Life Organization Part 3 – Yearly Goals

Note: This is in a series of posts, and as the others are written, I’ll update a table of contents with links to the whole series here.

Part 1: What is Life Organization? Why do it?
Part 2: Life Goals
Part 3: Yearly Goals

Having some long-term goals is important, but without a plan to achieve them, they always remain in the distance without moving closer. In the previous article in this series, we looked at the method I’ve used to lay out these larger goals. Now, we’ll break them down into more manageable chunks.

Why Yearly?

A lot of people come up with New Years resolutions for themselves, finding that changing over to a new year and coming back to work after some major holidays is a great point to set up new habits. It’s convenient, but not always effective. Many people who seem to have a lot of success with their resolutions in January have completely forgotten them by May.

Years are still a great length of time to plan. They are finite and fixed, but still long enough that you can get a lot done towards whatever longer term goals you have.

I recommend not waiting until New Years Day to decide what you want to do for the upcoming year, though it doesn’t hurt to read through your plans that day.

Creating Yearly Goals

There’s some overlap here with lifelong goals, as there probably ought to be. After all, if you are going to be accomplishing something, it needs to be accomplished at a particular point in time. To make part of a larger goal into a yearly goal isn’t to say you have all year to achieve it (though you may). It simply means that it will be accomplished at some point during the year. I’ll have some thoughts about how to help make this more likely in the next post on planning a year. For now, the focus is on the goals themselves.

The first step I take is to look at my lifelong goals. Are there any I can do this year? Are there any parts of a goal I could contribute to?

Once I have those things identified, I try to balance each of the seven categories (see the previous article) of goals for the year. After that, I break down the goals even further, trying to figure out what major steps need to be accomplished to get the whole thing completed. Sometimes this isn’t necessary. Other times it can’t be helped.

For example, one of my perennial goals is to be on time to and have a good attitude about all of my commitments with a good attitude. I made them, after all. There’s no point in breaking this down; it’s pretty straightforward and uncomplicated, even if difficult at times.

On the other hand, one of my lifelong goals is to learn new things. This is ambiguous, so I’ve broken it down even at a long-term level into categories like “learn Latin” and “learn Statistics”. I also want to consistently read (and truly understand) a lot of books. At a yearly level, this breaks down into a list of the books I actually want to read. This means the yearly goal might fluctuate a little bit as I discover new books or decide not to read a book in the end, but this is infrequent.

The Next Step

After you have all of your yearly goals listed out, you should find yourself with a list that looks a lot like your lifelong goals, but less grand in scale and less comprehensive. In the next article, we’ll look at what to do with this concrete set of goals and how to plan your year out to actually get them done.

Life Organization Part 2 – Life Goals

Note: This is in a series of posts, and as the others are written, I’ll update a table of contents with links to the whole series here.

Part 1: What is Life Organization? Why do it?
Part 2: Life Goals
Part 3: Yearly Goals

In the first part of this series, we covered the meaning of life organization – as far as I use the term – and looked at what constitutes a goal. This time, we’ll focus on the sorts of lifelong goals everyone should be thinking about.

The Seven Types of Goals

You’ve probably heard of Dave Ramsey and recognize him for the popular financial advice he gives. While his work in finance is great on its own, I mention him here because I think he’s created an eminently useful breakdown of the sorts of lifelong goals everyone should have.

Dave list seven categories which broadly cover anything you can think of, and which he labels the “Wheel of Life”:

  1. Career
  2. Financial
  3. Spiritual
  4. Physical
  5. Intellectual
  6. Family
  7. Social

There are two things to keep in mind with these categories. First, it is important to have goals in every category. These may change over time, but you should still have a long-term plan to grow in every one of the seven respects.

Second, there must be a healthy balance between each of these focuses. This balance is not merely spending the appropriate amounts of time on each category, although it is not less than that either. Balance also includes how we prioritize them, and which we are willing to postpone and which we are not.

You need goals in each of the categories. Even better, you need a short but unambiguous description of where you want to be in a few decades (depending on your age). Do you want to be married with at least three children, all of whom you spend time with and for whom you’ve built a home? That’s both short and unambiguous. You can’t fudge the number of kids you have or the presence or absence of a home.

In 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about the need in everyone’s life for a “personal constitution”. A good format for that is to create the aforementioned summaries in the seven categories and write them down.

The purpose of doing all of this is to figure out the destination you are trying to arrive at. It isn’t a prerequisite to living a great life or doing important things, but I think for most people, it increases the chances of doing either of those things.

How to Find Life Goals

None of the life management gurus I’ve read has ever said this – probably in some cases to preserve an audience – but I don’t think everyone is naturally prepared to figure out what their own life goals should be. Until you figure out what matters most in life and what the purpose of life is in the first place, it’s all a waste of time.

If you want to figure out what your life goals ought to be, you need to ask some more fundamental questions first: Why are we here? Where do we go when we die? How do I know the difference between right and wrong? What does it mean to live well?

Providing thorough answers to these questions is not the topic of this post (but it may be for future posts). The short answers are:

  • We are here to worship God in fellowship with Him, and this can be done only through Jesus.
  • Where we go depends on whether we trust Jesus for our salvation. Whether we trust Jesus for our salvation depends in part on whether we think we need salvation (we do).
  • We can know right from wrong through both special and general revelation; from both Scripture and through nature and natural law.
  • To live well is to live in accordance with our nature as being created in the image of God. To live well is to pursue God in all things, from eating, exercise, and reading to worship and charity.

Only by having correct answers to these questions can we begin to know what sort of life goals we should create. That doesn’t mean it becomes easy to figure out what you should pursue in the seven categories. It means it is possible to make the right choices.

It will take time.

Examples of Life Goals

I’ve spent about a decade trying to refine my life goals, and I can offer up a few of them as examples, as well as describe the way I keep track of them.

I use Microsoft’s OneNote for a lot, but one of the original things I did with it was keep track of goals. It’s still the primary reason I use it. I’ve created a notebook called “Goals” where I keep track of my lifelong goals. I keep track of yearly goals, notes and articles related to the process of setting good goals, and checklists that help me plan my days, weeks, months, and years, but those are all for a later article in this series.

Part of my section for “intellectual goals” looks a bit like this:

Intellectual Success

  • Learn New Things
    • Learn how to write classical genres of music
      • Learn how to write fugues
      • Learn how to write chorales
    • Learn Latin
      • Finish reading through and doing the homework in my Latin textbook
  • Learn Piano
    • Practice multiple times a week
    • Learn individual pieces
      • Learn Kansas’ “Point of Know Return”

The section is larger than this, but it’s all the same format. I have the category (“Intellectual success”) broken down into specific goals. Each of those is broken down further as necessary.

For me, it was easier to list more things I might want to do than I’d ever have time for and then prune the things that weren’t as important to me. You’ll have to find a way that works for you.

Once you’ve got your goals listed at this high level, you’re ready for the next step: figuring out how to contribute to each one this year. But that’s for next time!


Life Organization Part 1 – What is it? Why do it?

Note: This is the first in a series of posts, and as the others are written, I’ll update a table of contents with links to the whole series here.

Part 1: What is Life Organization? Why do it?
Part 2: Life Goals
Part 3: Yearly Goals

For the first 20 years of my life, I didn’t make much of an effort to keep myself organized. My parents did most of the work and were better at it, so why even bother?

As I completed college, however, I realized that I would just drift through life if I didn’t sit down and figure out what my goals were and how to achieve them. This began as it probably does for a lot of people: I had really lofty dreams and I wanted to make them reality. Over several years, I read hundreds of articles and several books on the topic of life management and organization, and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the ideal system.

After getting married, and especially as my wife and I began to have children, I changed my approach completely. This post is the first in an intended series of what my new method is, and why I think it works better.

What is “Life Organization”?

Planners and calendars are more common than people in the Western world. Everyone who has a smartphone has at least one (I’m not among this group just yet, but I’m told by my wife that I am an endangered species). But a planner or calendar alone is not the whole crux of what this term means.

Admittedly, “life organization” sounds too simple and too simplistic. Life, in truth, cannot be organized comprehensively. Nor should it be.

For our purposes, the term “life management” means the tools, methods, and behaviors a person uses to keep track of and accomplish their long-term goals. It involves figuring out what your own goals are, creating a plan to achieve them, and learning to stick by your plan even when you don’t want to.

Dreams vs Goals

If you’ve ever attended a high school graduation, you will have heard teachers and students alike speak of the virtues of “pursuing your dreams”.

But what if your dreams are bad? What if they are truly impossible? What if the risk of failure isn’t worth the pursuit?

These are the sorts of questions you are not allowed to ask, but which are important to answer. They can change the whole course of a life.

Goals are a bit different than dreams. Instead of being esoteric and ambiguous, goals must be concrete. This is best demonstrated by way of example:

Dream: I want to be important.
Goal: I want to own my own company.

Even in this example, the goal could use a lot of definition. What sort of company? What products or services will be produced? Will you simply have a managerial role in the company? Is this a company you will start on your own or acquire from someone else? By what date does this need to be accomplished?

These questions may seem to suck the fun out of making goals, but in truth, they infuse the goals with purpose, realistic constraint, and urgency. Without asking and answering such questions, you’ll never achieve the goals except by accident. I wouldn’t want to plan on my greatest accomplishments being achieved by accident. I don’t think you’d want to do that either.

An even better example is this:

Dream: I want to be a famous musician.
Goal: Within ten years, I want to play piano with the proficiency of a concert pianist and I want to be performing in city-level orchestras.

This goal is lofty, but achievable. It has a time limit to give it some urgency and to help you plan year-by-year what you need to do to achieve it. It has concrete objectives (playing in a concert is a real and tangible thing; having a level of proficiency can be further expanded to listing pieces of music that, when performed without error, prove it).

Why spend the time doing it?

You don’t have an infinite amount of time in this life. If you want to make the most of it, you need to know what “making the most of it” means. What are the greatest things you can do and how can you do them? This is the heart of life organization.

Planning too much is just as bad as not planning enough, and most of us are guilty of doing one or the other. Everyone needs to plan and organize their time effectively, but not waste time in the process. There’s no secrete formula here, and it will be a lot of hard, irritating, headache-inducing work.

In the coming weeks, I plan to continue this series by discussing what sort of life goals you ought to establish, how to break those goals up yearly, how to use a planner and calendar to accomplish the tasks required, how to cultivate the behaviors and rituals you will need to succeed at them, and anything else I can think of that’s on-topic.