“This is the year.”
Aside from being an annual refrain of Chicago Cubs fans, the above quote is something most of us have uttered at the start of a new year. Our New Year’s resolutions are written down and, though we’ve had trouble keeping to them in years past — we are convinced that this is the year we’re going to stick to them.
Lose weight. Workout out every day. Learn a new language.
Unfortunately, the great majority of New Year’s resolutions aren’t met (this study says only 8% of them actually are achieved.)
These types of goals and self-promises aren’t just limited to the New Year. It can be a challenge to meet any goal we set for ourselves throughout the year, related not only to self-improvement but also to productivity, work, time management, etc.
One of our biggest mistakes when we set out to achieve these goals is that we consistently overestimate our ability to hit challenging goals, and we don’t put in place a system to make it easy to do so.
For example, on January 1, 2014, I declared a goal of reading 50 books throughout the year. I jumped into my endeavor with gusto, reading five books in the first month. I was pretty consistent throughout the spring, but then hit a snag in May … and again in June … July … August. I started to pick it up again in September, but by that point I was well behind. I only achieved my goal by reading 10 books in December — but I felt rushed and unsatisfied with my goal.
At the same time, I began taking banjo lessons about a year-and-a-half ago. Weekly lessons are great, and my teacher is awesome, but mastering a new instrument takes daily practice. Despite making a vague mental goal that I would practice every day, every week I fell into the same rut: At 10 p.m. on Monday, I’d remember that I forgot to practice, then I would commit to practice for an hour to make it up on Tuesday; then the same thing would happen on Wednesday … and so forth and so on until it came time for my weekly lesson. At that point, I was unpracticed and unprepared for my lesson and would embarrass myself in front of my teacher.
While these are personal goals, I’ve experienced the same thing at work: Goals of daily blogging, checking and posting to social media, networking, sending out sales emails, etc.
So, is this simply a result of lack of willpower? Am I just a weak person? Just too busy (between running two companies and raising a family with four kids)?
No, no and no. I’ve made a major change in 2015, and it’s already reaped dividends. There are three key principles I’ve put in place that have made me more consistent and, thus far, is helping me effortlessly hit my goals on a daily basis:
1) The 15-Minute Rule
Finding an hour to practice an instrument, or do any activity, can be daunting for a busy professional. But what about 15 minutes? This year, I’ve started scheduling 15 minute sessions every day for things like reading a non-fiction book, practicing the banjo, and even reading the morning paper. It may not sound like much, 15 minutes (I’ve found) is the perfect length of time — it’s a manageable stretch of time that I can tackle, without complaint, every single day. By consistently hitting this goal, I’ve also been able to read 8 books in 2015, and learned several new songs on the banjo (more than I learned last year when I was trying to find random hour-long practice periods throughout the week).
2) Consistency Beats Intensity
Don’t get me wrong — intensity is great. But consistency is what helps you hit your goals. Again, rather than try to find big, hour-long periods to read or practice, I just make sure I hit my 15-minute segments each and every day. No more and no less. This consistency breeds habits, and that helps me hit my goals without much thought.
3) Avoid Decision Fatigue
By scheduling daily 15-minute segments for everything from work-related tasks to personal development tasks — I also avoid decision fatigue. You may have heard the phrase, decision fatigue, to explain why Steve Jobs wore the same exact outfit every day. By cutting down on the amount of decisions (even small ones) that he made every day, Jobs was able to save his mental energy for the large tasks of running Apple. That’s why I not only schedule my personal activities consistently in 15-minute segments (except for working out, which I schedule for consistently 45 minute periods), I schedule them early in the morning.) By automatically having my workout, personal reading, newspaper reading, banjo practice and daily bible reading scheduled for every single morning — all of these activities have become habit, and thus don’t drain decision-making energy that I will use throughout the day. Studies have shown, as well, that when an executive spends a day making tough decisions at work — he or she is more likely to “cheat” on their diet at the end of the day, skip a workout, etc.
Some of the above tips seem simple – and they are – but they are also effective. Automating bite-sized, achievable goals every single day will help you to consistently take bites out a larger goal, and help you to stick to those work resolutions and personal objectives we set for ourselves on a regular basis.