Hello! Hi! It’s not 2020 anymore!
I hope you had a safe and restful holiday season and that you’re ready to approach 2021 with vigor and creativity.
Younger Nathan used to scoff at New Years’ Resolutions (calendars are an arbitrary measure of time after all… yeah I was that guy), but the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve come to appreciate that the end of the year and the rituals around the holidays are a good time to take stock and reorient for the year ahead.
Easier said than done! Sometimes it’s hard to clear your head enough to take stock, and it’s easy to let those amorphous inner nags like “I should probably be healthier” melt away into one’s seasonal affective disorder.
I’m going to share my approach for taking stock of the ecosystem of my life and distilling my vague hopes for the year into the changes I want to make, the projects I want to push forward, and how I plan to make sure I’m on track.
Here’s a framework that you can download, along with examples of how I’ve filled mine out so far. (Click File -> Download within the Google Sheet if you’d like to fill out your own)
Start with your values
What do you really care about? What are the absolute most important things to you in life, the things that anchor you and give your life meaning?
Maybe it’s your family. Maybe it’s making mountains of money. Maybe it’s seeking thrills and adrenaline rushes.
Drill down as deep as possible and make a list because these things will be your guiding lights as you construct your goals.
For reference, here are the things I value the most in life:
- Family, Friends, and Relationships
- Challenge and Personal Growth
- Social Justice
You don’t see, for instance, “books.” I think it’s helpful to think beyond projects at this stage and instead get in touch with why certain projects or jobs appeal to you. For me, writing books is a huge challenge and it sparks my creativity, which I really enjoy. But writing screenplays might accomplish that too! It’s really creativity that’s important to me.
Also, you don’t see “money.” That’s because while I certainly would rather have money than not have money, I don’t organize my life around it beyond a certain level of self-sufficiency. Money is important to me for the security it provides and I want to make sure I have enough of it, but it’s not important enough to me to be an end unto itself.
But maybe you value making money as one of your core values. That’s okay too! Just make sure you know what’s really driving you.
I find it really helpful to organize around values because they help you gut check goals and they serve as a great scaffolding for the way you envision your life.
I also find it helpful to write a “mission statement” that helps me visualize how I want to live in accordance with my values, such as “I will endeavor through my work and personal life to make the world a better place and to fight for a more just society” for my Social Justice value.
Choose your goals
Again, set aside projects for a minute. Think about what you want to achieve and who you want to be at the end of the year.
Maybe you want to be in better shape. Maybe you want to increase your business or find a more fulfilling job.
For instance, here are a few of my 2021 goals and the values they’re associated with:
- Double my author services business revenue (Challenge and Personal Growth)
- Find my creative direction and push projects forward (Creativity)
- Seek out experiences and art that inspire me and spark new ideas. (Creativity)
- End 2021 in better physical shape than I started (Health)
- Make a meaningful impact with causes I care about (Social Justice)
What challenges do you want to focus on in 2021? When you ring in New Year’s Eve, what would you love to toast to?
Think about how to achieve your goals
Now start thinking about how you want to accomplish your goals. This is where you can start tracking individual projects, such as finishing your novel or working out consistently.
Don’t just think in terms of discrete projects though, also think about sustainable systems that will help you achieve the goal.
For instance, one way I want to seek out new experiences that inspire me is to find more new music to listen to (I played my old playlists so much in 2020 I all but burned a hole through my Spotify app). So I came a “new music system” where I spend some time every Sunday curating a list of new albums, which I listen to while I’m answering emails every morning during the week.
And while I’d love to write a new novel in 2021, what’s more important to me is to find a new creative direction since my current project has hit a stall in the publishing process. So I’m planning to devote at least 8 hours a week to that goal even before I have a new idea.
Make projects actionable and measurable
Once you have your projects in place, you can think about how you can measure success and what you need to do to accomplish your goal. The more you can measure, the more you can see whether you’re on track or off track and whether your systems are working.
For instance, I don’t really track words per week with my writing, I track time spent. That’s because pushing creative projects forward is inherently an uneven process, and besides, what’s more important to me (values!) is sparking my creativity rather than whatever comes of the resulting product.
This is a time to push past what’s amorphous in life and try to measure it! “Spend more time with my friends” is a great project. What are you going to shoot for? How many times per week or month?
Trust me on this one. The more you can measure, the more you can later “adjust your dials” to find what feels right.
Now get it done
When you pair your values, goals, and measurables with my extreme calendaring system… well, you can get a whole lot done, way more than you may have thought possible. You can turn amorphous “shoulds” and “want tos” into discrete steps, build good habits, and have a sense that you’re moving forward in life.
Even more importantly, you’ll feel more fulfilled knowing that the things you’re spending time on are aligned with your values.
Everyone’s different, and it’s so important to find the system that works for you, but I hope you find this approach helpful!
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!
For my best advice, check out my online classes (NEW!), my guide to writing a novel and my guide to publishing a book.
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Art: Sunrise over the Eastern Sea by Fujishima Takeji