2023 January Goals Review

Early review of my goals and the system to think through how well it’s working.

In 1998 through 2000 I went to a college prep school in Hartland, Wisconsin. My uncle was the headmaster at the time, and I lived with him and my aunt while I was there. It was a strange time! I was one of the few kids who hadn’t gone to that school since elementary, and certainly the only one who was from the south. I remember the other kids being really interested in what people from Mississippi called people from Wisconsin. It was hard to explain that people in the south don’t really discuss Wisconsin or the people who are there?

At one point I got sent to the principal because I’d been playing pickup soccer with Matt Berger and I thought it would be funny to go out of bounds with the ball and shout, “help me Mr. Wizard!” It was serious. I was threatened with expulsion! The next year another kid, Harrison, thought it would be cool to bring a pistol and show it to his friends. He really didn’t have any grand designs, he was just clueless. We made fun of him till he put it away.

About four weeks ago I shared my goals for 2023. A critical component of these goals is follow-up. Talk is cheap. It’s easy to create goals. It’s harder to ensure that they happen. With that in mind the first couple goals are systemic and help achieve other goals.

At some point during the pandemic I read Richard W. Hamming’s book, (affiliate link:) The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn. In Chapter 30, “You and your research,” he discusses setting aside Friday afternoons for “great thoughts.” When I first read this I couldn’t imagine what that process would look like. Would you just daydream? Now I have a pretty concrete idea, at least as it applies to me.

This post is not about my specific goals. It’s about the system of vivifying goals with active reflection. I’ll discuss how the system works for each goal, just to talk through it. I want to show some of the reflection I’ve done over the past month and how it has attenuated my approach.

🔗 Employ Regular Goal Follow Up

I created a template for my “daily scorecard” and for my “weekly review.” The daily scorecard simply includes the details I want to track (eg bedtime,) my todo list (one for work and one for home,) and stuff I’m waiting on (and likely should follow up on.) The score card also gets used to write down details of what I ended up doing and any related notes.

The weekly review has become a time when I aggregate the tracking data in the scorecard, a checklist of weekly low-effort tasks, and then structured reflection. As a fun aside, the last item in the checklist is to look at my list of random things I want to buy and (based on a 9 out of 10 probability) buy something from it. I could afford all of it but treating it like a reward works for me.

The way I have employed structured reflection works like this: I have some amount of data in each weekly review document, but I also have my own memories from the past few weeks. I simply go over the goals as I expressed them, and consider if they are on track. I’m going to go through each goal now and talk through how (if at all) I’ve made decisions during reflection.

🔗 Apply a time spending heuristic

This fundamentally affects how I look at my todo list. I try harder to prioritize the items, rather than trying to get the list smaller. If my goal were to get the list as short as possible I’d always do the easiest task. The list will forever grow and I’m comfortable with that. Given that, I need to just do the most important bits. This has worked well but it’s still early days.

🔗 Reduce time wasters

This one has been so effective but also so mindless that it’s paid off very quickly. I’m far less tolerant of email that doesn’t matter and continue to filter it, unsubscribe, block, mark as spam, etc. When I started I mentioned that email took up about 30m a week during crucial reflection time to get sorted. Now it’s relatively quiet. Furthermore, because I am tracking todos reliably, I can add an email to my todo and take it out of the inbox. Nice. Anyway, no reflection induced here.

🔗 Stop early morning social media

This one I have mostly backed off on. Initially I stopped tracking the minutes on social media, the time I started, etc because it wasn’t helping me decide anything. Later I decided that the use of social media is fine, given I am still motivated to do other things rather than just get all low energy. That’s been fine.

🔗 Stop staying up really late

A couple weeks ago I noticed that I’d been slowly creeping into staying up later and later, without meaning to or realizing it. I decided to be more intentional about getting up stairs about 15 minutes earlier. It’s not a hard limit, and staying up a little late is fine. This was effective and brought me back in line with where I want to be.

🔗 Stop plugging in so much around kids

This transformed pretty dramatically. I was over-indexing on being “plugged in,” as a cause. While it’s a real cause of strife, the real thing to focus on is conflict with my kids. With that in mind I’ve stopped tracking being plugged in and more started tracking conflict itself, and the context around that, with the intention of either reducing conflict or making it more productive.

🔗 Use mornings with kids intentionally

This has gone so well that I stopped tracking it entirely, while still reflecting on it. I wouldn’t be surprised if this at some point changes to spending all kinds of time with kids more intentionally, but I’m trying to build a head of steam on top of success rather than immediately do it all.

🔗 Write more

This one has not gone well. It’s one where by any metric, tracked or not, I have not succeeded. I continue to try to iterate on it. This is what I wrote about it earlier today:

Last week I acknowledged that I needed to focus on writing more and at least tried to write some for my blog on one day. I want to try harder at this. I’m thinking I’ll try to spend 30m per work day on this and 30m per non-work day. The former has constraints that make it less clearly an investment in writing itself, but that’s not so bad. For the latter I’ll at least focus on my [secret redacted blog project] and other blogging.

It’s not clear here but my intention is to be writing an hour each weekday and 30m on other days. Time will tell how this goes. I’ll keep trying.

🔗 Exercise

This has gone well, and has it’s own reflection cycle. I haven’t decided yet, but I am likely to change my goal to do HIIT three times a week and jog twice a week. I’m still thinking about it and learning though.

🔗 Diet

I hate the word diet so much. It sounds like something I don’t mean. I mean “try to eat healthy” not “try to stay under $x calories” or whatever.

Anyway, this has mostly gone well and the reflection has ended up with me changing some things (notably replacing chicken with fish. I never would have expected that I’d dislike reheated chicken so much and would like reheated salmon so much!)

🔗 Cut Wood

This has been a runaway success. I’m at the point now where most weeks have twenty hours of wood working. I could imagine doing more, but the tradeoffs probably wouldn’t be worth it. It’s going really well.

🔗 Mentor

This one is like writing. I have been thinking on how to improve here but am still working on improving it.

Thinking intentionally about important goals works. Obviously this could be even more structured; I started doing everything with metrics but that’s both too much work for most things and doesn’t really capture the truth of things. My experience in general is that if I do less structured review I end up just wasting that time on some urgent task.

I have some thoughts still steeping in my head about how to improve this system, but I don’t see any reason to clarify them prematurely. I expect to write another review like this in late June if things are still going well.

I hope this helps!

Posted Sat, Jan 28, 2023

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