A few days ago, I taked about the #1 reason why people don’t accomplish their goals: lack of genuine connection and commitment to them.
But once you’ve figured out what you really want to do, you still need a strategy for accomplishing it. Your goals are not going to get you anywhere if you don’t actually do something about them. And not just anything—but the right things.
So here’s a very straightforward, fail-proof plan for achieving your goals. I say it’s fail-proof not because error isn’t possible (no one can predict the future or control all circumstances), but because if you follow this plan, you’ll accomplish more than you would under any other plan you’ve been testing out.
1.) Focus on only 1-2 BIG goals. Seriously.
Now that you’ve figured out how you’re spending time each week, let’s switch gears for a moment. Figure out what your one major goal is this year. I have two major goals—one personal, one career-driven—but wouldn’t advise choosing more than 1-2.
This is the hardest part for most people because choosing just one BIG goal to pursue requires extreme focus and connection to purpose.
But, it’s really important that you stick to just 1-2 major goals. Goals to me are different than habit changes, which I talk more about here. Your 1-2 goals should be so big, that it would take an entire year to accomplish. If you were to accomplish only these 1-2 things, you’d feel like you had a very successful year.
- Lose 40 pounds
- Successfully launch a startup and drive $100k in revenue
- Get into a top graduate school
- Learn how to code and land a job as a front-end developer
- Save for and take a month-long trip to backpack through Southeast Asia
Based on what you really want to accomplish—where your deepest values, passions, and skills intersect—choose 1-2 goals to focus on for the rest of the year. Do not aim for “reasonable.” Be a bit unreasonable. What do you really want to accomplish this year? That’s what you should make your goal.
2.) Create monthly sub-goals.
Once you’ve created your 1-2 Big Goals, create 9 monthly sub-goals (April - December 2013) for each one. The idea is that the 9 monthly sub-goals would very clearly lead to you accomplishing your 1-2 Big Goals for the year. You can obviously plan for more than 9 months. I just set 9 months as a goal in case you’re reading this now and want to set goals for 2013 specifically. Feel free to plan into 2014 if your Big Goals are going to take you longer than 9 months to accomplish.
Big Goal: Learn how to code and land a job as a front-end developer.
- April - Apply and get into the Starter League Beginner HTML/CSS class
- May - Take Starter League (SL) class & code my own personal blog for practice
- June - Continue taking SL class, finish coding the blog, and work on a Demo Day project
- July - Finish SL class & find a company to let me do front-end coding for free to help them redesign a website
- August - Apply and get into the Starter League Advanced HTML/CSS class
- September - Continue taking SL class, finish up coding for the company side project
- October - Finish SL class and take on one more front-end freelance project for another company
- November - Finish freelance project #2 and apply to a minimum of 8 front-end developer jobs
- December - Interview with companies, apply to 5 more jobs if necessary…and land a full-time developer job by 12/31!
When you break your Big Goal down this way, you can see the natural progression of your goal and exactly what would need to be done each month in order for you to get a job as a front-end developer by December 31st. Breaking it down this way makes the end goal seem even more tangible. It will get you super excited about the idea of taking on your plan and tackling that one big, amazing goal of yours.
3.) Create weekly mini-goals.
If you put my post from earlier this week into action, you’ve figured out the 20% of your work that’s driving 80% of your results. Now, the question is: what systems can you put in place to do less of the 80% of activity that isn’t generating results, and more of the 20% activity that is?
80% of work that isn’t driving a ton of results:
- Checking email for 4 hours a day
- Using social media too often throughout the day
- Taking too many meetings during the week
Strategies to eradicate the issues above:
- Check email for only 2 hours a day—one hour between 11-12pm, and one hour between 4-5pm. Use Inbox Zero techniques to answer, archive, and delete more emails in half the time.
- Block social media websites between the hours of 9am-12pm and 1pm-4pm using one of these distraction blocking apps.
- Only take meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12-3pm. If it doesn’t fit into the other person’s schedule, the meeting gets pushed to the following week. Exceptions can be made, but only if the meeting is of extremely high importance and/or urgency.
Once you create a list of strategies, use those—in addition to your set of monthly sub-goals—as a guide, and create 32 mini goals (this translates into 4 mini goals per month—one for each week). Each mini-goal should take no longer than a week to accomplish. Essentially, the mini goals are a way to further break down your monthly goals into highly manageable weekly chunks.
April sub-goal - Apply and get into the Starter League Beginner HTML/CSS class
April weekly mini-goals -
- Week 1: Do research on Starter League program
- Week 2: Submit formal application for Starter League
- Week 3: Send hand-written notes to the founders to let them know how excited I am about taking the SL class
- Week 4: Get accepted into SL and set up coffee meetings with 3 alums to get advice on making the most of the class
When you break your monthly sub-goals down like this, you basically create a detailed road map for making shit happen. It seems so obvious, but no one plans like this. That’s why most people fail (in addition to not creating strategies to eradicate triggers that lead to wasting time).
4.) Do your weekly planning.
Based on the weekly goals you outlined for the current month you’re in, you need to set aside 30 minutes to create a weekly “plan of attack” for accomplishing your mini-goal for the week ahead. I created this template of what your weekly planning sheet could look like:
It’s a good idea to add in your Big Goal, monthly sub-goal, and weekly mini-goal at the top of your weekly sheet to remind you of what the whole point is with all this planning business and hard work. At the beginning of every week, you should know exactly what you’re looking to accomplish every day to achieve your weekly mini-goal—so that you can move on to your next mini-goal, in order to move on to your next sub-goal, in order to accomplish your one Big Goal.
Fun to look at it like this, right?
You’ll see that I listed “additional projects and tasks” on the weekly planning template I created above. That’s because none of us have just one responsibility. We’re all juggling multiple things at any given point in time. I’ll explain how to best fit these additional projects and tasks in later this week. The point of this sheet is to help you make the tasks that are directly related to your Big Goal a priority over the other stuff you have to do. This is a huge part of goal accomplishment—you need to be willing to get your goal-related tasks done first, even when you’ve got other important things going on. If you don’t get into the habit of doing this, you’ll fail because there’s simply too much other stuff out there to distract you from your longer-term goal.
5.) Do your daily planning.
Once you’ve done your weekly planning, you need to set aside time to plan every single day for the upcoming day. I’ve soaked up a ton of productivity advice over the last several years, and this is something I hear from every productivity guru and successful person out there:
You have to plan on your own success.
If you don’t break it down to what you’ll do every day, then there’s no way you’ll accomplish your weekly, monthly, or annual goals. Basically, if you don’t plan daily, you’re screwed. Either you’re going to own your day, or your day is going to own you. I see an enormous difference in my own productivity when I plan it out thoroughly vs. just wing it. Of course, your daily plan needs to go hand-in-hand with the strategies you implement to actively avoid time-wasting triggers and activities.
Here’s an example of what your daily planning sheet can look like:
Obviously, I like colors. You can tailor your weekly and daily sheets to look however you want them to look, but these sheets work really well for me.
You’ll notice a few new sections on this daily sheet. The first is “Today’s Top Tasks”—these are the top three things you must get done for the day. If you accomplish these three things only, your day will have been a success. At least one task should be related to your weekly mini goal. This is really important: make sure you get this task done before you do anything else on your daily task list. Do your top 3 tasks in order before you do anything else, and get them out of the way. Each task should take no longer than 90 minutes (…And yes, it’s possible to get your taxes done in under 90 minutes, depending on complexity—I’ve timed it).
You’ll also notice a “Batch Tasks” section. This is a list of all the basic operational stuff you need to do your job, like coffee meetings to build new relationships, checking and answering email, getting organized, sending out email newsletters, etc. Basically, they are the tasks you need to do to keep things going, but aren’t really going to equate directly to “success” at the end of the year.
For example, I need to publish content daily for Technori.com, but if I just focus on that, we’ll have a lot of content, but not that much growth. For me, a major sub-goal would be focusing on growth hacking strategies. Therefore, while very important, editing and publishing articles is actually not a top task for me—it’s a batch task.
I’ll talk more about batch tasks this coming week, but I wanted to show them to you on the daily sheet for now, because it’s important to make note of and label them as such.
As a note, I learned a lot of the above techniques from reading I’ve done over the years. My favorite thought leaders in this space are Steven Covey, Leo Babauta, and Brian Tracy. I would highly recommend reading any of the books these three guys have written, particularly Leo’s Power of Less. That being said, I’ve learned about and tested the psychology behind why we achieve and don’t achieve what we set out to do. So, I tailored the plan above based on what I’ve seen actually work and not work through my various productivity testing. I believe the plan above is the absolute best aggregated, tailored plan for making your goals a reality.
So there you have it! An easy-as-they-come, fail-proof goal-setting (and achieving) method. Four steps. A lot of happiness and accomplished goals. Boom. Later this week, I’ll talk in depth about batch tasking and weekly reviews to keep you in check, streamline your time management processes, and stick to your goals.
Hope you’ll pass this along to any one else who might find it useful!
Yesterday, we talked about how to plan and analyze the current way you spend your time. Once you know exactly what work and ongoing tasks you’re doing that generate the greatest return on investment (the 20% of work generating 80% of your results), it’s time to figure out how to do more of the stuff that’s making a difference through goal setting.
Goal-setting is a hotly and widely talked about topic. It sounds pretty straightforward: Figure out what you want to accomplish choose a specific goal, and then create some benchmarks so you can assess how you’re performing. Right?
Except that plan doesn’t work. How many times have you set a goal, and it just didn’t materialize? So, you’re sitting there wondering, “Is it me? Am I not smart enough? Motivated enough? Skilled enough? Do I need a bigger network? Do I need more money?” When you don’t hit your goals, you start to feel like it’s you that’s lacking something.
And that’s because you are.
But it’s not smarts, skills, or motivation you’re lacking. You’re lacking a roadmap. You’re lacking a list of extremely simple habits you can adopt every single day, one or two at a time, that will actually allow you to turn a dream into something real.
But more than any of that, you’re lacking authentic connection to what it is you really want to accomplish.
I can’t stand all the crappy advice out there. It’s like listening to a broken record on repeat. The same advice gets doled out over and over again:
- Create a “big picture” of what you want to accomplish in life
- Create a personal mission statement
- Break down your big goals with smaller goals on a to-do list
- Make sure your goal is specific
- Make sure your goal is attainable
- Give yourself a deadline
- Make your goal public
- Ask someone to help keep you accountable
Maybe those are all useful components of goal-setting, but having tried all of them myself, I can tell you that no matter how smart, skilled, and motivated you are to achieve, this is not a comprehensive list—or even the right list—of what you need to do to achieve goals.
I’m going to start in this post with the hardest part of goal setting.
You need to have goals you’re truly connected to. Not things you kinda sorta want to do. Not things your parents or friends or bosses think you should do. Your goals need to be so close to your heart and spirit. People forget that “motivation” is not why people succeed. It’s not that successful people have more motivation than others. We all have incredibly lazy days. We’re human beings, not robots.
The #1 reason people don’t accomplish their goals is because the goals are not tied close enough to that person’s sense of self—they don’t make someone think, “I was put on this planet to accomplish this goal.” If you don’t feel that connected to what you’re doing, you’re simply not going to thrive. Period. End of story.
This applies to every single area of your life: relationships, work, hobbies, skills you want to acquire, health, etc. If you’re not super connected in the right ways to your goals, you may get by. You may even “do well.” But you’re not going to thrive. Thriving happens when you’re super-aligned with your personal purpose. You could make a mediocre relationship work. You could lose some weight. You could check off a bunch of to-dos at a job you don’t really enjoy.
Why why? What’s the point in that?
I can attribute every single goal I’ve accomplished or area I’ve thrived in to one simple reality: those things were all absolutely at the core of who I am and who I want to be.
Some of you may be reading this now thinking to yourself, “Well, that’s really easy for you to say that, Melissa. You’re single, and you don’t have kids, a car payment, or a mortgage to worry about. You can take risks that I can’t take.”
Let me tell it to you straight: I think you’re lying to yourself.
I still have my fair share of challenges—financial and otherwise—to work through. But honestly, what’s the point in being stuck there? Nothing good comes from telling yourself repeatedly about all of the things you can’t do. That’s a made up idea in your head. Plenty of people have found a way to thrive in various different areas of their lives even with kids, a spouse, a car payment, a mortgage, a lack of education, and a low-paying job. Trust me, you can find numerous people out there who worked through a more dire set of circumstances to accomplish huge, huge things. If they can do it, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t do it.
We’ll do whatever we can to find an excuse, because that’s the easier thing to do. It takes a ton of hard work and reflection to decide what your goals are in the first place. We all want quick fixes. But here’s what happens: we rush to set a goal that doesn’t really matter to us, then scramble to try somehow to make it happen, and then we end up upset and demoralized when it doesn’t work out.
Let me give you an example: dieting.
A lot of people diet. Some lose weight, most gain it back. Why does this happen? Obviously, it’s not for lack of information and diet plans, and psychological techniques out there. And it’s certainly not because of your circumstances. There are really wealthy people who want to get healthy and can afford a private chef, personal trainer, at-home gym, etc. And yet, that’s still not enough. And then there are others who have no resources at all and still bust their butts, get up every morning to run outside, and buy cheap produce and canned veggies. They make it work.
If you notice, the people who lose weight and keep it off…there’s something different about them. And it’s that they are deeply connected to why they want to get healthy. If your sole motivation for getting healthy is losing weight so you can look good because you think that’s what it’s going to take to get people to fall in love with you, respect you at work, etc., you’re honestly probably going to fail. You’re going to fail because that “purpose” isn’t driven by your core internal desire for change; it’s driven by (1) doing something because that’s what friends, family, society expects, and (2) by a false belief about your self-worth. Your self-worth doesn’t come from your weight, and if you keep thinking that as you attempt to lose weight, even if you do, you’ll just be a thinner version of yourself left with nothing but the real problem that was lurking beneath your weight-gain: irrational and totally made-up self-esteem struggles.
If, however, you decide you want to lose weight because you are in love with the feeling you get from going on a long run (no matter how hard it is in the middle of one), or you want to live a long and healthy life for your spouse and children, or you’ve learned that eating animal products and heavily processed food, no matter how delicious, is really bad for you and makes you feel nasty and you’re sick and tired of it (literally)…now we’re talking a totally different ballgame.
Because now, you’re deeply connected to your reason for wanting to lose weight. When you have that connectedness, you elevate yourself above the normal stopping points for people (i.e. having unhealthy food in the house, being too tired to work out in the morning, not having a gym membership, etc.)
If you’re really connected, you’ll find a way.
You’ve literally got everything you need in that head and heart of yours to make your goals work.
So here’s the exercise I want to ask you to do today:
First, find a pocket of silence. Take one day this weekend to completely disconnect and just allow yourself the breathing room to think and reflect.
Next, answer the question, “What do I feel like I was put on this planet to do?” Just freestyle write. Don’t worry about it making sense or being realistic. Just write everything down that comes to mind. What sorts of things have you always been drawn to? What are your most favorite activities? If you could do anything—no limitations—what would it be? What are your gifts? Strengths? Skills? What do you do better than everyone else you know? Write down absolutely everything that comes to mind.
Finally, pretend this year was your last year. What one big thing would you want to accomplish? Just choose one thing. What’s the biggest thing you’d want to accomplish in the next year of your life? In 12 months, what would bring you utter joy to say you’d done? What would have made it a year worth living?
Tomorrow, we’ll talk about how to chase after that one big, amazing goal of yours.
I seriously geek out about life hacking. I am all about discovering and implementing ways to save time and optimize life so that I’ve got as much time as possible to pursue what really matters.
If you’re struggling right now with time management and are looking for a simpler, more effective system, I’ve got one for you.
This week, I’m going to take you through some of the best, most effective life hacking tips I’ve learned over the past year. I’ll cover:
- Tuesday: The fail-proof goal-setting method
- Wednesday: Why to-do lists don’t work (and the better alternative)
- Thursday: The magic of batch tasking
- Friday: Creating a schedule that reflects your values
- Saturday: Identifying un-productivity triggers—and how to eradicate them
- I don’t really use the “I must do” or “I must contact” sections on the left-hand side, but feel free to use them if they’re helpful to you.
- I turn the “Notes” section into a “Triggers” section.
So, what are “triggers”?Triggers are basically anything that causes you to switch from doing something productive (and single-tasking), to doing something less productive or off-task. Examples: If I’m editing an article and a thought pops into my head that I need to look for a new iPad cover, that thought bubble is a trigger for me. If I’m batch-tasking my emails and a colleague leans over to start a conversation, that colleague is a trigger.
- Pomodoro Technique - helps you work in bursts of 25 minutes, with a mandatory 5 minute break. You can adjust the timeframes, but this technique is essentially supposed to help you sustain your energy all day.
- Rescue Time - everyone from Neil Patel to Tim Ferriss raves about this, but the really useful version costs money. If you’re willing to invest, it’s a great tool.
- Task Timer - This is a Chrome plug-in. I use it to help me determine how long it’s really taking me to do batch tasks and MITs (more on these later in the week).
WARNING:A quick word of warning about tracking your time. It’s very easy to forget to track things in detail. I’d set a recurring reminder on your calendar every hour so you can take 2-3 minutes to track what you’ve done for the past hour. Otherwise, you’ll get lost in a task, not record what you did for 3-4 hours at a time, and your data won’t be that detailed or useful.
So use a calendar reminder every hour for the next week! I promise, it’s not as annoying as it sounds.
Problem #2: We don’t take enough time to assess results and figure out how to do more of what’s working.
Obviously, if we’re not even taking time to track how we’re spending our time, we’re certainly not maximizing the learnings we could get from analyzing our results and figuring out what’s driving them. So that’s the next thing I want you to do:
Though it was a slightly atypical week, quite frankly, I was still shocked by how much of my week I spent in meetings and in my inbox. Once I put this analysis together, I could very clearly see my problem areas, and then know exactly where I needed to develop more efficient systems for myself.
If you’re just following along now, here’s the quick update: I’m changing one habit per month throughout 2013.
My February habit change goal? Create a values- and goals-based budget, and sticking to that budget 100%. As I noted in my article yesterday, that means analyzing my budget to see where I’m spending money on things I don’t really value, as well as not saving or spending enough in the areas that I do value—and then adjusting my budget accordingly.
I started by spending 1-2 hours thinking about and answering these questions:
- What do I think I spent too much money on last year? Last month?
- What do I want to spend more on this year? This month?
- How much do I want to save this year?
- How much can I give this year?
- What is the biggest misappropriation of my income?
- What am I happy to spend money on?
- What necessities can I still cut costs on?
- Are there any 3-5 year goals I want to save for?
- Are there any long term goals (10+ years) I want to save for?
- How much additional income to I want to earn this year?
It’s important to sit down, think about, and write down the answers to these value- and goal-based questions before you create your budget. They will help you prioritize things in ways you might otherwise not.
Once I spent time reflecting, I created a very simple spreadsheet in Excel. It looks like this:
If you google “budget categories,” what you’ll find is somewhat different from my categories. There are things that might be on your budget, but aren’t on mine because they aren’t applicable. Utilities is a good example; My utilities are built into my rent, so I don’t have a separate column broken out for it.
The other big difference: I’ve grouped a lot of my categories together. I kept detailed track of my finances in the past (though, keeping track and maintaining a values-based budget are very different things). In my previous budget spreadsheets, I had separate categories for: groceries, coffee, dinner out, drinks, weekday lunches, eating out, beauty care, toiletries, laundry, dry cleaning, books, concerts, other events, travel, music, movies.
…Waaaaaay too many categories!
With my old budget, I thought it would be easier to assess my spending if I broke things down into extreme detail. But, here’s what would happen. I’d…
- Track everything I spent in each of these detailed categories the month before
- Figure out where I could cut back a little bit
- Forget to include long-term goals, like travel and savings
- Get nervous about drastically decreasing the perceived quality of my life, so I’d only cut my budgets down by a minuscule amount
The primary error I made was not accounting for loss aversion, which is the human tendency to feel losses 2-2.5 times more than gains. By plugging in how much I was already spending, I weighted the categories. I had a harder time decreasing my budget in each category because it felt like I was “losing” my lifestyle whenever I stripped away another $20 from budget categories like “dinner out” and “drinks” and “beauty care.”
Given everything I’ve been learning about goal setting and behavior change, here’s what I did differently this time around:
1.) I used the answers to my questions at the beginning of this post to guide my budget categories.
2.) You can’t tell in the screenshot above, but I originally ordered the categories in my budget spreadsheet by importance based on my values and goals. The ones that came out on top were: health insurance, fitness, travel, and giving. I barely accounted for these categories in previous budgets, even though health, adventuring, and philanthropy are three of the things I value most.
3.) During previous budgeting attempts, I would tally up all of the other categories, and make whatever was left over my “savings.” This time around, I’m making saving a priority. It shouldn’t be optional, and it certainly shouldn’t be less important than spending money on unnecessary crap.
4.) I grouped all of my food budget together because I was spending way, way too much on food—more than 25%! That’s totally unreasonable and unnecessary, so I simplified by giving myself one total budget for food. If I want to eat out, I know I need to spend less on fancy groceries that week—and vice versa.
5.) I combined categories, too. Going along with my favorite behavior change theme of “less is more,” I decided to group the following:
Ticket events, drinks, clothing, beauty.
These don’t seem like they belong in one category, right? Here’s my rationale: I spend too much money (in my opinion) on drinks and beauty. I love a good mani & pedi as much as the next girl, but when I took a look at how much I was spending on something so trivial….I was appalled. I could literally go on vacation in Hawaii for the amount I spend on beauty treatments that I could do at home for a fraction of the cost. Disgusting. The same is true of drinks. I can’t believe how much I was spending on random cocktails and glasses of wine! And the crazy thing is, I know so many people my age who spend twice as much on alcohol. I can’t believe how much money we all spend on it! Is it really necessary to run up a $90 drink tab at a bar? I definitely think so.
While I want to cut back on spending in the “drinks” and “beauty” categories, I still want to spend the same amount of money on clothing and even more on events/experiences.
I really love fashion—I think style is one of the best forms of self-expression. I love being able to wear my personality on my sleeve (literally) with a funky piece of jewelry or a unique shirt. So, it’s not so much about saving in this category for me as it is about spending differently. I want to invest in fewer high quality pieces rather than more low quality items this year.
More than anything in the category, I want to actually spend more money on events and experiences, like: museums, festivals, concerts, random roadtrips, etc. When I think about the most memorable and fulfilling moments of my life, they all involve having fun, unique experiences with people I love. So, I want to do more adventuring this year.
In short, my rationale is, by grouping two low-value categories where I’m spending too much money with two high-value categories where I’m spending a bit less than I want to, it’ll nudge me to make smarter decisions. I’m using loss aversion in a positive way! Now, I’ll think more carefully about spending money on drinks or beauty, because it means I’m taking away from the budget I have to invest in amazing experiences and an awesome wardrobe.
Books, Music, Learning, Personal Development
I put all of these into a separate category as well because learning and personal development are extremely important to me. I want to know I’m setting aside a small postion of my salary each month to invest in my learning and growth.
Since the purpose of this month’s habit change was to create a value- and goal-centered budget, that means focusing more on two important things: travel (beyond local experiences) and giving. Here’s how I made these two things a priority in my new budget:
Travel is one of those things I want to do more often, but forget to save for because it’s not a recurring monthly expense the way, say, grocery shopping is. So, saving for more travel requires the diligence of putting money away each month specifically for the purpose of travel. In order to estimate how much I wanted to invest in travel this year, I created a separate excel tab with my desired travel schedule. Here’s the template with a few examples to give you a sense of what it looks like:
I thought about my whole year in terms of the trips I want to take, month-by-month, for conferences, visiting friends, and international adventures. Then, I created “total budget” estimates. Basically, anything I spend over my regular budget or isn’t a work-related reimbursement, I write down a budget for it here (third column). This represents the additional money I need to save. I divided my total 2013 travel budget by 11 months (the remainder of this year) to get to an amount I need to put away each month to adequately save for travel.
I really want to make giving a priority this year. This category doesn’t just represent the checks I want to cut for non-profit organizations—it’s more about creating unexpected joy in people’s lives, period. That can look like: buying a friend coffee or brunch, sending a surprise card or gift to someone I love, buying lunch for someone who is hungry, giving money to my church each Sunday, supporting some of my favorite for-purpose organizations, etc.
In short, the goal is to focus on giving by dedicating a portion of my budget each month to creating unexpected joy in the world.
Right now, I’ve allocated 6% to my giving budget. But, I want to double this by the end of the year. As I get adjusted to the other budget allocations, I’m going to slowly spend less in other areas and more in the giving arena.
You might’ve also noticed this part in my budget spreadsheet:
I plan on earning additional income this year through writing, speaking, and consulting. I estimated the amount I’m striving to earn above and beyond my regular salary this year, and then divided the additional income into the 5 categories where I want to have some more money. I made sure to account for taxes, since extra “freelance” income often isn’t taxed.
As you can see, my additional budget is allocated in a values- and goals-centered way. I want to spend extra on the things that matter most to me, like saving, adventuring, and personal growth.
I also want to make sure I put away even more money for student loan repayment and savings/investments this year with any additional income I make.
So there you have it— a budget that truly reflects personal values and goals!
What does your budget say about you? Where are you spending money in areas that you don’t really care about? Where do you want to spend more money in areas you do care about?
Budgeting is not about spending less on everything. It’s about (1) spending within your means and learning to go without when you don’t have money on hand (debt is so lame and disempowering!), and (2) spending more on the right things—the stuff that enriches your life and the lives of others.
I hope this serves as a useful guide for creating your own values- and goals-centered budget!
I’ve been on this crazy year-long habit change journey—I’m changing one habit every month for the entire year. In January, the habit change I focused on was moving to a 90% pesca-vegan diet. As I noted toward the end of the article, it’s important to understand your triggers. I didn’t like the mental energy of deciding when to cash-in my 10% non-vegan meals. So, I decided to take the guesswork out by keeping my non-vegan eating to Saturdays, if at all. And guess what, you guys? It’s working. I’m only two weeks into the new month, but so far, so great. I’m at a 90-95% pesca-vegan diet and I feel fantastic. There’s always room for tweaking, but it’s a ton of progress for just 6 short weeks.
So, let me transition into my February habit change goal: creating a values- and goals-based budget, and sticking to that budget 100%. So what does that mean exactly? It means analyzing my budget to see where I’m spending money on things I don’t really value, as well as not saving or spending enough in the areas that I do value—and then adjusting my budget accordingly.
I’m going to share my February budget goal progress with you tomorrow.
But I have to confess something first. I failed at this goal already, because I waited eight days into February before I created my budget. Eight days! The thing about the goal is it required me planning it out before January 31st. It totally slipped my mind in the midst of everything else.
But, I’m so glad I failed because I learned three invaluable lessons about habit change in the process. Here they are:
1.) Setting a goal is like creating a maximum achievement threshold.
Strict and specific goals are great because they don’t allow you to negotiate with yourself. In other words, by saying “I’m going to stick to my budget 100% in February,” I left no room for negotiation. Some people say you have to plan for failure, but I think that’s dumb. As Will Smith said, “What’s the point in Plan B? It just distracts from Plan A.” Giving yourself wiggle room for failure is akin to creating lots of little Plan B’s.
I’m definitely not saying every month is going to be perfect. I have achieved neither my January nor February goals perfectly so far. We’re human, and perfection is just not realistic. However, I am a big believer in setting big, audacious goals and believing fully that they’re possible. If my goal in January was to move from a 50% pesca-vegan diet to a 70% pesca-vegan diet, I would’ve probably come in at about a 60-65% pesca-vegan diet. But, because I made my goal a 90% pesca-vegan diet, I made it to 85%. When you give yourself a goal, you automatically set a maximum achievement threshold. It’s frequent that we don’t quite reach the high bar the first time around; but it’s a hell of a lot more unlikely to reach above it.
So, whatever your big, crazy goal truly is? Set that goal. Don’t lower the bar because you’re afraid of failure or want to leave room for error (which is the same thing, disguised in bullshit terms).
2.) Seriously, though. You’re not going to be perfect.
I know you know this…but because you’re a perfectionist, you’ll probably keep trying. I see right through you, sneaky!
In thinking about what held me back from creating a great budget for eight whole days into the month, I realize it was my struggle with the disease of perfectionism. It really is a disease because it creates dis-ease within us when we allow it to take over.
I was using work, blogging daily, and a bunch of other random factors as excuses for not budgeting. I’m busy—but you know what? We’re all busy. If we don’t want something badly enough or we’re afraid of how badly we want something, we’ll find an excuse to push it off. This was a case of the latter.
I felt like I needed to read the three top personal finance books cover to cover before I got started with creating mine. After all, my budget needed to be absolutely perfect, right? What a huge-ass roadblock I put in my own way! As I wrote about yesterday, I really believe that one of the big keys to staying committed to a goal or new habit is making it as easy as possible to change. I did exactly the opposite of that.
The truth is, I didn’t need a perfect set of tools. I didn’t need to read multiple finance books cover to cover. I didn’t need to be perfect. All I really needed was an excel sheet, some time to think about my values and goals, and the willingness to create a simple budget around them.
In fact, for perfectionists out there like me, you know the more tools, books, and rules you use will actually make it harder to stick to a budget—not easier. So, on the 9th day of February, I got down to making a simple, easy budget. I simplified budget categories and kept things really simple. I can’t wait share my values-centered budget plan and strategies with you tomorrow.
3.) Approach failures strictly as opportunities to learn.
I could’ve said, “Melissa, you already failed at this month’s goal. Might as well give up now and try again another month.” And trust me, I tried to talk myself into it. But, that is not the mentality of a long-term winner. And I’m in this to be a long-term winner at the game of life.
So, I decided to take my failure and cull out lessons. You just read two of them above. As a result of using my failure strictly as an opportunity to learn, I was able to pick myself out of lazy mode, dust off my excel skills, and create a budget. I mean, honestly, who cares if it was 8 days late? The point is getting shit done—even if it’s not in the timeframe you initially hoped for or imagined.
When you look at some of the most accomplished people in life, I can promise you they have at least one major trait in common: they use failure as fuel by turning setbacks into opportunities to learn some important lessons. That’s really all it takes.
If you want to be successful at habit change—or really anything—you need to change your relationship with failure right now.
The next time you fail or face a setback, I want you to immediately look for the lesson you’re supposed to learn. It’s there—lessons are everywhere. And those lessons are ultimately what allow you to move forward bigger and better the next time around.
So what habit are you changing? What lessons are you learning?
I can’t wait to hear about them.
Lately, I’ve been writing a lot about productivity and developing new habits. One of the questions people have been asking (and I’ve been thinking about) is how to stay committed to a new goal or habit.
There are three habits/goals I’ve really stuck to this year so far:
1.) Blogging every single day this year
2.) Eating 100% pesca-vegan, except on Saturdays
3.) No drinking (wine, beer, liquor…nada!) for the month of February
All of these are huge, big, tough things to commit to. But I have stuck to them, and I haven’t cheated even once.
That got me thinking: what’s different now? In the past, I’ve set tons of goals that I never met or fell short on meeting. I felt like I really wanted to achieve my goals just as badly as I do now…so what’s changed?
Three primary things.
1.) You really have to know why you want to achieve what you say you want to achieve.
In the past, I wanted to eat healthier. So, this is how it usually went down: I’d give myself a strict list of foods I could and could not eat. I’d make obscure rules like “no eating after 9pm” or “no sweets during the week.” But, it was unrealistic, and honestly, way too much effort. I was forcing myself to spend a lot of time thinking about food at least three times a day. It was kind of…miserable.
This time around, I’m armed with a ton of research about why I decided to go pesca-vegan. Ultimately, it wasn’t to “save the animals,” “save the planet,” or “save my body.” Those are all great causes, and I’m glad my diet helps me do those things. But, the main thing that motivates me is that I have personal evidence of what happens why I go strictly pesca-vegan for 6 out of 7 days every week. I feel lighter and less exhausted. I have more mental clarity. I make smarter decisions (or at least, I think/hope!). I feel more alive. In short, I feel like the much happier and healthier version of myself.
That’s what keeps me going. I’m in touch with my body and soul. I’m developing an acute sense for what will make me feel good and not so good. I’m strengthening my level of self-love and self-respect every day, which entices me to do more of what makes me feel good and less of what doesn’t. And by “feel good,” I don’t mean instant gratification behavior. I mean doing things that my heart, soul, and body can all get behind. That’s what matters.
2.) You have to create new scripts.
The idea of building self-love and self-respect is critical for this point. Loving and respecting yourself comes from listening to yourself. The more you listen, the more you’ll hear the stories you tell yourself that aren’t serving you. These are what I like to call “scripts.”
Scripts are those really annoying voices in our head telling us things like, “You might as well just have a few french fries,” or, “You can start the project tomorrow,” or worse, something like, “You’re never going to be successful,” or “No one will ever love you.”
Blah, blah, blah. NONSENSE.
It’s amazing how often and quickly we give ourselves permission to live in a state of mediocrity.
Once I got in touch with my disempowering “scripts,” I realized that I needed to understand my triggers, and then change my scripts if/when those triggers occurred.
Start to pay attention when you tell yourself things that aren’t serving you. You need to be prepared to call out that idiotic and untrue voice in your head that resists change. Resistance always lives in the space where the most important change must occur. It’s just a reality—resistance in the form of a negative voice that stems from fear? That’ll always be there. It exists even in the most successful people in the world.
Successful people have trained themselves to tell the negative voice, “Get the hell out of my way.” And that’s exactly what they do. And that’s exactly what you should do.
3.) Make behavior change as easy as possible.
This has probably helped me the most in terms of changing my habits and accomplishing my goals.
As I noted above about trying to get healthy in the past, I made it incredibly hard for myself to change because there were 57 different rules. This time around, it’s very straightforward: I don’t eat meat, dairy, eggs, butter, cream, or any other animal products (except for shrimp or salmon, occasionally) except on Saturdays. Even then, I still eat mostly vegetarian (just a little bit of dairy, since I love cheese and anything that has spicy mayo on it).
I’ve totally taken the guesswork out. I know if it’s Sunday-Friday, I don’t touch any of that stuff. And I know on Saturday, I don’t have to think or worry too much about how unhealthy the food I’m eating is—I ate very healthy the rest of the week, so it’s fine if I have an omelette or mac and cheese.
Also, the more you love yourself, and the more in touch you are with your body, the easier it is for you to avoid the bad stuff. As a vegan, I can eat tons of fried tortilla chips or processed crackers. But, I know that stuff doesn’t make me feel good—so, for the most part, I avoid it. Treating yourself well is like a positive snowball effect: the more you make great decisions, the better equipped you’ll be to keep making them.
The major thread in all three of the goals I’ve kept is that I make it really, really easy for me to stick to my goals. They are very specific and I don’t have an obnoxiously long list of rules for each one. If I fail at any of them, it’ll be very obvious. And because I make it straightforward, I don’t spend a lot of mental energy on behavior change, which is usually what stops people from overcoming procrastination or some other bad habit in the first place.
So, in short, if you want to stay committed to a goal or habit change:
1.) Truly understand the real reasons why you’re motivated to change.
2.) Understand your triggers and negative scripts, and develop a positive replacement script instead.
3.) Make it as easy as possible to change.
That’s it! Don’t overcomplicate it. Don’t give yourself excuses. If you really want something, try implementing these three steps, and then get busy making it happen.
My Journey to Becoming a Super Healthy Sorta Vegan. And 5 Success Strategies That Will Help You Get Super Healthy, Too.
I recently talked about how to become a rockstar at habit change. I’m changing one habit every single month for the entire year.
My habit change for January 2013 was moving from about a 40% pesca-vegan diet to a 90% pesca-vegan diet. Basically, no animal products (i.e. meat eggs, and dairy). I decided to still eat fish and honey (there is just no way in hell I’m giving up sushi or honey, ever).
I didn’t decide to pursue veganism for animal or environmental reasons (though, I’m glad that my desired long-term diet is better for the environment and kinder to animals). It really started once I watched Forks Over Knives, which I was compelled to see after reading Nicole Antoinette’s blog post about temporary veganism.
I know, guys. It sounds ridiculous. I’ve watched plenty of food-related documentaries before. But, so many of them are political, and this one is downright personal, a little scary, and impossible to ignore. I would highly recommend that everyone watch that documentary.
I’ll probably talk about veganism more this year, but if you’re interested in learning more about in the meantime, here are some incredible resources on the topic:
- The Kind Diet
- Eat & Run
- Crazy Sexy Diet
- The China Study
- Forks Over Knives Cookbook
- The NYT has an entire section dedicated to vegansim
Here was the outcome of my January habit change, as well as the success techniques I learned along the way.
- Before January 1st, I was eating a fair amount of animal products, including chicken, some beef, milk, cream, and cheese. But, I was already beginning to take an interest in veganism, so I was probably at around a 40% pesca-vegan diet. In the past 31 days, I’ve moved to around an 80-85% pesca-vegan diet. It’s not perfect—not quite 90%—but I’m really proud of the progress I’ve made. I attribute almost all of it to my dedication to changing one habit at a time.
- Without exercising hardly at all (except for walking a lot), I lost around 4 pounds.
- I have more energy, mental clarity, and focus than I did on December 31, 2012.
- Choosing foods at restaurants is a lot easier, since I only have a few options to choose from usually. Somehow, I don’t find this restrictive or unfair; I find it to be a relief. Now, making decisions at restaurants is less taxing.
- I don’t think about food as much or feel as consumed by it as I once did.
Success strategies I learned:
- Prepare for challenging situations. It’s tough to eat out at restaurants when you’re a vegan because you don’t have control over what they offer or how they prepare the food. So, now I offer to choose the restaurant when I’m going out to eat. I decide what I’m going to order before I get there so I’m not tempted to order something else.
- Mitigate risk. I go to a lot of events in the evenings for work. There are always a crapload of food options available that are the opposite of vegan (translation: pizza). When I know I’m going to an event, I’ll pack a homemade dinner or heavy snack, or I’ll pick up something Vegan on my way there.
- Figure out what your weakness is. My weakness is cheese (Yummmmm) and omelettes (with cheese, of course) at brunch on the weekends. These two things accounted for my 15-20% non-vegan eating this month. I want to leave room for cheese and the occasional brunch omelette every now and again in the future. But, now that I’ve identified my triggers, I’m going to test out a few other strategies next month to get up to a 90-95% vegan diet, like choosing one specific day a week to have cheese and eggs (I’m thinking Saturdays).
- Once you mess up, it’s easier to give yourself excuses. So do your best to stick to a goal 100%. I think I made it harder for myself by choosing to go 90% vegan instead of completely vegan. But, I wanted to be more realistic, as this is a change I want to keep for the rest of my life. If you can, make your goal all-or-nothing. Don’t give yourself an out. For instance, I gave myself an all-or-nothing goal (different from a habit) to blog every day this year. So far, I’m 32 for 32. There’s no way I’m going to let myself fail. If you’re that kind of person and super determined, create habit changes where you don’t give yourself an out.
- Have a strong reminder. Figure out a way to remind yourself of why you really want to change your habit. Carry around something small and symbolic to remind you of why this habit change is so important to you. You’ll be a lot more likely to connect with that end goal in moments of lost willpower or motivation-less days.
I’m going to be maintaining my January habit work and even making some tweaks to get closer to my desired goal: a 90% pesca-vegan diet.
Now it’s on to February’s goal: Create a budget (I’m one of those rare people who doesn’t think “budget is a dirty word) based on my goals and values. Evaluate what really matters to me. And stick to that budget 100%.
BOOM. Let’s do this.
Yesterday, I wrote about why most productivity advice is useless.
I don’t want you to waste any more time consuming useless content about personal productivity. As promised, here are the beginnings of what will be the best, most comprehensive resource list ever for stellar and genuinely useful productivity, optimization, and life hacking advice. I’ll blog about updates as they occur, but you can always find the most up-to-date master productivity list under the “Most Awesome Lists” here on my blog.
The goal of this list is to make it as simple and intuitive as possible to create a productivity plan that works for you. The resources in this guide tend to emphasize meaningful minimalism (no, I’m not asking you to throw away everything you own), simplicity, clarity, and focus. It shouldn’t feel like a job to create and implement a personal productivity process that works for you - after all, that would kind of totally defeat the purpose.
If you’ve got any content suggestions that you want me to personally review and formally add to my productivity resource guide, share it with me.
The Absolute Best Books on Productivity and Time Management
I’ve read countless productivity and time management books, blogs, articles, podcasts, etc. This is a list of the absolute best, most useful books I’ve come across:
This book is the foundation of my entire personal productivity system. If you could only read any one book, this is the one I’d recommend. Leo Babauta is all about simple productivity that actually makes sense and feels manageable - fun, even. This book goes beyond productivity tips. Babauta encourages you to reflect and fully understand what matters most to you, and why. It’s truly an amazing productivity system because it’s simple. You won’t get caught up in trying to implement an overly-complicated set of processes. If I have any one criticism of the book, it’s that some parts of it are too simplified. He encourages you to only focus on one major goal at a time, which doesn’t fly for Type A “I-can-take-on-the-world” personalities. Heed his advice about not setting too many goals or trying to change too many habits at once, though. He’s spot on about that, regardless of how ambitious you are.
2. Zen to Done.
This is the other Leo Babauta book I’d recommend. He wrote this one before he wrote The Power of Less. In his own words:
Zen To Done takes some of the best aspects of a few popular productivity systems (GTD, Stephen Covey and others) and combines them with the mandate of simplicity. It makes things as simple as possible, and no more.
And he’s not kidding. If you’ve ever tried to read David Allen’s Getting Things Done, that thing is dense with information. It makes productivity feel like a highly stressful and laborious process. Save your time, and read this e-book instead. Ten simple, straightforward habits to change. One at a time. A very good read.
This book is a classic. Brian Tracy has spent his career studying the development of human potential and personal effectiveness. In spite of how brilliant the dude is, he’s managed to whittle this book down to 21 of his top tips for getting more accomplished in less time. All in 117 short pages. #Miracle. If you treat this book like the workbook it was meant to be (there are reflection questions and exercises practically on every page), you’ll get a ton out of it.
I think a lot of people initially approach this book with skepticism because, really, who works only 4 hours a week? I certainly don’t. I’m still pretty convinced that Tim Ferriss works harder, smarter, and also longer than most people out there. Nonetheless, once I finally picked it up, it quickly became one of my favorite books. Ferriss truly is the king of life hacking. His area of expertise isn’t so much productivity or weight loss or cooking. Rather, he knows everything there is to know about learning - quickly. He is big on measuring and analyzing everything, so his advice has been thoroughly tested. The whole book is worth reading, but about half of it is related to lifestyle design and probably not totally applicable, unless you’re about completely re-hauling your lifestyle. If you want to save time and stick to the chapters on productivity, they are:
Chapter 5: The End of Time Management
Chapter 6: The Low-Information Diet
Chapter 7: Interrupting Interruption & The Art of Refusal
Since it’s the start of the new year and everyone is in goal-setting mode, I thought I’d share two of my absolute favorite “annual review” guides. Spend a few days creating your own annual review — and use these guides as reference. You’ll feel so much more prepared for 2013. Promise.
…and if you want some more, here is Guillebeau’s annual review archive.
Coming up next this week: I’ll share lists of the best productivity and time management blogs, articles, and tools out there.
There are a million posts out there about 2012 resolutions that sound something like this:
"Eat less. Exercise more. Fall in love. Move to a new city. Quit my job. Start my own business. Spend less money on lattes. Lose 15 pounds. Travel around the world. Buy a house. Pay off my credit card debt. Read more books. Organize my apartment. Ask for a raise at work."
It’s easy to make resolutions. This is the fun part: dreaming about what’s possible. Imagining a better, brighter, happier, healthier, wealthier future in 364 days.
But the question lurking in the back of everyone’s mind right now regarding their personal resolutions is: "Can I really do this?"
And the answer is: ABSOLUTELY, 100% YES.
However, here’s the fine print that you don’t see at the bottom of all those articles:
It will be hard. On some days, your goals will feel impossible. You will want to eat a bowl of truffle mac & cheese. And then after that, you’ll want to devour a plate of warm, homemade chocolate chip cookies. You will prefer to sit on the couch rather than run on a treadmill. You will doubt yourself and your ideas. You will get scared about leaving your job for work you’re more passionate about. It will take longer to raise the initial round of capital for your new business than you thought. You’ll want to spend a lot of money on some ridiculous and totally unnecessary purchase. Your apartment will get messy. And one morning, you’ll wake up and the only damn thing you are going to want is an overpriced $5 latte.
Expect the hard days. They will come. Prepare accordingly.
Embrace the challenging moments - they are lessons in disguise. Learn the lessons you must learn, and then continue to move on with making your resolutions happen.
Remember that there will always be bumps in the road, excuses to fall of the wagon, reasons to quit. Keep going anyway. Keep remembering why you made your resolutions in the first place. The moment things get tough, pause - close your eyes and picture how amazing it’ll be when you make your dreams come true.
What are you waiting for?
This is your year. Make it a kick-ass one, hard days and all.