I thank God for the New Year. It’s a great reminder of the circle of life. The previous year might have been great for you. Or not. But the new year brings fresh hope that things could be better if we make the most out of it.

We should all review the past year to learn from our experiences and celebrate our wins. But we should also plan for the new year that is here now. On the first few days of this year, I sat down to identify my goals. This has really become my habit at the start of the year since 2010.

During a meeting with my team, I just reflected on the renewed sense of commitment and energy. It will probably not last for very long. But by making some changes to my schedule and my lifestyle, I could probably make the most out of the excitement of the new year. I might even make this the year I achieved all the goals I’ve identified!

7 Simple Hacks to Achieve Goals Effectively and Efficiently

Here are 7 Simple Hacks that I am implementing to help me achieve my goals effectively and efficiently.

1. Write down goals. Focus on only a few things.

Most goals revolve around career growth, money, health & fitness, and relationships. I could write down one thing for every single one of these areas. But I did not. I looked at my review of the previous year and decided to focus on only a few things that would make a BIG difference in my career and my life.

I was probably influenced by the book “The ONE Thing” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. The central idea in this book is asking one question, which they rightly called “The Focusing Question”:

“What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

This is a really good question that helps me focus and truly identify my priorities. I have read the book several years back and I am making a point to review my notes about it at the start of each year. It is a good reminder for me to identify the most important things in my life and work towards that.

This question, however, is NOT about doing ONLY ONE thing. Rather, it is about sequencing the things that I want to do.

My goals for this year can be categorized into the following areas:

  • Career Goals, which I have already identified in my Annual Performance Review at the office back in late November 2016.
  • Financial Goals.
  • Creative Outputs. I still consider myself a writer and a blogger. So I am challenging myself to keep writing and producing content for my blog. Not many know this, but I also write in my native tongue, Ilokano.
  • Learning Goals. I have decided to read fewer books this year, compared to the previous years so I could really focus on these books and mine the lessons for all its worth.

2. Structure the year as a Three-Part Adventure.

This is the way that I tweak my environment and my calendar to keep motivation up. I used to divide my year into quarters, following the traditional quarters of the year: January to March (1st Quarter), April to June (2nd Quarter), July to September (3rd Quarter), and October to December (4th Quarter). But I am doing it differently this year.

I will divide this year into a 3-part Structure. There’s something magical about the number: the Trinity, the 3-Act structure in stories, the Ready-Set-Go warning for track runners, and the “Count-to-Three or else…” warning that I often do with my son. There’s nothing profound about it, really. But it’s, hopefully, an easier way for me to pursue, monitor, and evaluate the things I do throughout the year.

3. Be a tortoise, not a hare.

You probably heard the story of the tortoise and the hare when you were young. The hare is fast compared to the tortoise, but because it had a comfortable lead over the tortoise, it decided to rest midway through the race. Meanwhile the tortoise kept going, one slow foot after another, until it overtook the hare and eventually finished the race.

This video, filmed at an event of Microsoft Thailand illustrates it in real life!

There’s something we can learn from the tortoise. If you take a look at the hare in the video. It stops at the half-way point and looks around–probably at the people, or at the place where it is walking/running. But the tortoise keeps going until it reaches the finish line.

Keep going! That’s the lesson. No matter how slow I may be in achieving my goals, the important thing is for me to keep going. It can be very challenging to keep going and keep working when motivation seems to be running low. There will be times that I’ll feel lazy and unmotivated. That’s just how it goes. I need to pick myself up and sometimes force myself to do the things that I have committed to.

4. Do a 30-day challenge.

I may lack some habits necessary to achieve some of my goals, but 30 days is a good amount of time to do something. I could even incorporate some elements to this that will help maximize its benefits:

  • Focus only on one key habit. For example, I can commit to writing at least 500 words daily for my blog. That’s not too difficult.
  • Set a time daily to do the 30-day challenge. This could also help build routines, which will still be useful even beyond the duration of the challenge.
  • Track and monitor progress. Novelist Joanna Penn uses a calendar system that helps her track her writing progress. She started doing this sometime in 2013 and has successfully turned writing into a daily habit. Check out how she did it here: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2013/02/11/how-to-write-more-daily-writing-habit/
  • If it works, turn it into a habit. Do it daily. This is the end game I’m hoping for. By trying it out for 30 days, I can learn what works, what doesn’t, and then I can work at turning it into a daily habit.

There are 12 months of the year and I could definitely squeeze in a few 30-day challenges in there. I intend to do the following challenges later this year:

  • Write 1,000 words/day in 30 days
  • Save $10 a day in 30 days
  • Try the Slow carb diet for 30 days
  • The 30-Day Office Productivity Challenge
  • The 30-Day Smartphone Photography Challenge

I could probably come up with more. But those are some challenges I intend to do in the next few months.

5. Use a productivity system.

It doesn’t matter which productivity system you use as long as you use one. The last time I ever had a paper organizer was probably 5 years ago. I have since moved to Google Calendar for managing my appointments and Trello for managing my To-Do lists.

I use a productivity system that combines the best features of Personal Kanban & Scrum and the Pomodoro Technique. I can probably write about it in a separate blog post. But I am also experimenting at improving my productivity system.

If you want to start thinking about productivity, David Allen’s Getting Things Done is probably one of the best and comprehensive books on this topic. Be warned, though, his system is a bit complicated. But it is definitely helpful in thinking about clutter in your life and the importance of focus. Check out my thoughts and reflections about this book here.

6. Measure, monitor, and evaluate efforts vis-a-vis goal achievement.

I am trying to take the lessons from this motto to heart: “What gets measured, gets done.” And I know that there are a lot of nuances and questions related to that. But what I am finding so far is that if I measure, or at the very least monitor the efforts I put into a task, I set a degree of accountability for myself.

It could be as easy as putting a check mark on an item in my to-do list, or writing down 500 words as an accomplishment for the day. But the bottom line is, I feel good whenever I report on the effort I am putting down.

Granted, effort is different from results. Efforts are inputs, and results refer to the output, which will happen (more or less) if I keep putting in the effort. I know that some kinds of efforts will seem easy and will lead to bigger results while others will seem tedious and difficult and yet would lead to meager results.

What matters more is that I keep putting in the hours, I keep writing, I keep working–hard and smart–and sooner or later the results will follow.

There are three questions really that I need to ask whenever I achieve (or fail to achieve) a goal:

  • What went well.
  • What did not go well.
  • What am I working toward?

7. Celebrate

As I have written in a previous post, we often forget to celebrate. But by celebrating, I also recognize the work that I do and the lessons I learn along the way. It doesn’t need to be a fancy celebration, but the important thing is to recognize the effort I put in.