What is Wrong With Your New Year’s Resolutions

Spoiler alert: There’s too many of them.

Some of us are cursed with a delusion that the day has more than 24 hours. For some reason, we think we can get more done in the future than the now. And this is usually the type of resolutions we’d make:

Realistically, could someone achieve all of this? Could you? I don’t think I could. In fact, I’m positive I would fail before January’s end. The load is just too heavy. When attention and focus gets overly fragmented the risk of stress and burnout increases. This is specially true for difficult and worthwhile objectives. Everyone has a unique threshold that separates getting things done and burning yourself out. You have to find your own balance, where the load is not too heavy, slowing meaningful progress, and not too light, where plateaus and comfort zones live.

When you make several simultaneous ambitious goals you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and terrible frustration. This is not to say don’t start that new side project, don’t learn a new language. On the contrary, I think you should go for it! Pushing your boundaries is the only growth process. Yet, if you try to expand your borders on all fronts, chances are you won’t make significant progress in any direction.

Personally, I like to apply data to my decisions. How much can I realistacally do in a day? How much work encourages me? How much work discourages me? How much time and energy each project/goal/objective requires? What are the short-term and long-term consequences of each daily activities?

This leads us to…

Tracking

Activities

To find your baseline it’s important to track, even if roughly, the duration of your daily tasks. A relatable example is exercising. For the first two week you can get a feel for how long each workout takes (including things before and after like driving to the gym.) This is very efficient to see where you are investing your time. We think we know where all our time goes, but you’d be surprised if you take a look at the data.

Energy level

There‘s no need to review your activity log at the end of each day. You will analyze them in bulk eventually. However, I highly recommend you journal each night your energy level and how much you think you’ve accomplished for that day. This metric will be useful for finding your productivity sweet spot.

At the end of a couple of weeks you should have a good estimate of how much time and energy each activity will cost you and the effect it has on your day. Eg.: Exercising at the gym 3x a week costs me 6 hours/week and has a positive effect on my day (based on my journal entries.)

Effectiveness

With data in hand, check both ends of the spectrum. On your most productive day, how much did you get done? How many activities were on your plate and most importantly, how did you feel about them? Let’s not confuse productivity with busyness. You want to be effective and creative, not push numbers all day. Trust me, the latter will not bring you satisfaction.

The Art of finding your sweet spot

This is the fun part. How much time on work or habit building activities did you do on your easy going days? How many on your most stressful day? Review the emotions that drove you and the ones that discouraged you. What did you do those days? Generally speaking we have ~16 hours a day. How many of those hours were spent doing:

  • Busy work
  • Fun creative work
  • Stressful responsibilities
  • Recreation activities

How much of your day is made of challenges? How much is on maintenance?

Finding a balance is not easy. But if you can reverse engineer yourself to be more effective, it’s worth the effort.

Broaden the right boundaries

Know what makes you happy. Learn how much of it is beneficial. Recognize how much you can realistically do. Do not attempt to do everything at once. Remember these wise words from David Allen:

You Can Do Anything, But Not Everything.