What’s in a January?

One month into 2023, and what have I done? Have I forgotten my resolutions and abandoned my optimistic goals? Have I made a great start to the next twelve months, or have I stayed stuck in my familiar rut?

The truth is, I didn’t start the year with any grand plans for the next twelve months, so January has felt kind of easy.

This is this time of year that things fall apart. The projects we waited to kick off until after the holidays start to pile up or fall to the wayside. The healthy habits we pushed through for a month start to feel cumbersome and we skip a day, then a week, then give up.

I’m trying a different approach to habits and goals this year, and so far it seems to be working better than making big year-long commitments.

Projects and habits, not goals

I’m not going to get on the anti-goal bandwagon, because I do think that aiming for a measurable, time-bound outcome can be very useful for some things. If you want to, say, run a marathon on a certain date within a certain finish time range, that’s a goal. To reach that goal, you can map out a series of training steps to get there, and when the goal is done, it’s done.

Most of life is not just “one and done,” though, and in order to make steady progress toward a rewarding life, we need projects. Projects might have goals embedded in them, but a project is more pragmatic. It doesn’t typically take more than a few months to complete a project, and it is clear what the parameters for completion are. A project like “plant tomatoes” is done when the tomatoes are planted, but that’s not the end of the story.

Once you plant the tomatoes or run the marathon, do you want to make those things a part of your ongoing lifestyle? If so, you need some habits. Running a marathon is one time thing, but becoming a runner could be a lifelong pursuit. This year’s tomatoes will need care and water for a few months, but to be a gardener is an ongoing practice.

Forty percent of our waking lives are habitual. Which sounds boring, but it is actually a wonderful thing. The more we can habituate, the more that leaves the other 60% of our day free for meaningful activities and purposeful projects.

So, for 2023, I am focusing on projects and habits that support my long term vision. And I’m only planning for one season at a time.

The rule of three

For each season, I am choosing three personal projects and three key habits to focus on. I also have work projects, of course, but because those are already assigned to specific time blocks and tracked as performance goals, they kind of exist in their own system already. So my three projects are the main things I want to focus on outside of work.

My three projects for winter are:

  1. Complete Procreate Masterclass
  2. Work with a life coach for six sessions
  3. Send out agent queries for my memoir

So far these are all on track, but I have actually found that they do not have enough supporting tasks to make me feel like I’m doing “enough,” which is how two more projects snuck in.

I’ve already broken my own rule about limiting projects. It is hard for me to stick with one (or three) at a time, because I am always seeking out something new and interesting to focus on, once the gleam of a new project has started to fade. So, I have started learning Notion and creating templates for planning and personal development, and I have started cleaning up my personal website to create a relevant landing page for my current work.

It’s kind of weird, but doing more than planned actually feels a bit like a failure. I can already feel my attention split in too many directions, now that I have added these two extra projects.

Plus, my habits are stressed when I have more projects than I should manage. While I’m keeping up my health habits, my creative habits are starting to fall off as I try to pile too many things into my days.

Monthly planning

My seasonal plan identifies the main projects and goals I will focus on, but my monthly plan lays out priorities for the calendar month, leftovers from the last month, and sometimes a 30 day challenge or area of focus. In January, I participated in an “uncertainty challenge” that involved sending out another batch of agent queries for my memoir. In February, I am trying a “circadian rhythm” challenge to tweak some of my light exposure before bedtime.

My monthly plan goes into a physical notebook, where I track habits and write out my weekday time block schedule. But before I make a plan, I write up my review of the previous month. Here’s my January review

Accomplishments & happenings

  • No alcohol
  • Meeting with memoir buddy at 3rd Place
  • Finished Figma prototype
  • Brunch with friends at Coastal Kitchen
  • Coaching/ mosaic
  • Started learning Notion
  • Got a haircut
  • New TV
  • New Blackout shades
  • Tried to play Elden Ring
  • Engaged a writing coach for query review
  • Sent more than allotted number of queries
  • Participated in uncertainty challenge.
  • Continued Procreate lessons
  • Signed up for Wild Health

What went well?

Not drinking and not eating crunchy snacks (no more GF crackers in da house!). Increased exercise and am averaging 100 daily minutes. Sleep scores are back up in the 90s. Enjoying Green Chef meals, more or less. Allowing myself to make slow progress on interesting things and explore options, rather than rushing into decisions and piling on new projects

What do I want to improve next month?

Less split attention. Really focus on just one or two projects each for work/ personal, while keeping others in maintenance mode. Commit to focus on one thing during focus blocks. Cut out sugar. Increase strength training (beginner strength program). Really do a longer endurance ride once a week. Explore and expand Notion skills. Participate fully in Groove Kitchen (group mentoring).

February is already almost over

It’s a short month, and I spent the first full week traveling for work. I have to get over the disruption and jet lag, and I also have a packed schedule for the next few weeks. Realistically, I’m not going to make much progress on the projects. Even if I don’t get a lot done, I can still keep up and expand my repertoire of habits. As long as I keep my 40% locked down, I am winning!

I have joined a group mentoring program for three months, which displaces my life coaching goal. I am continuing to work my way through the Procreate masterclass and will finish in March at the latest. I will send another round of agent queries in March (unless I get an agent in the meantime!).

My mentoring program will be the playground for me to explore Notion templates, coaching programs, and work on my personal website. Yes, those are three EXTRA projects. I’m starting to understand just how limited my time and attention is.

We’ll see how this goes, but when I get to my spring planning in March, I suspect I will need to pare down and focus on what really matters. If only I can figure out what that is.

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