This post is the third part of The nerd guide to lifestyle design: an engineered process to create your inspiring life.
The previous part is here.
I love being a nerd.
It might not win you the favors of many women, but it has other advantages. Like being a human video game encyclopaedia.
Or being able to build effective systems. Here’s what I mean…
In my engineering career, I’ve managed many projects over the last 10 years. I’ve experienced what it means to bring products to market.
Over time, I’ve adopted an approach to life focused on goals and built a system around it. This system allows me to detect when I deviate from my goals and immediately adjust my trajectory. It keeps me focused and driven towards reaching my goals.
It has been a clear differentiator in my life. Today, I’m going to share my system.
Let’s get started, shall we?
A popular and effective approach to project management is called GDPM: Goal Directed Project Management.
And what works to manage projects also works to manage your life.
Inspired by the GDPM approach, here’s the 6-step process I put together to :
If you’ve read The 9 Proven Keys To Achieve Your Goals Faster, you’ll have recognized that steps 3 to 6 form the PARC Wheel.
And when you put the whole process together, the acronym becomes: GoRePARC. I knew you would like that…
Let’s move on.
This system is the exact system I use for all my important goals. Following this system, here’s some of the things I achieved in the last 9 months, while on a full time job:
- I launched two websites
- I wrote 53 blog posts, including 5 guest posts
- I created my first online program
- I read 85 books
- I completed two courses on Coursera
- I listened to hundreds of podcasts for my personal growth
- I was interviewed on a podcast
Whatever your goals are, you can engineer your achievements by following this system.
Here’s how it goes.
At the center of the system are your goals.
Setting goals is easy. But setting the right goals takes a more systematic approach. What do I mean?
I mean you need to set SMART goals. Why?
Because SMART goals will give you focus, a clear deadline and you’ll know when you’ve achieved them. This is a must in project management. But I’m jumping ahead. You might be wondering: What does SMART mean?
There are variations in the meaning of SMART. Here’s the definition I’ve adopted.
To me, SMART means:
Specific goals are clear and unambiguous. For example, if you’re writing a book, your 30 day goal might be to write one chapter. That’s specific.
Your goals have to be measurable. Taking the book example, you can clearly measure whether you have finished your chapter or not. A qualitative element, on the other hand, might not be easily measurable. If your goal is to write high quality material for your chapter, you need to specify what good quality means and how you measure it. It could be that one person reads it and gives you a positive feedback.
Then, your goals should be achievable. Your experience will tell you what’s achievable. Writing a full book in 30 days might or might not be achievable to you. You should aim for something ambitious, but not out of reach.
Your goals are relevant when the value of achieving them is clear to you. In short, milestones need to bring you closer to your end goals. And for your ends goal, you need to have a clear reason for achieving them. I’ll dig deeper into reasons in step 2.
Finally, your goals need to be time-bound. You have to define clearly by which date you want to achieve them. As you’ll see shortly, this aspect is taken care of in the system, by construction.
Now that we’ve clarified what SMART goals are and their benefit to your life, let’s discuss end goals and milestones.
End goals give you your target. They are your destination.
But executing on a 3 year plan without clear milestones along the way is bound to fail. What you need is short term milestones that you’ll be working towards. Why do you need short term milestones? There’s two main reasons.
First, let’s have a look at the motivation equation. It was first introduced in a 2006 Academy of Management Review article. Here’s the equation:
Motivation = (expectancy x value)/(1+impulsiveness x delay),
where expectancy is the probability of success and impulsiveness is the sensitivity to delay (delayed gratification).
As you can see, a high delay until you achieve your goal will decrease your motivation. You’ll end up giving up before you get to the finish line. Short term milestones will reduce this delay and keep your motivation high.
Second, it won’t be clear to you what you need to do to achieve a long term goal unless you reverse-engineer it into smaller short term milestones. And if you’re not clear on what you need to do, how can you take action?
So, here’s how you set your milestones:
- Take your life goals. If you haven’t set any life goals yet, here’s a post that will help you do that. Once you’ve got your life goals, you can come back here.
- Then, from those goals, set 3 years, 1 year and 6 months milestones. They are goals that you need to achieve along the way to your life goal. Note that you might have several milestones per goal.
Try to limit your goals to maximum 5 for each timeframe. That will keep your focused. As you can see, all of your goals will be automatically time-bound. Now, go a step further and make them SMART.
Here’s an example from my own goals to illustrate.
One of my life goals is to reach financial freedom. I have a couple of goals related to that, but here’s one goal for each period:
- 3-year goal: launch 5 programs
- One-year goal: launch 2 programs
- 6-months goal: launch 1 program
Next, let’s make sure your motivation to achieve goals is in order.
Whenever you want to achieve a goal, and before you go into a lot of planning, you need to make sure you’ve got clear motivation to achieve that goal.
That means you need a reason to achieve your goal. An incentive rooted in your core. I’ve covered this topic in my previous article The key to success is to make sure you use the In & Out Rule and in The 9 Proven Keys To Achieve Your Goals Faster. But here’s a quick recap.
Your incentive to achieve a goal fuels your intrinsic motivation. Without that incentive, you can’t keep working on a goal for long without depleting your energy and motivation. External rewards will keep you going for a while, but at some point, you’ll run out of steam.
To find your reason for achieving a goal, ask yourself why questions. Sakichi Toyoda developed the 5 Whys technique to find the root cause of any problem. The number 5 comes from an empirical observation of the typical number of Why iterations needed to find the root cause of a problem.
We can use this technique, or more generally why questions to find the root cause that motivates any of your goals.
Start by asking yourself: Why do you want to achieve that goal?
For example, if your goal is to loose weight, ask yourself a series of why questions until you get to the bottom of it. A root cause could be to be more attractive and widen your choice of partners. Or it might be something else. Your root cause has to be a life altering reason. You will know when you’ve got it as it will strongly resonate with you.
My reason for wanting to reach financial freedom is to be able to live a passionate life on my terms, without pressure to generate more revenue.
So, for each of your life goals, make sure to find your root cause. Then, write it down next to your goal.
And if you can’t find your root cause for a specific goal, it could mean that goal as it’s not that important to you. If that happens, pause and reflect about it. Then, take the appropriate actions. You might decide to drop that goal from your list.
You now have your long term goals and reasons associated with them. Time to plan.
When you want to develop a product, you need a clear plan. All the steps of the process until launch have to be planned. This is the task of the project manager.
And when you want to achieve your goals, you also need a clear plan. It has to be written down. In short, you need to be the project manager of your life.
Now, the more complex your plan is, the more likely you are to get lost in it. That’s where the KISS principle comes into play. KISS stands for Keep It Simple Stupid. It’s a design principle coming from the US Navy.
What it tells us is that a system works best if it’s kept simple. It’s engineering basics.
What’s the bottom line?
Keep your planning as simple as possible. This is my philosophy, as you’re about to see.
Here’s how I build my plan. You can follow these steps to build yours:
- Starting from my 6 months goals, I create my 90 days plan. I set 3 goals.
- Then, I slice up my 90 days goals into goals for the first, second and third months. In total, I get 9 goals spread over 90 days.
- Next, I create my monthly plan. Taking my 3 goals for the first month, I create 3 weekly goals for week 1 to 4.
- Finally, I write down my daily tasks for each day of my first week. For each day, I try to limit my number of tasks to 5 maximum. Next to each task, I put the time I’m planning to spend on it.
- Each day, I highlight my two most important tasks for the day. I will then work on these tasks first.
You might be thinking: Wait! 4 weeks equals 28 days, so how do you move from 30 days to 28 days?
The truth is, I don’t. What happens is that I get a shift of 2-3 days each month. My plan shift back in time each month.
From my experience, it’s an acceptable compromise. The alternative of using 28 days plans, then 84 days plans instead of 90 days for 3 months, quickly gets confusing.
An important note. When you plan your first month, make sure that your first weekly goals are achievable. You want to set yourself up for success. So make sure your first goals are within reach.
Also, my weekly plan is composed of tasks that I need to work on to achieve my weekly goals. I still get the satisfaction of crossing out my tasks when they’re done, but they are not goals.
To illustrate the process, let’s go back to my 6-months goal of launching one program. To keep it simple, I’m only showing one goal for each part. By the way, these are real goals that I have pursued to create my first program, the one I mentioned at the beginning of the post.
To launch a program in 6 months, I need to get all the material ready in the next 90 days. Then, in the last three months, I can shoot videos, edit, setup the program website and launch.
So, one my 90 day goal becomes: Finish all the slides for the program
Next, I write my goals for the first 3 months:
- Month 1: Write the overall outline of the program
- Month 2: Outline every module of the program
- Month 3: Finish all the slides for the program
Then, I set my milestones for the first 4 weeks:
- Week 1: Brainstorm topics, select one and write draft outline
- Week 2: Research existing books, websites and programs on the same topic
- Week 3: Research burning needs of the market for this particular topic
- Week 4: Write the overall outline of the program
Finally, my plan for the first week:
- Monday: Brainstorm programs I could create (1h)
- Tuesday: Brainstorm more programs I could create (1h)
- Wednesday: Write rough outline for each program (1h)
- Thursday: Review programs and select one (1h)
- Friday: Write draft outline (1h)
- Sunday: Plan week 2
As you can see, in the end, I get a detailed plan that gives me short term focus and a clear path to my end goal. It’s simple and at the same time has enough steps for me not to miss anything important.
With clear goals for every day of your week, you can now execute on your plan. It’s crucial to focus on execution at this stage and to avoid second-guessing your planning.
To stay motivated to take action, follow the In & Out Rule.
If you’re still struggling to get started, take appropriate measures:
- Read motivational quotes
- Watch motivational videos
- Get fired up through music
But you’ve got to take action!
You might be thinking: “It’s okay for you, Antoine, you’re an achiever so taking action is second nature to you. But I’m a serial procrastinator, I just can’t get myself to take action”. Well, I’ve got news for you.
I do procrastinate as well. In fact, in do it every day. There’s always tasks that I will try to avoid. Even tasks that I’m committed to do. No, it’s not all rosy for me either.
But I’ve learned to notice when I procrastinate. Sometimes, noticing it is enough to stop me from doing it. Other times, I indulge in it for a little while, then get back to work.
The key to not let procrastination ruin your life is to first notice it. Then think about your big goals and why a specific task must be done to reach your goals. Finally, you need to force yourself to take action. Once you’ve started working on a task, it’s much easier to keep going.
And when you replace your procrastination habits by new, productive, habits, you re-wire your brain so that you stop being a serial procrastinator. The best remedy to stop procrastination is to take action. Counter-intuitive, I know.
If you want to know more about procrastination, I cover it in details in The 9 Proven Keys To Achieve Your Goals Faster.
Once you’ve started acting, follow your agenda for the whole week. Start each day by working on the two daily tasks you’ve highlighted in step 3. Then, work on the remaining ones. You’ll soon appreciate not having too many tasks each day.
When you complete your tasks every day, you build momentum.
In classical mechanics, momentum is the product of the mass and velocity of an object. Picture a truck moving at high speed hitting a car and you get an idea of the impact of a large momentum.
Now the more tasks you complete towards a single goal, the more “achievement mass” your develop. And when you complete tasks every day, your “achievement speed” is high. Over time, you become almost unstoppable.
For example, let’s say you are writing a 200 pages book. Now, consider two scenarios:
- You write 5 pages of your book every day
- You write 5 pages of your book every week
After 21 days, in the first scenario, you are more than half way through the book. Because you’re half way through, it becomes much easier for you to stay motivated to finish the book. Because your momentum is high, you don’t need much energy to keep going. Also, you have started building a daily habit, that will stay with you.
In the second scenario, you’ll only have written 15 pages. You’re still a long way off from finishing your book and you haven’t built a daily habit. Because your momentum is low, you need a lot more energy and willpower to keep going.
I hope you now understand the power of momentum.
And it gets better: as you complete tasks and start achieving goals, your confidence and motivation to keep going will increase. Why?
Because the reward from achievements will cause the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in your brain. And dopamine will motivate you to carry on doing what you’re doing. Dopamine will come back into play in step 6 of the process.
Also, when you’ve achieved your goals and look back at your achievements, you’ll have direct proof that you can do what it takes to reach your goals. You’ll have proof of your competence and commitment. And this will increase your confidence.
The only way for me to finish my first program was to take action on my plan. And that’s what I did.
Progress review is a must in a project. It’s also a must when you’re working towards your goals.
At the end of your first week, you need to review your progress.
First, take the time to appreciate what you’ve achieved during that week. Write down your biggest wins for the week.
Then, do a general review of your progress:
- Did you struggle with anything?
- Did you achieve all your goals or missed a few?
- Did you stretch yourself enough to reach your goals or were the goals too hard to achieve?
- Did you pack too many goals?
Write down the results of your analysis.
Once you’re done, plan your second week day by day. Apply your learning from the review of the first week and plan your tasks accordingly.
Follow this process until the end of the month. Then do a monthly review.
Your monthly review doesn’t have to be as detailed as the weekly review. The important part is to judge your progress against your 90 day plan, that might then impact your 6M, 1Y and 3Y plans.
This is where another project management tool comes into play: the Scope-Time-Cost triangle.
When you plan a project, you first define the product requirements. This is your scope. Then, based on requirements, you estimate the needed resources (people, hardware).
Finally, you calculate the time it will take to finish the project and its cost.
In a project, scope, time and cost are linked, that’s why they form a triangle.
For example, if you increase the scope of your project (e.g. add more features to the product), it will increase the overall cost and potentially the time it takes to finish it. If you don’t want to face any delay, you’ll have to throw in more resources to finish on time. Which will increase the cost even more.
Bottom line: if you want to alter either the scope, time or cost of a project, you’ll impact at least one of the other two parameters.
For your life, it works the same way. In your monthly review, if you notice your actual progress doesn’t match your plan, you need to react.
You could invest money to accelerate your future progress and reach your goals on time. Examples are:
- Taking a training course
- Reading expert books
- Hiring a coach
Or, you could just shift your goals back by a month. Or even reduce the scope, i.e. reduce your goals.
At the end of every monthly review, adjust your future plan according to the Scope-Time-Cost triangle.
Then, every quarter, review your progress on your 90 day plan. Once you’re done, plan your next 90 days. Your previous 6 months goals become your new 90 day plan.
And again, after 6 months, review your second 90 day plan. This time, your 1 year goals become your new 6 months goals and you need to create new 6 months goals.
Follow the process until you reach your 3 year goals and beyond.
You got the gist of it… Let’s move to the last step of the process.
When you achieve your goals, you need to reward yourself. Why?
Because of dopamine. I’ll explain…
When you’re working on new goals, you eat into your energy and motivation. And when your end target is 3 years away, you’ll end up giving up before you reach that target. Unless… you build the right habits and intrinsic motivation.
Since you’ve clarified your reasons for achieving your goals in step 2, you’re already in good hands in terms of intrinsic motivation. And when you follow the GoRePARC process, over time, you’ll build the right habits. Habits will minimize your energy consumption (check the In & Out Rule for more details).
But, often, that is not enough. You need an extra kick. A kick you can get by rewarding yourself.
Because rewards affect the release of dopamine in your brain. And dopamine keeps you motivated (If you want to learn more about dopamine, check The 9 Proven Keys To Achieve Your Goals Faster).
Also, as you’re focused on short term goals every week, you get dopamine releases when you achieve those goals.
What’s the bottom line? The first week, reward yourself for achieving your goals. A simple reward is enough, like watching a film or going for a walk on the beach.
Do it every week for the first month.
Then, reward yourself for achieving your monthly goals. A more substantial reward is adequate. Buy yourself an album on iTunes, a good book or treat yourself to a nice dinner.
Every time you start new activities or working on new goals, it’s important to reward yourself to further encourage your good behavior. To get your dopamine release.
But then, after the first month, weekly rewards are generally not needed anymore. You’ll have already built sufficient intrinsic motivation to keep you going. Then, rewarding yourself for achieving your monthly goals for the second month is enough.
I encourage you to test yourself and see whether you need further rewards or not. Find your balance. Reward yourself when adequate.
I’ve found that I don’t need rewards any more once I’ve built enough intrinsic motivation.
It’s Up To You Now
Here you have it. This is the GoRePARC system that I use to stay on track and systematically achieve my goals.
Why don’t you try it? Start using it today and let me know what you results are by commenting here in the coming weeks.
I can’t wait to see your results…