Four Steps to a Better New Year

four steps

I am setting off on a new business venture!! I am opening a health club called Resolutions. It will have exercise equipment for the first two weeks of the year and then turn into a bar for the remaining fifty.

A New Year’s tradition, as common as the Rose Bowl Parade or dropping the ball in Times Square, is to resolve to get into shape. This is the year, we tell ourselves. This is the year I am finally going to reach my goal weight. For the first two weeks of January, I see people in the gym I haven’t seen for nearly a year. The aerobics classes are full, the life-cycles busy, and all the weights in use. As time passes, however, the number of people tapers back down to normal and I have the place to myself again.

How are you doing on your resolutions? Are you popping out of bed in the morning just as enthusiastically as on January second? I intentionally delayed posting this article by a couple of weeks so that it would hit just as our New Year’s enthusiasm began to wane. New Year’s resolutions, such as a commitment to exercise, don’t work. I am probably telling you something you already know, something you may even be beginning to feel. According to a number of studies, less than 25% of people stick to their New Year’s resolutions for more than a month. A mere 8% actually see them through to the end of the year.

So, what do we do? If we are interested in self-improvement if we want to end this year in a better position than we started, what do we do? How do we take charge of our lives?

I have been involved in Data Warehousing / Business Intelligence (DW / BI) for roughly twenty-five years with the majority of that time spent as a project manager. Several years back, it occurred to me to apply what I do in my professional life to my personal life. Where in my professional life I am building better systems, in my personal life I am building a better me. What this means in actual practice is to take an agile approach to manage my life.

In this first of three blog posts, I give an overview of my methodology. There are four, relatively simple steps. So, let’s get down to specifics.

Step 1 – Establish Your Strategic Objectives – Who are you? What is your purpose in life? Envision the proverbial deathbed scene, you are at the end of your days looking back on your life. What is it that you see in the days between now and then which will allow you to close your eyes knowing that you lived a life worth the living? This is something only you can answer. It is completely subjective, varying from one person to the next. What are your life’s objectives? These are your strategic objectives.

Step 2 – Translate Your Strategic Objectives to Tactical Plans – Look at each of your strategic objectives and define a course of action on how to achieve them. What are the steps to get to where you want to be? Each of these steps should be quantitative, measurable. My strategic objective, for example, might be to play the guitar well. My tactical plan is to practice a certain number of hours every week. This is something I can measure.

Step 3 – Run a Weekly Personal Sprint – Each week run a personal sprint. The sprint is composed of three parts;

  1. Measure – During the week track the activities in the strategic plan on a personal scorecard. Going back to my example, at the end of each practice session I write down how much time I spent practicing.
  2. Review – Then at the beginning of every week, I review what I did the prior week. How many hours did I spend practicing? Did I practice as much as I had planned? If not, did I set too high a goal or was I simply not as disciplined as I should have been? This insight leads to the next step of the sprint.
  3. Plan – Based on what I have learned in the review as well as considering other demands on my time, I plan the upcoming week. Something may be happening that would prevent me from practicing such as business travel or family commitments. So, I would reduce the hours I plan to practice. I might have some time off from work, in which case I would increase my practice hours. Regardless, I start each week with what I intend to accomplish.

Step 4 – A Monthly Retrospective – Finally, on a monthly basis, I do a retrospective. This is where I review how well I am progressing towards my strategic goals. Is my playing improving? If not, I need to identify the problem. Am I consistently missing my planned goals? Perhaps I am executing on plan, but the assumptions on which I based my plan are incorrect. Once the issue is defined, I make the necessary corrections reflecting this change in my weekly sprint.

I should emphasize two points here. First, tracking and reviewing your activities is critical. Quantitative metrics are not only an objective way to measure your performance, but they also provide accountability. There have been many an evening where I wanted to skip a practice session, but being accountable to the scorecard drove me to my study. Also, by regularly referring to your personal scorecard, you are continually reminding yourself of your strategic objectives.

Second, this should not be an onerous process. Tracking your activity literally should take no more than a minute or two. When you get home from a run, jot down how much time or how far you ran. Just quickly record your performance in your personal scorecard as you complete each activity. The same is also true of your sprint planning session. It should take just a few minutes. Just a few minutes to review your performance over the past week and a minute or two to think about what you are going to do in the upcoming week.

This an approach that has worked for me. Although it is simple, it is not easy. It requires thought and discipline, but it does work.

In next week’s blog, I will discuss the personal scorecard in more detail.

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