Creating New Year’s Resolutions with the Concrete Goals Tracker

New Year's Resolutions I haven’t yet had a chance to review the progress on last year’s resolutions in depth, but I can see that I didn’t make as much progress on them as I would have hoped. Or did I?

As I was updating the Concrete Goals Tracker on Jan 1st, it occured to me that this was the very tool I could use for tracking my progress toward my new resolutions throughout the entire year. I just needed to create a new weighted list of goals.

I haven’t formally described the process before, so here is my attempt to systemize it for general use. Even if you don’t find the Concrete Goals Tracker useful in your day-to-day, you might find the way I achieve clarity in my goal setting interesting.

Oh, and I should mention that once everything is set up, it’s supposed to be really easy to use. Do the hard work up front to achieve clarity first, so you can take it easy later :-)

Overview of the Process

There are two facets of experience that have the greatest impact on me: sensory and emotional. In other words, I tend to be most influenced by things I can see, smell, taste, touch, and hear. That visceral personal experience gives rise to feelings that are positive or negative. In other words: Seeing is Believing.

Also important is the persistence of the experience. An experience in the past is not as powerful as an experience in the NOW. For example, being in a terrific relationship is endlessly more thrilling than the sweet memory of one long ago. People believe what they can experience for themselves, and experiences that contribute to the NOW are the ones that are at the forefront of their consciousness. In other words: Out of Sight, Out of Mind.

For me feel a sense of accomplishment, it’s absolutely critical that three elements—sensory experience, emotional relevance, and persistence—are present in what I’m doing. Otherwise, the accomplishment is more abstract than real. Abstractions are useful, but it’s objects and people in the real world that ultimately matter. You can’t eat an abstraction. You can’t kiss an abstraction on the top of the Empire State Building. You can’t show an abstraction to a friend.

The Concrete Goals Tracker, AKA the original Printable CEO™, was designed to focus attention on the tangible, visceral, and concrete. To do that, I emphasized the counting of results and the production of assets that can be verified by the senses:

  • If you produce the right things that are truly contribute to your goal, that’s making progress you can bank.
  • If you further go to show that asset to someone else, you’ve now actually put it into the world, where it can actually make a difference. Accomplishment doesn’t happen in a vacuum; you’ve got to deliberately interface what you’ve done with the physical world to convert potential into change.

Setting Goals is Not Enough

Suppose I choose a goal like “be a better person.” That’s a laudable goal, but it’s very vague. I could go around being “nice” to people, and have the general sense that I am achieving my goal. Or I could have a goal like, “be a better graphic designer”, and just “try harder”. That’s all fine and dandy, but I want to get a more quantitative sense of what’s going on. That’s where the Concrete Goal Tracker comes in.

The basic premise behind the CGT goal setting methodology is this:

  1. Identify your goals, whatever they are.
  2. Create the things that are directly related to achieving your goal.
  3. Take the things you created and use them in the actual world. That’s what really counts!
  4. If you do this continuously, you can’t help but make progress.

Step 1 is the abstract statement, and it’s made real by steps 2 and 3. And because the results of those steps are tangible, they can be counted. They can also be experienced, seen, and shared by people. They are also persistent, meaning that if you made something useful yesterday, it’s probably still here today adding to your store of goal-related wealth. And that is a great feeling.

For example, if my goal is to be a “better graphic designer”, I now need to followup with steps 2 and 3:

Step 2: Well, I should create actual designs. Web pages? Printed pieces? That’s what graphic designers do. So anything I do that’s related to making design is real, and therefore persistent and valuable.

Step 3: Now that I’ve created these things, it’s not enough to just let them rot on my hard drive. I need to use them in the world. That could mean showing them to a friend, posting them on my website, or doing the design for a client. I need to get off my butt and make an effort to show the world what I’m doing. Only then, will the world respond. And that’s how we know things are changing.

The Process

The Concrete Goals Tracker consists of two parts: the list of things to create and show, and a tracking form that counts those things. The CGT is all about motivation, so we need to pick a list of things that covers a range of easy every-day things to rarer “celebration-worthy” achievement. I usually end up with a list of 10 or so items, earning between 1 and 10 points apiece. Because the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, those celebration-worth achievements are worth a lot more points than the sundry every-day tasks, which makes them even more satisfying when you achieve them. For more theory, read the original CGT article.

So how do you create that weighted list of things? Here’s what I do:

1. Pick your goal. What do you want to change? How do you want things to be in the future?

2. Pick a short-term focus. If you have a lot of goals, it’s tempting to try to do them all at once. Instead, pick one or two related ones. You’ll be focusing on these for the next few weeks, and then you can move on to the next thing.

3. What do you need to create? These are the things that you can create through your own action that, once you’ve got them, are really applicable to your goal. This may take a lot of reflection. For example, if you want to be wealthier, what does that mean? Are you wealthy if you have 100 bucks? Are you wealthy if you still have to work 9 to 5? By focusing on what you need to create, as opposed to what you need to do, you ensure that your efforts will be focused on producing results. That’s what matters.

4. Check your results. The CGT is all about motivation, so we need to make sure that the things you’ve picked will give you results that occur frequently and will last outside the confines of your own memory. Here’s a list of things to check:

  • Is the result obtainable within a short timeframe? Make sure it’s between an hour and a week.
  • Is the result directly due to your own action? If no, choose something that is under your control.
  • Is the result something tangible; that is, you can actually show it to someone else? If not, try converting it into a form that is showable.
  • Is the result something that can be counted? If not, can it at least be remembered by a third party as something you did?
  • Will the result stick around? Can you collect the results and watch your assets grow? If not, then pick something that will that’s related to it.
  • Are the results truly related to the goal? If you can’t really justify it, then it doesn’t count.

5. Assign the points to tasks. You should have a good list of pursuit-worthy results. Now, create the TASKS and assign points. A task is the combination of “action” and “desired result”. A task is considered complete only when the desired result has been produced and has been verified by someone other than yourself.

  • 10 points: Pick the two most important and awesome tasks (with results) that represent real achievement toward your goal. Achieving those two results should occur fairly rarely, as a result of other work. You do not get points unless the performance of the task produces the intended result. In other words, what’s the bottom line as far as your goal is concerned?

  • 5 points: Pick the tasks that contribute meaningfully to your 10-pointers. These should happen a few times a week on average. A 5-pointer could be the creation of the things that are associated with your goal. For example, if you’re a photographer and your goal is to be a “better” one, then “making prints” is one of the things you’ve got to create and show to people. You’re not a photographer if you’re not making new photos.

  • 2 points: Pick tasks that may not directly contribute to your goals or other tasks, but support your effort and help maintain momentum or energy or focus. These should be tasks that you do every day. It could be something like talking about your goals with someone else, reading or research, or writing.

  • 1 point: There are likely some things you are already doing often that are related to your goals. They could be your natural inclination to do something that is pretty useful in the context of your goal. Since you’re already doing them and do them often, make these your 1-point tasks; you don’t need the extra motivation, but it’s nice to be assured that you will get a few points every day even if nothing else gets done.

IT IS IMPORTANT TO REALIZE THE FOLLOWING:

  • The high-value tasks are NOT ranked according to how people “value” them. They are ranked to MOTIVATE YOU to do the things that ARE CRITICAL STEPS to achieving your goal. For example, my freelancer “grow my business” version of the CGT ranks “talking to an old relationship” or “making a new relationship” as a 1-point goal. People have pointed out that “maintaining relationships” is the #1 way to grow your business, that talking to people is really important, and that because of this those tasks should really be ranked higher. However, I already talk to people all the time many times a day, through email and the phone, and I make the effort to try to meet people face to face frequently. I don’t need the extra motivation, because I’m already doing it. However, I do want to grow my business in the meaningful way of booking more work and invoicing for work completed. That’s the bottom line.

  • Make absolutely sure that your tasks produce in truly tangible and persistent results, by your own action. If you don’t stick to this, the goals you are picking are probably more on the touchy-feely side than the measurable side. For example, a worthy goal is to “be a better father.” You might choose tasks like, “spend quality time with son”. This is not tangible or physically persistent, though in this case, a third party can corroborate your memory so it is (sort of) persistent. A better way to phrase this task would be, “take son to ball game, amusement, or other destination he likes” (the action) and “see him smile or laugh” (the result).

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p>Dave's Work ListHere’s what my freelancer version looks like. You can use the Editable Version of the CGT to fill in your own point list. If you ended up with a different number of 10, 5, 2, or 1 point tasks, then you can modify the Excel or PowerPoint versions of the CGT.


Using the List and Tracking Points

Example of CGTSo now that you’ve got your list set up, you’re ready to track your daily progress. Everytime you complete a task and use the results, you award yourself points using the tracker form. An example of one of my old ones is to the right.

You’ll note that I used the notes area to keep track, every day, of the things I was doing that were related to keeping to my goals. I also used it to scribble down notes for other things; since this is a piece of paper I would keep on my desk constantly, it was a handy place to keep track of other things.

You might be asking yourself how do I know how many points I should be scoring everyday? That’s the great part…you will automatically develop a sense of how well you’re doing as you fill in the bubble chart. Some days will be better than others, of course. Some weeks will be amazing, while others will be rather low. However, every point is a point toward your goal, and if you’ve chosen tasks that produce persistent results, every sheet is like a balance sheet showing exactly how much rewarding effort you’ve put into your goals, and you can even go and look at them if you want to see how far you’ve come. That’s a great feeling. The amount of data entry is minimized too. It’s a game of your own making, with rules that you can change when you feel it’s time to put your focus elsewhere. You will know when you are slacking and when you’re kicking ass.

In Summary

The Concrete Goals Tracker works, I think, because it combines an insightful list of tasks with a easy-to-understand tracking form. And because it’s persistent (paper) and reminds you what is important, it’s easier to keep your eye on the prize. My own experience has been to use it for a couple months at a time when I really needed some “executive focus”. It should work well for the New Year’s Resolutions too, so I’m planning on re-introducing it into my routine.

If you’ve got a list to share, feel free to send it to me. I’d like to start collecting them…it could be an interesting resource! Enjoy!

» Download 2007 Editable Standard Form with editable interactive fields » PCEO-CGT02-AcroEdit.pdf

or visit The Printable CEO™ Series Page for more productivity theory, articles, and forms.