Goals Are So Last Year. This Works Better.
A bit quiet on the blog recently! We spent December digging into snow sports in Bend and hanging with family for the holidays. In other news, a podcast interview we did called “Creating a Life of Adventure” was the #1 show for 2016 on The Startup Sessions. If you’re new to Traipsing About, it’s a great way to get to know us.
Ready to dive headfirst into the new year? It’s a time of reflection and goals to better ourselves, to keep growing. So why do many resolutions belly flop off the diving board of good intentions like an ungainly kid at summer camp?
“Goals are for losers. Systems are for winners,” says Scott Adams, creator of the comic Dilbert, in his book. This sounds flippant coming from a guy who draws pointy-haired cubicle workers, so allow me to explain.
Losing weight, that famous New Year’s resolution, is a goal; eating right is a system. “I want to travel” is a goal. A system of saving money or developing work you can perform remotely is a system.
Goals are great, but without a concrete system to underpin and support them, it’s all just talk, aspirations that wither beneath the hot sun of real life. Find a person who is successful – by any definition – and most are focused on systems, not stand-alone goals.
From Wishful Thinking to a Business System
Early in my business career, I set arbitrary monthly revenue goals based on nice-sounding, random numbers. Turns out there isn’t a fairy depositing money in the Bank of Wishing. As the saying goes, wish in one hand and spit in the other and see which one fills up first. Neither pays the mortgage.
My forecasts only worked when I laid a foundation (system!) beneath my aspirations and took concrete action. How many weekly presentations and meetings could I schedule? From those, how many potential clients would I talk to? Using actionable items, I built a solid understanding of how many people I needed to speak with to make a certain amount. (Yes, there were spreadsheets.)
Revenue increased, and also grew more consistent. As a benefit of implementing a system, I found confidence and peace of mind; if I did the work, success followed. From simple groundwork, I didn’t have to worry about revenue whipsawing like peaks and valleys in the Alps.
One Way to Organize Systems
To be clear, I’m not advocating for scheduling every second of our lives the way Cal Newport prescribes. (I’ve tried that and it wasn’t for me.) Time for the mind to wander and drift is important. My life isn’t a system – borrrrring – but my personal goals are (usually) supported by one.
When I need to crank out projects, I break things down into bite-size pieces using the Secret Weapon. This is simply Evernote coupled with the Getting Things Done method, and it serves as my external brain.
For recent updates to our Sprinter van, I used sub-projects. “Install water system” had components like “order sink” or “find water tank drain plug.” A big, nebulous goal languishes on a to-do list until the zombies attack. (Then we need chainsaws, not planning!)
The same applies to anything we seek to achieve. Be it business, physical ambitions, books we want to read, or a big personal project, systems rock.
Using Systems for Physical Pursuits
I’m currently focused on three primary physical challenges. Two have specific goals; all require systems.
First, I’m aiming to push my rock climbing abilities to new limits. (Specifically, leading a 5.13 sport route outside.) Can I achieve this by unfocused climbing a few days a week at the gym or Smith Rock? Perhaps…
It’s a hell of a lot more likely to happen if I dig into a periodized training plan that removes overthinking and guess work. It’s not a grind, it’s a plan, and I still have fun. (Except for hangboard workouts. Those are simply hard work.)
A system takes decision making out of the daily actions. Follow a step-by-step plan and find greater success than where we start. Even if I don’t crank out a 5.13 next year, I’ll make considerable gains.
I’m also focused on a consistent, balanced strength and mobility system. Since I want to stay active for years to come by investing in my body’s 401(k), I need a system. Focusing on Gymnastics Bodies allows me to bike, climb, run and ski (a new hobby) without injury. With 30 minutes per day, I’m maintaining a strong foundation for the physical challenges I want to pursue.
Lastly, I signed up for a 100-mile mountain bike race in July called High Cascades. That’s more than twice as long as any mountain bike ride I’ve done and will likely take over 10 hours to finish.
This requires a training regimen containing endurance and speed work, plus dialing in my hydration and food plan. It will take work, but if I follow the plans I lay out, I’ll have fun, learn a ton, and have a solid shot at success.
Get Your System On
As you’re reflecting on 2016 and eyeing next year, think about ambitions for 2017 and beyond. Take aspirations and build support lattices around them. Tell friends about your plans (or maybe not); make a bet that you’ll stick to it; allocate a reward for hitting your target.
Enjoy the day-to-day plan, training and focus that’s necessary to slowly build toward success. Think about what your future self would thank you for and start the long-term projects. The days are slow, but the years are fast!
As 2016 wraps up, are there systems you can put in place to build toward ticking projects off the bucket list?