The Working With… Podcast | Episode 53 | How I Plan The New Year

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In this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about how I plan my new year goals.

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Hello and welcome to episode 53 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

In this week’s episode, I finally answer a question I received during the summer, but I thought it would be better to answer the question now as the year draws to a close. And that is how do I plan my year. I should also point out that I will be doing another episode on this in the coming weeks with my good friend and super amazing positive guy, Kevin Blackburn, so keep your eyes (or ears) open for that episode, I know it’s going to be a very special episode.

And if you really want to learn how to set and achieve your goals I have a couple of courses on my Learning Centre that will not only show you how to create achievable goals but also take you through the steps on discovering what you really want to achieve in life. I’ve linked to both courses in the show notes and I would highly recommend you have a look at them. Those courses could really change your life. 

Okay, let’s get on with this week’s show and that means it’s time to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question:

This week’s question comes from Michael. Michael asks, Carl could you tell us how you go about setting goals. I know you’ve written a lot about it, but hearing it in your own words would be very helpful. 

Okay, Michael, you asked for it so here it is. 

I begin my planning season around the middle of October when I create a note in my Evernote with 6 headings. These headings are:

  1. Ideas - this where I dump anything that comes into my mind

  2. What would I like to change about myself? - This question allows me to think about my character, habits and interactions and see if there is anything I am not happy about. If I find anything I will add it here. 

  3. What would I like to change about my lifestyle? - This question is all about the way I live. Am I active enough? is there anything about my home I would like to change? Anything like that.

  4. What would I like to change about the way I work? This question obviously is about my work. Is there anything about my work routines I would like to change. This year, for example, I focused more on making sure I did any creative work in the mornings and did admin and editing work in the evenings. 

  5. What can I do to challenge myself? Challenging myself helps to stop me from stagnating. I like to have at least one thing each year that is going to be incredibly difficult. This always gives me a huge buzz because often the challenge seems impossible at first. 

  6. Goals - Finally, I have a place to add in the goals I want to achieve next year. These can come from anything I have written to the questions I have in the list and it’s a good way to help me build the final list of goals for the year as I am developing my ideas. 

I’ve put a link in the show notes so you can download this worksheet and use it for yourself. 

So how do I take all these answers and turn them into goals for the following year? Well, the first step is to empty my head of ideas and I have found over the years that trying to write a full list in one sitting is pretty much impossible. Instead, I treat most of October and all of November as an open planning session. By that I mean this note in Evernote is with me everywhere I go, so wherever I am I can add to the list anytime. And ideas can pop up at any time. Often I can be on the subway minding my own business and something I see or hear will spark an idea and I will immediately collect it on my phone. If I have time I will put it under the right question, if not, I just add it to the bottom of the list and move it to the right place later. 

I’ve found if I allow myself 4 to 6 weeks of this I will have a wonderfully long list of ideas. The “collection” phase of my planning stops on the 1st of December. By then I know I will have collected everything I would like to achieve. 

Now, there is one final step in this process I do. On the first of December, I will take a look at last years list—and this is one of the many reasons why it’s a good idea to stick with one app for each area of your productivity system. Because I have been using Evernote for over nine years now, I know exactly where last year’s note is and can pull it up with a very simple search. Switching notes apps all the time means there’s a good chance you will lose stuff like this in the switchover—What I am looking for are the ideas I had last year that I decided at the time was not the right time to do. Often I find there are one or two items on that list that will I transfer over to this year’s list. 

Now, the 1 December is the cut off time. I will not be adding anything else to the list. What I have on the list now is everything. So, the next step is to slim the list down to two things for each question and to have five goals for the year. 

I will go through each part of the list and use Evernote’s highlighting tool to highlight three things from each question. Then every day for that two weeks I will spend a few minutes looking at the list and checking that I am still happy with my selection. I find almost every day I will change something. Often I will change the highlight to another item and then change it back a few days later. It’s all good fun, but by doing this you will have evaluated everything thoroughly and when the 15th of December comes around that is your final selection. 

Why two things and 5 goals? Well, if you try and do everything you will fail at most things. Experience has taught me that if I am focused on only a few things there is a much better chance of accomplishing those few things. It also means that the things I do choose to focus on next year will be things that are really important to me. Forcing myself to prioritise this way means my choices are important and the desire to accomplish them will be very strong. 

Why only 5 goals? Again this is so I am not trying to do too much. As the year goes, other things will come up, there could be family emergencies, your employment situation may suddenly change in a way you did not anticipate. All sorts of things could happen. So a limited number of goals allows me to stay focused on what is truly important to me. 

Okay, so now it’s the 15th December and I have my final selection, what happens next? Well, now it’s time to create the necessary action steps and timelines for these changes and goals to happen. Let me give you an example from this year:

On my lifestyle changes list, I had the goal of beginning Robin Sharma’s 5 am Club. This is where you wake up at 5 am, do 20 minutes of exercise, 20 minutes of planning and 20 minutes studying. Now, I prefer to exercise in the afternoon as it breaks up my day nicely, and I do my planning in the evening before I go to bed. That works for me and I didn’t want to change it. However, I also had on my goals list to learn Korean to fluency and I saw the chance to merge the two goals together. So, I developed a plan to wake up at 5 am and study Korean for an hour. 

For timing, I decided the best time to do this was when my wife went off to China for a few months to study. This meant I did not have to worry about waking her up and with the change in my home life, it would be a good time to change my routine. So, my wife left for China on a Friday in early June and the following Monday I began my 5 am club. It was tough for the first few days, but by the end of the week I was getting into it and after a month it was easy. 

Next up on my list of things to do was begin meditation. The question here for me was at what time of the day would I do it. I decided the best time would be early morning, so in September, I added 15 minutes meditation to my 5 AM Club routine. So, now I study for 45 minutes and finish off with 15 minutes of meditation. And I should say, I really look forward to my 5 AM starts now. 

I knew at the beginning of the year I needed to first get into the routine of waking up early and studying. So I gave myself 3 months to get into that habit before starting the meditation habit. There was no rush and this slow development has meant that as I acquire a new habit I can then move on to developing that habit into what the final goal was to be. Wake up at 5 AM study and meditate for an hour. Now we are into November I can confidently say I have acquired both habits and it has become one of the highlights of my day!

So there you have it, the way I plan the year. It’s a fun way to do it, it allows you plenty of time to really evaluate what you want to accomplish and more importantly anticipate difficulties so you can develop strategies for overcoming those difficulties when they do happen. 

It may seem like a lot of work, but the whole process is done in a relaxed fun way. It should not feel like a burden you and there will be days when you don’t think of anything just like there will be days when your brain goes into overdrive and you add a tonne of stuff to your list. Just enjoy the process. The real hard work begins after the 15th December when you start developing your action steps and timelines. 

The key is to remember that 2019 is 12 months, not 12 days. So spread out your goals and tasks. Use the full year to have something new to start every two or three months. You’ll get a lot more enjoyment out of the experience and you will enhance your chances of succeeding at achieving your goals. 

Don’t forget to download my FREE Annual Planning worksheet so you can start this process and then spend the rest of November gathering all your ideas. Have fun, make sure you are challenged and more importantly look at 2019 as an opportunity to really achieve something special. 

Good luck and thank you so much for listening to this episode. Thank you to you, Michael for your wonderful question and it just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.