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Better New Year’s Resolutions Through OKR

How I set myself up for success with my new year’s resolutions

Setting new Year resolutions is a popular tradition that can facilitate self-improvement. Unfortunately, many set unrealistic resolutions and end up forced to give up after only one or two months. After much experimentation, I have gotten better at succeeding with my resolutions, so I share how I set myself up for success with my resolutions in this post.

I generally follow CGP Grey's advice and set long-term themes instead of large behavioral changes. Themes are wide and abstract, like “try more new things.” If you are inexperienced with themes, I recommend having fewer with shorter iteration times, starting with one theme for three months. I have tried many themes for myself and therefore have a good feeling for what will work for me, so I set three themes for a year. “Three” because then I can switch between them if I start to feel stuck. Further, I set concrete goals under these themes to ensure and validate that I make progress.

This hierarchical structure mirrors that of the popular goal-setting framework Objectives and Key Results (OKR). Without going into too much detail, in this system, the themes are called objectives under which we set obtainable measurable goals called key results. Steps to achieve the key results are called initiatives.

When I mention specific products that I like, I will link to them, but this post is in no way sponsored, other than me getting royalties from my own book.

2020

The first step for improvement is to look back and reflect on the previous iteration. My 2020 themes have been:

  • Teach people how to reach higher software quality
  • Learn to cook well (new in 2020)
  • Learn medicine

To measure my progress within these themes, I set concrete goals. These goals are what I consider my new year’s resolutions. Now to overwhelm myself, I set one large goal, one medium goal, and a few small goals. The large goal span multiple months, usually most of the year. The medium goal should be completed within a month of starting it. Each small goal can be completed within a day, although they don't have to be. In 2020 my goals were:

Teach people how to reach higher software quality

Learn to cook well

  • Make fettuccini from scratch (S)
  • Make ravioli from scratch (S)
  • Make bearnaise sauce from scratch (S)
  • Make tomato sauce from scratch (S)

Learn medicine

Allowing myself a bit of slack for not quite finishing the book, I have completed all of my new year's resolution s— for the first time in my life. The reason is without a doubt that I have found a balance of goal sizes suitable for my personality. In previous years I have set multiple large and/or medium goals, usually with the result that I complete none.

2021

Now is the time to reevaluate and possibly make adjustments, starting with the themes. Teaching is a large part of my day job, so once the book is complete, I will constrain that to working hours and instead focus on honing my own software quality skills, making sure I stay on top of my game. In 2020 the “cooking”-theme replaced a “playing music”-theme; I will swap those back. Finally, in 2020 I unfortunately lost my habit of reading almost constantly, this habit I would like to regain. Therefore I am generalizing my study of medicine to “read more” of anything. Thus my 2021 themes are:

  • Practice building high-quality software
  • Improve my musical skills
  • Read more

Having set my themes, it is time to set the goals I want to achieve within each. Unlike the above, I will also list the steps I expect to take to achieve these goals. Notice I say “expect” because I can only know afterward which steps will end up working. Here are the goals:

Practice building high-quality software

  • Make money on software (L)
    Steps: Build a few small systems (MVPs) that gain usage (regular use from people I don't know). Then expand one to three of these systems to become commercially viable. Finally, select one to be polished, refined, and start marketing it.

Improve my musical skills

  • Learn a new instrument (M)
    Steps: I have done this a few times before, so I know the procedure. Get the instrument, find sheet music or video tutorials for it, practice, practice, and practice. If I can play this before the next new year, then I’ll be satisfied.

Read more

  • Listen to an audiobook about mythology (S)
    As I have previously read about Greek, Norse, and Egyptian mythology, I am inquisitive about mythologies from Asia. In particular, I’ve been recommended Japanese mythology.
  • Read a book about chess (S)
    I used to play a lot of chess, read and watch videos about it. I would like not to forget everything about it; therefore, I will look up an intermediate-level book suited to my play style.
  • Listen to an audiobook about business (S)
    Currently, I am considering “I’m afraid Debbie from marketing has left for the day.” Which I’ve heard many good things about.
  • Listen to an audiobook about medicine (S)
    I’m a big fan of the medical drama House MD, and I have read that Lisa Sander’s books should have similar qualities.
  • Listen to a classical fiction audiobook (S)
    Currently, I am considering “Lord of the flies,” which I have never read before.
  • Listen to a recent fiction audiobook (S)
    I expect it will be “Ready player two” because its predecessor was what turned me on to audiobooks in the first place. Disappointed as I was with the movie, as much did I enjoy listening to my hero from Star Trek, Will Wheaton, narrate the book.

And that is how I expect my 2021 to look. I hope my method can be useful to you and that we can all make the best of 2021! Happy new year!

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Christian Clausen

Christian Clausen

I live by my mentor’s words: “The key to being consistently brilliant is: hard work, every day.”