I often spend some of this week each year doing a retro on the previous year and planning what next year will look like.
Since the pandemic started, along with accepting the impairments I’m working with because ADHD brain gonna brain, I’ve seen my plans fall apart spectacularly, to the point where the idea of setting year-long goals feels like a mistake before I’ve even started.
Time to try something new
I’m currently in the process of creating a new system for myself. There are still some 2022 goals, but they’re based on work already in progress. I’ve shifted my perspective to looking at things on a quarterly retrospective cadence, with monthly check-ins to summarize what I’ve done.
I’ll also be picking my practice of weekly focus intentions back up along with the daily developer journal and personal diaries that have proven their worth over the long haul.
The biggest question I’m asking myself as part of this new goal system is this:
What if I assume there will be failures?
Having my brand of neurodiverse brain means I’m going to get pulled off track regularly. Rather than feel like a loser about it, how can I embrace failure as an accepted state and reap a different kind of harvest?
An example quarterly retro question that incorporates failure as a possibility:
Did I make progress on my goals?
If the answer is yes:
- Do your goals still have momentum?
- Do you want to change anything?
- Does the next quarter have space for this?
If the answer is no:
- What did you focus on instead?
- Was it of use?
- What goal did this apply to, if any? If it didn’t, is there a need for a new goal?
Value-based and sustainable goal setting
I do have a few 2022 goals. They are specific but broad and build on work that I’ll be doing anyway or already has so much momentum that it’s an easy win. For example, I’m working toward becoming a Level 4 software engineer. This is something already I’ve been working on for about half of 2021 and also has support from my manager and others. The work I need to do to get there will be more targeted in the coming year, but is generally a deeper version of what I do regularly anyway.
In addition to those sustainable goals, I’m shifting most of the goals I would usually list for the year to be “ongoing”, with no expectation of when they’ll be completed or how much progress I’ll make on them in the coming year. Things like “organize my digital life” or “publish a new book” are highly specific, but also take a lot of energy and focus. Getting one aspect of my digital life cleaned up or getting one story ready to publish in 2022 would be huge wins viewed through the lens of marginal gains.
As part of getting this all set up, I’ve stepped back and made a list of my values, based on a compiled list created by James Clear. I have a few more than the suggested 5 value limit (9 core and 9 secondary, to be exact), but it was interesting to think through what these values mean to me and how they manifest in my goals and work.
I also made a list of my particular interests, things that are always with me that I keep coming back to over and over that provide meaning and shape to my world. I even started a hobbies list because I find enrichment important. It’s satisfying to have a few things in my life (coloring, building models, watching baseball, etc.) that are there purely for the pleasure they bring. These lists form the core of who I am and what’s important to me outside of my career and work.
The new setup
There are a few tools I’ll be using to manage this system in the coming year:
- Habitica and Trello integrated with Zapier to manage my daily tasks, task inbox, and nitty gritty planning. This gets reviewed and cleaned up weekly.
- Obsidian as my digital notebook (dev journal, commonplace book, monthly summaries). This holds the majority of my daily thoughts, achievements, notes, etc.
- A paper list of my values, hobbies and interests, pinned somewhere visible (this is also stored in my commonplace book to have it at hand)
- A paper weekly focus journal based on PEMS (practical, emotional, mental, spiritual) plus project specific intentions with a post-week reflection.
- A yearly calendar for mapping out holidays, vacations, and LSQ planning.
Once a quarter, I’ll be sitting down to review my progress and plan the next block. The first quarterly review will use the following:
- A large pad to mind-map and scribble notes
- Printed copies of the monthly summaries
- My values, hobbies, interests lists
I’ll ask myself a few questions:
- Are my values, interests, and hobbies still of use? Do they enrich my life?
- Do I need to change anything about those lists? You can add or subtract, both are fine!
- Is the work I’m doing still in line with my values and interests?
- What progress have I made on my annual and ongoing goals? Are these goals still valid?
- Did I get off track anywhere? If I did, do I need to change something or do I just need to lay new track elsewhere?
Asking these questions will ensure the work I’m doing is in alignment with what and how I want to work as well as what I want to work on, providing me the best chance of having the energy and focus I need to do good work. I accept that things may change and this cadence allows me to adapt and update my own expectations for myself.
My main goal with all of this is to create a system that is flexible and dynamic, a method that keeps me on track with my larger vision for my life while also allowing me to adapt my goals to my energy and focus rather than trying to adapt my focus and energy to my goals.
The best part is that every three months I get to assess the system itself and determine if it’s working or if there’s a change needed for whatever my reality looks like at that time. I look forward to trying it out and am very interested in seeing where I’m at come mid-March.