I am not a big fan of New Year's resolutions. The problem to me is that they are too rigid. On January 1st it 's hard to know what the year ahead is going to hold. The uncertainty of the future makes it challenging to know how the goals set on this day will fit into the year.
Last year I came across a better way to tackle New Year's resolutions. CGP Grey and Myke Hurly's have a fantastic podcast called Cortex. The show is about what makes them productive and the ways they get their work done. In episode 20 they talk about resolutions. Grey brought up two points that resonated with me. First is that the purpose of goals is to create the systems needed to reach a goal rather than achieving the goal itself. Second is the idea of giving a year a theme. I liked these two points. That is why I decided to make 2017 "The Year of Focus."1
This theme comes from the scattered feeling I have had for the last year. While things in my life are going well overall, I just felt like I was coasting with no real direction. Alongside this feeling was the fact that I felt like I was not effectively using my time. I was giving things that I didn't care about much more time then the things that I loved. That is why this year I am focusing in on what is important to me and deciding which parts of my life mattered the most. I decided to focus on these four areas:
- Side Projects
These were intentionally left fairly broad so that the specifics were able to flex and change as the year progressed. Not being able to see the future make it difficult to know how my life is going to look in September compared to January. That being said, I did expand out each area into what I want to achieve there (and what I have achived so far).
College plays a dominant role in my life. Its campus is where I live, go to classes, study, eat most of my meals and sleep. I spend 20 hours a week in class or lab and at least as much time on homework or projects. I enjoy learning and being a successful student is something I am proud of. School in 2016, however, felt more like a series of boxes that I had to check off, not an activity I enjoyed. This feeling was not the fault of the content of my classes (which was as interesting as ever) rather the fact that I was not giving my education the attention it deserved. This year I have changed that by changing how
Taking on less: I like having a busy schedule. In past semesters I have tried to take the maximum amount of classes my college allows a student to take. The problem with this is I have more work and less time outside of class to do that work. This semester I took only five classes (one of which is an elective), giving me much more time outside of class to sink my teeth into the material we are learning.
Balancing my schedule: Being a full-time student and having a part-time job can be a challenging balancing act. Last semester I failed at this. Not so much this year. More on this in the work section.
Finishing what I started: In college, I had developed the bad habit of getting stuck on a piece of homework and move on to a different assignment. Now obviously this was a horrible idea because it left me with a bunch of half-finished piece of homework that I was stuck on. This year I set a rule for myself if I start and assignment I need to finish it before starting something else. If I do get stuck and can't figure it out with research, then I make a to-do item to ask the professor about it during their office hours. Speaking of to-do items...
Getting (more) originated: For my first two years of college I was using an app that while very capable was quite limited in what it let me do for schedule and assignment organization. Over winter break I overhauled this system, putting my calendar and assignments into separate more capable apps. I am not going to get deep into how I am using these in this post but I might in the future. To keep it brief using these apps has allowed me to be much more focused on the work and less about what I have to do.
These changes are beginning to deliver the results I wanted. While there is still a long way to go, I find that I feel like I understand the material better and my grades are reflecting this.
I love my job. It is the type of job that when I was younger, my family always said I would have. I work with great people, and there are some quite rewarding parts of the job. The problem was, I started working there at the end of last summer2 and I spend most of last Fall feeling overwhelmed dealing with being a full-time student and a part-time employee. This year I focused on two things to help improve my work-life balance.
Having a schedule that works: The biggest mistake I made when starting my job was that when putting in the hours I was available to work I didn't put much thought into it. This lead to my work schedule not encouraging a health work-life-school balance. This semester I planned out my work hours with much more thought, leading to me having a better balance or work-school.
Being present: A piece of advice I heard at the end of last year was to only worry about the tasks that you were capable of doing at that time. This idea stuck with me especially when it came to my life at work. I often find myself at work stressing out about school work, thinking about something I have to do when I get home or a test I have coming up. What this piece of advice made me realize is that no good comes from this worrying. What I have been doing this year is trying to forget about school while I am at work. Focusing on doing the best job I can do
The changes I have made to my school and work life are helping with my mental health. Feeling less pinched for time can help with the stress levels. Getting more school work done and getting better results is nice. Beyond the side effects of the changes stated above, I am making some more health-centric changes.
Doing all the typical "get healthy stuff": No writing about New Year's goal would be complete without the stereotypical "eating better and going to the gym." So yeah I'm doing that stuff, and it is helping. One nice side effect of this is that having a better diet does make dealing with my ADD easier, making me more focused.3
Spending time on things I enjoy: Another obvious one here but something I noticed last year was that I was spending far too much of my time doing activities or spending time with people who just didn't make me happy. With a limited amount of free time, I need to spend it doing things that I enjoy. Mixing up the people I choose to spend my time with and doing an activity that I like has helped my mental health.
The whole point of the previous three areas of focus is so that I have more time for a side project. I stated at the beginning of this post that I did not feel fulfilled with what I have been doing for the past year. What I realized this was caused by was the fact that I had no creative outlet. Going back to Cortex, Myke and Grey have talked about how having side projects is an important part of their life. I feel the same way, but for at least the last year I have let that part of my life lay stagnant. While unlike the previous three areas I do not have any bullet points because must of the side project stuff I am working on isn't ready for prime time yet. I am going to start making Youtube videos about things I find interesting. I have lots of ideas about stuff I want to do and am just excited to start making things again!
This year is off to a good start. I am feeling good about the progress I am making to achieve my goals and am starting to see results. There is still a significant amount of work to be done, but the path forward is looking a lot more defines. I am excited about some of the things I am working on. Hoping I can keep this focus going through the rest of the year. Speaking of focus, back to studying for exams. Spring break can't come soon enough.
P.S. You might ask why I am writing this post about goals for the year when we are already two months in. Two reasons. First is that I needed to get my house in order at the beginning of the year. Second is that I find when let others know about my goals too early on I am less likely to feel driven to achieve them.
1. [Which is quite a silly name now that I write it down. 🤷🏼♂️]↩
2. [August 2016]↩