2014 Review 1: Checklists

For those of you who celebrate it, Merry Christmas!

It is nearing the end of 2014, and it feels like a packed year. I want to unpack that feeling over the next week with a series of posts for my annual review that I think helped me make the best use of time to accomplish things, but to also notice, appreciate, and learn from intentional and random experiences. The first set of posts is what I generally call The Lists, Reflections, and Approaches; the second is the collections of Important Things to Mention. Here it goes!

Checklists: Measurable Assessment

Back in elementary school, we used to do lists of things we accomplished that year and goals for the next year. Since the teacher changed every year, we never compared what we wrote to what we did, but the point of the exercise was to practice reflection and imagination and our teachers took that pretty seriously.

Since I knew I was going to be unemployed after May, and thus didn’t have work accomplishments or growing savings to assess my ‘productivity’, I made a list of things I wanted to do so I could at least measure something by the end of the year. I began writing this list in January and added up until about April, just before I started to travel.

My goal list for 2014:

  • Finish Code Academy
  • Finish my Website (photo)
  • Finish my website (portfolio / blog)
  • 50 blog posts
  • Finish Yan & Coco’s Site
  • Finish Manifesto
  • JLPT 3
  • Chinese Language Exam
  • 50 new places
  • Record 10 amazing dishes
  • Record 20 irreplaceable memories
  • Cycle 1000 km
  • Learn to Build a Bike

Tip #1: Write the list on something you always access and know you’ll be using in a year’s time: Facebook, Gmail, Google Keep, Wunderlist, Asana. If you’re serious, make it measurable: hold yourself to a number, a test, a level. If you look at it often enough, you’ll get at least one thing done.

Measuring and Assessing

Accomplished:

  • Finish a live Vo.1 of my Website
  • Finish Yan & Coco’s Site
  • Finish Manifesto
  • 50 new places
  • Record 10 amazing dishes
  • Record 20 irreplaceable memories
  • Cycled 1000 km

On the Way:

  • Finish Code Academy
  • 50 blog posts
  • Chinese Language Exam
  • Learn to Build a Bike

Never Touched

  • JLPT 3
  • Finish my website (photo)

Tip #2: Aim to meet the targets, but decide case by case whether they were realistic, and by extention, whether you’re happy with your results. It’s hard to guess what a realistic number is if you’ve never done it!

Part of me is surprised I got through this much, and I realise now that going after one usually helped me in another. Cycling 1000 km, for example, linked itself to many of the new places and irreplaceable memories I had.

Some people like to set goals that are realistic, and then their reaches. That’s also a good way to go. When I set goals, some I set automatically as a reach, and some I set as an easy milestone. The reason I would choose a reach, such as 50 blog posts, is because I knew that was roughly one post a week, and if I could get going, then it was an easy thing to remind myself to do. However, for something such as cycling, I knew that accomplishing a meaningful and manageable first milestone was important since I was just starting out. Some things need carrots, and some need sticks; decide which is best for you in the context! Go with your gut, and while you shouldn’t tweek your numbers when assessing yourself, you can make more realistic projects for the next year.

Tip #3: Set carrots or sticks based on how you work, and which would motivate you better for the task ahead.

Tip #4: For next year, find a better sweet spot for meaningful challenges that push you, but won’t be discouraging.

The ones I finished I’m proud of, but the ones I’m more interested in are the ones I’m ‘on the way’ for. This is because they revealed to me things I hadn’t considered when I made the goals. I didn’t progress at all in Code Academy’s courses, but I did end up searching GitHub for relevant code for my websites and the products I wanted to try doing an MVP for. I talked to developer friends, and they’ve taught me piecemeal, relevant, information. I’ve gotten to the point where I know I need proper foundational knowledge. I didn’t accomplish the goal per se, but it was a proxy for me wanting to learn to code, which I found another way to do, and I have a website or two to show for it.

I’m nowhere near the Chinese Language Exam, or the 50 blog posts, since I started blogging in October this year. However, I am productively working my way towards improving my Chinese, which was the point of making the exam a goal. By starting a bilingual blog, I am able to practice more than I ever was before, and while I am not learning 50 new words a week, I am getting a much better handle of how to use vocabulary and grammar structures that I only vaguely knew before. I am finding the learning more meaningful, because I truly can demonstrate command of a language, which I am not confident passing an exam would prove.

And even though I haven’t built a bike yet, I have learned a lot more about my bike this year while packing it and moving it across continents multiple times. I know I’m keen enough to learn some day, so I’ll keep it on my list until I get there. Some goals take more than a year to do, and that’s okay.

Tip #5: The things you didn’t finish, or didn’t do are great places to start asking yourself questions about why you started, finished, or how you found alternatives. A list is for getting you to do things, so you have something to reflect on.

For the ones that I’ve never touched, I don’t feel that I’ve wasted my time, even if I could have worked ‘harder’ and ‘more productively’ to squeeze them in. Instead, I feel as though I was meaningfully occupied enough. It turns out this list naturally separated the things I thought I was interested in, and the ones I was really keen on finishing, at least for 2014.

Tip #6: Some goals are for 1 year, and others are long term. Leave the long-term ones on until they’re done!

The most important thing was that I started the year proactively by defining where I wanted to go. Defining isn’t limiting, but rather reference points that help me make decisions on what to do, and work to accomplish the things that I wanted to. By defining some of the year, I also helped to define the milestones that I could feel proud of and remember the year for.

That’s it for this post! The next post is on creating and remembering defining memories, big or small.

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