Over the years, I’ve broken many New Year’s Resolutions by mid-February. There are also many resolutions I've kept, and most of those have all had something in common - they weren’t centered on me, but instead were focused on others. Once I began to make some of my annual resolutions externally focused, I was able to create habits rather than just a temporary routine.
An example of an externally focused goal was the resolution to stop thinking so hard about if I should help someone. I decided that if the opportunity presented itself, and I had the ability or means to help someone, I would just do it instead of mulling it over and delaying a decision. Though this was initially focused on others, the benefit to me was great as well - I wasted less time overthinking and learned to confident in my decision making skills.
I’ve also made goals about investing in relationships, and though that benefits me as well, I’m more likely to keep up with it because I feel like I’m letting someone else down if I don’t follow through. Sometimes it’s easier to keep promises to others than it is yourself.
In Gretchen Rubin's book, The Four Tendencies, she explains that everyone responds to expectations differently. She identified four main personality types based on how they respond to inner and outer expectations. Upholders can easily meet outer and inner expectations; Obligers have trouble meeting inner expectations but thrive with outer expectation; Questioners need to ask questions to help make sense out of outer expectations, thus turning them into inner expectations; and Rebels don’t respond to inner or outer expectation - they kind of do what they want when they want. Take the quiz to see what your primary tendency is.
Even if your goal is 100% about you, outward expectations can still help you be successful if you find an accountability partner or join an accountability group. Research shows an increased chance for success when you announce your goal and report on progress regularly. It’s a little harder to let others down than it is to let yourself down - that’s unfortunate, but often true.
But what about a goal that is so private that you don’t want to share it with anyone? Try thinking about your “future self.” This allows you to look from the outside in and think of your future self as almost a different person. You can make a promise to her that you don’t want to break. I love the concept of the future self for goal setting but also for short term motivation. For example we all know it makes sense to prepare the night before to make your mornings go more smoothly, but yet many of us don’t do the prep work regularly. Try thinking about what you owe your future self and how she will feel when you make preparations that will benefit her. This can be for things as insignificant as peeling your orange at home instead of putting whole orange in your lunch bag. Think, “Future me will be so happy she doesn’t have to make a mess peeling this orange at her desk tomorrow when she’s hungry for a snack, and it will help her eat healthier too!”
The future self concept gets really, really interesting even beyond the ways we can motivate ourselves in the short term. Harvard psychologist, Dan Gilbert, explains in his TED talk the difference between the ease of remembering and the difficulty of imagining. Most of us can remember who we were but it’s harder to imagine who we are going to be in the future. Gilbert says, “Then we mistakenly think that because it’s hard to imagine, it’s not likely to happen.” You’ve heard the phrase, ‘I can’t imagine that’ and usually this is because of the poor imagination of the person saying it, not the unlikelihood that it will actually happen. That excites me - my future truly can be beyond my imagination!
Whether you become accountable to your future self, to your best friend, or to a group of strangers, that accountability will help you create a long term promise that will form your behavior and decisions in the present and the future - and the beauty is the past doesn’t have to be a limiting factor. Goals could be in the form of an educational or professional pursuit, a healthy lifestyle, learning a new skill or hobby, or even focusing on developing or improving a relationship. It might be time to rethink this year's resolutions and determine how to make them outwardly focused - even if that focus is yourself in the future!
Photo by Austin Kehmeier on Unsplash
Rubin, Gretchen. The Four Tendencies. Random House USA, 2018.
Wissman, Barrett. “An Accountability Partner Makes You Vastly More Likely to Succeed.” Entrepreneur, 20 Mar. 2018, www.entrepreneur.com/article/310062.
Photo by Taylor Smith on Unsplash
Gilbert, Dan. “The Psychology of Your Future Self.” TED, Mar. 2014, www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_the_psychology_of_your_future_self.
The dictionary definition of productivity is “the effectiveness of effort as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input.” Basically, it means getting the most done in the least amount of time possible. It is tempting to rush to get things done so we can appear productive, but if you do things fast, you may not do them well.
In my eyes, true productivity is getting as much of the right things done — and done well — in the right amount of time while giving yourself grace and time to enjoy your life! “Right” is a subjective word that varies from person to person. The “right” things should be tasks that move you forward toward your goal, and the “right” amount of time is the minimum amount of time that it should take to plan, complete prerequisites, and complete the task.
"...true productivity is getting as much of the right things done - and done well - in the right amount of time whil giving yourself grace and time to enjoy your life!"
Many times busywork takes most of our time, but doesn’t move the needle. Email is something that many of us who work in an office setting spend WAY too much time on, but it doesn’t propel us forward. Unfortunately, tasks like email still need to be done, but they need to be seen as secondary to our true objectives. Developing a system for secondary tasks is crucial so they don’t pile up and impede our progress toward our end goal. For ideas on how to control your email, read my previous posts on Email Organization and How to Clear Your Inbox After Vacation.
Even when you’ve created a system to handle your secondary tasks, there is still another key to becoming truly productive — planning! Brian Tracy, author of Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, says, “Every minute you spend in planning saves 10 minutes in execution; this gives you a 1,000 percent Return on Energy!” I’ve recently noticed a metaphor in my life that shows how a lack of planning can make a task take longer and have a lower quality outcome.
I like to bake, but I don’t like to wait for the oven to preheat, so usually, I just turn on the oven when I think of it and as soon as I’m ready, shove the cookies or cake in the oven. It’s not until several minutes AFTER I’ve put the food into the oven that I hear the beep indicating that it is up to temperature. Chef David James Robinson from Learn How to Cook (and Eat Your Mistakes) explains the importance of preheating, “It’s like stretching before a run, or warming up the car, or letting the water get hot before you shower. Food cooks unevenly in a cold oven. Your poor dish starts in a cold oven, then it has to deal with a warm oven, then finally a hot oven, it doesn’t know what to do!”
After I’ve put food into a only partially preheated oven, I wait for my food to bake. At the end of the cooking time from the recipe, I check if my food is done. It’s usually not, so I then have to check on it every couple of minutes until it’s finally firm in the center. The total baking time is longer than the recipe called for because it wasn’t baking at the proper temperature from the beginning.
A Cook’s Illustrated article told of an experiment comparing preheated and non-preheated ovens. Cookies that were added to non-preheated oven spread out much more than ones in preheated oven because they were inserted before the oven was at the proper temperature for the dough to set. Cakes put in too soon came out with crispy or even burnt on the edges by the time the center was cooked through.
Think about how this applies in your own life. If you just start without any planning, the total project can end up taking longer because you may have to start over or change course in the middle. You may not realize all of the supplies or resources you need to be successful so that causes you to pause in the middle and possibly lose your place or your momentum. In addition to taking longer, the quality of your outcome may suffer because you were unprepared or trying to complete a project without the correct tools.
Taking the time to “preheat” can help you to recognize potential obstacles and make a plan to overcome them before they become barriers. You can also avoid mistakes that could require you to start over or repeat work. Additionally it can allow you to work at a steady pace instead of a frenzy at the end when you realize that a lack of planning caused a delay that threatens your ability to meet the deadline.
Next time I bake cookies, I am going to preheat that oven just like next time I have a project, I’m going to take the time to plan to save myself time and headaches in the end! What about you?
Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash
Robinson, David James. “Do I Really Have to Preheat the Oven?” Learn How To Cook (and Eat Your Mistakes), 2 Feb. 2011, eatyourmistakes.com/in-the-kitchen/do-i-really-have-to-preheat-the-oven.
“Why You Should Fully Preheat Before Baking.” Cook's Illustrated, www.cooksillustrated.com/how_tos/10431-why-you-should-fully-preheat-before-baking.
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!