Perform a personal audit for 2014 to guide you in 2015

I can hardly believe it’s near the end of December 2014. For my kids, the weeks and days before Christmas are passing at a snail’s pace. For me, the last 12 months have been the blur of an Indy car race. How are we about to flip the calendar onto another year? Speaking of, where exactly are we?

As the new year approaches, many people start thinking about resolutions. I’ve no interest in resolutions. I’ve typically been fueled by reflections on the previous 12 months. And that’s what I’m focused on this year. I’m conducting what I’m calling a personal audit. It starts by asking myself two questions, providing honest answers, and then drawing a plan from the resulting lists.

Question one

Question one is simple: What went well in the past year? My answer is in the form of an unhindered brainstorm. I’ve got a pen and a notebook and I simply list whatever comes to mind. There’s no stopping to think or question each item. I’m simply listing. For example:

  1. Relationships with the kids
  2. The Home Work podcast
  3. Launching Board Games Weekly
  4. Getting healthier
  5. The garden out front

… and so on. When writing this list, I keep going until I can’t think of another thing. It’s important to be honest here and, again, to resist the urge to stop and second guess each item. There will be time to deal with the specifics in a bit. Now, on to the second question, which some of you may have guessed.

Question two

What went poorly? Composing this list follows the same rules as its predecessor: just let it flow. Some highlights from my list:

  1. Finances
  2. Travel
  3. Spending time with family, either in person or on the phone
  4. Spending quality time with my wife, away from the kids (date nights)
  5. Day-to-day productivity
  6. Staying on top of daily chores

Once both questions have been answered thoroughly, I move on to step two: categorization.

Categorize it all

While reviewing the lists, certain groupings become clear: family, finances, health, professional life, travel, learning, and personal organization. These are the areas that saw success, failure, or both. I made these lists because the act of brainstorming and then sorting the results into categories lets me see the areas of life that are important to me. Now, I can make informed goals for next year, as opposed to pie-in-the-sky, out-of-the-blue resolutions like “Be happy.” The following are the goals I’ve created for 2015 based on the personal audit I did of 2014.

Financial: Use budget software regularly. I’ve toyed with You Need A Budget in the past, but not consistently. It’s my fault for losing motivation; the software is excellent. This coming year I’ll be back on track.

Professional: My podcasts are doing nicely. This year I’d like to expand their reach, and attract/increase sponsorship opportunities.

Health: This was hit-and-miss this year. I’ve gotten much healthier than I was six months ago, but there’s still work to do. Getting winded after 15 minutes of kicking a soccer ball around is not fun and honestly, quite embarrassing at 43. This year I’ll continue to eat right, obsess over my Fitbit and increase the amount of walking I do.

Personal organization: I’m great at forgetting to do important things. This year I’ll research and adhere to strategies to make myself more successful in this area.

I’ll continue in this manner until I’ve addressed all items and categories on my lists.


I know what you’re thinking. “Dave, you just created the list of resolutions you denounced at the start of this post.” It can seem that way, but I assure you, I haven’t. It’s all thanks to how I plan to pull off the goals I’ve created. Specifically, I’ll be making projects, actions, and reviews.

Let’s start by defining a project. I use David Allen’s definition: anything that requires more than one action be completed before it’s marked as done. So, “Walk for 30 minutes” isn’t a project, but “Attract podcast sponsors” is. The next step is to identify all of the projects I’ve created, and then to break them down into concrete, observable, measurable action steps. This is crucially important, as it’s how I’m going to:

  1. Define what “done” looks like
  2. Know if I’m making progress
  3. Act and keep moving forward

Define, know, act steps — for each project. If I had nothing else to do in the world but attract podcast sponsors, what’s the first thing I would do? The second? Third? And so on. This is repeated for each project. Next is the good part.

If I were to say, “OK, Dave, hop to it. Here’s your 15 projects for 2015. Go be a better you!” I’d fail in no time. So, my final step is to identify what I’m going to work on in January. And then February, March and April, etc. Finally, I set up regular review days and put them into my calendar. I’ll schedule a reminder during the last week of each month to see how I’m doing and make adjustments.

In short (too late, I know), I’m treating the result of my personal audit like any other project I’d have to complete for work. “Walk 45 minutes per day” gets the same treatment as “Get the Williams proposal on Mr. Johnson’s desk by Friday.” Actions are defined as well as review dates.

Be flexible

What if you do this and you hate it? Change it! It’s your life! As a former boss used to say to me, “Don’t be afraid to abandon the mission.” If it’s not working, make adjustments. Maybe you’ll have to scale back a project or alter the execution plan. That’s fine, and so much better than tossing up your hands and saying “Oh, forget this.”

Finally, and I didn’t do this but it’s a nice idea, you can create metrics to work toward. You can identify the “amount of money in my savings account” or “number of steps walked in a month.” I lump this in with defining what “done” looks like, but you can certainly use this tactic if you want.

I suggest sitting down when you have some quiet time and performing a personal audit. Be completely honest and nonjudgmental with yourself. Organize the results and set clearly-defined, attainable goals from there, as well as regular review periods. Finally, if you’re unhappy with how it’s going, make adjustments. There’s no shame or failure in being proactive and taking steps to make something work for you. Here’s to a fantastic 2015. I hope you all achieve your goals.

Will having less stuff make you happier?

Can you be too neat and organized? Is it possible that you could be so good at uncluterring that your life becomes devoid of things that are meaningful to you? These are the questions that first popped into my mind as I started listening to an NPR story about Lisa Perry, a woman who decided to sell, in her words, “virtually everything I own.”

As she described her reasons for making this very big change in her life, I began to understand why she (or anyone else) might pursue this possession-less path. Her decision to let go of almost all her belongings was really about taking a journey, about embarking on a process that would allow her focus her gaze forward.

She explained:

… it’s not about getting rid of things that I don’t want or I don’t like or [that] remind me of bad things. It’s really about who do I want to be and what makes me happy, and keeping the things with me that will allow me to do that. And, right now, it’s moving forward and looking forward, rather than looking back at what I’ve done … where do I want to go and what do I want to be.

Perry began this process by identifying her primary goal: to be happy. She came to this realization and was inspired to make changes after reading two books, The Art of Happiness and The Pathfinder. The latter, in particular, helped her to see that as the number of things she accumulated increased, her life — her vitality — became smaller.

Selling everything one owns on eBay may seem a bit extreme and you certainly don’t have to follow in Perry’s footsteps. However, if you see happiness as an end goal and desire a more fulfilled life, it might be a helpful exercise to think about what specifically would make you truly happy, and to decide on the necessary action steps. You don’t need to part with items that resonate with you nor do you have to live in museum-like home. However, if having a welcoming and more uncluttered abode would contribute to your happiness, begin developing a step-by-step outline that will help you to accomplish that. Instead of randomly keeping or acquiring things, first consider their true value to you. Figure out if you’re holding on to things because you “might need them someday” or because you feel obligated to keep them because a loved one gave them to you. Be more mindful of the items that you allow to co-exist with you. Consider specific actions you can take that will foster happy feelings (and banish negative ones) in your day-to-day life, no matter how small. Perhaps most importantly, figure out why you feel the need to make changes. Doing this will give your plan purpose and help you to stick with it.

That’s not to say that you can’t make adjustments along the way. If you start to notice that your goals need a bit of fine tuning, take the time to polish them. It’s also likely that you will need to seek out others who can help you bring your plan to life, so don’t be shy about asking for help. And, as I mentioned before, as you go through any uncluttering project, stay focused on the reasons you want to make changes in the first place.

Three things to think about when creating New Year’s resolutions

When do you do goal setting? Some people focus on goals when their birthdays roll around, when life-changing events occur (having a baby, moving to a new state or country, changing jobs), or when the current year comes to a close. In fact, making New Year’s resolutions has been a long-standing tradition that began with the Babylonians. It’s part of the fabric of many cultures to improve on the previous year’s endeavors. So, at this time of year, it’s quite common to think about ways to make positive changes or to renew your efforts to achieve a goal that’s been on your list.

You might feel driven to be better, to surpass your personal best in one or more areas of your life. Yet, like many people, you may struggle to keep your commitment. “Old habits die hard,” as the saying goes. It’s not just that old habits are difficult to change (because they are), but you might be creating goals that are impossible to reach. How many resolutions are on your list? How easy or difficult are they to achieve? Do you include the people you’ll seek help from to meet your goal, or do you plan to reach the finish line on your own? Do you focus on these finer points or do you simply create a list of things that you’d like to change in your life?

Making resolutions may not be the best use of your time if you don’t think through these questions and identify the reasons why you want to make some adjustments. In addition, if your goals are not put in a framework that is easy to understand with clear, actionable steps, your ability to successfully achieve them will be impacted.

Focus on your feelings

Have you thought about why you want to achieve a particular goal? How you will feel once you are successful? Danielle LaPorte, author of The Fire Starter Sessions: A Soulful + Practical Guide to Creating Success on Your Own Terms and creator of The Desire Map, suggests that whether you want a new job, an uncluttered home, a new gadget, or to be at your preferred weight, what you’re really after is the feeling you’ll get from achieving those goals. You’re essentially thinking with the end in mind. You’re taking a few steps into the future and basking in the feelings that you will have once your goals are met. Getting acquainted with these feelings can be an effective way to not only identify specific things to change, but also to prioritize the ones that deserve your full commitment and attention.

Make a Resolution Action Plan

While writing a list of what you’d like to achieve is a great start, creating a detailed action plan with the necessary steps and timeframes for completion will likely move you closer to achieving each of your goals. This is also a great time to think through any challenges you may face and brainstorm ideas for managing them. You’ll also want to figure out what resources and tools you might need. As you develop your plan, include action steps that are specific and that you can realistically tackle given your schedule and other commitments. Set yourself up for success by not taking on more than you can reasonably handle.

Take your time

Your plan doesn’t need to be created by January 1. It needs to be well thought out and that doesn’t happen overnight. You may need to put your plan aside and come back to it with fresh eyes. You might ask a trusted friend to look it over and offer feedback. Don’t rush the creation of a plan that can have a big impact on your life. Set a realistic deadline for completing and implementing your plan. The deadline will give you something to work toward and hold you accountable.

Creating New Year’s resolutions doesn’t have to be difficult and tedious. In fact, it can be very motivating and help you realize dreams or goals that you’ve been meaning to accomplish. Schedule time to come up with a reasonable plan of attack and be sure to reward yourself for each milestone you reach.