Darn those pesky New Year’s Resolutions. When you pick one that will actually make a difference in your life, it’s hard to push it to the side and forget about it.
I knew it was time to confront my digital hoarding. Predictably, it was worse than I thought.
For some people it’s probably photographs and videos, and yes, I have a lot of those too, but that’s not my goal for right now. I have plenty of storage and they’re all backed up to the cloud. They don’t eat up my mental bandwidth, which is the real issue.
I have a problem. When I was a little kid, I wished I could read everything, every book in the whole world. I’ve never really figured out how to un-wish that wish, only now it’s spread to include, apparently, every article, newsletter, and blog post ever written.
The better I have gotten at sourcing and bookmarking information, the worse my digital hoarding has gotten.
I found some apps and learned to speed-read, at which point it got still worse.
I’m following that same line now, although in a new direction, and I appear to have passed Peak Bookmarks. At least so far in 2021, I’m trending downward.
What kind of hoarding are we talking about?
I don’t hoard physical books like a lot of dedicated readers. This may unsettle you, but I [whispering]... I think most books look bad! Physical bookshelves are a problem in my life for several reasons, not the least of which is my parrot, who has come by the nickname Sneaky Beaky honestly. They take up too much space in our tiny apartments, it’s a pain to have to keep unpacking them, and, finally, whenever there is a bookshelf in a room, my eyes will obsessively wander to it. Much too distracting.
It was around the time that I got my first smartphone that I started feeling able to release my physical book collection. Once I knew I would always have something to read in my pocket, my brain decoupled from the bound object and latched itself onto the digital variety like a lamprey.
A plausible formulation would be that I would eventually learn to trust that there will always be more news than I can read every single day, and that information will always come at me in waves, a sea I can never drink down.
In that formulation, I would quit bookmarking things and chill out, floating ineffably in an intellectual innertube on an endless ocean of content.
Yeah, that never happened.
Periodically, pun intended, I would skim through my various hoards, intending to delete a bunch of stuff that was no longer relevant to my interests. I don’t think I ever even deleted 0.5% that way. The experience would just leave me peevish, feeling starved for time and yet more committed to eventually reading through this backlog.
What? I can’t just... not know what is in those articles!
In some ways it got still worse when I started my tech newsletter. It is extremely stochastic what I will and won’t find on any given day. I’m at the point now where, on rare occasions, something I post will actually spark a white paper or an invention disclosure. Obviously this is super-exciting! For the first time in my life, my chronic reading habits have direct practical application to real-world results!
This has led to FoMO of the very worst kind. If I miss something, it’s not just me missing it, it’s all my readers, too, and what then??
I’m on top of it, though. The work stuff, at any rate.
I’m gradually chipping away at my personal stuff, too.
How am I doing it? Since I am apparently powerless to delete things and simply change my mind about letting things go?
I found a couple of apps that will speed-read text aloud.
It turns out this capability had existed in my all-time favorite bookmarking app, Pocket, for who knows how long. I could have been doing this for perhaps years. I just didn’t realize because the majority of my free mental bandwidth is quickly squandered on reading.
The best thing about it? Most audio apps top out at 3x, but Pocket goes to 4. I’m currently at 3.4x and it’s still crisp and clear.
Pocket is genius. I’ve been using it for years, to the point that I have gotten email from them saying I’m in their top 5% of users worldwide. I don’t know how many people have this app installed, but it is maybe a little alarming that I’m on their radar to this extent?
That being said, it can’t pick up everything. The formatting on some publications is unreadable by Pocket. It’s still possible to read in web view, but my speed-reading app Outread can’t transfer these. In the past, I would sometimes copy and paste the text from the original article into Outread, a fussy process.
Then I found Text to Speech. The same text I was copying and pasting into Outread could be dropped into Text to Speech instead. It doesn’t read as quickly as Pocket, but it was a way to listen to articles while multi-tasking.
Not long after that, I stumbled upon an ad for Elocance. I paid $35 for it, which is beyond the pale for most apps, but in the range for old-school CD-ROM software or a hardcover book. While it can only read at 1.5x, it’s able to handle almost all the weirdly formatted publications that Pocket can’t. It can also read email, newsletter subscriptions, Word docs, PDFs, and whatever other random text you want to throw in there. Another improvement it has over Text to Speech is that it lines everything up in a playlist like a podcast app, rather than one-off selections.
The way all this works, I’m listening through my news queue when I would previously have been listening to podcasts. While this has completely replaced podcasts in my life for the moment, I am actually consuming news content faster than I can bookmark it!
It’s entirely likely that the novelty of blasting through my news queue with these new toys will soon wear off, and I will replace them with a new information source that will have me right back where I started. I give myself all year to work on a resolution, though, and for now, I’m making progress and feeling proud of myself.
Skip January, I always say. I think the reason most people quit on their New Year’s Resolutions is that they feel like they need a perfect streak for it to really count. New Year’s Eve, in this formulation, is a magical portal that only exists for a few hours, and if the perfect streak is not maintained, then the spell is broken and the new habit is now forever off-limits.
I just added in a loophole that January is for getting ready, and nothing counts until February.
February is a good sampler month because it’s the shortest month, the weather in the Northern Hemisphere is usually terrible, and there’s not much else to do unless you love Valentine’s Day - which I’m gathering most of you don’t?
I made a bunch of New Year’s Resolutions, most of which I haven’t touched yet. Worse than that, I haven’t even finished filling out my goal planner, which is absolutely unprecedented in my life. I actually feel really bad about that because it’s a gift I give myself, and if I can’t find time once a year for something I find very fun and rewarding, then what is going on??
Scope creep and overkill?
A lot of us feel like we’re letting ourselves down in some way. We don’t like setting goals because we feel like failures when we aren’t able to crush those goals in some kind of world-record timeframe.
Slow and steady is realistic, yet too boring to be inspirational.
What I’ve found from tracking my resolutions and goals on a quarterly basis is that it’s a lot easier to achieve these goals when they’re layered. Trying to do every single thing at once basically guarantees that none of it will happen.
The first goal for everyone should probably be baseline contentment.
This is something that’s been tougher for me. I always feel like I should be strenuously Doing Something. It’s an ADHD problem. I’m not great at simply sitting. This concept of “Netflix and chill” is a little mystifying to me.
My work buddy mentioned that she binge-watched an entire series over the weekend - something on cybersecurity - and I blinked in surprise. A whole series?? But you’d have to watch three or four hours a day! Is that even possible?? What would you do, just sit there??
What did you do the rest of the weekend?
It’s actually something to think about. What can you add to your baseline habits that would be fun?
‘Habit’ always seems to be seen in the context of ‘bad.’ When we think ‘habit’ we think of removing or stopping or quitting or taking away. This is very tough on human psychology, and probably not a useful formulation for a goal.
An example would be our poor old dog Spike. When he was a young dog, we got him a laser pointer, and he reacted to it about the way that any grade-school kid would react to getting a PlayStation 5. We would try to hide it, and he would sniff out where it was, and he would stare at that spot and bark obsessively.
The day we moved from that house, we took down the wall sorter where the laser pointer had been kept. He barked at the movers and showed them the blank spot on the wall and barked some more, asking if they would play with him, even though there was nothing there anymore.
See, it’s hard to eliminate a habit!
It’s much more tempting to think of something positive that you want to add to your life, and make it as easy and appealing to do as possible. By this method, you can gradually crowd out habits that you wish would go away, and eventually, they will.
For someone like my work buddy who likes to binge-watch TV, there are a raft of habits that can be added without letting go of the binge-watching. Putting on lotion. Doing your own mani-pedi. Stretching or doing PT exercises. Folding laundry. Brushing out your pets. Using a percussion massager or a facial steamer. Mindlessly eating a large salad. Who knows what else?
It’s also possible to watch TV on fitness equipment, like a treadmill or elliptical, although personally I find that this makes both the show and the workout feel ten hours long.
As I said, I haven’t done much on my goals yet this year, because I don’t take January seriously as a goal month. I have done a few things, though, in the spirit of getting ready.
I set up my new bullet journal, which is bright yellow and which I like very much.
I lost four pounds, a great start, although a pound a week is not exactly magazine-feature material.
I started using a language app to learn to speak Italian, and according to the app, I’ve already learned 78 words, even though I can’t seem to maintain a streak.
*** I hate streaks ***
I upgraded my phone and my fitness tracker and got them both up and running.
I got a laptop charging station and organized all the cables at my desk for work.
I scheduled up my periodontist appointments.
I learned how to order grocery delivery through multiple services.
I went through my digital hoard and got numbers. Confronting the extent of a problem is the most painful part - the clarity, the wake-up call - but that cold clear reality is what helps drive change.
So... I had a thousand items in my ‘Read at Leisure’ email folder, 700 in one news queue, 1000 in another, and yet another 1000 in yet another. This is not including various library app bookshelves. Nearly four thousand articles, why??
I got some apps and started making a dent. I’m now reading through stuff faster than I’m accumulating it, which means there is hope for me yet.
While it’s still true that I haven’t done a single thing toward most of my goals and resolutions for the year, I have done *some* things to make my life easier. Many of the things I have done in January are set-up tasks that I won’t have to do again. I’ve streamlined a few areas and bought myself some time.
Now, as I do at the first of every month, it’s time to pause and look at my list of goals and resolutions, where I wrote them longhand in the front of my bullet journal. Are these things I’m still committed to doing?
Okay, then when am I going to do them?
It’s February and it’s time to get started.
I would have written this earlier, but honestly I was too busy.
About 1/5 of people have tendencies toward chronic procrastination, and I am one of them. This is an issue that has haunted me almost my entire life. It probably started when I was 7 and occasionally had to miss recess or sit in the hallway during a movie because my homework wasn’t done.
Isn’t that nuts? To take a tiny little kid who barely weighs 50 pounds and put that kind of pressure on those bitty little shoulders? Rather than *teach* a child whose brain is not fully developed, who can’t yet write in cursive or do long division, to *punish* and *withhold* and publicly shame and pelt with sarcastic remarks?
Of course, I’m 45 now, and I could easily have a grandchild that age. Can’t use it as an excuse today.
Last year I made it a resolution to work on my procrastination issues with one specific thing, which was responding to text messages. I also made it a ten-year plan to stop procrastinating entirely, or at least to quit feeling like it was an issue.
Lately I’ve been feeling like maybe I’m actually... there. Maybe I’m on top of it after all?
I took a new job last year, right after my... call it “transformative”... near-death experience with COVID-19. The pace has been referred to, more than once, as “frenetic” and as “hair on fire.”
We work long days in exchange for long weekends, a schedule that is known as 9/80. It means we work 80 hours in nine days instead of ten. It’s great, and more people should probably be allowed to do it. It also means, effectively, ten-hour days.
What I’ve found is that I have to run a pretty tight ship to be able to do the things I want to do, as well as work at this job.
My job itself is wildly fascinating. I work with really cool people and I learn new things every day. I recently got a great performance review and an unexpectedly satisfying merit increase, all things that are nice for morale. My boss literally said, “I’m behind you 100%, keep doing what you’re doing.”
It is tricky to get all my stuff done in between meetings, though.
When I first started, I admit, I probably wasn’t really recovered enough from coronavirus to be working a full schedule at such a busy place. It was hard. Then it got worse when I got bacterial pneumonia for my birthday and took a month to really get better.
I often felt low-energy and overwhelmed and like I was messing up.
Gradually, as I really started to get well again, I started to realize that my feelings of despair and dread were... symptoms! I was just anxious because I had been so ill, and that is one of the lasting effects of the virus. I read an article about post-viral syndrome, and as soon as I had that in my head, something clicked into place.
I was doing fine - I had direct testimony to that effect from the people whose opinions matter - and I was freaking myself out because my biology insisted on it.
This is the kind of thing I can talk myself out of.
Suddenly it felt as though I really had plenty of time to do everything at work, as long as I used a planner. I started doing a separate bullet journal for my job, and it was like rainbows started shooting out of my desk.
When I clocked out for the day, everything that lay before me in the evening was something I wanted to do. Eat dinner, obviously. Order groceries, same. Take care of my little parrot, who has been ludicrously well behaved during the pandemic and deserves so many smooches. Lay out clothes for the next day, a nice favor for Morning Me. Italian lesson, a reward.
But what about the aversive stuff? The annoying tasks that nobody wants to do?
There are still things I don’t really want to do, such as fill out forms or schedule appointments. I’ve learned to do two things about those.
I still have as many chores as anyone else who lives in a dinky apartment. Still have to put away laundry, which I still despise and probably always will. Still have to unpack groceries and scrub the bathtub and dust the ceiling fan and scrape pulped fruit off the window.
(What, don’t you have to scrape fruit off the windows at your house?)
The secret there was to choose. Would I rather cram these tasks into the day during the week, or put them off for the weekend?
Because I know that if I work with focus and strategy, I can lounge around on the weekend and do nothing, I choose to fit the housework into my busy, busy weekdays. A little in the morning while making breakfast. A little during my lunch break. A little while making dinner. Perhaps something while I’m dialed in to a long meeting that I don’t have to transcribe. Somehow, it all seems to get done.
Living in a small apartment makes it stand out if anything is not done. A single dish out on the stove or the counter really looks terrible and gets in the way. With a dusty, fluffy parrot and dark floorboards, the floors can look absolutely shambolic the very day after mopping. The punishment for skimping on something is to have to live with the aftereffects.
How quickly we forget, when we commute to a workplace, that somebody else is probably cleaning it! Polishing the tiles, washing the windows, hauling out the trash. It’s a curiously orderly environment that seems to put itself to rights, every night, by magic.
Not so much how it happens when you work from home.
What I’ve been finding is that when I am doing something that I might formerly have put off, I am thinking, “Good, I finally have time to get this out of the way.”
The truth is that procrastinating feels emotionally horrible. It is not rewarding in any way.
Finishing stuff and no longer having it weigh on your conscience, that’s a huge improvement.
Most goals are easier than we think, especially if we pick the kind of commodity goals that millions of other people have already done.
Commodity goal - I just made that up and I think I’ll keep it!
A commodity is something that is widespread, inexpensive, and easy to acquire, like... ketchup packets. If you want to start a ketchup packet business, best of luck to you, because you’re going to need a pretty excellent idea to disrupt that industry.
Just like ketchup packets, a lot of goals are standardized and very easy to find.
Also just like ketchup packets, a lot of goals wind up never being used and just clutter up the place.
What are we keeping those commodity goals for, to impress people? Not hardly. Almost everyone has a ketchup packet problem. It’s more like we never realized they were building up to that point.
About your goals, I would ask the same questions that I would ask my hoarders about their ketchup packets.
When are you going to use them?
What are you going to use them for?
Throw them away, give them to someone else, or just start having, say, Tater Tot Fridays and eating your ketchup packets at home instead of adding more. Hey presto, problem solved.
It’s the same thing with goals and resolutions.
When are you going to do it?
What do you need to make it happen?
I was just talking to my friend about her resolution to DRINK MORE WATER (Hark! A commodity goal!). I pointed out that I have the same issue - true - and that I use a hydration app to remind me to drink enough fluids. Another way to go about it is to buy one of those water bottles with the hours of the day marked on it, or maybe a pretty one with a crystal in it or something.
The hydration answer would then be, When? First thing in the morning and then throughout the day. What? An attractive water bottle and/or a hydration app.
Another fairly common goal is to learn a new language. I love this goal for everyone in the galaxy so much that I refuse to label it as a commodity goal, but it sort of is. I’m personally working on my [counting...] seventh language and it’s the most fun possible. (Am I fluent? No. Can I read signs and menus and book tickets? Yes). I have a lot of advice on this particular one.
Where people lose track on the language front is in either thinking that they have to study the same way they did in a school classroom, which is destined to failure for 99.5% of American students, or spend a bunch of money buying Rosetta Stone. Neither of those are true. There are lots of other ways that plenty of polyglots have used to become fluent in other languages, and it’s possible to do it for free.
For instance, where I live, I could become fluent in Spanish, Armenian, Vietnamese, Korean, or Ukrainian (to name a few) just by talking to people in my neighborhood. If the goal is to learn “a language” then why not pick one that you could use while you run errands?
That’s my first advice on most goals: make it more specific. If you’re going to study a language (or a musical instrument, as a parallel example) then which one? When are you going to use that new skill? Like, do you want to emigrate to another country, talk to your relatives, or go on a trip and visit cities all around the world? Your strategy is going to be a bit different for each of those, just as it would be if you want to play guitar by yourself versus joining a band.
If you’re going to study a language, *when* are you going to do your lessons? *What* study tools are you going to use? I aim to do my Italian lesson right when I clock out at work, so I can transition my mind to free time and also to keep me from getting sucked into the never-ending news vortex.
Replace your most annoying default habit with your exciting, fun, new habit. If you’ve chosen the right thing, which is something that you truly enjoy, then you’ll never look back.
I’m the kind of person who can’t resist making tons and tons of goals, and then struggling to fit them all into a realistic Earth-month. Maybe on a different planet it could work, I dunno. If you’re like me, it might actually help to lay out a month and plug in the different things you want to do. What are you going to do on weeknights and what are you going to do on weekends, for example?
For most people, people with more sense than me, it’s probably better to pick just one thing and experiment around what time of day you will engage with it. The ‘when’ is the toughest because all this time, you’ve been spending that same hour of the day doing something else. That different thing, that thing that is not your goal, is going to have to either leave your life or get moved to a different time.
Another thing to figure out is separate fallback plans for what to do if something interrupts your chosen time slot. For instance, I don’t necessarily want an audience for my Italian lesson, so I’m likely to do it when my hubby is either in the shower or brushing his teeth. Since I’m doing only 5-10 minutes a night, it’s a matter of 1. Wait for him to leave the room and 2. Open the app on my phone.
Make your goal as easy as possible to do. That’s contrary to the Calvinist idea that we must punish ourselves and work as hard as we can every single minute, but it works. You have the right to have fun and frivolous goals.
It’s easy to get a bit hung up on the ‘what.’ The perfect notebook before I can start my bullet journal! The perfect running shoes! The perfect water bottle! What’s likely to happen is that if you really start to make your goal a part of your identity, it will be such a part of your life that you’ll wind up replacing these objects many times. You’ll use them up.
It’s better to have commodity objects than to be uninspired by commodity goals.
What is it that you are working on these days? When are you doing it and what are you using?
For the first time, I took up the offer to be accountability partners with someone.
I’ve had supposed accountability arrangements with people before, and it hasn’t suited me. I had come to the conclusion that what people are asking for is to abdicate on their decisions and try to outsource their willpower.
“I will literally only ever do this if someone else forces me.”
Sure, I’m very good at this type of nagging, but it’s part of what I do at work. Essentially, if someone is asking for me to be their accountability coach, they’re asking me for administrative support.
You can program your smartphone to do this for you if you want to, and it will probably only take you a few minutes to set up.
I did this type of accountability coaching as a coach for about a year, but the amount of stress on my part went far beyond the measly pay. It seemed like, from my perspective, the clients would have either done it on their own without my help, or would never do it at all, either through blackmail or at gunpoint or for charity or under extreme hypnosis or any other reason.
I think it’s better if more of us just admit that we don’t want to do certain things, that we have no intention of ever doing them, and that we’re not going to pretend to try. The end.
I do! I do this. I have no intention of, let’s see: making scrapbooks, learning to wear liquid eyeliner, or making any kind of food that has a shape. When I see attractive stuff on someone’s pinboard, I just wave my hand, Ehh.
Another lifetime maybe.
It’s easy for me, as a Questioner. If I think something is a good idea, I’ll do it right away. If it makes sense to me, I only need to hear about it or see it once and I’ll jump on it. Or at least give it a try.
For instance, I tried those little suspenders for the fitted sheet? They work, but they’re miserable to put on. I’ve basically given up on them and determined to just buy slightly more expensive sheets next time.
This is the more challenging part of being a Questioner. If I don’t think something is a good idea, I won’t bother. This is fine for me but apparently very trying to other people, most of whom are not fellow Questioners but some of whom are, and should know better.
I have an Obliger friend (actually many, as a plurality of people are Obligers and they are the nicest kind of friend). What they have in common is that they will go far out of their way for others, but they have a tough time sticking to things that they see as benefiting only themselves.
The easy part of being a good friend to an Obliger is that I can explain to them how something they are reluctant to do for themselves actually benefits other people. For instance, if you take your meal breaks at work, you set a good example, but you’re also in a much better mood than when you attempt to go until 3 pm before you have your first calories of the day.
*ahem* You’ve all done it at least once, admit it.
So my Obliger friend asked if I wanted to be accountability partners, and I did the best I could. I told her my honest feelings.
Eww, she said. That wasn’t what she had in mind at all.
All she wanted was to check in every now and then and talk about our goals.
I agreed to this, because talking is something I know how to do. Also, and this is the secret lure if you’re trying to negotiate with a Questioner, she had privileged information that I found compelling. She was going to tell me about her system for tracking goals.
This wound up being a good part of our call. We traded details of how we’ve set our goals over the years. There was something about her system that really appealed to me, and something about my system that caught her attention too. It made me feel closer to my friend, realizing that goal-setting is such a big part of both our worlds.
There are very few people who take all this as seriously as I do, or at least, if they do, they haven’t told me yet.
Both of us had goals that we weren’t really sure how to tackle yet.
In this sense, our accountability arrangement is closer to what is usually referred to as a mastermind.
My friend wants to learn a language, and wasn’t really sure how to go about it. I don’t think she realized quite what a linguistics nerd I am. I told her all about language exchange partners, and which exact app has the language she wants to learn, since they’re all different. I told her, if she has any questions at all, I can’t help her with her chosen language, but I definitely can help her find resources and figure out her study plan.
It turns out that my big work goal of learning data visualization is right in my friend’s wheelhouse. I wouldn’t have gone so far as to ask her to look over my charts, because that’s overstepping. We did agree, though, that she could point me toward some resources. She told me I was making a really sound choice and that being good at data visualization sets people apart more than anything else.
After our talk, we were both laughing and excited. We agreed that we would do two-week sprints, just like we do at work. Our first task would be to share what we’re working on for our first sprint. Then we’ll check in every two weeks and see how we’re doing.
Our accountability arrangement is as much about sharing how thrilled we are with the whole goal-setting process and making accomplishments. I think we’ve both found that most of our friends are not up for this sort of discussion in any way. Couple of goal nerds.
If you want to do something similar, the most important thing is who not to choose. Almost all humans of Earth will naysay everything you ever wanted to do, left, right, sideways, and upside down. It’s better to keep your ideas to yourself than to expose them to this sort of negativity.
Honestly, it might be better to meet a random Internet friend who enjoys goal-setting than to choose from amongst your family or friends?
The main thing to remember is that your life is yours. You don’t owe other people an explanation for why you want to learn certain things or do certain things with your free time. You are perfectly entitled to have goals and resolutions, and enjoy them to the fullest extent. If your goal is to spend 18 hours a day with your phone, who’s to stop you?
I haven’t finished my New Year’s planning yet.
This is the first time this has happened that I can think of. Usually I spend all December working on my goals and resolutions. Now that I have a day job again, I’m super busy.
I figured it would be fine if I did the rough sketch, then spent New Year’s Day and the rest of the weekend filling in my bullet journal, making my goal board, and all that stuff.
Instead I wound up sleeping all day on the first. By “all day” I mean that I woke up in the morning, ate breakfast, and fell asleep for an hour and a half. Then I woke up again just enough to waddle to the bedroom and pass out again until 4:00 pm. I slept an average of 11 hours a day all weekend and barely did a thing.
I felt pretty bummed that I had slept all day, when I hadn’t finished all my goal stuff on New Year’s Eve either.
By the end of the weekend, when I still had basically nothing done, I thought, Oh no, the magic moment has passed.
It hasn’t, though. In one way, every day is like every other day. We each get 24 hours, and that’s the one and only thing that everyone has in common.
What I did, rather than write up all my plans like normal, was try to fit in the few things I had determined I would do. Mini actions. These are also known as ‘habits’ but I think that the word ‘habit’ has negative connotations. Action, maybe not so much.
One thing I did was to order a new Apple Watch to replace my old one, which is now over five years old. I’ve managed to crack the screen (ask me about my outrageously aggressive arm-swinging habits, which also involve having punched a fire hydrant). It’s also going dim in the middle, so that it doesn’t really serve as a watch anymore. Mainly I use it to unlock my computer in the morning.
It’ll take two weeks to get here, but that’s okay. In a way it gives me a fresh new start on trying to rebuild my baseline fitness. The only thing I really want this year is to feel that I’ve totally recovered from coronavirus.
Another thing I did was to start a new foreign language app (Speakly) and start doing 5-minute Italian lessons. If you’ve been following along, I was going to learn Dutch last year, but this app doesn’t have Dutch lessons, so *shrug* whatever. Next on the list.
This has been so much fun and so instantly rewarding that I’ve maintained a perfect streak so far. Normally I advocate for avoiding streaks in all situations (and I mean all) but especially in the sense of trying to attain instant perfection. Whatever we do, it’s more valuable if we do it 45% of the time than if we get discouraged and quit after skipping a couple days.
Io non parlo inglese!
In the app world, I also started logging my hydration and food intake again. It turns out I’ve been relentlessly dehydrated during the day. Logging my water helps me remember to make sure to drink water - it shouldn’t be 3 pm before I grab a glass. I’ve also had basically instant success with the food log, which is uplifting.
I took care of setting up a few appointments and ordering some stuff, since we were running out of shampoo and a few other things. I did manage to get the case of prescription parrot kibble, so that’s a relief. It’s hard to say what a big deal it feels like to do these 5- and 10-minute tasks when things are popping so much at work.
Sometimes it feels like a big deal just to start the robot mop, and how dumb is that?
Something that happened last year that I didn’t like was that the blog started to fall apart. I was posting more regularly when I was desperately ill than I have been since I got my job. This task that I can never quite seem to get to is to write up a list of topics and then schedule a few posts in advance, the way I used to do for years.
Part of the problem has been feeling like I’ve run out of things to talk about. It’s hard to figure out ways to talk about my cool new job without, you know, talking about it.
This is part of what I love about New Year’s. I have all these shiny new projects that I’d like to do, and I finally have enough energy recovered to attempt them. It gives me plenty to think about, and thus plenty to write about.
Not everyone likes making resolutions or having goals or projects. In fact, it seems like most people don’t, because they get so discouraged when they quit. I think this is because of unhelpful framing, lack of planning, and probably having a dark concept of what resolutions are for and how they work.
For me, it’s the light of my life.
When I was lonely and single after my divorce - I had a plan. I made over my bedroom to make space for a new love, and I started learning to cook - and then I got married again.
When I was flat broke and desperate - I had a plan. I went back to school, and I got a cruddy job, and I determined that I would focus on that job even if all I did was work, eat dinner, and go to bed. I paid off all my loans years early and the degree paid for itself the first year.
At a certain point, I didn’t have as many immediate fixes any more. I had more room to want to play around, go on adventures, and learn new things. This is of course when I started forcing difficult challenges on myself. Those have probably paid off most of all.
Could it be that I’m procrastinating on my big new personal challenge of beating my math anxiety? Perhaps.
Failing to live up to our own standards isn’t the end of the world. It’s the beginning. It’s recognizing that it’s better to have values and desired end goals than not to. It’s a reminder, one of many in a series, that we’ve chosen these purposes for reasons that are valid.
I haven’t finished all my planning for the year, even though it’s one of my favorite things, and that’s okay. The year is still pretty much brand new and we haven’t even cut the tags off yet.
I’m starting this year with a mix of pessimism and optimism, both because I can’t help it.
I’m pessimistic about the pandemic and the vaccine rollout. I think it will happen very slowly, partly because it already has and partly because there are just so many people to vaccinate. Israel is crushing it, with 10% of their population vaccinated in just two weeks - but that means it will take 5 months to reach everyone. My county happens to have roughly the same population as Israel, meaning if we were extremely efficient, I could have my vaccine by June.
Therefore, I’m accepting that there may be another lost year, another year when we can’t safely travel or visit people in person. This sucks, but not as much as dying of COVID-19. (Or COVID-21?) I’d rather assume that 2021 will be more of the same, and be wrong, than get my hopes up and have to keep resetting expectations.
The optimistic part is that I’m still alive, and there don’t appear to be any vaccine refusers in my immediate family. That means all I have to worry about this year is staying safe and keeping busy enough to manage my disappointment.
Making my goals and resolutions is my favorite part of the entire year, even when I don’t reach them all. Many years I’ve hit all of them, or 90%, and that’s enough reason to keep trying and keep planning even when the outside world is a mess.
I have some hunches this year. I have a super strong hunch that we’re going to wind up moving. There is a non-zero chance that we will wind up relocating for work at some future point, and it’s absolutely impossible to guess when that might be, but this year is more likely than last year. I dreamed I was driving again, so I think it will be outside of SoCal. (Several years ago I had a premonitory dream that we moved to Sacramento, and then we did).
Some people would be horrified at the prospect of moving, especially a sudden move to a new city. For me, at this point, in many ways it’s less hassle than packing for a camping trip or... going to Costco. Mainly this possibility will inform whether I hang stuff on the walls or make bulk purchases.
I also think this might be the year I manage to get back into school in some way. This would impact whether I commit to any other large-scale projects. I’d like to keep my dance card open.
Now for my 2021 goals:
Personal: To expel my math anxiety. [uggggghhhhhh] Every year I like to take on a massive personal challenge, something that intimidates me to the point of making myself a little ill. It started with running, then public speaking, then martial arts, and now I don’t have all that much left that freaks me out! The only thing that really and truly gives me dread and trepidation now is mathematics, by which I mean, algebra and beyond. The deal here is that I want to go to grad school, which likely means the GRE, which means I have to master calculus, and that is something I’ve never done. I did a math placement test that had me stuck on some 5th-grade math things, so I guess this fits the bill. Try to always work on something that keeps you humble and it can help from having your ego balloon out of control.
Career: Become a futurist. It’s plausible that I can move in this direction without grad school, and it’s also plausible that this can happen through my current job. I really love the company where I work, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be right now, so I’m going with it. This promises to be a very lively and intriguing year at work.
Physical: Back to my goal weight. I was shooting for this last year, but I got COVID instead. I’m at the point where I feel like my weight gain is actively interfering with my respiration. Strangely, I was in the same position in 2004-5, so I have reason to believe this will work. It’s not that I regret learning to box, but the weight I put on that year has been disastrous for my health and energy level.
Home: Probably move to a larger home. We’re waiting until the pandemic winds down, because it just doesn’t make sense to move right now. But we are ready for a place with a washer and dryer and a proper kitchen. Probably also a second bedroom, so we can shut a door between us when we’re both on conference calls.
Couples: Save for a house. We’ve decided that if we buy a house here, where we currently live, it would have to be after a slightly improbable series of events. (Start our own company etc). Maybe we’ll buy a house elsewhere. We’re learning a bit about remodeling and interior design, trying to figure out what style of place we would like.
Stop goal: Stop hoarding reading material. Okay, this one is painful but I feel it has to be done. My husband looked at me and asked, “Including digital?” I nodded and he winced. It is a key part of my job to Read All the Things, but I don’t really need to have absolutely thousands of articles in my queue. Do I? I don’t even know how to do this goal other than to quit putting library books on hold. The point of all these goals and resolutions (this is a resolution, BTW) is to explore and learn new ways of doing things.
Lifestyle upgrades: New bed. Our bed went like this: Years 0-10, glorious. Year 10, lumpy. Year 11, terrible. If only we’d known to replace it before the pandemic...
Do the Obvious: Assume another year of WFH. I might work from home forever and I like it that way.
Ultralearning: Data visualization - Tableau, Excel, etc. This is a goal that is inevitable, due to my job responsibilities, so I might as well give myself credit for it. By this time next year, I’ll know all sorts of things that I don’t know right now.
Quest: 50 for 50 ultramarathon (2025). A quest is quixotic and I’m not ready to let this one go. If I can ever run any decent distance again, I’m sure I’ll cry so hard I’ll soak my shirt.
Wish: To visit my family safely!
Personal: To expel my math anxiety
Career: Become a futurist
Physical: Back to my goal weight
Home: Probably move to a larger home
Couples: Save for a house
Stop goal: Stop hoarding reading material
Lifestyle upgrades: New bed
Do the Obvious: Assume another year of WFH
Ultralearning: Data visualization - Tableau, Excel, etc.
Quest: 50 for 50 ultramarathon (2025)
Wish: To visit my family safely
Categorizing these, the math anxiety thing is a challenge; the futurism career is a mission; reaching my goal weight again, moving to a larger home, saving for a house, and getting a new bed are goals; and it is a resolution to stop hoarding reading material. Ultralearning is a project. A quest is something big that probably takes more than a year to do, and a wish is something that you can’t simply make happen through an obvious action. I like to be clear with myself about how I’m going to go about making something happen in my life. That’s all this is: pick something and do it!
Choose a resolution you can finish in one day, and you automatically get the same bragging rights as the people who choose something more complicated. If you never make resolutions because you “know” you’ll let yourself down, change the rules! You are invited to look over this list of one-day resolutions. Pick one if you think it could make your life better, easier, more fun, or more interesting.
Get your flu shot.
Apply for a passport.
If you already have a passport, get it out and check the expiration date.
Change all your passwords and find out where you can use dual authentication.
Go around and set all your clocks, including the microwave and the dashboard in your vehicle.
Throw out everything in your kitchen that is past its expiration date.
Throw out any expired medications.
Throw out worn-out socks and underwear.
Cash in your change jar.
If you haven’t already, find out if you can open an IRA account at your bank.
Make an appointment to get your teeth cleaned if it’s been more than 6 months.
Make sure you’ve had a tetanus shot booster within the last 10 years.
Pull out your driver’s license and check to see when it expires. Is it this year? Oh snap.
Give back anything you borrowed from someone else.
If you have overdue library books, return them. A lot of libraries no longer charge overdue fines!
If you quit reading a book because you lost interest, let it go. Give it away or trade it in.
Match up the lids with all your pots, pans, travel mugs, and plastic containers.
Make a “dump run” and get rid of the broken junk from your garage, yard, or anywhere else it’s piled up.
If you have a mending pile, look it over right now and decide to fix it or throw it away.
Increase your retirement contribution 1%.
Get a free copy of your credit report and check it for errors.
Fill out a living will and have it witnessed.
Set a reminder to sign up for a first aid/CPR certification class (maybe this fall).
Set a timer for one hour and spend it cleaning or filing.
Go through your email inbox and unsubscribe to as much as possible.
Delete some apps.
Reconsider your social media engagement.
Call an old friend and say hello.
Apologize to someone.
If you have your own URLs, look them over and decide whether you still want them all.
Look through your queue of movies and TV episodes and delete anything that no longer interests you.
Look at your keys. Are there any you don’t need any more that you can get rid of? Mystery keys you don’t even recognize?
Think of any task you’ve been procrastinating for longer than a year. Make the decision to do it this month or let it go.
Read The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield.
Make a vow not to make negative comments about other people’s resolutions.
This was the year that I almost died, but that’s no excuse for skipping the annual review. In many ways, this is the weirdest and thus most interesting year I have had since I started publicly sharing my yearly progress report.
My husband had a severe eye injury, we had to put our dog down, and then I got COVID-19. It’s hard to believe that all of that happened before the shutdown.
I haven’t seen my family in over a year now.
2020 has been sad, confusing, infuriating, boring, frustrating - yet on a personal level, it’s been strangely great.
Here are some things that happened in our 2020:
My husband did not lose sight in his eye
I did not die of COVID-19
I got my dream job, despite doing the panel interview with a secondary lung infection
I gave a virtual presentation at work that was featured on our webpage and 80 people came
We doubled our savings
I started donating 1/4 of our grocery budget to the food bank
Also funded the planting of 40 trees
I learned to cut hair, both his and mine
We got our own personal hummingbird who lives three feet from the feeder; we call him Brownie and he is a rufous hummingbird and he is a little savage
We commissioned our first artwork, a piece from a local photographer
Noelie is working on whistling the Addams Family theme song
We saw an owl
My personal goal for the year was supposed to be getting my weight back down and recovering my health, after a year when I got a cold or the flu easily a dozen times. I said I wanted to “get my body back.” Then I got COVID and my whole “body transformation” / “get my body back” goal became a little too on-the-nose.
My career goal was to learn how to do webinars. Another goal that was a little on-the-nose. I sometimes spend over six hours a day on camera having meetings now. I’ve used, as far as I know, every available virtual meeting platform. I know how to make recordings, change my background, and all sorts of other tricks. More to the point, I got a full-time day job for the first time in over ten years, sort of stumbling into a goal 10x bigger than the one I had set.
My physical goal was to get my weight back to 125 lbs. (I’m 5’4”).
Lost 5 pounds, got coronavirus, gained 10.
(Probably five of that was pills)
My home goal was to continue our home automation project, which is related to the book I was writing when all this went down. 2020 was a great year to choose to do this, because two people who work from home for an engineering company are well positioned to automate everything in their place up, down, and sideways. Most of what we did was to organize cabinets and streamline surfaces, but we did upgrade our ailing Roomba for the fancy self-emptying one. It’s rad. Next is the window-washing robot, whenever they start shipping them again.
Our couples goal was to build an app together. That did not happen. What did happen was that my hubby saved my life, nursing me through six weeks of coronavirus. Isolating together and beating a deadly illness has brought us closer than I ever could have imagined. Crossing rivers together in the interior of Iceland did one type of thing for our marriage; 2020 did something else. I would do anything for this man and I already know he would do anything for me, because he has.
Oh, and then I got a job at the same company where he works. Our living room is now a sort of... field office. It’s like we’ve come full circle from when we first met.
My “stop goal” was to stop procrastinating on text messages and voicemail. I still sometimes feel resistance around this, but I’m so busy now that it’s quit being a problem. I simply don’t have time to psych myself out. Also half the time it’s my boss.
My lifestyle upgrade was possibly going to be getting gum surgery, since I maxed out my dental benefits last year and I had to wait. My periodontist (welcome to middle age, chica) - my periodontist put me through several invasive white-knuckle procedures, but he says I don’t need skin grafts yet, so that’s good news. The moral of the story is, if your dentist tells you to wear a night guard because you grind your teeth, pay attention.
Instead of gum surgery, my lifestyle upgrades were actually good. I had the idea of making Noelie a box fort, which rapidly expanded into the four-story folly that she has now. Extremely fun. We put up a plant stand and a hummingbird feeder on the porch. There were others, as I outlined earlier this week, but either of these things would count as a significant improvement over gum surgery, am I right?
My “Do the Obvious” was to plan around constant travel, since my hubby was on business travel over 50% of 2019. We sort of got the exact opposite of that. Very funny, 2020. The Do the Obvious that we actually did was to stay indoors, distance from people, and wear our masks.
My ultralearning project was to learn Dutch. That went to the same place that many people’s 2020 goals went, which was into a puff of vapor. Strangely, I did wind up doing a huge ultralearning project, which was to get up to speed on several software titles for my new job. I had to learn how to use VPN, learn all the new versions of the Microsoft Office software I hadn’t really used in a decade plus Teams, learn to administer our SharePoint sites, learn to use the video editing software, learn Jira and Confluence, and of course all the procedural things like our timecard system. Next year will be much more of the same, as I’m slated to learn a bunch of advanced Excel features, Tableau, data visualization, Microsoft Project, and that’s just first quarter. This place moves fast. (Take notes if you’re looking for a job; I’ve just listed off a bunch of hot skills that you can study at home).
My quest was to start training for the ultramarathon I want to run at age 50. After COVID-19, I may never run anywhere ever again. Hard to say. I am more motivated than I was before, though, because running even a mile would mean I can get my lungs back.
My wish was to get a publishing deal. I fully believe I could have pulled this off. Other people did even though there was a global pandemic, so I can’t even use that as an excuse. Will I ever do this, now that I have a regular-people job again? No idea. I still want to but I don’t see how I could fit it around my current schedule.
I had just finished putting together my ten-year goals for the first time, and I was pretty excited about them. They all seemed so, so possible on January First of 2020. Looking them over after this strange year that we’ve all had, they don’t actually seem completely IMpossible... I think ten years from now, all this pandemic stuff will be behind us. (Maybe we’ll have a different one between now and then, but hopefully everyone will have learned from the experience and we’ll be smarter and more careful). Anyway, in spite of it all, in spite of isolation and our tiny apartment and everything else, we did manage to put in a garden. That’s one ten-year goal, nine years ahead of schedule. Go us.
Personal: Body transformation - lol
Career: Learn how to do webinars - SUCCESS
Physical: Weight at 125 lbs. - FAIL
Home: Automation project - SUCCESS
Couples: Build an app together - NO PROGRESS
Stop goal: Stop procrastinating on text messages and voicemail - SUCCESS
Lifestyle upgrades: Probably gum surgery - SUCCESS+
Do the Obvious: Plan around constant travel - lol
Ultralearning: Dutch language - NO PROGRESS
Quest: 50 for 50 ultramarathon! (2025) - NO PROGRESS
Wish: Publishing deal! - NO PROGRESS
2030 - Ten Year Goals and Resolutions
Personal: Silver Fox project
Career: Published author
Physical: 50 for 50 ultramarathon!
Home: Buy a house to live in
Couples: Camping, hiking, backpacking, and bicycling together
Stop goal: Stop procrastinating in general
Lifestyle upgrades: A garden - SUCCESS
Do the Obvious: Plan around constant travel
Ultralearning: Write screenplays
Quest: Visit Antarctica
A lifestyle upgrade is anything that makes your life better, easier, more comfortable, more interesting, more fun - or anything else that you decide is an improvement over whatever you had before.
This idea totally turned around how I think about my New Year’s planning. When other people hear ‘resolution’ they tend to think of something like “quit biting your nails.” I think “lifestyle upgrade.” What am I going to do next year that will be better than what I did this year?
Lifestyle upgrades can come in many forms.
You can get rid of an annoyance, and that will be a lifestyle upgrade.
You can change something you’re doing, even in a small way, and that could be a lifestyle upgrade.
You can replace an object or rearrange a room, and that could be a lifestyle upgrade.
You can learn to do something new, and that might be a lifestyle upgrade.
You can make a new friend, and that would most likely be a fantastic lifestyle upgrade.
It’s possible you could spend money and buy something that might be a lifestyle upgrade - but most of the best ones don’t cost anything at all. Some lifestyle upgrades can actually come from spending less money than you were before.
(An example of that might be learning to make better coffee at home instead of paying more for a to-go cup).
(But then again, if it streamlined your morning, spending more for the to-go cup each day might be the real upgrade).
The most important feature of a lifestyle upgrade is that it improves *your* life. It’s not necessarily something trendy that works for other people.
It’s not something you do in service to someone else, unless you truly thrive on that and it ripples back to you in some way.
A lifestyle upgrade is not something you feel like you “should” do to get an A+ on your report card.
The way you know you’ve hit upon a lifestyle upgrade is that you just really dig it. It becomes a habit almost immediately, because you realize you like it so much better than what you were doing before. An example would be throwing away your old flat brown pillow and replacing it with a new one that fits you exactly right.
If lifestyle upgrades cost anything at all, it’s funny how often it’s under $10. Like a new kitchen sponge.
I like focusing on lifestyle upgrades, because it’s the most upbeat and fastest way to demonstrate the value of doing an annual review, planning, and making resolutions.
These are some of the lifestyle upgrades that my hubby and I implemented in 2020.
We decided to only watch movies if they rated at least 70% on Rotten Tomatoes. There were just too many occasions when we watched something with a good preview, and it turned out to make no sense or have giant plot holes. Then it would turn out that this great movie we had been so excited about only rated a 55%. It is crazy how much of a lifestyle upgrade it is to quit watching lame movies.
We also decided to watch a documentary once a week. Usually the documentary is both funnier and more interesting than whatever fictional film we’ve chosen. Documentaries are usually also short.
I learned to cut my hubby’s hair, and then I learned to cut my own. Surprisingly satisfying.
We switched to a new boarder for my little gray parrot. They’re closer, better organized, nicer, cleaner, and they do a better job on grooming. My bird is much less stressed when she goes over there. I think they’re also maybe a dollar cheaper.
We gave away a bunch of stuff, including two tables, a box of wooden hangers, some books for the Little Free Library, and a distressed plant.
We rearranged the stuff on our tiny balcony and put up a planter and a hummingbird feeder. (Anniversary gift). This completely transformed, not just the outside space, but our living room too. Now we get three species of hummingbirds and four other species of passerines coming by from sunrise to sunset.
We started using a humidifier next to the bed at night. Almost instantaneously we both stopped having sneezing fits. It’s hard to say whether it was the dry air, distant wildfire smoke, or smog, but we hadn’t realized how bad it had gotten until it went away.
I moved our whiteboard to the hallway and hung it on the wall, instead of having it stand on a bookcase. It looks better where it is, it’s easier to use, and the space where it used to be looks much better without it. Moving it took a total of 15 minutes.
I rearranged the cabinets under the kitchen sink and the bathroom sink, the linen closet, and the fridge. Same space, same dinky apartment, totally new satisfaction when looking for stuff that is now easy to find.
We started getting produce delivered again, through the same service we’ve used off and on for ten years. Better for the farm, marginally less expensive, and it cuts our grocery trips in half. Hopefully that is safer for the grocery clerks, the delivery driver, our community - and us, of course.
We built Noelie a cardboard box fort. It started as one box, then two, then three. Now it’s four stories high and has six “rooms.” This has been a massive lifestyle upgrade for her, but also for us. It’s stupidly entertaining and it takes little more than assessing boxes while we sort the recycling.
We started going to a local park on the weekend when the weather is nice enough. This park is big enough that we can pick a spot to sit away from the paths, and nobody comes within thirty feet of us. It’s about a three-mile round trip. Hanging out there helps us feel like we got out and did something, and helps avoid the feeling that the walls are closing in. Since we started doing these walks, we’ve seen a few hawks, a coyote, and an owl.
We decided to stretch out our holiday meals and only cook a couple of dishes each night, rather than spend all day trying to replicate a buffet. Magic. We are definitely doing it this way forevermore.
I got a job! My first formal day job in over ten years. I knew I would want, no, NEED something to do during isolation, which I thought might last three years. It would give me a social outlet too. It has felt great to be back in the game, I’ve made friends, and it’s psychologically really meaningful to me to have life insurance on myself. I’m very busy and often pretty tired, but overall, getting a new job has probably been the biggest lifestyle upgrade of them all.
Notice that almost everything we did as a lifestyle upgrade is free of charge. A couple of things wound up saving us money, like going to the park on weekends instead of the movie theater. (Although that is a side effect of the same 2020 that everyone else has been having). The few things we bought, like the hummingbird feeder and the humidifier, can be purchased for under ten bucks).
Part of my New Year’s planning is to think of more lifestyle upgrades for the upcoming year. What lifestyle upgrades are you going to make?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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