If you're buying a calendar for your appointments in the coming year, buy two instead. If you use an electronic calendar, create a second version for the coming year. It might help you change your work-life balance and achieve your goals.
The idea comes from Chris Skoyles, a computer systems developer and blogger who divides his time between Manchester, in the north of England, and Virginia, a town in the north of Minnesota, not far from Thunder Bay. It came to him a few years ago when he received an extra diary as a gift, and decided to use it for accountability – to keep tabs on how he was faring in the quest to achieve his goals for the coming year.
It's now the time of year when we start to think of making New Year's resolutions. Next year we pledge to give more time to the kids, or have a date night with our partner, or otherwise address work-life balance and other issues in our lives. But most New Year's resolutions are abandoned fairly quickly, often stillborn by early January.
Mr. Skoyles feels the reason is self-doubt. "The goals seem wonderful but individuals feel they can't do it as they don't have the time, money, talent or skills. That doubt deters them," he says.
He is particularly skeptical about the issue of lack of time, noting we all have 24 hours in our day, and many people manage to find the time to achieve their goals. He is ending a year that started with two ambitious goals: He wasn't a runner, but he decided to run a marathon in London, England, in late April, and he also gave himself a goal of writing 300,000 words this year, an activity that is a sideline, so not much different from somebody deciding to spend an extra 200 hours with the kids or at the gym. He's on track, with the exception of not writing 12 blog posts this year for Lifehack.org, ironically the site where I first saw his ideas on using a diary for accountability. "From working on my goals, I have seen the benefits and I want them to have what I have," he says in an interview.
The approach is simple. He breaks his goals for the year down to make them less formidable, into weekly or monthly chunks. Then in his diary, he puts the goal for each week or month and as he progresses through the year marks how much he achieved each day or each week. It should be anything associated with your goal, so when he was training for his marathon he might write down his research on training or diet plans. "Writing down your achievements at the end of the day rather than crossing them off a to-do list as you go along has more benefits than you might think," he notes.
In his case, he started January knowing the furthest he could run was just shy of five kilometres and by April he would need to be capable of going more than 42 kilometres in order to meet his goal. He aimed to be running 16 kilometres at the end of January, 24 kilometres at the end of February, and 32 kilometres at the end of April, using the next month to build stamina within that distance and figuring that somewhere within him he would find the extra needed for the actual event. In January, his goal was to be able to run more than 6 kilometres comfortably at the end of the first week, and that would be increased by three kilometres each week. For writing, the breakdown of the 300,000 words was evenly by months, down to 6,250 words a week.
"The goal may look impossible at the start. But if you break it down and have a running log you can see the progress you have made. You can boost your confidence by seeing you have made progress and realize you can continue making progress," he says. The goal starts to look more and more attainable.
You can also see when you're not making progress. He suggests that at the end of each week you look back and check your progress. "If you haven't written anything for a specific goal in a couple of days, is that a sign that maybe you need to work extra hard on that goal? Or maybe that goal wasn't as important to you as you first thought and it's time to reassess? If you notice that you haven't been doing much goal-orientated work on a specific day each week, can you identify reasons for that and do something about it? If you've been cruising along nicely but haven't seen much improvement, is now the time to think about taking things to the next level?" he wrote on the Lifehack blog.
Goals for a year can sometimes seem overwhelming. But his method breaks it down – and adds self-accountability. His approach mirrors a comment made to him once by a friend: "Today's just a stepping stone to something better." It was a Eureka moment for him, showing the importance of going step by step, day by day, to ambitious goals. He now has the words "stepping stone" tattooed on his wrist as a reminder, and you can use the same idea – and a diary – to achieve your work-life balance goals for the coming year.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter