2017 was the first year in which I took the time to think about what I wanted to achieve in the next 365 days and planned out a couple of goals that would determine whether I had succeeded or failed.
You can read about my self-assessment in this previous blog post, but the tl;dr is that 2017 was a pretty successful year and having had a set of goals to work towards greatly contributed to that success.
So I’ve decided to make goal setting a yearly habit.
This year I tried to bring a little bit more structure into my goal setting approach – structure being a recurring theme in this year’s goals.
I started off by taking a look at how some other, more productive people go about setting their own goals. What I found was basic goal setting advice from the likes of Michael Hyatt and Tony Robbins, more in depth frameworks like 8760 Hours by Alex Vermeer, and Chris Guillebeau’s guide to conducting an annual review, along with a number of reference goals like those of Melyssa Griffin.
Even though I wanted some more structure in my approach, I didn’t want to overthink the process either and get stuck setting goals for my goal-setting. So I time-boxed the whole thing and ended up following the below approach.
Write down all the things you would like to accomplish. Big or small, whether it’s a one time thing that you want to cross off a list, or maybe something you want to get better at.
Prioritise your list according to which of the items will have the biggest impact on your life. There isn’t really a system here, you know what’s most important to you. Pick only the top few items that you really want to focus on.
Break down these items into SMART goals and the systems you will follow to reach them. James Clear gives an excellent analogy of goals and systems by comparing them to rudders and oars on a boat. Read about it in his Scientific Guide to Goal Setting.
Apart from just setting goals, I’ve also come up with a set of guiding principles to help keep me on track to work towards my goals regularly.
Focus on systems. One of the key things which I’ve learned from working in tech is that in order to scale, you must first invest in systems and repeatable processes. For me, personal growth is also just a question of scalability – it’s about doing more and achieving ever greater things (whilst having fun along the way). So in order to keep achieving evermore ambitious goals, I too need to invest in habits (systems) and templates (processes).
No zero days. I first learned about this concept from an article on Hackernoon. The basic idea is that you must do something to work towards your goals every day. No matter how small the contribution, you have to do something every single day. As the saying goes, “showing up is 80% of life“.
Make goals visible. Another thing I’ve learned from tech is the importance of visual cues. So I’ve printed out my goals and stuck them to the closet in front of my bed, it’s pretty much the first thing I see every morning and the last thing I see at night.
Ruthlessly prioritise and adapt. Having a plan is great, but situations and ambitions can change due to unforeseen events or new information presenting itself. Goals and the systems in place to achieve them are not set in stone and one has to be flexible and adapt to changes. Here’s a situation I often find myself in – when I’m reading a book which I’m not really enjoying, I usually feel the need to finish it. What ends up happening is that I put off reading more and more until I end up not reading at all. The smarter thing to do would be to stop and just read something else, I’ve got enough other books on my reading list. Of course you shouldn’t give up on everything so easily, but if something really isn’t working out, you need to analyse why and consider changing direction.
There are many different ways of setting, tracking and holding yourself responsible for your goals. The links above provide a wealth of information about how to do this in more detail. But this simple approach was enough for me to quickly set some goals and start working towards them rather than getting stuck in an optimisation loop.
Now that we’ve covered my approach and guiding principle, it’s time to take a look at my goals for 2018. I’ve grouped these up into big picture life areas where I want to see an improvement and then I dug deeper into the goals that define success in each area along with the systems I need to get me there.
Create a template for reading. I want to create a template for reading and recording what I’ve learned. The excellent How to Remember What You Read post on Farnam Street pretty much covers all the bases, I just want to create a summarised list of steps for myself.
Read and summarise 10 books. Once I’ve got the template, it’s time to start reading effectively. Last year I managed 6 books, so this year I’m aiming for at least 10. I’d like to read more, but my priority is quality rather than quantity.
ETA: This Year (aim for a book per month)
Create a template for a commonplace book. A commonplace book is basically a collection of notes and references to other sources of information. If I’m going to start recording my learnings from books, blogs etc. I want to also group them into some sort of library that I can easily dive back back into later.
ETA: July – after I already have enough notes to organise
Read at least 20 pages per day. Straightforward – read whenever possible, dedicate time as soon as I come home from work to read.
Review notes every week. Every weekend I need to re-read my notes, and organise them effectively in Evernote.
Productivity & Organisation
Stop snoozing alarm. In theory this is easy to do, but we all know that those extra 10 minutes feel like the best minutes. But because of them I end up feeling more tired and rushing the rest of my morning. So my plan is to just keep my phone as far away from my bed as possible so I’ll be forced to get up and walk in order to switch off the alarm.
Plan my week. Just like I’m planning these goals, I’d like to plan my week better to save time when doing routine stuff and dedicate more time to other things that matter. On weekends I want to plan out my meals, my gym routine, potential meetups to attend or catching up with friends and any other extra curricular things that I can do to get closer to my goals.
Do my bed every day. There are many known benefits to doing your bed on a daily basis. The most important one for me is that it’s the first little win that you can accomplish in a day that puts you in a positive, ready to take on the world mindset.
I recently made a significant pivot in my career direction, having moved from development to product management. My objective this year is to work on my product skillset to try and become a really great product manager. Ben Horowitz’s (now classic) piece and Kristen Berman’s quasi-sequel are two great guides to which skills good product managers should possess. Of course, just saying “I want to be better at x” is a bit fluffy, so here are some of the concrete goals that I’m aiming for this year, in the hope that they will take my product skills to the next level.
Participate in a Hackathon. I love the idea of a Hackathon – a bunch of smart people coming together to solve problems that matter in innovative ways. But I’ve always shied away from them because I usually like to take my time to really understand something before proposing solutions. So when I’m rushed I often end up experiencing some form of imposter syndrome. I don’t want to allow this fear of looking like a fraud to keep holding me back. This year I’m determined to find a Hackathon in Berlin that will allow me to get my hands dirty, work on a topic I really care about, and come up with something completely new!
ETA: End of Year
Create a fictional product. Two years ago I published an online course. This involved some market research, some marketing and a little bit of user research. The process of preparing, launching and maintaining that course was one of the most rewarding and best learning experiences I’ve had to date. Since then, I’ve read a couple more books about product management and even completed two courses on Udemy and Udacity. I now want to put that knowledge into practice by trying to create a fully-fledged digital product.
My goal is a fictional product, because my aim is to explore more aspects of the product development life cycle. It’s more important for me to focus on building a complete product in a short time frame, rather than fixating on whether the product will actually be successful or not. This goal is particularly important to me since my overarching career goal is to become a successful entrepreneur. And to do that I need to become good at not just maintaining existing products, but creating them from scratch.
ETA: End of Year
Complete a data analysis + visualisation course. I’m a big believer in the power of data informed decision making. However, I’ve found that when presented with a large set of data, I often lack the knowledge to properly analyse and identify patterns, and lack the skills to use our tools to be able to present this information in a more meaningful and understandable manner. So I’d like to do a hands-on course in data analysis and visualisation to learn what to search for, how to find it and how to package and present it.
Work with at least one more Venture. This is directly related to my current job. I’ve been working with a single venture for about 4 months now and there are definitely a few months left to go on this project. Whilst I’m enjoying the ride, one of the main motivators for joining Project A was to be exposed to different companies, products and teams in order to soak up as much knowledge as possible. The current project is for an enterprise-level B2C venture in the eCommerce industry. I’d like the next project to be in collaboration with a smaller company, ideally in the healthTech, edTech or travel industries. The cherry on the cake would be if they also use some innovative technologies like AI, VR/AR or Blockchain, as I’d also like to expand my knowledge in these areas.
Travel & Adventure
The past two years have shown me how rewarding it can be to step out of your comfort zone, try something new and experience things that are out of the ordinary. Not all of these experiences have been fun and some I wouldn’t want to repeat. But they were definitely all memorable, teachable moments that left me with a new outlook on life and a good story to tell. So as long as I am young and able, I’d like to keep pushing past the limits of my comfort zone and explore as much of the world and of myself as I can.
Complete a bouldering course. I tried bouldering a couple of times in 2017 and really enjoyed it. However, I often tired myself out too quickly or hurt myself by twisting in the wrong direction. I’d like to do a course to learn proper bouldering techniques, so that I can go climbing with my friends without worrying about dislocating my shoulder.
Complete a Tough Mudder. Some of the proudest moments of my life include finishing the Malta half-marathon, freediving to 21 metres and completing the Tour du Mont Blanc. Pushing my body and my mind to their limits to overcome these challenges felt so rewarding because it wasn’t down to luck – it took weeks and months of preparation along with a desire, drive and the commitment to succeed that made these accomplishments feel earned. It was also an incredible bonding experience between friends – we trained together, we started together and we finished together. In 2018 I want to test myself (and hopefully some friends!) once again by taking part in Berlin’s Tough Mudder event – a 16km obstacle course with more than 20 obstacles to overcome.
Travel somewhere exotic. In recent years my preference for travelling has shifted from short city trips to longer, more action packed adventures – ideally a mix of new cultures, nature and a big memorable event. That being said, I’ve only been out of Europe twice. It’s high time I go out and explore more of what the world has to offer. I’ve already got an amazing road trip planned – driving around the Scottish Highlands with my mum for her birthday. But this year I’d love to discover a new continent by visiting one or more countries in South East Asia, South America or Africa.
Apart from the goals mentioned above, I’ve also got a bunch of other stuff that I want to achieve in 2018. Of course I want to keep healthy by eating well and exercising regularly. I want to make sure my finances are in check by budgeting and investing wisely. I want to expand my circle of friends and become closer to existing ones. I want to see my family more often.
There’s a nearly endless list of things I want to do. Unfortunately, there’s only so much one can do each day. But I believe that by focusing on the goals mentioned above I can really build a foundation for achieving great things. Not just in this year, but for many years to come.
So here’s to another year of growth – may it be challenging, exciting, rewarding and fun!