Monday, December 31, 2007

a bit more on resolutions and how they work here

The David Allen system "Getting Things Done" helped me see the connection between the big picture "important but not urgent" goals and the micro-task "actionable steps" that make the goal come into actual being. I thought I'd try to describe what I have learned and am still learning since it seems to be more of a process than an outcome.

First, actions ought to be set in time so that they actually happen. For me this is the tricky part; it does not come naturally, but if I remember to peg the actions down into a time frame and frame them into verbs, they are much more likely to actually occur.

Some examples from my list of resolutions in my last post -- the resolutions themselves, and then some possible actionable steps:

  • Travelling the rest of the way to Rivendell. (ride the exercise bike for 3 miles a day).
  • Keep to my target weight range. (start a food journal again, since my good habits have been slipping).
  • Eat properly and make proper food for my family (more vegetables on the shopping list; regular eating times; browse through cookbooks every Sunday afternoon).
  • Write my story (Liam suggested waking up at 7 am every morning to write for an hour or two, and this is working, though 7:30 is a bit more like it).
  • Reading the Great Books of the Western World (get the books, which I just did by spending some Christmas money at Advanced Book Exchange; a second step might be to set aside a half hour or so to actually read every day)

And so on. You see, I wouldn't want to set my resolutions down in the micro-task form because I wouldn't be motivated to keep them -- for me, that would be like seeing the twigs on the trees and completely missing the forest.

But merely pondering vista-level goals doesn't work either because those are assumed. "preserve personal and family health" "further my education and that of my kids" "build a strong family culture"-- those are helpful in prioritizing and in setting my life direction, but not so much useful for planning goals, because in themselves they don't indicate any strategy.

The middle-ground goals are the ones that work for me because I can change the strategy as necessary. When Liam goes back to school and we start homeschooling again, waking up at 7 to write might not work because I have to plan my homeschooling during that time. If I get the "buying more vegetables" down into a routine, I may want to switch over to some other actionable step in the pursuit of family health. So the action steps might change, but hopefully the goals will stay current (I'll let you know).

David Allen says that sometimes, when a project or goal is not getting done, the problem is that it hasn't been broken down into a task that is concrete and immediate enough. This has been helpful for me to remember; it falls under the category of "preparation" that I mentioned in my last post.

That is, when I'm procrastinating, it's often because the task is too complex, even if it seems simple on the surface. Sometimes I find myself procrastinating on a phone call, for example, and once I think about it, I realize that I have to find the phone number and say, get my insurance card out of my purse. Those are the real "first steps" before the phone call can take place. I used to simply scold myself for procrastination, but that was not helpful, because it didn't address the real problem -- that I was bogged down in procedural details, or sometimes in an emotional morass -- sometimes I hold back on a phone call because I am scared to make it, for example. But once I know what the problem is, I can usually manage to address it.

Those vista-level, big picture life goals? They are helpful in a different way. They give me a vision. Every once in a while it is valuable to look over one's life and see if it's generally going the way it ought to. For me it is valuable, though challenging, to try to picture my "dream life." It's challenging because it's discouraging. But it really does help. I look around me at people I know and what their lives are like; I read books that put substance to my dreams; I look at my hopes and wishes and try not to discard them too soon because of missing pieces.

The final corollary to all this is that my cornerstone goal is probably the last one, to sit down with my goals every couple of weeks or month and see if the proximate, actionable-steps need to be revised or as the special needs jargon has it, "carried over" -- continued until mastered. If I do this consistently I will have way more chance of getting the rest of it done (as opposed to forgetting all about it). At the same time I can try to reflect on the big-picture, "remote" goals. And I can decide if the mediate-level goals need to be reprioritized. That is idealistic, but if I do the first part regularly, I'll be at the 75% level at least.

I notice that different things shift to higher priority at different times. Right now, we are on vacation so lesson planning and homeschooling is on the back burner and informal family time is up in front place. At another time, the household management gets a higher billing (usually in the summer, when I'm setting things up for the next year). This is part of the seasonal focus I've been thinking about a lot through our years of family life.


momof3feistykids said...

I enjoyed your thoughts on goal setting. Happy New Year, Willa!

Chari said...

I love your thoughts....and would love to mull them over with you sometime.....maybe next weekend??? :) you are so amazing with the written word....

Missing you,

with love & friendship