Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Chain... Keeps Goals Together


We're homing in on the end of the year, and many are abuzz with the "New Years Resolution" virus. For those curious, I never make New Year's Resolutions. Well, OK, I used to make them when I was younger, but I gave up when I realized that I was more times than not just setting myself up for failure. I realized something several years ago. Resolutions are weak willed things, and they are easy to break. Specific goals, with detailed and measurable progress points, are much more likely to lead to success.


Unlike resolutions, I believe wholeheartedly in setting regular goals, and I believe in setting small ones. Things I can work on for a given day, week, month, etc. Big, life-changing goals are good, and occasionally, there is a specific incentive to take on one of those big massive goals, but most of the time, the human constitution just can't wrap its head around a massive life-altering change. At least not in big extended chunks. Let's take an example of losing weight. It's a popular New Year's Resolution topic.


  • "I'm going to lose 50 pounds!"
  • "I'm going to work out every day!"
  • "I'm going to give up all processed foods!"


These are classic weight related resolutions, and more times than not, they are scrapped in a rapid order, often within two weeks. Why? Because they give an impression of being specific, but they aren't. They are very nebulous, with the exception of the "losing 50 pounds". Could be a great goal, but how will you go about doing it? How long will you allow yourself? and what will you do once you get there? The truth is, most long term goals are notoriously unfinished, because we don't really give ourselves realistic parameters.


I'm much more a fan of making very specific small and short term goals, and along with the goals, charting my progress with "chains". I love chains! It's an idea I got from an old Lifehacker piece called "Jerry Seinfeld's Productivity Secret". In a  nutshell, the idea is to take a goal, and when you do something related to that goal, mark it on a wall calendar that displays a full year. Each day you do something towards your goal, write down a mark with a red pen, and after doing it multiple days, make a chain. From there, don't break the chain.


What's great about this advice is that is emphasizes consistency and regular practice of whatever it is you are doing. Jerry Seinfeld used this to meet a writing goal. The same could be used for reading, for exercise, for cessation of a bad habit, or practicing a musical instrument. Whatever the goal, start a  chain and make small links to keep building the chain.


Having said all this, you may be wondering what some of my "chains" are. Glad you asked. Some of them I have kept in a focused manner and have some long ones. Some others are collections of short chains interrupted here and there. The col thing is that, if you can create a lot of little chains, even if they are separated by a day here and there, you will still have a hefty chunk of chains to look back on, and likely a lot of accomplished goals to go with them. Learn Ruby the Hard Way is a chain. Any BOOK CLUB synopsis I do is a chain. My 10 a day SET practice is a chain (I use it as a drill to see how quickly I can recognize patterns and if I am getting faster at seeing them). So what are my "goals" that I want to focus on in 2012? Here's a basic list.

* Complete Learn Ruby the Hard Way synopsis and then move on to other Hard Way projects.
* Commit to a once-per-month, 1st Saturday unless impossible to attend Weekend Testing Americas Schedule.
* Get back into the swing of doing a book review each week.
* Work through my stack of Ruby and Rails books, and create more Practicum entries
* Curate and mark-up TESTHEAD, so that topics that are related link posts.
* Go through and do editorial on TESTHEAD, correcting spelling mistakes and grammatical faux pas' (I already know there's an embarrassing amount of them).
* Focus more on topics specific to advances in coding and automation.
* Declutter and dejunk my home and work area.
* Focus on opportunities to develop presentation of testing experience and ideas; create a back log of talk and seminar material.

That's plenty to keep me busy this year, and there's enough variety in there to keep me busy for, well, many years going forward. Tackling them all simultaneously and with 100% focus would be impractical and likely to fail. But doing one or two at a time, and chaining the small bits I can do each day, as well as staggering the ones I do at a given time, will help me approach many of these goals. A small step each day on the ones I want to see move forward will help me keep moving. If I get bogged down on one, I have many more to jump off to. Yes, SMART goals are good, and yes, being realistic in expectations is also good. Above all of these, though, is the commitment to a little bit each day where you can, and when and where possible, do not break the chain :).
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