There’s a certain kind of internet writer-preneur for whom a big part of the value proposition is the consistency. Their topics may vary to some extent, but one important part of their writing is productivity, consistency, and efficiency. The three who come to mind are Shane Parrish, James Clear, and David Perell.
Both James Clear and David Perell write annual reviews, where they review some of their progress against the goals they set along with other learnings they had and goals for the next year. I think the seductive quality of reading someone else’s annual review is that it makes my brain feel like I can also conduct one — and that in doing so, I will, in some sense, be ‘progressing.’ So the reading itself allows me to enter into that imaginative space and then to imagine some forward momentum.
I never really set annual goals and I’m trying to understand why. A few thoughts:
- I have a feeling, for better or for worse, that setting annual goals would, in some sense, predetermine how I would be spending my time. Even though that time would be, in some sense, be spent doing that which I explicitly have decided I want to do, the idea of pre-blocked time registers in my brain as unfree rather than free time.
- I feel some uncertainty about what I want, and so I feel tension around the relationship between setting and clarifying goals. If I think in major years of growth and progress if the goals I set at the beginning of the year would have been the ‘right’ ones, it feels like the answer is probably a resounding no. In a sense, through a somewhat chaotic process, I continue to clarify the goals over time. And I feel like locking into some goals may lessen the extent to which that exploration happens. Of course there are ways to set process-related goals that are enablers of exploration, but then I feel some resistance to doing so because of the previous point.
- I find it extremely difficult to predict my own energy and ability to complete certain tasks. I’d say in 2013, my ability to do so was essentially non-existent; it improved a lot from working with Eureka; and in the last 2 years or so, I’d say it has probably improved by another 15–20%, but that’s on a low base. I feel resistance here, because setting and failing miserably on goals is often feels more demotivating than simply not setting goals and using my somewhat random emergent process to learn and grow.
- All of the above resistances combine with procrastination — the simple fact that it’s much easier to not set goals, not follow through on them, and not review them, than it is to do so.
I also have some clarity on the fact that there are some activities that I want to pursue in life that do require planning. So for example, if I set a reading goal, I can probably improve the ‘quality’ of what I read, but it’s not like if I don’t have a reading goal that I will simply not read. On the other hand, if I don’t set a goal for traveling, then I may simply not travel. The same goes for visiting or seeing friends who aren’t within striking distance of where I’m living or for spending time with the team in Bihar.
So with all of that said, where does that leave me? How am I thinking about committing or not committing to some set of goals for this year … or over some set of months, since a year is an artificial construct?
What are potential starting points?
- The most obvious place to start would simply be whatever comes to mind, but this has clear flaws
- A better version of the above would be to batch into categories — learning, earning, health, fun, community — and then to set goals accordingly. The goals can be process oriented or outcome oriented.
- Another way of thinking about it is to only focus on enabling habits — anything that I think improves my general well-being and/or functioning in the world. This would be something like — meditating every day or writing everyday or reading everyday or getting 8 hours of sleep everyday.
- Another might be to only focus on a small set of outcomes and then to figure out the process as I go on — i.e., to earn a certain amount of money or publish a piece or something.
- Another might be to only focus on those goals which I feel will not happen unless I plan them — as discussed above.
I guess another unspoken question is what am I trying to maximize for? Is it experienced well-being, learning and growth (regardless of the impact on well-being — also noting that learning and growth can be further broken down), earning and financial stability, productivity, or something else? Assuming that I’m not only aiming to ONLY maximize my life in one domain, what are the tradeoffs I want to make or am willing to make and why?
What would be some examples of the tradeoffs I am probably weighing in setting goals?
- Guaranteed financial security versus full pursuit of meaningful and creative work
- Guaranteed financial security versus pursuit of social justice causes that are important to me
- Fully committing to one broad ‘thing’ versus trying something completely new and out of the box which may change my mind
- Commitment to PP as such versus to other related ideas for which PP may or may not be the best platform
- Spiritual enrichment and commitment to a continual emergent journey versus long-term commitment that is not joyful/meaningful in the short-run but that increases long-term financial flexibility and freedom
Where does all of this leave me? My day needs to start, so I can’t really answer this now, but I also am afraid of not coming back. For now I guess that’s the commitment I can make — to return here.