At the start of 2016 I outlined so many goals for the new year, even though I claimed to be focusing on simplifying and self-care. I intentionally left many of these goals without metrics, with the idea of building habits instead of tracking numbers. However, over the year I eventually forgot about the habit-based goals. The habits either became integrated in my daily life or were dropped altogether. The only goals that stuck around were the ones I tracked every month in a spreadsheet. These tracked goals were all based on closing as many “open loops” as possible, with the overall goal of simplifying my life.
As we near the end of the year I’ve been reflecting on this tracking system and the goals overall. I’ve discovered a few key lessons about myself and how to define goals to be effective for me.
The goals I tracked all year were:
- Decrease my pile of to-read books (starting with 49 books in January 2016)
- Decrease my pile of unread magazines (starting with 5 magazines)
- Decrease the number of books on hold at the library, which I used to suspend until I was “ready” to read them (starting with 16 books on hold)
- Finish the KonMari decluttering process (starting with 16 sub-categories to go)
- Decrease the number of “in-progress” projects (starting with 39)
- Decrease my yarn stash (starting with 15,306 yards of yarn)
- Decrease my 2012 yarn stash lots in Ravelry (starting with 37 lots of yarn)
Each goal started with a specific target that I wanted to hit by the end of 2016, with occasional adjustments as the months went by. I discovered in previous years that I do much better “soft” targets that I can adjust as circumstances change. A year is a long time and adjusting as I go makes more sense to me than sticking rigidly to the first target and getting discouraged.
One key lesson I’ve learned this year is that I need to pick goals where I can only make positive progress. As soon as those numbers start to run backwards, I get very discouraged. My yarn stash goal is the perfect example: positive progress included knitting up or giving away yarn, while buying yarn was negative progress. I was doing great on this goal until I went to the Maritimes for a road trip in September. There are so many amazing yarn dyers and fun local yarn stores in the Maritimes, and there was no way I was leaving without buying a few skeins of souvenir yarn. Unfortunately I’m a rather slow knitter these days and when I came home and added my purchases to my stash it gave me a higher yardage count than I had at the beginning of 2016! There was no way I could make up the ground so late in the year, so I had essentially failed that goal at the moment. That was not a happy moment.
In essence this was a misguided goal: it focused on decreasing the size of my yarn stash, when what really bothers me is how slowly I knit it up. Ideally I’d like to have only yarn from the last year or two in my stash, so that I can buy new yarn for new projects and not feel like I’m wasting previous purchases. With that in mind, I just changed the goal to match what I really want to accomplish: decrease the amount of yarn I own that I purchased before the current year. This segment of my yarn stash can only get smaller, and that positive progress will build my momentum all year long.
Another lesson I learned this year is that I have a strong inclination to start with overly-ambitious targets. As much as possible I need to fight that inclination and settle on more realistic targets at the start of the year. A rule of thumb I’ve been using lately is to cap my targets at one per month. This is applicable to both the book backlog and KonMari decluttering goals. I usually read several books per month, but these are often fiction or other “easy-to-read” books. My to-read pile is full of books that are too big to carry in my purse, or are written at a more difficult reading level than most fiction. These aren’t the books I reach for just before bed. Plus, I love finding books through podcasts or other books and I often have a steady stream arriving from the library that have to be read within a set time period. All this means that I really can’t manage more than one or two of the “to-read” books per month, which means keeping my year-long target to around 12-18 books.
The same principle holds true for my KonMari decluttering. I find the process tiring and prefer to do it on the weekends, or spread it out over tiny sessions during the week. With my boyfriend in Montreal and my family in Toronto I often have only one or two weekends a month to myself. Trying to accomplish more than one KonMari sub-category a month just isn’t realistic. Keeping my goal targets moderate means I actually have a chance of achieving them.
The third lesson I learned this year is one I have to learn over and over again: I do best when I minimize as many distractions as possible. This applies to both the physical clutter in my home, and time “clutter” on my calendar. This year I discovered it applies to my to-do lists as well. Just keeping the list I look at daily to the 3-5 most important tasks for the day has made a world of difference in my stress level. This is especially true since one of my favourite procrastination activities is re-arranging all the priorities of all the tasks in a long list. If I keep the list short, its much harder to procrastinate.
Seven goals was probably too many to focus on at once, even over the span of a year. All year I’ve found myself opening my tracking spreadsheet and worrying over the numbers, instead of actually doing something proactive about them! My first solution was to close that tab in my browser, which helped a lot. More recently I decided to pick one item from each goal to complete each month, and treat this as a mini-goal. This let’s me ignore the overwhelming, year-long goals for a month at a time, and focus strictly on the collection of mini-goals instead. It is so much easier to think about the one book I want to read this month than it is to worry about the 12 I want to have read by the end of the year.
Mini-Goals for November
I’m posting my monthly mini-goals here as a way to keep me accountable at the end of the month, because I’ve found external accountability really helps keep me on track.
My mini-goals for November are:
- Finish reading the Encyclopedia of World Mythology – this is an ambitious goal. The book is HUGE so I can only read it at my kitchen table.
- Finish the Preserve issue of Taproot Magazine.
- Put no more books on hold at the library – this is the only way to decrease my number of holds since I don’t want to cancel any of my current holds.
- Declutter my “Tools and Cleaning Supplies” category
- Finish my Vivid blanket to get one more project off my WIP list – this one is so close!
- Knit up the leftovers from Vivid into hexipuffs – this is a 2-for-1 since it will make progress on both my yarn yardage and 2012 stash lots goals.
I’ll be sure to post again in December to let you know how I did. Wish me luck!