to confront failure and focus on work, which doesn’t offer the same kind of immediate gratification that playing Black Flag does. However, I think it’ll also bring me closer to delivering the results I want to see.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably thinking, “so, what exactly are your goals?” The high-level answer is that I want to exclusively focus on coding, writing music, and fitness. Beyond this, I’m now defining specific benchmarks and a schedule for me to follow. I think that publicizing specific things I want to accomplish will only make me less likely to complete them. However, I’ll be sure to share when I start making progress!

Between these commitments, I hope to end a year from now on a much more positive – and productive – note.