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On Systems and Goals

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If you haven't yet checked out James Clear's website and you're interested in productivity in any way, go check it out now. Honestly. He talks about goals and achievements in a way that makes so much sense to me. Specifically, he talks about setting up a system as opposed to setting goals. I liked the metaphor he uses of rudder and oars. The goals are the rudder; they determine which way the boat is going. The system of habits you've set up is your oars; it's the power that pushes the boat forward.

One thing that is vital, however, is that the goals match the system. That's one of the reasons I've decided to limit my writing time, so that I have time for other aspects of life, such as reading, spending time with my kids, and cooking. I think that before I was trying to set up a system that matched one of my goals--writing--but not others.

Now, that last bit is where I disagree with a lot of the productivity self-help out there. A common advice is to choose one goal and stick to it, but I can't do that. I think people are more than one thing, and focusing on only one part of you is a sure way to burnout and feeling inadequate. So, yes, I want to write a lot and get my writing out there and improve it. But I also want to be more mindful, as a person and as a parent. And I also want to exercise more so that next time we go on a family trip I'm not wiped out by two active weeks. And I also want to learn new things and keep an open mind and volunteer and do all kinds of other things. I can't choose just one goal. I won't be happy if I only focus on a single thing. My brain just doesn't work that way I guess.

Here's the system I came up with. My morning routine stays the same, including yoga and meditation and not being talked to until I've had my coffee. After school run, I will write or edit or blog or work on whatever it is I'm working on that day (more on that next time, probably). I'm taking two hours for that, and whatever I get done is fine. Then, after two hours I take a break to run errands, eat lunch, exercise. Afternoons are reading time, and I read something that's writing-related (a writing book or researching my projects) and also making progress on my reading group book (we're reading Sisterland this month). When I'm done with that if I still have time I read for pleasure (I'm reading Brandon Sanderson's excellent Way of Kings with plans to keep reading until the end of the trilogy). After getting the kids back from school, I spend time with them, cook dinner, and read more if I can. Once kids are in bed, I practice my Spanish and Piano, and then read some more or watch TV or talk with my partner. I need to work on going to sleep at a reasonable hour. It's not working that well this week but I suspect it's because it's been a busy week.

That's the system for now, and as I said there would be probably tweaks along the way. I'm getting a bike soon so I can cut on commute times and also get the kids to their clubs on time. So all I need to do is learn how to ride a bike now... in London traffic... Well, look out for an update soon (I hope).


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