January is “New Years Resolution Month” for me. I plan what I’ll improve in the rest of the year and how I’ll do it. Roughly 88% of people who make New Years Resolutions fail [Lehrer 2009]. Twenty years ago, software projects had extremely high failure rates like this. The software industry started adopting “agile” management practices, bringing project failure rates down to less than 50%.
Agile thinking can help us succeed with New Years resolutions, too. Here’s how to create “agile resolutions”, and succeed in ways you’ve not done before.
- Agile resolutions are moderate.
- Making risky bets invites stress and disappointment. For example, “get a 5% gain in stock market investments” is too likely to fail. Instead, consider learning or process resolutions, such as “study stock market techniques for one hour per week,” or “experiment every month with a new stock pick.”
- Consider habituating behavior the goal. Rob Myers has a great article on this [Myers 2011].
- Agile resolutions require only your commitment.
- Relying on others creates risk. For example, “Workout every other day with my friend” is riskier than “workout every other day.” If working out with a friend helps you, find a friend to go with you, but leave it off your resolution. If your friend isn’t available or unpredictable, go anyway.
- Agile resolutions iterate; they have value when partially completed.
- Big audacious goals are great, but make small, measurable improvements to get there. For example, “Clean the garage sufficiently to park a car” will depress you mid-year when you appreciate the distance to success. Contrast this with “Increase open floor space in the garage by 4 square feet every week, until you can park the car in it.” You have an opportunity to improve anytime. We get satisfaction seeing progress. At the end, if you didn’t make your ultimate goal, but made progress, take the win: things got better.
- Agile resolutions increase your freedom to adapt.
- Reduce inventory. If you have lots of stuff lying around that you never use or have real estate holdings that don’t generate a net profit, it usually decreases freedom. Owning stuff is not valuable in itself. My family once had two storage sheds worth of old stuff. When we considered the yearly cost, we could have bought everything in the sheds for our yearly storage shed rent. In the end we gave most of it away, putting the remainder in the garage. We save money and time having our stuff at home.
- When you can work from anywhere, that’s freedom. Consider transitioning to a laptop, tablet or the cloud for most of your work.
- Agile resolutions build resiliency.
- You need friends that would come to your rescue if you needed them to. Deepen relationships with likely candidates. This can greatly increase your resiliency. Find stable, loyal, honest, resourceful people, and befriend them by being stable, loyal, honest and resourceful with them. (At the same time, reduce your dependency on unreliable or drama-generating friends. They can decrease your resiliency.)
- Invest in and use an automatic backup system. If someone steals your computer, if the disk drive or SSD crashes, if your house burns to the ground, you should be able to walk into a store, buy a replacement, and keep working. Too many people I know have lost photographs, records and important records when the inevitable data disaster happened.
- Make sure your financial and email passwords are very strong, and make sure your online banking sites each have different passwords. If hackers steal your cash, don’t let them steal your stocks, credit or identity.
- Diversify your assets. Have some cash savings, some stocks and some tangible assets.
- Save money.
- Agile resolutions promote teamwork.
- Consider making another person successful, with the side-effect that you become successful, rather than focusing solely on yourself. This can build long-lasting bonds of friendship. For example, we suggested you not depend on others for your success; “I couldn’t work out every other day, because Jeff was never interested in going with me.” We went to “workout every other day.” Now we go to, “help Jeff work out every other day.” Will this work? Honestly, I’ve never tried it, but I’m going to try it this year.
- Agile resolutions eliminate contradictions and complexity.
- When you are honest and realistic, you make better decisions. Consider sharing more of your aspirations, your attributes, your capabilities with others; seek their feedback and support in reconciling contradictions and simplifying your life.
- Agile resolutions demonstrate value.
- Prove your worthiness to others by contributing reliably, arriving when promised and telling the truth.
- Experiment with one new stock pick each month. Reconcile Nick’s and my algorithm with published stocks picks in related algorithms: when are they right, when are we right?
- Increase the garage open floor space by at least 2 square feet per week, until there is room to park a car.
- Help Ron and Bobby exercise at least once per week by bringing them along with me or through some other means.
- Increase my network of influence by writing one article per month and getting feedback from two potentially paying consumers of the article’s content.
- Attend at least one event per month where I am likely to identify a stable, loyal, honest and resourceful friend candidate.
- Help Vince, John and Rob demonstrate at least one significant contribution to world knowledge per month.
- Identify business relationships with synergy, seeking others’ help in my field to gain new business once per quarter at minimum.
- Co-author one article per quarter.
Jonah Lehrer, Blame It on the Brain: The latest neuroscience research suggests spreading resolutions out over time is the best approach, Wall Street Journal, December 26, 2009.
Rob Myers, Gentle Discipline: Making Agile Happen in the New Year (2011).
Richard Wiseman, New Years Resolutions Experiment (2007).