Giving Up on Goals

Giving Up on Goals

CW: Some brief weight loss talk.

I know friends, the title is alarming. Giving up on goals? But Jordan, you just posted your 2017 action plan! It’s not even the end of January! Are you giving up on goals you set so soon?

It’s okay, chill. I’m still forging ahead with my plans, if on an unexciting slow and steady pace. But while most of us are still basking in the glow of January and new beginnings and a world of potential, I want to put it out there now: giving up on goals is okay.

The cycle is pretty familiar to most of us now, either personally or through the 10 million think pieces that come out around this time of year on how to set good goals and stick to them. Those are great, and if you are one of the many who has problems making and pursuing reasonable, actionable goals, I encourage you to read some of them! I’m personally making my way through this video course on How to Stop Procrastinating, which will probably help a lot of you with the “why” behind why you give up.

Now with all that out of the way, this isn’t a “yeah it’s cool to let go of all your hopes and dreams and never try anything!” feel good article. If that’s one side of the spectrum and “go hard or go home!” is the other, then this is somewhere in the “you’re human, be aware of your limits and weaknesses so you can do better” area.

Giving up on your goals is okay… IF you learn from it, and try again.

For me at least, life gets pretty miserable if I don’t push myself. I don’t have dreams just because that’s the cool new thing to do, I have dreams because they’re things I want that make me happy. Even the pursuit of them sometimes makes me happy, though it’s hard and scary – those things aren’t mutually exclusive. But even knowing all that, I have plenty of days where I just cannot. I’m tired, or it takes too much brainpower, or my lack of inertia keeps me standing still. Or sometimes worse, I do take steps to pursue my goal, but then I fail one step and decide everything is terrible and impossible and why even try.

But all those states are temporary, and overcome faster or slower depending on what I’m pursuing and why. If I’m trying to finish that goddamn book, it’s easy to not sit down and do the work because my day job, the sheer time and effort it takes to take care of myself as a healthy human, playing with my dog, watching TV, whatever gets in the way. But I want to write the book for the intrinsic value of telling the story (and at this point, being DONE with telling the story), so if I focus on that, on the actual happiness it brings me to write and see it inch closer to completion, it’s a goal I can pursue.

Once upon a time I was also a person with the goal to “lose weight.” Essentially by whatever means necessary, because I was unhappy and I thought being skinnier would make me happy. The pursuit of that goal was miserable, how I treated my body and health in pursuit of that goal was miserable, and my failure was miserable, because I put “happiness” as an end state to only be had when the goal was reached, not something I felt at any point along the way.

If you’re pursuing a goal that feels anything like that, yeah, that’s maybe a goal worth giving up on.

I’m not a perfect goal-setter. I still decide to do stuff with no action plan (I’m looking at you, Japanese driver’s license study guide). But from having bad goals, deciding to stop banging my head against the wall in pursuit of them, and examining why I thought certain things were or weren’t worth pursuing in the first place, I’ve learned a lot about how to achieve actual success and actual happiness. I’ve finished considerably more writing of better quality (though lbr the bar was low) by writing steadily, every day, on a specific project that had a brainstorming and outlining process that worked for me than I did churning out short stories right before the deadline in college. I gave up weight loss as an end goal, worked through some shit and am still working through some shit regarding self-image, and am in a place where I eat healthy and exercise because it genuinely makes me feel good (endorphins man, they’re great).

So if you went a little overboard and have to call it quits, that’s okay. Just ask yourself why, and how you can do better.

And also, don’t wait until next January. Come on, do your future self a favor and if it’s really worthwhile, get started now.

 

Time Management Skills for Keeping Afloat

Time Management Skills: We are not robots.

There are enough articles on developing time management skills out there in the world that I think we all kind of know the gist. As someone who’s accidentally found herself in a field that tends to be either BUSY ON FIRE or suspiciously quiet, plus volunteer work, plus evening language classes, plus side gigs and personal pursuits, plus, well, the internet and all its distracting glory still exists, I have read and tried and promptly forgotten or discarded about 99% of them.

It’s not the knowing that’s hard; it’s when you’re drowning, remembering to put those time management skills to use. But emergency situations call for emergency measures: when I’m struggling just to keep afloat, these are the essential, non-negotiable time management skills I deploy.

Say no

Say no to that person who comes over to your desk and is like “Hey can I ask you real quick-”
Say no to a meeting that doesn’t need to happen (at all, right now).
Say no to answering that email that just came in (but I know you already looked – it’s ok, when something could catch on fire AT ANY MOMENT you feel like you have to).
Say no to things that aren’t important, urgent, or both. Some stuff you can’t say no to, but the unimportant, non-urgent things can definitely slide right now.

Ask for help

This can mean delegating. This can mean talking to your coworker to take some of your immediate workload, or something that will start to fall behind if you don’t get on it right now (and you can’t, because you’re doing 10 other things right now). This can mean talking to your boss and saying “I have too much and am worried about X, Y, and Z not being done well as a result, what can we do?”

Sometimes asking for help doesn’t accomplish anything. Sometimes you have shitty coworkers or shitty bosses. Sometimes your amazing coworkers and amazing bosses are just as busy as you are and have no bandwidth to lend. Sometimes the things you need help on aren’t easily given to other people. But just sending out the “help” signal can be valuable for setting expectations and covering your own butt, and the worst case scenario is you’ll be right where you were before you asked for help, so why not.

Decompress, but don’t dick around

We are not robots. Even having all these time management skills in our brains, it’s not like, run program, beep boop, operating at 100% efficiency all day. Take strategic breaks to decompress, but be vigilant about a) what the break is and b) how long it lasts. When I am really trying to power through something but my mental capacity is fading fast, or I find myself less and less able to deploy even the emergency time management skills, I find the following rules most effective for an efficient mental reset:

  • 10-15 minutes max
  • Eat something. Did you have lunch? How about a snack? No crap. Efficient brain food only. (Coffee counts in moderation.)
  • Go outside. Ideally, walk around the block. It’s nice to remember there’s a world outside your office.
  • Leave social media alone. That way lies madness, breaks that go over 15 minutes, and distracting thoughts.
  • But do look at a picture of your dog / pet / someone else’s pet / something else you find cute and relaxing.
  • Go back to your desk on time and refreshed.

Remember it will be fine

It was fine last time. It’ll be fine this time, too. Hell, this time tomorrow you’ll have forgotten all about today’s little emergencies (because tomorrow will have inconsequential emergencies of its own).

 

For time management skills that involve battling your own brain’s procrastination tendencies, have you tried the Pomodoro technique? I also assembled some productivity tips for getting your head in the right space to handle what the day has in store. Or if you’re looking for more writing-specific advice, take a peek at these tips for just getting started.

Productivity Tips for Functional Adulthood

A todo list, aka one of those 'duh' productivity tips

I have a love-hate with the plethora of productivity tips floating around the internet. They tend to fall into the realms of “duh,” “that seems a little silly” and “that’s excessive.” Some of them work for me of course, and though I don’t have the patience to start or stamina to keep up something like a bullet journal, I do like a good, categorized to-do list and have been known to bust out a Pomodoro timer when I’m really having trouble buckling down.

Still, most of these tips seem to make the assumption that we are all at some kind of baseline. A baseline that involves “not having a sink full of dirty dishes” or “not being out of food” or “definitely having the energy to do literally anything else after one load of laundry.” I have days that are productive as hell… that literally just involve taking care of my basic life needs. But dammit, I want a cookie for that. And more importantly, I want some of those beloved productivity tips to get me to do that kind of stuff consistently.

I think I sussed out a few, though. For those of you, like me, who are in a decent mental and emotional health space but just struggle sometimes to be assed, allow me to recommend the following productivity tips just for you:

1. Get out of bed on time.

Literally everything else after this will be easier, if you start off right. Not to mention the longer you lie around, the exponentially harder it gets to get up.

2. Just wash one dish. Just one. That’s it. You can do one dish.

Also try to forget that you are doing this to trick yourself into thinking “that wasn’t so bad” then doing one more dish until the sink is empty. And if you don’t trick yourself, and you just wash one dish, congratulations, you have one more clean dish than you had before.

3. Don’t buy things that you think will make doing the things you don’t want to do easier.

That planner won’t help. Or those fancy shelves. Or that special floor cleaner, or whatever else is supposed to make the thing you already aren’t doing with the tools you already have easier. All it will do is create more junk to take care of with the energy you don’t have.

4. Get rid of things you have to do, so you just don’t have to do them anymore.

Sell, donate, or throw away stuff. Boom, fewer things to clean and store and organize. Give up hobbies that you don’t really like or consistently do. Quit commitments that aren’t that necessary, especially ones that are self-imposed because you feel like you should or it’s expected but if you think about it nobody else really cares or is relying on you. Marie Kondo was big recently for a good reason. I find her method really straightforward and applicable to physical, mental, and emotional “things.”

5. Have a routine so that the doing of stuff requires less conscious thought, therefore less energy.

Tuesday after work on the way home is grocery day. Sunday is pack lunch for the week day. 30 minutes before you leave for work is wash the dishes in the sink time. If it’s just a thing that you do without thinking, then you save all sorts of mental energy better used elsewhere.

Good luck, fellow adults. Sometimes you do deserve a trophy for getting through the day.

Digital House Cleaning

I have a mild obsession with organization. Inbox zero is my daily goal. Clutter gives me hives, and my micro-sized apartment means the clutter threshold is pretty easy to reach. I try to be ruthless about my housecleaning – mostly starting with just not buying useless things in the first place, though lord knows ASOS and Japan’s cute accessories have sucked me in more than once – and that extends to attacking clutter in my digital life.

The internet makes it easy to accumulate things, articles, friends, bookmarks, apps, music, movies, pictures, whatever, because it has no physical presence, and as long as there’s hard drive space left who cares? But all those things take time, and for me a lot of the enjoyment of being online is lost when I can’t focus on the things that would give me the most pleasure, and instead see this wall of things to do, read, see, and interact with.

Kids these days are talking about the fear of missing out (FOMO), but the truth is you’r always going to miss something. And that’s okay, because for me, if I’ve got all my stuff neatly organized and prioritized, I’m not missing anything better than what I’ve got right in front of me.

A few of my personal tactics for digital house cleaning include:

Computer

  • Use an app like CCleaner to get rid of the most junky junk.
  • Go through your photos, videos, and music. If you don’t use it and won’t ever look at it, delete it.
  • Look at your apps, programs, and games. When is the last time you used/played/ran something? You can keep stuff you use infrequently but are vital when they come up – for example, I need to hang onto Photoshop and iMovie because there are no better programs when image and video work come up; but I can get rid of the 5 todo apps that I’ve installed trying to find the one that works best for me.
  • Create a “Dusty Music” playlist on iTunes. I like to set it so music I haven’t played in the last month appears on it. I listen to the playlist at work, making sure I cycle through my “dusty” music. Every cycle or so I run into songs I don’t really like or want to listen to. I mark those songs with one star, and next time I open up iTunes I delete the one star songs.
  • Refresh your background image and clean up icons from your desktop
  • Organize the files you want to keep into sensible folders that help you find where stuff is
  • Rename files so you know what they are before clicking. Also, quit calling stuff v1, v2, etc. Append the date to the file name if you have to keep multiple versions of the same file.

Social Media

  • How many of your Facebook friends do you actually know? Talk to? Want to see updates from? I find it really cathartic to go through and just unfriend people who might be perfectly nice people but who I straight up don’t know. Strangers with good content are for Twitter, my blogroll, or Instagram and Pinterest.
  • How many of your accounts do you actually use? If some of them are to park or protect a name (for example, I have my full real name parked on most networks as it is unique and I wouldn’t want anyone else vindictively snagging it) go for it; but if not, delete it.
  • Speaking of those strangers on the internet, do you really want to see content from every single person in your Twitter feed, your RSS feed, your Instagram feed, your Pinterest homepage, where ever? If you don’t like their stuff more than half the time, unfollow them. Also, are some of the people you follow essentially the same? I know I like dogs, but 5+ Dogstagrams are probably not necessary…

Digital Expenses

  • Do you have any recurring digital expenses or subscriptions you really don’t use? TV, MMORPGs, newspaper subscriptions, subscription boxes, domain names you just don’t use. Unsubscribe! It might not seem like much month to month, but even $5 is too much to pay for nothing.
  • Stop backing every single neat looking Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Definitely stop browsing the trending campaigns on those front pages. There’s loads of cool stuff out there, and a lot of it deserves to be funded. But unless you will really, really want whatever the thing is a year from now, you don’t have to be the one doing the funding. (Exceptions made for friends’ games and legitimately useful things that will get multiple uses and solve existing problems I had before I saw the shiny new thing that would solve those problems.)
  • Stop online “window” shopping to kill time. Read a book! Reading a book has never caused you to whoops accidentally purchase anything (except the next book in a series, which I feel like we can allow).

Other Miscellany

  • Are you backing everything up? Are you backing it up more than you need to? iPhone, Dropbox, Google Photos, and computer-wide backup services often overlap each other. It’s nice to have things double backed up sometimes, but triple or quadruple is overkill. Make sure your services aren’t unnecessarily overlapping and sucking up precious cloud storage space you could leave free for something else.
  • Let go of infinite time wasters. Set limits for how long you poke around Tumblr, Hulu, Netflix, Twitter, that one blog you like, that shopping site where you just need to get one thing but oh look there’s a sale page, whatever. Ten minutes is a good start.
  • Be honest with yourself. Is what I’m doing really how I want to spend my time?

I sense a major photo library overhaul in my future.

The Efficiency Trap

I read too many “lifehack” blogs. I’ve tried out too many calendar apps, todo lists, time trackers, and project managers. It’s tempting, when the next new thing comes up that solves all our productivity problems, to give it a try. Because surely this widget will save me from myself, from procrastination and unproductivity. If only I have the right tool it will be as effective as magic.

Yeah, no.

Reading about and trying out different efficiency hacks is its own procrastination. And with certain tools, they cause me a lot more trouble than they solve. I declared habit bankruptcy a while back, when my efficiency/productivity/better life kick got out of hand and I just had too much for my flighty human brain to handle in a single day. So apps like Timeful, where you’re supposed to block out hours of your day for this task or that, just give me hives. Trello, the much beloved project- and life-organizer, is excessively detailed for my grocery list, writing todo, work todo, don’t forget about this other random task needs.

I still hold out this hope that the perfect app or tool will come along, that slots seamlessly into my life and replaces all the haphazard habits I’ve made do with until now. But I’ve really gotta stop spending so much time trying to find it, and more time doing all the stuff I say I need help tracking.

Habit Bankruptcy

I tried to do it. Meditate 20 minutes a day. Write in a journal by hand every morning. Exercise. Eat 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up. Write 750 words a day. Work on my book edits. Write in this blog twice a week. Read more books. Read more articles. Organize my life. Get up from my desk and stretch every hour. Practice gratitude.

Of course I had a meltdown. There’s enough hours in the day for all that, but good lord I do not have the brain capacity.

The Good Habit Overload didn’t start all at once, which is how I got in so deep. One habit crept in at a time, before the one before it had really taken hold, until I had a morning checklist that was too long to look at, let alone expect my fallible human self to always complete. So I had one or two good days, checking everything off in an orderly fashion, feeling great.

Then the next day I woke up late, or was feeling off, or my brain just would not start. And one thing didn’t get done or another.

And then at night I felt disappointed at that one lingering, undone habit, and vowed to do better the next day.

And then I didn’t.

And then it snowballed, until I was doing no habits, because what was the point of doing just one if I had ten more to go after that. The hill was too steep and the summit was too far away.

So, the other week, I declared habit bankruptcy. My little daily habit tracker at HabitRPG got wiped. I started over. Three habits: Exercise, Write Something, and Study Japanese.

This week I added: Take your medicine. Not because I need to develop that habit, but specifically because I’ve already got it down. Now there is one box I can easily check, and it makes all the other boxes easier.

I’ve got other habits I want to add. I do want to meditate, and I do want to watch my protein and veggie intake, and I do want to be more consistent about dog training and stretching after workouts and yes even posting to this blog.

But I also don’t want another habit meltdown, and if that means I let things slide, then they slide. Anyway, isn’t this what I wanted when I was a kid, imagining life as a grownup? Sometimes you just gotta have cereal for dinner to have the energy to keep the rest of it together.

The Hardest Part is Starting

My particular brand of procrastination is putting off starting a task. Once I get going, the thing gets done–the hard part is over. But if I can put off the start of something, it’s pretty much guaranteed to never happen. I need to write today, but I’ll do it later. I ought to go for a run, but I’m tired so I’ll do it in the afternoon. I should get my lunch ready for tomorrow, but I can do it in the morning. Etcetera, etcetera. You’d think after so many instances of not writing later, of not running in the afternoon, of not putting my lunch together in the morning, I’d know better. And sometimes I do! I’m certainly cognizant of it right now, as I write this post, but me awake and fed and accomplished is a very different me than when I’m groggy or hungry or in the throes of an extended period of procrastination.

So sometimes I play tricks on myself:

1. I use Pomodoro off and on to trick myself into thinking “I just have to do this for a few minutes.” Then it always ends up being more than a few minutes.

2. I motivate myself with streaks. I’ve been getting ready for work the night before for the past two nights in a row, so if I do it again tonight it’ll be three, then the next night four, then five… Don’t break the chain! HabitRPG is my general habit streak tracker, while 750words is my writing streak tracker.

3. Once I’ve started one thing, I use that as momentum to start everything else. Today I got up and went for a run. I got back and started the laundry. I got out of the shower and chopped up salad for lunch. I got all that done and started this blog post that I’d been procrastinating on. Once I overcame the hurdle of getting my ass out of bed and beginning one thing, beginning everything else got easier.

Once I’ve started that productivity, even just for a minute, the next minute is easier, and the next minute after that.

Productive Self-Deception in the Fight Against Procrastination

It’s always nice when science backs up the efficacy of tricks I’ve been playing on myself. When we as funny little human beings weigh the pros and cons of procrastination, our thought process can look like this:

“I can do this thing now… or I can do it later.”

When that was the script in my head, it always ended up being later. Then later again. And again. And again. That’s how I went most of my four years as a creative writing undergrad without doing much creative writing.

Lately, as I make efforts toward being a responsible grownup in bits and pieces, often with one step forward and two steps back, I’ve flipped the script to something like this:

“I can do this thing now, feel great about getting it done, and have time to do some other fun thing later… or I can feel anxious about not doing it now, and have it hang over me, and then finally do it later.”

Since, let’s be real, that’s usually how procrastination goes. It’s not that we enjoy the time during which we are not doing whatever “the thing” is. We’re thinking about the thing. The need to do the thing looms menacingly in our future. It’s not fun. But if the thing is done, a weight is lifted and we can enjoy ourselves.

It doesn’t always work, but it’s working more often than the old way.

Just Slightly Unreachable Goals

I like to set goals for myself that are just the tiniest bit unreachable. Examples include:

1) Finish the second draft of my book by the end of 2014. (I have a little ways to go and I’m about to go out of town. But it still might happen!)

2) Run my first marathon in under 4 hours. (I’m doing a training plan on Runkeeper and I’m completing my tasks distance-wise, not time-wise. But it still might happen!)

3) Save 1/3 of my income a month. (My fixed expenses are 1/3 of my income, and lately I have been spending over the remaining 1/3 I have allotted, but often for staples that I need to replace things that got worn out/used to death from my student years. So it still might happen!)

If I set easy goals and always met them, I’d get complacent. I’m such a boss! Look at me, reaching all my goals! I don’t need to try harder or work more efficiently.

If I set really, truly, inhumanly impossible goals and always failed, I would tear my hair out. Well fuck it, I can’t manage any of this anyway, why bother with anything, might as well lie around and be a lump all day every day.

But with slightly unreachable goals, even if I fail, I go, I was so close! Soooo cloooose! Let’s just try one more time, and then one more after that, maybe then…

And one day reaching the goal becomes easy, so I nudge the next goal a little higher.

Practicing “Less”

Anybody who’s seen my apartment would call me a minimalist. Maybe not hardcore, no frills minimalist, but getting close. I don’t like having a lot of physical things, because things take time and energy to store and care for and just deal with on a daily basis.

Yet, despite that tendency toward less is more in physical space, I haven’t quite gotten into the habit in my mental space.

I have 100 articles saved to read later in Instapaper. 50+ blog posts tagged in Feedly. About 30-60 links in my Bookmarks to get to later on any given day. Ten tabs open, at least, things I clicked on because they caught my eye and I figured I’d get to shortly. Things upon things that don’t take up space but that take up time and intellect.

At the end of any given day my goal is to write more and write better. I need to start tossing the things that get in the way of that. Some fluff time is fine–we all need a cute puppy vid here and there to remain functioning adults, and they boost productivity too. SCIENCE.

But I don’t need to read every article with a grabby headline. I don’t need to watch every video short. I don’t need to read every webcomic. I don’t even need to open every email, let alone be subscribed to so many lists.

And much in the same way I find myself happier when I haul a pile of clothes off to Goodwill, or toss something that doesn’t have anything wrong with it other than it serves no actual purpose, I suspect 1) it’ll be hard at first, noooo what if I want to look at that link later and I never find it again?! the world will eeeend and 2) I’ll either feel a lot better or totally forget about it when it’s gone.

Either way sounds fine to me.