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Keeping Those Resolutions

Building momentum towards uncertain objectives

Keeping Those Resolutions

Building momentum towards uncertain objectives

More than any other time the new year is a time for personal evaluation, the setting of new goals and new objectives. If your re-evaluation yields a resolve to spend more time at the gym, quit smoking, rise earlier, or sleep longer you may find your new objectives are relatively easy to keep. But if your new personal commitments are process rather than objective orientated you may find them too fluid to monitor and cultivate.

This is just one of the reasons why every new year’s resolution I’ve ever made was long forgotten by February.

The age-old ritual of making promises to yourself at the start of the year has been particularly on my mind this December because I’ve recently been laid-off. And while it may seem distasteful to say so — particularly at Christmas when so many families are struggling through the worst recession in any of our lifetimes — being made redundant might just have been the best thing that ever happened to me.

Previously I’d had the same fears about redundancy as I’m sure everyone else has. The word itself — so judging, so crippling, so terminal — was enough to bring on night-terrors. What the hell would I do?

These are bad times to be out-of-work and to make matters worse I’d been at this one company for so long I was convinced I’d not only perfected the noble art of salaried time-wasting but had worked myself into a dark, lonely alley of total unemployability…

It was a great relief to discover that when a human being is up a creak s/he has no choice but to make a paddle and within days of being released from 15 years of wage-slavery I suddenly felt like I’d been taken off the lithium, that the world and its possibilities had opened up to me.

Long forgotten passions and interests were reignited and I quickly remembered what it was to have an idea that wasn’t scoffed at by disinterested and unengaged colleagues but was rather encouraged by family and friends who were clearly relieved to discover I hadn’t fallen into a morass of pot-smoking, boxer-short wearing, pizza-eating inactivity.

But then I started to worry again. Without the reassuring structures of office-dronery how would I channel this sudden burst of creativity into some kind of action? How could I ensure I made steady day-to-day progress when my end-points were so undefined?

It was then that I remembered an old Lifehacker article about Jerry Seinfeld’s now famous approach to productivity I read some years ago whilst hiding in the office restrooms from the tedium of an afternoon’s seemingly endless workload.

The Seinfeld system was beautifully simple: post a yearly calendar on your wall and every time you manage to do some of the work you’d set for yourself put a big black cross through the day. The next day you do the same and before long you’ve built a chain that gives you enough passive encouragement and momentum to carry you through that all-too-human desire to procrastinate, to do nothing and to put action off for another 24 hours.

Jerry discovered that he’d do anything not to break the chain, even if it meant staring at that blank piece of paper for hours on end until he came up with a good idea or something funny.

A quick online search revealed that I was not the first to be inspired by the Seinfeld solution and a handful of beautifully designed apps that appeared to suit my purpose have been created in recent years.

However for once technology did not make life easier and I quickly found that each of them eschewed the simple elegance of Seinfeld’s chain-making in favour of over-complications.

Even the best of them was little more than a glorified to-do list and so I was still facing the problem of maintaining my free-form progress in a clutch of separate projects and prospects as well as tracking my resolve to exercise daily, keep regular social appointments, and make sure that I took daily advantage of at least one of the countless cultural opportunities the city I live in generously offers.

I decided the only solution was to take my ludicrously basic graphic-design skills to Illustrator and build my own calendar on which I could form chains in multiple different fields over a not-too-daunting 28 day period.

I quickly discovered that my crude calendar quite effectively mimicked the simplicity of the Seinfeld system and, what was more, it had the added advantage that breaking a chain wasn’t as debilitating and morale crushing as it might once have been because you’ve always got the opportunity to maintain or start another.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’d still like a mobile version, something with big buttons that would satisfyingly fill in my various daily categories in bold primary colours and give me AA-esque buttons or pins for maintaining a chain for a week, a month or a year. But for now I’m getting the blu-tac out, the coloured pens at the ready and sticking this to my wall — I think you should too.

Download a JPEG of the four-box version here and be sure to let me know how you get on with your resolutions.

Merry Christmas and a happy and successful New Year to you all.