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New Year’s Resolutions

Filed under: General,Hacking,Life — Thomas @ 12:26


I used to make fun of people making new year's resolutions. Why decide some loftly goals quickly on the last day of the year only to break them a month after ? How many people that quit smoking on New Year's Day actually make it through a year ? Why put yourself through the ridicule of your friends like that ?

But last year on one of those rare weekend days I was taking stock of my life I did come up with some things that I wanted to get done or improve on. And as the end of the year was approaching, I was wondering how I could make these goals attainable. How could I make the ridiculous concept of New Year's Resolutions work for me ?

I theorized that, for them to work, I needed:

  • goals that I actually want, that are missing from my life
  • some alignation with where I want my life to go
  • some concrete target for that goal
  • a way to check my progress against the goal
  • a commitment (to myself or others) that these goals are important and take precedence

For long-term life goals, I want to enjoy more culture, enjoy life, and be healthier.

Roughly, these were the resolutions I made:

  • standup comedy: I've always been interested in going to see it, and for some reason I never do. And when I see stuff on TV I keep thinking I should go. Culture and enjoying life.
  • dance more tango: a requirement before we go to Argentina IMO. Culture and enjoying life.
  • cook more: I very much enjoy cooking, and I'm not bad at it either, but I want to get better at it. Culture and enjoying life.
  • rerip and organise my music collection: since moving to Barcelona I have bought 400 CD's that aren't in any computer, and everything else is all over the place. Enjoying life.
  • learn catalan. Culture.
  • see more movies Culture.
  • sleep before midnight: I am a perpetual late sleeper, and I need to start changing my sleeping patterns. Health.
  • improve my GTD use: I'm getting good at it, but I'm sure I can make this work better for me. Health (mentally) and enjoying life.
  • sports - play basketball again. Health.

Why does it help to make these resolutions ? Because it turns into an easy list that helps you make decisions at those times where you need to decide something quickly or are making plans for the week.

Do you stay at home reading books or find someone to go to the movies with ? Movies is a goal, so go. Do I accept a job interview meeting on Tuesday at 15:00 or do I stick to the basketball planned ? If I'm behind on basketball, then the meeting needs to move. Shall I eat out tonight ? If I'm behind on cooking, then no. It's actually liberating for an eternal undecider like me to just decide based on goals set earlier.

So, with that list in mind, I formulated some more concrete goals for some of them:

  • standup comedy: go see four shows this year. Let's start gentle, you have to get tickets well in advance over here.
  • cook more: cook at least one meal a week. Ambitious, given my life, but worth trying.
  • rerip and organise my music collection: no concrete goal set, since this is a project that's been on my mind for a long time, and code will need to be written.
  • tango: since dancing requires Kristien taking lessons, let's start there. 2 courses of tango classes this year. Good goal since there are only three courses.
  • learn catalan: no concrete goal set. The voice in the back of my head suggested I spend at least an hour reading through language courses, but I didn't actually set that as a goal. Probably shows a lack of real commitment to the goal!
  • see 40 movies
  • sleep before midnight: do so half of the working week days. Not that easy a goal at all, since my two flights a week usually have me land pretty close to that mark. To make it easier to track, and allow to make up in weekends, this comes down to 2.5 days in 52 weeks, or 130 days.
  • improve my GTD use: lower number of open tasks over time.
  • basketball: play 26 times in a year

An important part for me is to take stock once in a while. Where was I when July started, halfway through the year ?

  • standup comedy: 3 shows seen, 2 planned for July: 100% completed!
  • cook 52 meals: 18 times. I cheated by also counting the 6 meal course on New Year's Eve (only as 1 though). so, 69% there, and I need to step it up to make it.
  • rerip and reorganise music: even though there is no concrete goal set, I'm well on my way. I have various projects going on, from writing a correct ripper (which Linux still lacks) to getting Lego Mindstorms sets to create a CD ripping robot to reviving the old DAD project into a new Django-based one to finally writing a decent mixer... Wondering if I should set as a goal something like 'rip all newly bought CD's to FLAC using a robot and importing and rating them in the new DAD'. I'd rate myself halfway there right now, but some stepping up is required.
  • learn catalan. As I said, no goal set. Practically speaking, didn't do anything realistically useful. I need to either drop the goal or set a concrete task.
  • tango: one class taken, one class booked for september onwards. so, on track for 100%
  • see 40 movies: saw exactly 20 in the first half of the year! on track for 100%
  • sleep before midnight: as I feared, pretty pathetic. I don't have a complete tracking, but looks like I managed 18 times out of 140. That's like 36% by the end of the year if I keep this up! However, I seem to be cutting it close all the time: 20 times between midnight and 00:15, and 17 times between 00:15 and 00:30. I could have made the goal if I went half an hour to bed earlier, on average. Need more resolve!
  • improve GTD use: I was missing the tools to track this goal, so I wrote some. I need to fine-tune them a little, so I can better see how I'm doing each day. Sadly, for now, they seem to indicate my task list is growing. I need to better define the goal I'm working towards to - something like 'over time reduce the number of U:3 to U:5 tasks in the queue'
  • basketball: we finally got together at work with a few people, and now rent a court weekly. I managed to get there 10 times, so 77% so far. I specifically set the bar low to only half of the weeks, knowing that I have all sorts of roadblocks for going to play: emergency meetings, not being in Barcelona, Spanish fickleness (like, the guy not showing up at all because it rained a little in the morning), and so on. Still, I should be able to make this goal by the end of the year, possibly by playing some more here in Belgium on the court in front of the apartment.

So, half-year status:

  • 1 goal already completed! (comedy)
  • 3 goals clearly on track for completion (tango and movies), a third not well defined but probably getting there (music)
  • 2 goals around 70% (cooking and basket), could still be made if I really step it up
  • flunking 2 goals clearly; learning catalan and sleeping before midnight. Need to seriously consider what to do about them.
  • 1 goal did not have the tools required to measure properly; now need to actually track the task again.


  • the measurable goals seem to be easier to attain - setting a clear way to track progress clearly helps following through on your commitment.
  • it is important to track those measurable goals - I wouldn't have guessed I made the movies one for example from memory. Also, writing them down makes it feel like an achievement.
  • the tasks that seem to be set more by my conscience than by my desires seem to languish (sleep and catalan). Clearly I need a better conscience or re-evaluate the tasks.
  • one task without concrete goals is getting done anyway, just because it's been a long desire to get it done (music). Still, it would help me focus to set a concrete goal.
  • concrete objectives can be re-evaluated in light of the desired goal. For example, the original goal was to be healthier by doing more sports. I picked basketball because I always liked it - but if needed, I could redefine the goal in terms of another sport if that makes it more attainable - as long as I don't cheat by making the goal easier.

So, next things to consider for me:

  • start thinking up new or extended resolutions for next year
  • decide what to do with Catalan - leaning towards forcing myself an hour a week for the next weeks
  • do end of September evalutation
  • cook more than once a week.
  • get to bed just a little bit earlier!

Anal-retentive - moi ?

But enough about me, let's talk about you. What goals did you set this year ? How are you doing on them ? What helps you stick to them ?

PS: completing this blog post marks another U:4 task of my GTD list, yay for me!


  1. I’m not sure sitting on your arse watching films is a good goal?

    Comment by Bob Bobson — 2009-08-16 @ 13:06

  2. Bob,

    is it a better goal than sitting on your arse commenting on other people’s goals ?

    Comment by Thomas — 2009-08-17 @ 12:26

  3. I also started doing new year resolutions this year. Maybe not quite as ambitious as you, but as you mentioned it is important to keep them realistic.

    After reading the GTD book recently I figured that the NYRs are just one more list which help you to make quick decisions and clear your head. I did the first review after three months, which was clearly to early, so the next one will be end of this month:


    I think the August review will be more successful.

    Comment by Christof — 2009-08-16 @ 13:30

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