How to Plan for the Year Ahead (or Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work)

New Years are good. They remind us that the Earth has completed another circuit around the sun. That whatever happened to us in the past year, a new calendar is about to start: 1 year, 12 months, 365 days, to live, laugh, work, and move closer to the life we want.

How do you plan for the coming year? Do you follow what most people do and come up with New Year’s Resolutions?

If you follow what most people do, then you will get the results that most people get.

New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work!

New Year’s Resolutions rarely work.

According to research, only 8% of the people who make New Year’s Resolutions succeed in achieving their resolution. A month after the New Year, only 64% of these resolutions are kept, and at the 6-month mark, more than half of these resolutions are forgotten.

image credit: Sarah J via Flickr
image credit: Sarah J via Flickr

Puts too much pressure on you.

Most people try to ignore reality and try to implement big changes on the first few weeks of the year. Disruption is well and good in business and in the tech industry. But in your personal life, really big changes are very difficult to implement. It’s better to work on incremental, instead of fundamental lifestyle changes.

Relies on the novelty and excitement of a new year.

The problem with novelty and fads? After a few weeks or months, they fade away. Same thing applies to the excitement of a new year. The 8% who are successful in achieving their resolutions found a way to sustain their excitement and focus on their vision beyond the New Year.

Vague, feel-good generalities like “love myself more,” “help others,” or “enjoy life to the fullest.”

You know what’s wrong with these resolutions? They sound nice and doable but you don’t really know if you’ve achieved them or not. If your resolution is to “lose weight,” losing 1 lb certainly meets that criteria. How would you know that you are enjoying “life to the fullest”?

Goals are better than resolutions. Ditch resolutions and set goals, instead.

image credit: Elvert Barnes via Flickr
image credit: Elvert Barnes via Flickr

How to Plan for the Year Ahead

Set aside some time to plan for the year ahead. Going on a 2-day personal retreat will help. But if you cannot manage that, set aside one full day to do it. Go to a place where you can concentrate. Commune with nature, go to Starbucks, or shut the door to your office while doing this. The important thing is to put your undivided attention to planning.

Review the past year.

I usually do a personal evaluation session at the end of the year. Take note of victories and defeats; successes and failures; and the decisions and factors that led to them. Remember the lessons learned from the past year, they will help you achieve your goals this year.

Here’s how I do my year-end personal evaluation:

Pick a maximum of two big goals you can accomplish within one year.

Make them concrete and actionable. Avoid vague goals such as “maximize my potentials” or “help others achieve their dreams” or even “learn something exciting”.

Your goals should be clear and compelling. Use action words that will describe what you want to accomplish by the end of the year. My 2016 goals are: “Save $X,000 and write a total of 365,000 words by the end of 2016.” Please note that these are my personal goals. I have a separate set of Performance Goals at work.

image credit: Colleen Galvin via Flickr
image credit: Colleen Galvin via Flickr

Break down your big goals into quarterly goals.

Big goals can be intimidating. If you are not challenged, then you’re probably not dreaming big enough. To make your goals manageable, break them down into quarterly goals. Three months should be enough time to achieve a smaller, but scalable set of your big goals.

You don’t need to divide your big goals into four equal parts. You can decide to split your goals any way you want. You may want to achieve more at the first quarter of the year because you are excited and you want to build momentum.

In the case of my goal of writing 365,000 words for the whole year, I can push myself to write 1,000 words daily. I know that this goal is doable. But I also know that there are those days that I’m a little too busy at work and at home, and that I may not always have the inspiration to write. Know these, I can divide this goal as follows:

1st Quarter (Jan-Mar): 125,000 words
2nd Quarter (Apr-Jun): 80,000 words
3rd Quarter (Jul-Sep): 100,000 words
4th Quarter (Oct-Dec): 60,000 words

Given this set of smaller goals, I can then arrange my monthly, weekly, and daily schedule to achieve them.

Use a Productivity System in implementing your plan.

To implement your plan, you need a system.

Just a fair warning: the following section might look and feel overwhelming. The simplest productivity system is to put on your calendar a daily TO-DO task related to your quarterly goals. Simple, right?

But if you want a robust, working system, to manage your personal and work goals, read on to find out what I personally use.

* * * * *
WARNING: A seemingly complicated and overwhelming productivity system ahead:

If you want to be very detailed and wouldn’t mind a little complexity, go with David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD). Lifehacker provides a simple guide for this: GTD 101.

I have read a lot of productivity books over the past ten years. I have also experimented with several different systems to help me achieve my goals.

David Allen’s Getting Things Done taught me to capture every thought, idea, plan, and ambition. I have also learned to tweak my To-Do list through some other productivity blogs and books. The Pomodoro Technique enabled me to do focused work in several 25-minute periods throughout the day.

In past two-years, I have discovered the magic of Personal Kanban. It helps me avoid being overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks and projects I WANT and NEED to do.

If there’s one thing I learned: I can do and be everything I want: just not ALL at once.

I’ve doing too many things at once–like a glass ball juggler who keeps adding project after project. And I watched several of these glass balls shatter on the floor of my busyness. Thankfully, before I shattered any of my most treasured relationship with my loved ones and friends, I decided to do a commitment audit, came up with a criteria and dropped a lot of commitments that I didn’t have the time for, and those that I didn’t want to do anyway. (This story is much, much longer, so watch out for another blog post on this topic).

If you want to learn how Personal Kanban works, please read my Notes from the book “Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life” by Tonianne DeMaria Barry & Jim Benson

It sounds more complicated than it really is. But Personal Kanban has two rules:

  1. Visualize your work.
  2. Limit Work-in-Progress.

END of seemingly complicated and overwhelming productivity system.
* * * * *

Schedule a quarterly review of how you’re doing.

More than 60% of people who set New Year’s Resolutions abandon their quest by the sixth month of the year. To help you avoid that, monitor your progress monthly and schedule a quarterly review of how much of your goals you are accomplishing so far.

Use this spreadsheet to help you monitor your progress in achieving your goals:

During your personal quarterly review, ask these three questions:

  1. What did I do this month (or quarter) to achieve my goals?
  2. What will I do this coming month (or quarter) to achieve my goals?
  3. What obstacles are getting in my way?

After identifying the obstacles blocking your way, adjust your plan and re-commit to achieving your goals for the year.

Final Words

New Years provide us with excitement. Don’t let that excitement go to waste. Set goals, not New Year’s Resolutions and work on your goals one day at a time, one month at a time, until you achieve them by the end of the year.

I’ve shared my two big goals for 2016. Care to share yours?

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