How to Get Things Done

At the start of every year I like to take a moment to review my goals, and see how I’m doing.  What always intrigues me is how my priorities change from year to year.

2007 was all about starting a blog.  I created this site and wrote in it full-time job, with the hope that maybe it would earn a living wage.  It didn’t.

2008 was all about writing fiction.  I had this idea that I could work a full-time job to make ends meet, and in my spare time, I’d write a novel.  I didn’t.

2009 was all about recovery.  Cassie fell sick with cancer and the experience reshaped our understanding of what’s important.  The goal was to beat the illness, and she did.

Consequently, 2010 was all about returning to a normal life.  Cassie and I both have good jobs now.  We’re living close to our jobs in a nice area.  We feel like we’re saving a lot of money quickly, in spite of the rough economy.  We’re being progressive, and look towards the future anxiously.

At the same time, I can’t help but feel mildly disappointed at the lack of progress in other aspects of my life.  I want to be writing more often, and I want to be constantly learning new things.  I want to be on the upwards climb, working towards a better me and a better tomorrow every day — but the routine of life tires and stresses me out to the point where I’d rather not.

I play the lottery often.  I imagine that life would be so much simpler if I didn’t have to worry about the constancy of a paycheck.

I watch a lot of television.  I tell myself that I need to decompress at the end of each workday, and that I deserve a break.

I waste a lot of time playing silly video games.  It’s less concentration-intensive than writing, or advancing my career, or working towards any of my goals.

My point is that goals aren’t achieved overnight, and perhaps more importantly, goals can change.

When I was young I wanted to be a computer person, and now that I’m a computer person, I want to be something else.  This constant search for improving, or advancing to “the next level” goes hand-in-hand with personal development.  It’s not necessarily an indication that you’re altogether unhappy or unsatisfied with where you are, but when you are able to realize the time that has passed — an entire year — and that maybe you’re no closer to the goals you set out for yourself last year… you wonder what the heck you’ve been doing wrong.

Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.

With this in mind, if I’m unhappy with the lack of results, then something about my daily routine has to change!

For the most part, I get things done.  What I struggle with is getting things done that have no due date.  How do you become a successful writer?  What’s the indication that “Yes, you have achieved this.”

Certainly it involves writing more often than I currently do.

So tell me, do you struggle with this also?  Do you have goals that are difficult to achieve or maintain focus on, and if so, what are your strategies to staying on track?

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8 Responses to “How to Get Things Done”

#1 Marius on 01, Jan, 2011 at 10:57 pm

Glad you guys are doing so well.

You’re working and saving but you want the future to be different. Well, have you checked out Jacob Lund Fisker’s website? His ideas may help you figure out how to get to that better future in a more efficient way than playing the lottery.

#2 Dan M on 02, Jan, 2011 at 12:17 am

The idea of following through on commitments is something I’ve been struggling with a lot lately as well — especially commitments that are my own and for me, and that don’t have a due date.

The best way I’ve found to fight this is to set a lot of goals, with a lot of variety. Some big goals like “write an ebook this year”, but mostly smaller ones like “write next week’s blog post a week in advance” or “wake up at 6am every day this week”.

What I really like about the smaller goals is that they make failure more tolerable, and this leads me to take more risks (I’m naturally risk-averse). If I have three or four goals during one particular week, I don’t mind seeing one fail if I gave it an honest shot and it’s really not working out; I’m better off spending that time on other goals anyway.

Anyway, all that to say that you’re not alone and I’m sure there are others like us that need help focusing on ourselves every now and then. Good luck to you and Cassie in 2011!

#3 Keara on 02, Jan, 2011 at 1:04 pm

I think about this kind of thing a lot, and after talking with my mom once, she said “stop saying you want this or that, because as long as you say you ‘want’ it, you are going to keep wanting it…. rather than having it or doing it. Take what you will from that.

For me, I’ve been having a lot of trouble lately figuring out the right things to do with my self/life/career/education. I’ve been really fixated on making that decision and making sure it is going to make me happy and that I won’t regret it.

What I am regretting is spending all of this time and energy and angst worrying about how to be ‘happy’ with my work-life. But before I started really agonizing over this issue, I was actually, legitimately happy with my life-life. So it’s a work in progress, but I’m trying to go back to that feeling, and let the other issues work themselves out as I go.

#4 Carissa Starr on 02, Jan, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Like you my priorities have shifted year to year with only one constant: stay healthy. I live with a permanent condition that requires serious focus on routine and an unwavering medication cycle. And unfortunately, this condition can make me very prone to ‘flights of fancy’. In 2007 I was working a job I really enjoyed and in my spare time was, like you, working at being a professional writer. In 2008 I reluctantly left that job and after wallowing in depression for a long time, finally focused on the writing. By the beginning of 2009 I managed to be a working writer. I did some magazines, had some stories published (which paid nothing, of course), and got some steady work doing web content for companies and professionals. Then the economy in my area tanked heavily and I lost all of my clients one at a time. They could no longer afford to outsource for something “as silly and easy as writing”, to quote one of them. In December of 2009 my husband and I moved across the country and although he had a job and had no need to hunt, I was left facing a choice: do I struggle building up a new client base, do I pound the streets looking at the local magazines and newspapers hoping that a complete stranger to town can make enough of an impression to get a job? I spent most of 2010 working this out as we got settled into our new home.

In all my time getting paid to write I barely touched the two novels I began in 2007. Sometimes I took interest in the magazine articles that I was writing because I was lucky enough to be free to pick my own topics (mostly). Those barely paid, however, and it was the work that paid well that consumed all my time, writing content for companies that sold bidets, limo services…things that required creativity to make interesting, yes, but hardly the stuff of personal motivation.

I decided that writing is something that I enjoy far more when I’m NOT getting paid to do it. My novels had fallen to the wayside because I was losing my passion for writing by the corporate whip of repetition. Prior to my brief stint as a professional writer, I had a long job history as a photographer, and I had always loved it. Taking people’s pictures was fun and to see their joy at the results was rewarding– so getting paid to do that was even better!

My goals now for 2011 are to continue my previously abandoned career in photography only to work for myself this time rather than someone else’s studio. As a freelancer I had really taken to being my own boss. This time, however, I am not going to set aside my personal joys. I still want to finish those novels, and I still decompress by pouring out a short story or writing up a film review for my blog. This is very likely a lofty goal to juggle all of this, but it is only in the trying that we learn whether we can do it or not.

My health condition rules a lot of my choices, what I can and cannot do. It is at times an incredible hindrance and can cripple me to the point of inaction, but at other times it is a strong motivator. This thing is not going to rule me, not going to hold me down. The days I can say that and believe it are my better days. No matter my other goals, my health and what should be simple life tasks can be an ungodly weight to bear. It is not a lie to say that having a strong focus on a professional and personal goal is all that keeps me motivated at times not to succumb to that weight.

I come from a long lineage of extremely stubborn people and giving up has never been an option…but giving up and choosing a new path aren’t the same thing. I view life a lot like rock climbing. If you get stuck halfway up the mountain you could tug on the rope and ask your buddies to pull you up or let you down, but it is all far more rewarding if you redust your hands and find a new handhold. You may not be able to climb that extreme vertical that you had the ambition to hit, but its no less an achievement to climb out and around it so long as you hang on and keep climbing.

#5 Meg on 05, Jan, 2011 at 5:41 am

What a inspirational you have written…I m fully impressed by you and your struggling life…Thanks for sharing this…I learn many from this.

#6 Will on 05, Jan, 2011 at 4:45 pm

You inspired me to make a change a little over a year ago. When I became unemployed, I finished real estate school. My goals were to make a job where people were expecting 8K a month into my monthly 2 or 3K and be happy. Step 1: Graduate school. Now Step 2 should have happened… normally. Life happened instead and anxiety. So passing the test became a fear instead of experience. I would wait almost a full year before passing the school tests. I was required to pass 2 with 80% or better. There were 6 very complicated tricky tests. After passing, I celebrated with a little vacation. Step 2 normally done within the educational realm was done within a year later. Step 3 State Test… So I didn’t wait as long. I passed my state test before I returned home in October. I wanted to have good news so I sucked it up and did it. Pass! First try… and much more simple than the garbage school tests. Very happy. Now I’m on to the baby step of “Fees”. Slowly but surely I’m leaving computers behind. I can’t wait to run away… Fear is what stops us… what is fear? F.alse E.vidence A.ppearing R.eal. If you aren’t scared of change then it’s procrastination which is a cousin of Fear. It’s all about making yourself be too busy to continue. It inspires me that I have people who invested in this for me seeing how unhappy I was doing a password reset for someone who’d yell at me for telling them to include a simple capital letter and number in their password because “I am complicating their life!” Then when they’re hacked it’s my fault. Only and idiot uses god124 abc123 or sex6969 as a password. Hell, I don’t even know how I’m going to find the time for the transition forget adding in it will be going from hourly and bonuses to pure commission in AZ, where the real estate market was hit pretty hard. So I’m baby stepping it all the way through. It’s easy to begin with momentum but as you made a point here. The battle is easy, it’s the war that is not. Wars are long and drawn out. There are times we need to stop to sharpen the axe. Just remember if you hang it for a while to get it back down as quickly as you can because the enemy’s biggest illusion, our biggest failure is to become complacent with daily life. You’re a smart guy and although you didn’t make money off this blog yet, It’s helped me. 😉

#7 georges on 07, Jan, 2011 at 9:14 am

I’ve been through some of this.
I used to want an artistic career in computer graphics while sill in computer school. It worked a bit, got some of my work on French national TV.

Then realized life was easier in less artistic parts of computing. So I started working in computer graphics for technical industries (aerospace, chemistry, car design, etc …). Later moved to TV over ADSL, etc …

Then many years later, in a management training, I learned about setting goals and reaching them.
A few questions to ask yourself are:
Can I visualize myself with this goal reached, and do I like it?
Am I ready for the sacrifices it will take to get there?
When do I want to reach the goal, and how will I know I reached it?

Later I decided I wanted to learn a second foreign language. I’ve been dedicating an hour a day to it for the last 5 years, and am now reaching the point where I “own that language”, and I feel great about it. It gives me a sense of freedom and pride.

It may be different for others, but for me it works really well.

Don’t worry, I’ve also set myself some goals that i miserably failed to reach, but I won’t bore you with that!

#8 pavan on 29, Jan, 2011 at 9:28 am

I have been reading your posts from 2008 and am happy to hear you doing well. I face a lot of difficulty in planning and finishing stuff that have no deadline. I invariably get to the most urgent task, even though I know that accomplishing it will not lead to where I want to be. This daily grind of going from one urgent task to another feels depressing.

I have also observed that people who are successful in their career or life do things that are not urgent as of now, but incrementally take them towards their goals.

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