Third Year of Setting Annual, Personal Goals

I have been setting annual, personal goals since three years ago for each of the following years. While I didn’t achieve all my goals for any of the years, working towards the goals have had many great impacts on my life.

In 2015, one of my personal goals was to apply for a job at Buffer. That goal eventually led me to my current job as a content crafter at Buffer.

In 2016, I aimed to read for an hour per day or at least 10 books for the year. I read 11 books and listened to three audiobooks. That’s the most I have ever read in a year, and I learned a lot from the books.

Why I Set Personal Goals?

Research has found that setting goals increases one’s motivation and performance. But the reason I set personal goals is less scientific. It came from Alice in Wonderland.

In the book, Alice met the Cheshire Cat and asked it which way she should go. When the Cheshire Cat replied that it depends on where she wants to go, Alice said that it doesn’t matter as long as she gets somewhere. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cheshire Cat, adding that if Alice walked long enough, she will get somewhere.

There are many interpretations of this conversation. My interpretation is this: If I don’t know where I want to go, I’ll eventually reach somewhere as long as I go in a direction. But I don’t want to end up just anywhere. That somewhere might not be where I’d love to be. For instance, I might have a job that I dislike.

Setting personal goals keeps me mindful of what I want to achieve and how I spend my time. I think it’s unproductive to live day-to-day without having an idea (albeit a rough one) of what I want to achieve. Having an end in mind allows me to work towards it instead of living each day aimlessly.

That said, I find it hard to know exactly what I want to achieve many years from now. I have an abstract idea of my long-term dreams but right now, I find planning for a one-year timeframe much more manageable. Maybe when I get better at thinking and planning further into the future, I’d set three, five, or ten-year goals.

Three Years of Iterations

I have refined my goal-setting process slightly each year but it has been mostly the same. There are three things that I’ve been doing consistently:

1. Reflect on the past year
My goal-setting process starts with a reflection on the past year where I’d write down all the important events in the year. I’d push myself to list out as many things as possible so that I’d remember the little yet important things. For the last two years (2015 and 2016), the list had 35 and 33 things respectively.

I’d start by writing down whatever that comes to mind, then think about specific areas of my life such as love, family, friends, growth, career, and financial, and finally I’d refer to the previous year’s list to help spark any memories.

2. Plan holistically
My annual plan considers all the important areas of my life for that year. The set of areas varies a little each year but it usually includes relationships, career, health, and leisure. Since it is a plan for my life, I think it makes sense to plan for every important area than just one or two.

3. Share the plan
Once I’ve set my goals, I’d share the plan with my girlfriend (now fiancé) and a close friend to get their feedback and to keep myself accountable. As I talk to them about my life and personal goals the most, they have the context to understand my goals, know how I think, and would often ask me about my progress towards my goals.

What has changed is that I try to be more specific with my personal goals. Three years ago, my belief was that annual goals should be high-level since the timeframe is long. In my 2015 plan, I had goals like “balance work and family”. It was hard to act on such goals as they were vague. This year, I made my goals more specific by having sub-goals, such as “have at least one dinner with my family per week” and “go for a family trip” under my goal of “always make time for my family”.

How Do You Plan Your Life?

Planning my goals annually keeps me mindful of how I want to live my life each year. I’ll keep up with this practice for many more years, and I want to improve my goal setting and planning process, too. One of the things I’d love to do is to plan longer term.

How do you plan your life or year? Do you have any advice for me?

Thanks!


One of the favorite things I’m learning at work is how to work. This might sound a little silly but I feel it’s quite important so let me explain. When I think of “how to work”, there are several things that come to mind.

(Sorry in advance that I’d leave you with more questions than helpful information!)

First, how to be effective. I have always thought about being efficient (ie. doing things fast and right) but I learned that being effective (ie. doing the right things) should come first. There have been times when I spent hours on a task that isn’t the most important thing I could have been doing. I found categorizing tasks into “Important and urgent”, “Important but not urgent”, “Urgent but not important”, and “Not important and not urgent” a helpful first step. But how to allocate time among them feels like an art, and I don’t think I’ve mastered it yet. On a higher-level, how do I decide what new projects to take on? There are so many exciting ideas to work on but not all will be worth exploring.

Second, how to make full use of my one-on-ones with my team lead. I’m grateful to have a weekly one-on-one with my team lead. I’m not sure how many of my peers have one-on-ones in their companies. Sometimes, I have so much to discuss with my team lead that an hour is not enough. Sometimes, I don’t have a lot in my mind to talk about but I also don’t want to talk just to fill up the hour. How can I make better use of the full hour?

Third, how to plan my day. With teammates across 12 time zones, I feel lucky that I don’t have to stick to a fixed 9-5. On some days, I start at 7 am and stop work by 4 pm. On other days, I start at 7 am, take a long break in the afternoon, and end my day at 9 pm. How do I do enough work, spend enough time knowing my teammates, and also have time for myself and my loved ones? I prefer sticking to a routine but my schedule has been changing every once in a while. I’m still figuring out what’s a good routine to have but perhaps it is meant to change constantly.

Fourth, how much work is enough. Work never ends. There are always more things to do or new things to try — and that’s exciting! Many of us love our job so much that we like to keep working. But that is probably not sustainable. How do I decide what’s enough for the day or the week?

Fifth, how to balance work and team bonding activities. Being a fully-distributed team means we don’t see one another along the hallways, chat in the pantry, or go out for lunch together. (Some of us do meet up once in a while.) So team bonding activities are important. Our People team (ie. Human Resource team) plans activities for us to get together, know one another better, and have fun together. There are many opportunities to bond as a team, too: celebrations for promotions and new roles, showing appreciation and gratitude for each other, sharing personal news or funny stories, and more. These are important but they aren’t work. I think finding a good balance is key to being a happy, productive worker.

Sixth, how to balance work and learning. We are always encouraged to take the time to learn new things and improve ourselves, even during working hours. I’m so glad that “Have a focus on self-improvement” is one of our values. Getting the right work done usually produces immediate results. The effects of improving myself are more long term. How do I balance both immediate and longer-term needs? How do I allocate my time?

Seventh, when to take a break. We have a minimum vacation practice (which is awesome) as we feel that taking the time to recharge ourselves is important. How often should I take a break? How long should the break be? I imagine the answers to these questions differ for everyone. Sometimes, we work harder and longer hours for special events such as a campaign or a launch. But after those events, should I work less than an average day? What’s a good balance?

I have some thoughts on these questions but not the answers yet. I don’t imagine that there are black and white answers, too. They are probably different in different circumstances and for different people. What works best for me now might not work in the future, too. I see this as a continuous learning journey instead of a destination to reach, and I’m excited!


how-im-learning-to-become-a-better-content-marketer

I recently became a content writer at Buffer. Buffer is a tech startup relatively well-known for content marketing, among many other things.

(Disclaimer: We gained that reputation before I became a content writer.)

I used to focus on community building. Recently, I had the opportunity to venture into the world of content marketing. A big part of content marketing is writing, and I don’t consider myself a great writer.

So I’m thankful for the opportunity, especially being able to learn from and work alongside some of the best content marketers in the industry.

At the same time, I also know there’s a lot of work ahead of me.

What I Have Been Doing

For the last three weeks, I have been working much harder to improve my writing.

I wrote at least 750 words a day.

I worked on the basics of writing such as spelling, grammar, and sentence structure.

I took notes in my Evernote whenever I learned something new.

But I know that if I want to become a better content marketer faster, I need to do more.

Figuring Out A Plan

When I was thinking of what I could do, I thought of my university days.

My grades were pretty good but it wasn’t because I’m smart (I don’t think I’m smart). It was because there was a great system for learning. And I like to think I’m rather diligent in following the system.

Because I trusted the system, I did everything the system had planned for me. I attended (almost) every lecture. I did (almost) every tutorial before the seminar classes. That served me well.

When I stepped into the “real” world, I realized things are different. No more syllabus, no more lectures, no more homework. I became a little lost.

I thought about it, and I think I might have found an explanation.

Back in university, instead of having to figure out how to learn, I was focusing on learning. With the system, I knew exactly what to do to become better.

Now, without a system for learning, I wasn’t sure how to go about it. I have been learning in a disorganized manner.

My gut feeling was that having a system would be beneficial to me if I want to learn faster.

info-vs-knowledge

(Graphic by Hugh MacLeod)

Defining What I Need to Do

Before I dive right into creating a system, I thought it’d be great to define what I need to do.

To become a better content marketer and writer, I know I need to do more than writing regularly.

My hunch is I have to go through the full process of creating a content. Many times. While I have been writing daily, I haven’t been publishing my writing. I haven’t been editing and refining my writing, too.

I’m sure I’m missing out valuable lessons there.

Having considered that, there are two major things I need to:

  • Publish more online
  • Learn more about content marketing

Creating A System for Myself

After I’ve defined what I need to do, I could start creating a system to speed up my learning.

Like the system in my university, I want to have a system which gives me a clear idea of what I need to do to become better.

Thankfully, Kevan Lee, a great content marketer (and my team lead), generously shared how he got into content marketing. I decided to follow his approach.

Here’s the system I’ve come up with:

  1. Publish twice a week: This can be on the Buffer Social blog, our Medium publication, here, or other blogs as guest posts. By publishing articles, I’ll go through the full process of content creation — from ideation to research to writing to editing to promotion.
  2. Create a playground: This blog will be my playground. Apart from publishing articles, I can experiment with new things. I thought of experimenting with email newsletters, re-publishing onto Medium, and more. Also, since few people know about this blog, it takes some pressure off me.
  3. Read more articles and books: One thing I noticed is I can’t tell what a quality article is and what makes it great. I believe reading more will help me improve my judgment. More specifically, I want to read two articles a day and finish one book every two weeks.

my-content-marketing-learning-system

Bonus: To add structure to my learning process, I’m taking HubSpot’s content marketing course as well. It includes about four hours of videos and an exam at the end.

While passing the exam doesn’t necessarily make me a great content marketer, knowing that there’s an exam usually has a psychological effect on my mind to work (even) harder.

I believe this system should adapt as I progress further so I expect it to change in the future.

Keeping to the system

A challenge for this would be to stick to the system.

It’s much easier to say that I want to do all that than actually doing them.

So I thought of a few ways to help me:

  • Writing this post and publishing it is in itself a way. I hope by doing so, I’d feel more accountable to keep with the system.
  • At work, I found that when I tracked the progress of a project, the project would tend to be at the top of my mind. So, I created a spreadsheet to track my progress. (It’s public if you want to check it out!) I kept it simple as I want it to be easy to update.
  • For the last three weeks, I have been tweeting about my daily writing streak. Receiving encouragements from others has motivated me to continue. So, I’m going to tweet about my progress for this too. Perhaps wanting to be able to share my progress with this system could keep me going too.

Over to you

Do you use a system to speed up your learning? How do you keep yourself accountable?

I’d love to hear and learn from you!