Eye on the Prize, kid
New Year’s Resolutions get a bad rap: everyone talks about them, but according to the University of Scranton, only 8% of people keep them. Even concerted efforts to get good results tend to fall flat.
Why? The reasons vary from one person to the next. But for some- including me- it’s a matter of public accountability. When you set goals secretly, you get to fail without anyone noticing. And while personal satisfaction is (the most important) part of the game, achievement in the eyes of peers motivates even the slothful to pursue super human heights.
Or at least keep their desks clean!
To hold myself accountable, I’m publicly listing my New Year’s Resolutions for 2016. To keep it crisp, accountable, and worthy, I will outline each as follows:
- The Goal
- Reason for pursuing The Goal
- Plan for pursuing The Goal
- Penalty for missing The Goal
- Reward for accomplishing The Goal
In addition, all goals will match the traditional SMART model:
This holds me accountable and in accordance with best business practices for my personal pursuits. In return, all that I ask is that you hold me to my word. If I miss on these goals, it’s my job to pay the penalty with a smile on my face. If I make it, wonderful: I have improved as planned and get to pursue what is next. This keeps me determined, a requirement for achieving anything significant.
Here are my goals:
- Complete 100 kickboxing sessions at 9Rounds.
Reason for the Goal: I’m out of shape. Waaaayyy out of shape. I have a skinny body with high metabolism, so I sort of get to hide out on this one publicly. Unfortunately, that’s another thing allowing me to duck accountability with this goal.
I’m not proud of it, necessarily, but at one point in time I could run a 10K after getting home from a bar. I would knock out 6 rounds on the hand pads without blinking even though I was working 95 hour weeks. Nothing could stop me. Sleep itself couldn’t get in the way of physical hustle.
The last few years of work have undone that. The more sedentary I have gotten, the worse I have performed. Meanwhile, the years of running have chipped at my knees. I tried a traditional gym, but I’m gonna be honest: I flipping hate the gym. I hate waiting for the next person to get off the machine. I hate the fact that the basketball court never has a stray hoop where I can plant myself at the free throw line and shoot consistently. I just generally dislike it.
I might like it better at 2 AM, but I’m usually up to something else at that point. Just the way it is.
Before the gym, I did Title Kickboxing. That was pretty effective, but that hour and change in time at the gym seemed less efficient than I would prefer, and I eventually decided the price tag was too stiff.
This last month, I got lucky. A 9Rounds opened up down the street from me. For those unfamiliar with the model, 9Rounds has nine stations (hence the name) with different equipment at each station. The station-specific workouts vary by day, but they always take a half hour to complete. There’s a trainer at all times, you can start any time during business hours (there’s a morning shift and an evening shift) and you can just hit the bags here and there if you prefer. I tried out a few sessions and liked them. Then the Black Friday special came and split the price in half. I was sold.
Plan: I’m on session #6 out of 100 (toward my goal). When I get there, the gym gives you a shirt that says “I earned this shirt”. That shirt will mean a lot to me. But completing the goal in 12 months is an average of twice per week. While that’s not too shabby, I figured knocking it back to eight months turns it into a challenge of averaging a little less than three times a week, which is more than fair. Overcompensating upfront solves the challenge a little better on the back end.
Penalty: While I always enjoyed running, there is a limit for me to how much I can appreciate the activity. Nine or ten miles on my longest outing could be fulfilling, but I would never be interested in running a marathon. It’s not that I don’t like challenges that big; I love a big challenge. That’s just too much for me. I don’t like running that much.
Therefore, if I don’t meet this first goal, I will plan and train for the first reasonable marathon on the roster. I don’t want to, but I could do it. It would just take a lot more work.
It’s 100 visits in 8 months, or a marathon within approximately a year. There’s my reminder to not quit.
Reward: Be in the best shape of my life. Breathe better. Have better muscles. Feel more confident. Also, if I hit all of my sessions in a given week, I’m getting myself something large and tasty to eat. I need the calories anyway, but I’ll make sure it’s something I really want rather than any old thing.
2. Less Facebook (Three Short Interactions or One Long Interaction Per Day not Related to Business)
Reason for the Goal: This one is a pickle. I use Facebook for business. It’s part of the funnel. It keeps things moving. I also have two regularly flowing online communities housed on Facebook. These communities are something I would like to keep around for a long time. People derive great joy from them.
But FB comes with tremendous baggage. Between everyone’s advice, news stories, political input, memes, and everything else is an ongoing urge to respond, waste time, and do nothing right. It speaks to my fiery political upbringing, which prompts me to respond to political claims and make polarizing statements that jeopardize my business relationships.
I used to be good at not mixing these things up; now, I feel a little too wrapped up in the machine. This post is business; it’s public accountability. Posts on politics, not so much. Posts on silliness, even less so. I’m adjusting how I do what I do.
Plan: My first move was to get Messenger.com so I can keep a Message box tab open without seeing my news feed on desktop. That doesn’t address my mobile use issue. I think that is more a matter of will than anything else. I simply have to avoid opening the app. To facilitate that, I moved the FB app off of my mobile desktop, replacing it with Venmo and Evernote. I have also turned off notifications for a variety of groups, unfollowed people, and basically told myself to stay away from the news feed screen.
I also started a Facebook group for New Year’s Resolutions. Whenever I log in to Facebook, the group is staring at me… forcing me to either trade notes on a goal or go pursue it on my own… or just log out of Facebook altogether so I’m not on there.
Another general good plan point: no back and forth argumentation with people I don’t know. All it does is raise everyone’s blood pressure.
If the world changes and we rely on a powerful social movement aided by ubiquitous technology to stave off certain doom, I’ll go back on Facebook more often. For now, this is good enough.
Penalty: Aside from personal public accountability shaming through- ironically- a Facebook resolutions group, I will also force myself to kiss the Mensch on a Bench I got as a gag gift and take a selfie doing it. I do NOT like Mensch on a Bench. I do not like that we have it. But since we do, I’ll use it as a mild public embarrassment tool to force myself to behave.
Reward: Having more time to do everything else is a world class reward. I will also allot two hours of weekend reading (something I should do anyway, but also something I enjoy and would do more of if I could, anyway).
3. Double my business revenue.
Reason for the Goal: It’s easy to say that the purpose of this goal is to “make more money, attain financial security, and take my business to the top” but that’s oversimplifying it. Some of those things are about right, but there’s more to it than that.
I started RedShift Writers in December of 2012. The point of the company was to fill a hole in the market when it came to hiring a writing specialist. We accomplished that mission pretty quickly.
The company has now survived three years. We beat the standard survival rate. We’re one of the god/lucky ones. On the other hand, there is still plenty to be desired. Scalability- the white whale for entrepreneurs- has been a struggle. Management and processes are more difficult. And paper work… oi vey!
I survive. I improve. The business does better. But at some point, every entrepreneur has to determine where the right success fit is for the long haul. The long term business canvas of the company has changed, and so has my perspective. With that change has come an alteration of business plans to perform better than before. Way better.
Plan: I’ve always been good at communication, mainly writing and speaking. The margins for writing and speaking vary quite a bit. They do, however, open the door to good training courses. And if those courses are backed by good results, that’s a product that’s both effective and honest.
So in the last six months, I have launched OntoBox Training with Jason Arcemont. The classes are based on material that has been worked and reworked. We sell what we know, and we push what we sell. The products are far more scalable and open the door to more and more opportunities.
I also am looking to meet fellow professionals and entrepreneurs who are interested in:
- Mutual lead funnels
- Or innovative ways to improve what we do.
Penalty: Here’s the big promise:
If I fail in this goal… if I cannot double my revenue (without destroying my margins or eating into profits in a really ugly and unsustainable way)… I will get a job.
Small business owners know the pressure of what that means. Job may as well have four letters instead of three to people who fancy themselves entrepreneurs. But here’s the deal: if you can’t make it at what you’re doing, and it’s jeopardizing your spiritual, physical, mental, emotional, social or financial wellbeing, there’s nothing else to do. You alter that goal.
Does that mean you can never try again? Of course not. You just may need to go ninja, get ready for the next round, and go underground for a while. Or you may find a better fit inside an organization. Regardless, if I don’t get where I’m going, I’ll try something else.
There are organizations that are a good fit for almost everyone with economic capabilities. I am no different. And this penalty places me on what Sun Tzu calls “Death Ground”: the choice between success and dramatic transition.
Reward: Aside from better financial wealth, I get to stay in the realm of business. I get to remain in the land of business deals without exit. I get to stay my own boss.
I also will have earned the right to consult people on bigger ideas. Again, I want to sell products honestly. They need to be effective. If I or a partner do not have the capability to help other people, then I won’t sell the capability to help other people. This reward is the right to say I’m in the proper section of the neighborhood pool; if it turns out I belong in the shallow end of the kiddie pool, then that’s where I’ll go, but that’s not the plan. If I succeed, I’ll do a presentation on it.
The right to remain in the arena is its own reward.
4. Visit more People I care About and Less I Don’t (See Grandma once per week; call my niece every two weeks)
Reason for the Goal: I heard at one point that people in their twenties think they will be able to do everything but people in their thirties start honing in on specific things they want to accomplish. The older I get, the more sense that makes. I’m an outgoing and gregarious guy, but I don’t need a million new friends. I have a lot of friends. What I need to do is focus in on the friends I want to keep, and make sure to connect with my family.
Something feels intuitively adult about this goal: to fulfill your familial duties and make good on your personal wish to visit others. As complicated as it can feel to do it sometimes, not talking to family (presuming there isn’t a major health reason or toxic family dynamic) is a poor choice. If you love your family, you should see them.
The same is true of friends. True friends aren’t easy to come by. Haters, users, abusers, and BSers are a dime a dozen. If you have good friends who are worth keeping, keep them around.
Plan: Part of this is simple: I will attend my grandmother’s singalong every Saturday, where a roomful of glorious aging citizens harmonize to the tune of everything from That’s Amore to Bicycle Built for Two to the Israeli National Anthem. It’s an hour of time, and grandsons just like me go all the time.
I will likewise call my niece. She’s out of town, so I need to coordinate times a little more, but I keep good contact with my brother. This is doable. I just need to do it.
Penalty: When you don’t fulfill your family duties in some countries you get shamed, or even executed. That seems drastic. I’m not out to hurt myself; the penalties are for accountability!
So for this resolution, missing a week means I lose out on something else for a week. Personally, I like a beer twice per week. So if I miss either of these, those go away. No family, no beer. No two ways about it.
Reward: Fulfillment and a feeling of maturity, as well as the feeling that comes with strong personal responsibility. Also: every month this goal is successfully completed, I will buy a book. I like books. I buy too many of them, frankly, but “Buying less books” is not one of this year’s resolutions, so I will worry about that next year.
5. Finish writing a book.
Reason for the Goal: I have helped ghostwrite two books thus far. It’s one of my advantages as a content developer to provide the kind of support for others to crank out that kind of long form media, and I am proud to be able to help make it happen. But I am also a writer and business developer without a book to my name.
I’m not interested in writing about something I don’t know about and taking credit for the knowledge, of course; that’s just charlatanism. But I AM interested in sharing something I do know about, which is developing a voice for a company or organization.
For that reason, I am currently developing The Brand Voice, a step-by-step guide to developing a verbal approach that captures the personality of brands. I’ve been serving as the voice of brands in varying industries for nearly a decade now, and this is a great opportunity to share what I have learned in a simple, easy-to-use way. It also has helped me sharpen and clarify my own process, no easy task.
The goal here is not just to produce any old book; the point is to produce a goodbook. A good book written under my own byline should open the door to new opportunities and increase my chances for career success regardless of how the next few years shake out. It also gives me a chance to share and teach others how to do something I know how to do. Since I love to teach, this is a great opportunity and a wonderful challenge.
Plan: The book is already in an outline phase, but the goal here is to use the first month to keep sharpening the order and format, the second month to flesh out the content, and the third month to handle all remaining edits, expansions, and format/print nuts and bolts. Production and marketing may take a little more time, but that ought to get a good book in hand. And if it takes a little longer, no problem; there’s a time margin built in. I have a task system set up and will use that to build out the content cleanly so I do not go mad or lose direction in the process.
Penalty: If I don’t put out a book, I have to stop writing anything that is not required to make me money until the book is finished. That would suck for me. A lot. Because I like writing. Regardless, no book means no anything else until the book is done.
Reward: Upon the completion of this book, I will take the time to hit the interview circuit. I consider this a reward in spite of its natural fit into a marketing plan and general business expansion plan as I try to leverage the book itself.
Why? Because I like media tours. It’s that simple. While PR is good for some businesses and there’s nothing wrong with working it intelligently into the marketing mix, there are plenty of times when interviews, panels, and other PR moves are made to appease the ego of the owner. I may be a little biased in both directions on this, and both downplay the need for PR and downplay the elements of it that are ego-free in my own life. Regardless, I will allow myself to make a media tour run with this book and talk the turkey of content and rhetoric with others. That’s the reward: to play up a little bit of expertise.
6. Read Dramatica and Map Fiction Novel.
Reason for the Goal: Fiction is spiritually fulfilling to me. Art allows us to play with our minds without hurting them or jeopardizing our futures. It mesmerizes others and brings us closer to the world and ourselves. It speaks to the soul.
Artistic endeavors can also be professionally useful, especially if part of your job is to communicate well. Dramatica is a book on what the authors call Grand Storytelling, a methodology that treats a story as a singular mind, including the motivations, purposes, methods, and evaluation completed by that mind. It’s a wonderful read so far, and explains the classic nature of some of the most widely read stories in history.
Unfortunately, I haven’t completed the book yet. I keep meaning to, but… well, no more excuses. This year I am going to read the flipping thing. This will help me move toward another life goal: to write a darn good novel. With a good novel and a good book in hand, new opportunities will again come to light. These items aren’t meant to sell a million copies; the goal is to simply make them very, very good. To accomplish that with a novel requires a good game plan. Dramatica is known by some as the best.
Plan: I was going to read this in chunks by week, but that didn’t work. I had a writing partner for it, but we have had a hard time reading it together. A stronger plan of action is to simply choose a completion date and finish the book, then start charting the novel with my writing partner. Writing is a great group activity; reading, after kindergarten, seems to be better alone. That’s just my personal feeling on the matter.
Penalty: If I have not finished Dramatica by my birthday (2/6), the penalty is simple: I don’t get to read anything else for fun until it’s finished. This forces my hand against myself.
Sometimes, you have to be your own parents.
Reward: The completion of a map of a fiction novel will grant me…
- A bottle of red wine
- A night at an arts or music show
- A dress shirt
- .A roundtrip Uber ride
This nets me one safe night on the town in a new shirt.
7. Hold four public forums on important topics.
Reason for the Goal: I am Founder of an organization known as ADQ. We pursue data for good for peace and persuasion. One thing I would like to do- especially in an election year- is create forums where people can freely exchange ideas. I would like to do so transparently and in a way that benefits all audience members.
Public events are tricky though, and data like this must be treated with respect. Creating these events means hard work and dedication, but this is an election year, the perfect opportunity for people to trade ideas and actualize the intended purpose of a worthy republic. Discourse is my obsession; forums are a transformative platform for discourse. It’s time to encourage them.
Plan: The idea is to hold one forum per quarter, all before the election. Topics will vary on these events, but the hope is to make them engaging, interesting, participatory, and debate-oriented. To that end, the plan is to pursue the best guests on the right topics. If you or someone you know has an idea for a specific topic and would like to coordinate on a live panel in the Houston area, or on a virtual panel from your own desk, please feel free to reach out. I am interested to hear any and all thoughts.
Penalty: If I miss the mark on these, I will require myself to donate $5 to a candidate I can stomach but heavily dislike. The amount of money is not the motivation; it’s the fact that I am losing that money by betting on what I would consider poor leadership. This punishment fits the crime: if I am unwilling to force a strong, smart, leading dialogue, then I am sacrificing some control. This penalty symbolically doubles down.
Reward: Four panels is a foundation for a bigger and better organization. Should these panels work the way they are supposed to, we will pursue larger in-house conferences. This should build on the success of the two events the organization has put on in partnership in the past. The test concept will lead to the reward of building something with more resources in pursuit of powerful public discourse.
The Short Version for Reference, followed by General Notes
- 100 Visits to 9Rounds.
Reason: Out of shape
Plan: Aim for 8 months
Reward: Good Shape, Tasty food
- Less FB.
Reason: Time Eater
Plan: Adjust operation, make group, change approach
Penalty: Mensch on a Bench
Reward: More time, weekend reading
- Double Revenue.
Reason: Level up
Plan: Expand scale
Penalty: Get a job
Reward: Stay in business, tell the tale
- Visit people I care about.
Reason: They deserve it and I will miss them when they’re gone.
Plan: Weekly reminders
Penalty: No two weekly beers.
Reward: Fulfillment, books
- Finish book.
Reason: First byline.
Plan: Three month breakdown of output.
Penalty: Forced writing.
Reward: Media circuit.
- Read Dramatica and Map Novel.
Reason: Add to skills, fulfill dream, learn from the best.
Plan: Execute completion date of reading. Chart map with writing partner.
Penalty: Forced reading.
Reward: Night on the town.
- Hold four ADQ forums.
Reason: Love of discourse
Plan: Quarterly outreach, early crunch before November.
Penalty: Donation to someone I don’t like very much.
Reward: The right to plan a larger forum.
General Plan Notes
- All of these will require ongoing accountability. I will provide a weekly update on progress in public places. This will likely become my new most common usage of Facebook.
- Some of this involves a level of force and will. Heck, a LOT of it does. If I find myself on Facebook, I have to force myself off of it. There’s not really a good way to back that except to improve everything else; removing obstacles, improving processes, etc. lessens the likelihood of a lapse in will power. Or so I hope.
- I’m investigating new business processes and calendars. Anything that streamlines life and makes it easier will make achievement of goals easier, too. Evernote is a strong contender, and has replaced Facebook as an icon.
- A mulligan or two may be in order. Nothing that goes back significantly on my word, but something minor. If I can’t connect on a necessary phone call for one of these items, I just have to figure out something else. The point is not to be biblical about it, but to get it done. This is strategy, not gospel.
- Some rewards have been stricken from the record. This is a business piece. It’s a little personal, but there’s still a level of separation I want to keep between you and me, dear reader. No need to share 100% of my deep spiritual thoughts or personal systems on a blog post about keeping resolutions. Better to keep those to myself. Conversely, if you feel like making a similar list, feel free to use this format or connect with me for purposes of accountability. I keep a secret Facebook group of my peers where we focus on our resolutions and encourage one another. If you want to join it, PM me and we will see what we can do to include you (in spite of minor functionality barriers).
Good luck on your goals!
Daniel J. Cohen