Making your resolutions a reality

On either the last day of the old year or the first day of the new year, many of us created lists of resolutions. If you’re like me, getting organized appeared in some fashion on this list. For example my specific resolution back in 2008 was to get my laundry mess under control.

Generating the resolution and committing it to paper or a hard drive is a terrific way to start the process. Unfortunately, though, the resolution won’t become a reality unless more work is done. (Wouldn’t it be great if just writing it down was really all it took?!)

If you don’t set a course of action and stick to it, then your resolution will be nothing more than words on paper. I want to walk through my process attack, which is loosely based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done method, to help you see how lofty goals can easily become experienced reality.

  1. Commit your resolution to writing. It doesn’t matter if you write your resolution on an index card, in a Moleskine notebook, or in an virtual Evernote notebook. Formulating your idea into concrete words helps you define your purpose and gets you started on your path to change.
  2. Reflect on your resolution and identify your motivation for change and where you see yourself once the resolution is complete. If you can’t see where you’re headed or why you want to get there, your resolution is pretty much destined for failure. There is no need to establish any other form of reward system, because you’ll see yourself succeeding! In my case, I need to imagine the calm I will have from not having piles of laundry cluttering up the floor of my laundry room.
  3. Brainstorm methods for completing your resolution. Even if the ideas seem ridiculous, write them down anyway. What are all of the ways that you could possibly reach your goal? What steps could you take? What is currently standing in your way? What resources could you obtain to help you get what you want? Empty all of your thoughts on the matter onto a piece of paper.
  4. Evaluate your brainstormed ideas and create what Allen calls “keys” to organization. “Identify the significant pieces. Sort by (one or more): components, sequences, priorities. Detail to the required degree.” This is the stage where you create your plan.
  5. Once your plan is set, make decisions as to the exact steps you will follow to achieve your goal. Without these concrete steps, you won’t know how to move forward. For my laundry resolution, my exact steps involve a lot of removing current barriers to success. (Buy light bulbs on Saturday morning at the grocery store to replace burned out bulbs in the laundry room.) If you’ve never written an exact step, or what Allen names “next actions,” you may want to read the entry on this topic on Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders GTDwiki here.
  6. Start!

Good luck to everyone with their organization resolutions! Feel welcome to tell us about your process for success in the comments section to this post.


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Year-round resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are an ancient ritual, stretching all the way back to the Babylonians and the Romans who made promises to their gods to do things better in the coming year.

However, just because something has been done for a very long time, it doesn’t mean that it’s necessary, or even useful. And, to be honest, how many people do you know actually follow through on their resolutions? Fitness centres rely on resolutions for a influx of income knowing that the majority of new clients will only attend classes for a few weeks, but will actually pay for several months, or even a full year.

One of the main reasons that I don’t like New Year’s resolutions is that they set us up for a fall and create a failure mentality. Despite knowing that we are unlikely to follow through on our resolutions, we promise ourselves quite often outrageous things, possibly even fundamental changes in who we are. (For me that would be resolving to go to networking events in the city and thus go against my introvert nature.)

When we make unrealistic resolutions, we are basically telling ourselves that we aren’t good enough as we are and need to change. All you need to do is look at common resolutions to see how poorly we think of ourselves:

  • Lose weight (I’m fat.)
  • Be more positive (Life sucks.)
  • Get out of debt (I’m not financially responsible.)
  • Improve my career (I hate my job.)
  • Learn something new (I’m ignorant/uncultured/lazy.)
  • Get organized (I’m a disaster.)
  • Be nicer (I’m a grump.)

And the list goes on and on.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for introspection and self-improvement, but doing it once a year in a fervor of self-punishment is not the best way to achieve a goal.

I believe a much better way is the following:

  • Know yourself. What type of person are you? What works for you? What doesn’t? Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies is a great book to read if you want a simple and efficient way of answering these questions.
  • Examine your life. What’s working? What isn’t? Don’t look at your perceived faults and failings. Take a look at where you want to be and where you are in that process. By doing so, you remove the personal judgement and make it an objective review of your objectives. Burnett’s and Evans’ The Designing Your Life Workbook is a good tool for that.
  • Monitor your progress and set up regular reviews. As I have been doing with my Bullet Journal experiment, check in regularly with your objectives. Progress needs to be examined on a weekly basis at the very least (if not daily), the circumstances need to be reviewed, and minor alterations in course need to be made. For me the Bullet Journal system has been working very well so far.

So, instead of asking you what you resolutions are, I’ll ask you what goals you are working on and what progress you’re making with them.

Kicking off February with Valentine’s Day resolutions

Last year, I was inspired by David Seah’s post “Ground Hog Day Resolutions.” In the post, he introduces a set of goals that he revisits monthly with standardized check-ins. Each goal is meant to provide a tangible means of fostering success throughout the year. I came across this practice on Valentine’s Day, so my list of Valentine’s Day resolutions (VDR) was born.

Defining a VDR

A Valentine’s Day resolution is a monthly goal. I’ve decided to focus on professional resolutions, not personal ones. To be considered, a goal must meet certain criteria. Specifically, a VDR must (this list is strongly influenced by Seah, as his list is darn-near perfect):

  • Make me more visible.
  • Build a product inventory.
  • Create a reason for people to visit my site.
  • Build a new habit.
  • Build excellence (practice makes perfect).

Review Days

A goal that meets all five criteria will be considered. Once a goal is set, it requires a monthly check-in, so that progress/success/failure can be determined. To make things easy, I’ve made the check-in date for each month equal to that month’s number on the calendar. For example, in April, my VDR review day (VDRR) is on the 4th. In May, the 5th and so forth. Therefore, my schedule looks like this:

March 3 — VDRR #1
April 4 – VDRR #2
May 5 – VDRR #3
June 6 – VDRR #4
July 7 – VDRR #5
August 8 – VDRR #6
September 9 – VDRR #7
October 10 – VDRR #8
November 11 – VDRR #9
December 12 – VDRR #10

There are no goals set for January, as the beginning of the new year is set aside for reflection and relaxation.

My February resolution

My main professional goal for 2014 is to improve my writing skills. This February, I will write one post per day on my personal site. This satisfies all of my criteria: it increases visibility, builds a product inventory, creates a reason for people to visit the site, reinforces a productive new habit, and fosters excellence.

I encourage you to play along. You needn’t adopt professional goals, of course. Anything will work. Define the criteria that will represent success for yourself and set up monthly review periods (that’s the crucial bit). And, by December, I should have accomplished nine awesome monthly goals.

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.

My New Year’s Resolution: Laundry

My husband and I often have “mature” conversations that sound something like this:

Me: I really need to do a load of laundry, but I don’t want to.
Him: I don’t want to do laundry, either.
Me: Okay, it’s settled, we won’t do laundry.
Him: I love being an adult.

Hands down, laundry is the chore we hate to do the most. We used to hate doing dishes, but we got a new dishwasher last year that actually works, so laundry has moved into the top position.

I’ve never been able to figure out if it’s the time commitment, the labor, or the recidivistic nature of the chore that makes me loathe it so much. Sorting, washing, drying, folding, and putting away don’t seem like such horrible tasks on their own … but put together, I find them to be awful. I know things are bad when I would rather clean toilets than do laundry.

I’m not big on New Year’s Resolutions, but I’m going to give them a whirl in 2008 and put “Get laundry under control” on my list. In fact, it will probably be the only resolution on my list of resolutions this year. It causes me more stress than everything else in my life, so it’s going to get the prominence it deserves.

I’m going to spend the next couple weeks getting things ready for my year of laundry control. I’ll start by reviewing the posts I’ve already written on laundry (Ending laundry chaos and More than 15 ways to handle recurrent clutter) and re-establish all of the systems I’ve tried to put in place in the past. I know, too, that there will be at least one trip to Goodwill with clothing donations before the new year begins.

What area of your life is the most cluttered? Have you thought about getting it under control as a New Year’s Resolution? If so, what steps are you going to take to make your resolution a reality? Feel welcome to share your plans with us in the comments section.