Ahh, the start of a new year. The perfect time for resolution.
I had an amazing break, with my little family, going on lots of walks, spending time talking in front of the fireplace and eating marginally too much. But alongside that, I love setting direction as much as anyone else at this time of year. It is refreshing and invigorating to draw a line in the sand from everything that didn't go to plan the year before, set new direction or vision and look ahead at the 365 days to come. Here is a photo from Christmas day, all dressed up to eat our Christmas dinner for two!
I approached my goal setting strategy differently from previous years, hence this article. Traditionally a stickler for OKR's and KPI's, in 2021 I wanted to be less focused on results frameworks like those bring. If the shambles that was 2020 taught me anything, it was that you can't take anything for granted. Shit happens, things change, and when I look back at the goals I set myself at the start of 2020 they were horrendously specific and short sighted, which in turn, became restricting. As an example, when I stopped working for Monzo, it resulted in a chunk of my vision I set to be outdated and no good.
In retrospect, I set far too many goals previously. I had pages of things I wanted to achieve, and in trying to strike a more healthy work-life balance amidst the chaos of the pandemic, I had to prioritise and re-prioritise. Chopping and changing became over-time demotivating.
I started reading Robert Greene's collaboration with 50 Cent over the Christmas break, 'The 50th Law'. There was a paragraph that stuck out to me.
"If you have a long term goal for yourself, one that you have imagined in detail, then you are better able to make the proper decisions in the present. You know which battles or positions to avoid because they don't advance you toward your goal".
My thinking had become terrible short sighted. As I have progressed in my career, my goals have gradually become narrower. When I started this journey into tech my endgame was to get a full-time job as a developer. It took a couple of years, but I knew what I wanted to achieve and then reverse engineered how to get there. Now, I couldn't tell you where I wanted to be in five years, let alone what I was doing to achieve it.
Amongst the British 'Tier 4' socially distanced festivities, I did a lot of thinking about this. Where I wanted to be in five or even ten years time to allow me to make wiser and cleverer decisions in the present.
I have come to the realisation that I didn't want my goals to solely be about work either. My ex colleague, Sally Lait, summed up my thinking here much more eloquently than I could do in her yearly reflection:
"I’ve realised I don’t like how much work has become part of my identity, and how much it’s been tied into shaping my life. I’m incredibly privileged to be paid well, to do something that I mostly enjoy, and which I generally have a lot of choice in. But work is what I do, not who I am. I want to be much more deliberate with those choices, and to make sure it’s my life goals driving work, and not the other way round."
I have a family and a life outside work, and too much of my life decisions are being shaped around what I want from my career. My focus has purely been around getting better as an engineer and an engineering leader, and not the person I am as a whole, therefore, I, for the first time in potentially ever, have introduced goals for myself that are not work related. Shock horror!
Thus, in 2021, I have stripped everything back and started my process from scratch.
Warren Buffet has famously talked about a priority setting technique called "The 2 List Strategy". In short it is a method for ruthlessly cutting down on your yearly focus points from 25 things to 5. Goals or ideas that you had that you would have liked to act upon but that don't directly correlate to your main direction are removed. Starting to set that long term vision for myself allowed this process to come easier. What would help me get to where I wanted to be in that time frame?
For instance, I have been wanting to spend time getting familiar with a different programming language. Sure, it's 'on topic' and probably useful, but it didn't make it into my top 5 list, which grants me permission to wipe it from my mind. In a way, this is a mental decluttering. Like tidying up a room, or removing unwanted goods from your desk space can give you space to breathe, the same goes for granting yourself the go ahead to remove all the thoughts that were floating in your brain, the things that you 'wanted to get to one day'. They will distract from the primary focus points, therefore they have to go!
I have six goals (if you can call them that), across two areas that make up my vision for 2021:
- To work on my physical fitness and mental health.
- Become a more organised person.
- Become a better, stronger and more dependable partner (husband - coming soon!).
- To pass my AWS Architect exams.
- Be more bold and decisive.
- Grow my blog to 10k viewers a month.
That is it! They are intentionally short and vague.
(Worth noting here that I would always previously considered my own blog/social media to be a personal category goal. I am trying to group everything to do with tech under work, regardless of whether it is directly related to my job or not).
When looking forward to the future, the first things that I wanted were to be healthy and happy. It was a shame that I never previously accounted for those things in my vision setting exercises.
From the six things listed above, I build a schedule of regular habits that allow me to work towards these goals. The process behind this could potentially make another blog post in the future.
I wanted to take a minute to thank everyone that has been reading my articles since I started. It honestly means the world that people keep showing up to see what I have to say.
A happy new year to everyone and your families <3 I appreciate you all.