The Easier Way to Set Goals

A new decade of opportunities ahead

If you’re like me you’ve probably been reading lots of posts about setting goals. It’s that time of year when everyone in the personal development world seems to sit down and make long lists of all the great things they are going to do over the next year. So, have you made your list or are you finding it hard to decide what you need to work on? Too many ideas rattling around in your head? Join the club.

I am late to the goal-setting party with this post as I have spent quite some time mulling over my non-financial goals for the coming year. In order to help I re-visited a podcast by Natalie Bacon in which she suggests eight areas of your life to work on. They are:

  1. Heath
  2. Relationships
  3. Money
  4. Career/business
  5. Personal/spiritual
  6. Environment/space/home
  7. Recreation/fun
  8. Service/contribution

With such a vast array of areas it felt very overwhelming. It’s not that I don’t think that all of these are important, it’s just that trying to make and achieve goals in all these areas at once seems impossible.

Whilst doing my physio exercises the other morning I listened to one of Laura Vanderkam’s Before Breakfast podcasts. She shared an idea, which she admits she stole from someone else, about splitting your goals into quarters i.e. spreading them throughout the year. I realised that this was the answer. I don’t have to do everything at once. I’ve now finally managed to come up with a plan for the first three months of the year. So here goes…

Health

A battle for most people, but for us the 5:2 diet is working
Improve our diet and lose weight

We plan to continue the 5:2 diet. I don’t have an aim for me, but I would like Mr Simple to lose half a stone. Secondly, I am going to try to add some more variety into our meals. In my bid to reduce our spending on food the menu has become rather restricted, so I’m hoping to add in some new recipes. The good thing about Veganuary is that the library has been displaying lots of vegetarian and vegan books. Now I just need to go through the ones I’ve borrowed and pick some new recipes to try over the next couple of months.

Walk 5000 steps a day

Now, I know what you’re gonna say, it’s meant to be 10,000, but I really struggle to achieve that when work involves so much sitting. Therefore I’ve decided to aim for something that’s doable. As I sit here, on a Sunday afternoon, I’ve only done just over 3,000. Therefore, walking 5,000 is still an improvement on my usual day. I’ve reset my Fitbit to vibrate and congratulate me at the 5,000 mark instead of the usual 10,000.

I can’t keep paying for this instead of addressing the problem myself
Reduce tightness in neck and shoulders

This is an ongoing issue, which I’ve failed to address for a very long time, except by going to massage or physiotherapy sessions. As I’ve said before, I am trying to save money on physiotherapy sessions and the way to do this is to practise the exercises that the physio has given me. Sadly, my willpower in this area is lacking or at least it is by the end of the day. I’m fine first thing and usually spend about ten minutes going through the routine, but by the end of the day, the honest answer is, I can’t be bothered. I was trying to think of a reward to give myself if I do my exercises every day for a whole month, but I haven’t yet. Any ideas?

Jog three times per week

I currently jog on my treadmill about twice a week. It is a very short jog, but it gets my heart rate up and I feel better for it. The trouble is that even though it doesn’t take a lot of time, with the other activities that I like to do in the morning I can’t always fit it in if I have to leave home before 9am. I need to adapt my routine, maybe jogging at lunch time if I’ve been out first thing, but am home by then, or when I come back in the evening. I’ve got a plan for developing my jogging in the next quarter (which I’ll let you know in April)  so I need to keep my fitness level up.

The last of our upstairs room to be decorated – our bedroom

Environment

As I’ve talked about before, we are gradually renovating our home. Mr Simple has almost finished painting the dining room. Next on the list is the main bedroom. We are probably going to have fitted wardrobes, but we’ve got to work out how they are going to fit around the chimney that passes through the room. We can’t knock this out as it contains the flue for the wood burner in the lounge. We’ve then got to decide on a colour scheme.

Relationships

Although this can be real life relationships, I’ve decided to focus on virtual ones. I get so much out of interacting with like-minded individuals on line and want to do more of this. My hope for the first quarter of the year is to increase my Twitter activity and have more followers. Over the past month I’ve gained about one follower a day and the current grand total stands at 194, which isn’t many at all compared to most. I am therefore going to aim for a total of 300 by the end of March. That may be pushing it slightly, but we’ll see.

And that’s it. They’re mainly health goals, which can’t be bad. Obviously I haven’t covered all of the areas that Natalie Bacon suggests, but that’s the idea. There’ll be nine more months when I can work on new goals in the career, personal, recreation and service categories. I’ve already made my financial goals for the year, which you can read here. I will let you know how I’m getting on at the end of March and then set some more goals for the next quarter.

So how’s your goal setting for 2020 goal? Feeling overwhelmed by all of the areas you need to work on? Why not just choose a couple and set goals for just the first quarter of the year? I’d love to hear how you get on.

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The Benefits of Discovering ‘Deep Work’

Woman doing yoga on the beach
Want to find time to do more of this?

Do you want more time with your family or to fit in that yoga class you keep promising yourself that you’ll join, but you’re always too tired by the end of the day?

How does your average day go? Maybe you’re looking at your emails on your phone as soon as you wake – reaching out to grab your phone whilst it’s still dark or you log on to your computer before the kids wake up just to get in an hour before the day gets hectic. Then there’s the long commute to work, a busy day answering emails and attending meetings, no break for lunch and then the drive back home. Maybe you work evenings and weekends just to keep afloat.  

A different job might be the answer, but finding a new one isn’t always that easy. You’ll probably have to work just as many hours as you do now, unless you’re prepared to do something less responsible and for a lower salary. If you’re trying to save as much as you can on your journey towards financial independence then that isn’t an option that you’ll want to consider.

clock
A way to help you manage your time

So what is an option?

My suggestion is to try to find a way of managing your workload better, so that work stays where it was originally meant to be and only happens between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday.

I expect at this point you’re say, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard all this before. I know, I just need to be more organised and learn how to plan’. You’re right, those things will help, but I’ve got another idea for you, courtesy of Cal Newport. In his book, ‘Deep Work’ he describes what is a valuable technique in how to really focus to get tasks done. In essence, how to do the same amount of work in a shorter period of time and do it better.  

If you’re a nurse or serve burgers at McDonalds this isn’t going to be for you, as it’s a practice which helps the creative process in the world of what he calls ‘knowledge work’ i.e. for those of us who spend a lot of our workday sitting at a computer.

Neon sign saying do something great
Learn to push yourself and do your work better and quicker

So, what is ‘Deep Work’?

Cal Newport describes it as ‘professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit’. He claims that those individuals who have been influential in society often practise deep work.

In contrast to these people, most of us in the modern world have forgotten the value of deep work. Unfortunately, in our ultra-connected world, the focus has moved away from this valuable work to tasks such as responding to and sending emails, what he would define as shallow work. This is ‘non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted’. He believes that this work doesn’t create much new value in the world.

Cal states that there are two core abilities for thriving in the new economy:

  1. The ability to quickly master hard things
  2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.

These two core abilities depend on your ability to perform deep work, which involves :

  1. Focusing your attention tightly on a specific skill you’re trying to improve or an idea you’re trying to master. This requires uninterrupted concentration.
  2. Receiving feedback so you can correct your approach to keep your attention exactly where it’s most productive.
Be Happy sign
Focus on what you like doing, reduce stress and fall in love with your work

The benefits of deep work

As well as enabling you to increase the quantity and quality of your work, Cal believes that if you spend your day focusing deeply on a task you don’t have the capacity to think about irrelevant things or worry about problems.

In contrast, if you spend your day checking your inbox the problems the emails present will remain at the forefront of your mind. By concentrating fully on those things that are important you will experience your working life as more important and positive. In summary, ‘to build your working life around the experience of flow produced by deep work is a proven path to deep satisfaction’.

Next time I will look at Cal’s four rules of how to develop and build the skill of ‘deep work’. If you can’t wait until then listen to him being interviewed by Paula Pant on the Afford Anything podcast.

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The Bullet Journal

Diary pages
A simple life is an organised one

Get your life organised

Do you want life to be easier next year? Want to feel on top of your task list? How about learning to meal plan? Want to keep track of the cash that keeps disappearing from your purse? Would you like to have one place for all of this? A place which you can tailor exactly to your specific needs? The answer to all those questions is a bullet journal.

The problem with other planners

The bullet journal is a planning system that I have been using over the past two years. When I was first looking at planners I bought a Passion Planner. The trouble was it was too big and had a lot of space for listing your appointments during the day. I wanted something to organise my personal life i.e. my evenings and weekends, so didn’t need all the space for weekday appointments. I then discovered the bullet journal.

What is a bullet journal?

It’s basically a notebook where the pages are covered in dots. The pages are numbered and there is space to create an index at the beginning. It was created by Ryder Carroll who has recently written a book about his system. Although he gives ideas for various page set-ups and symbols that you can use within the journal, basically there are no rules and you can use it however you want.

writing at a desk
Bullet journalling can be a lot of work if you don’t keep it simple

Possible downsides

Some people are turned off because it can be a lot of work setting up the different pages each month, whereas something such as the Passion Planner does all that for you. The answer is to keep it simple. There are loads of YouTube videos out there about how to create beautiful bullet journal pages, but if you’re gonna use it to save time, then you don’t want to make work for yourself.

Then there is the cost. Although you can buy the trademarked Bullet Journal notebook, they are expensive. There are other dotted notebooks out there which you could buy instead or just use an ordinary notebook at first and see if you like this system.

Ideas for how to use a bullet journal

To give you an idea of how I use my bullet journal, these are the pages that I set up every month…

Diary

This is simply the date and day of the week in a list and I can write events and appointments next to it. For example…

1M 2pm Haircut
2T  
3W  
4T  
5F Drink with Sally
6S Lunch at Mum’s

Spending

As I am doing my best to keep track of where every penny goes, the next page in my bullet journal keeps track of my cash spending. I withdraw money once a month, having worked out how much I should need and every time I spend some I write it down. It looks very similar to the diary page, but instead of appointments it shows what I’ve bought and how much it cost. It has also helped me to keep track of how much Mr Simple owes me. Before starting this system I would pay for things in cash and forget that he owed me for half. This may be a step too far for you, but if you really want to dig deep into your spending habits then this is a good way of doing that. Here’s what it looks like…

  Me Him
1M Eggs £5.20 £2.60 £2.60
2T Pilates £8.00 £8.00  
3W Groceries £3.90 £1.95 £1.95
4T    
5F Tea and cake   £4.50  

Task List

This is just half a page or a page with the heading ‘Tasks’. I write a very simple bullet-point list, adding to-do’s as the month progresses and when the task is done I put a cross through the bullet point. At the end of the month you look to see what you haven’t done, decide if it is still a task that needs doing and if so, carry it over to next month.

recipe book with kale leaf
Find recipes to cook throughout the month

Meal Plan

For the last two months I have created a meal plan table. This is the beauty of the bullet journal. The dots allow you to draw, using them as a guide. I create a table with 30/31 boxes, with the day and date in each box. I then write in a meal for that day…

1F Vegetable lasagne and salad. 2S Pizza 3S Chilli and rice 4M Paneer curry, dahl and flatbreads
5T Chickpea and squash stew and couscous   6W Vegetarian shepherd’s pie with green beans and peas

I don’t always stick rigidly to the plan, but it at least gives me ideas as opposed to scrabbling around after a long day at work trying to think what to make.

Daily Logs

Ryder Carroll calls daily logs ‘the workhorse’ of your bullet journal. Just write down today’s date and all your notes for the day go here. You can write the day’s tasks and appointments or use it for journaling, whatever you want. Here’s what mine looked like the day after we came back from our short break in Somerset:

28.10.19 Monday

Had a sunny walk up Dunkery Beacon yesterday and then came home and went out for a curry. Nice to be back home, but have to think about work now. Planning to make time each morning to work on the blog.

  • Transfer money to AM for Xmas meal
  • Advertise bed on Facebook Hub
  • Ironing
  • Order Tesco monthly shop

As you can see I often write tasks on the daily log rather than on the ‘Tasks’ page. It just depends how I feel. Like I said, there are no hard and fast rules.

I hope that this has given you a little taster of how versatile a bullet journal can be. Ryder Carroll’s book gives other ideas e.g. custom collections and trackers, but I think I’ll leave those for next time.

Do you plan? What planners have you tried? Have you ever tried bullet journaling? Is there anything you’d like to know about setting up a good planning system? Just drop me a comment below.  

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The Pleasures of Autumn

We can enjoy the beautiful colours of autumn now

It’s the 1st of November. I always used to tell myself that I didn’t like autumn and winter, but I have realised that there are many aspects of this time of year that I do enjoy.

Beautiful scenery

At the end of last week we went to Somerset for a few days in order to see the autumn colours. Unfortunately as the weather has been fairly mild the trees hadn’t changed colour as much as we would have liked. It was a little disappointing, but then today I realised we have beautiful places on our doorstep, one of which I pass through on the way to work several times a week. It is a small wooded area and this morning the colours were absolutely beautiful.

Opening your eyes to the beauty around you is a simple and free pleasure. Even if you live in an urban environment I expect there are some trees about. As a child I used to walk to school in the London suburb where we lived and the journey in autumn was often taken up kicking the piles of leaves that had fallen off of the plane tress.

Let podcasts keep you company on the dark drives home

New ideas

As well as the looking at the beautiful scenery I was also enjoying listening to Ryan Holiday talking about stoicism. It’s something new I’ve discovered whilst listening to the Afford Anything podcast. His work, which is a modern interpretation of ancient philosophers, is really interesting. At the moment I have only just scratched the surface, but am looking forward to learning more.

You can listen to him here being interviewed by Paula Pant.

On these dark nights there can be little to look at, so keep yourself company with one of the many podcasts there are. Only today a colleague was complaining about long journeys that she has had to make recently and I suggested several podcasts that she could listen to. Make your commute something to look forward to as you lose yourself in the infinite world of podcasts.

chestnut in spiky casing
Sweet chestnuts can be roasted in the oven

Simple Pleasures

Whilst we were away last week Mr Simple collected sweet chestnuts. He was amazed that there were so many on the ground. Maybe due to the mild weather they hadn’t all been eaten by the squirrels. He has been roasting them this evening. We probably don’t do enough of this. Autumn is the time when the hedgerows are laden with blackberries. We didn’t go picking them as we still have a couple of boxes in the freezer from last year. The season is now over, but it’s something to look forward to for next year.

Although the weather is pretty miserable, one of the joys of this time of year is snuggling up on the sofa in front of the wood burner. Like most people we have central heating, but there is something lovely about a naked flame. I look forward to weekend evenings with Mr Simple watching a bit of TV whilst sitting cosily in front of the fire. All of the wood comes from trees that we have had cut down in the garden so it feels like we’re getting it for free.

Be grateful

So, as we go into the weekend I hope that you’re finding something to enjoy. Even if it’s just being grateful that you’re inside warm and dry as the rain lashes against the windows outside.

How Not to be Busy

How well do you plan your work?

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For me ‘a simple life’ extends to keeping work simple, to keeping it between Monday and Friday and between approximately 9am and 5pm, but I know that it’s easier said than done. It seems that we are all expected to be busy. I don’t see my colleagues very often, as I work at home a lot, or am out and about at meetings, but when I do see them that is the first question that they ask me, ‘Are you busy?’ It’s an expectation. I feel scared to say that I’m not. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I haven’t got enough to keep me occupied, but most of the time I don’t feel overwhelmed by it. I’m not up until 2am writing reports the day before the deadline, unlike some of my fellow workers.

So how do I manage this then? I haven’t got less work than other people, it’s just that I have systems in place to manage it and I spend a lot of time planning. Some people would say that I spend too much time planning. The thing is when I’ve got a plan I feel calm.

Daily planning

My work days are very varied. Sometimes I am at home all day, other times I am out at the door at 8am, going to various appointments and don’t get to sit down at my computer until the afternoon, if at all. When I do get some time to myself though I have a system that I go through and I have that system written down. It includes tasks such as:

  • complete timesheet
  • reflect on previous day and note tasks arising
  • check voicemails
  • check emails
  • list any other tasks

Most days I get at least an hour to do this at some point. What this means is that I don’t end up for example having to fill in my timesheet days or weeks late when I can’t actually remember what hours I worked on that day. It doesn’t become a chore. It takes a few seconds at the beginning and end of the day and it’s done. I don’t forget about a message someone left on my phone. If I went to a meeting the day before then a task I add to my list is to write up my notes.

Make all your phone calls at once

How to keep track of your tasks

So, where do all the tasks go? Thanks to this book by David Allen I’ve developed a task sheet. It has sections for phone calls, emails, notes to write up, documents to read. The idea behind this is that instead of flitting from one type of task to the other it is easier to make all of your phone calls in one go or send your emails one after the other. On many days I am out and about between meetings and sitting in my car. I can look at my task list to see what calls I need to make and do those whilst I have time to kill. Other, lengthier tasks, I’ll save for when I am sitting at a desk.

Weekly planning

Years ago, I went on a training course about planning. It was a two-day course, the days several months apart so that we could try to implement the recommendations and then return later in the year to review how we were getting on. What I learnt from that course is that it’s not just enough to have a to do list, you have to put time aside in your diary to undertake those tasks. In fact, I came across an episode of The Life Coach School recently entitled ‘Throw away your to do list’. Brooke Castillo talked about this exact thing. Take your to-do list, diarise each task and then throw away your list.

We all have deadlines. My job involves writing reports, one at the beginning and one at the end of the project. For the initial ones I don’t always have a lot of notice, but for the final ones I know six months in advance when they will be due. I can also pretty much guess what other tasks I’ll have to do to gather information for the report. Each week I review where I am on different projects and put aside time in my diary several months in advance for any meetings that I need to arrange and to write the report. Now, I don’t always stick exactly to the time and day, but I know roughly what I’ll have to do over that week. It also means that I won’t miss anything nearer the time. I won’t sit down to write my report and think, ‘I should have met with so and so’, because I’d have diarised it and done it before the slot for report writing was in my diary. It also allows me to see how much work I’ll have in a certain month and if the manager is trying to give me something new to work on I can show how many other commitments I have at that time.

Every week I try to look at the following week, which should already have appointments pencilled in, and book those meetings. When the week arrives then I add the other day-to-day things such as making calls and typing up notes.

Do you ever turn these off?

Being Effective

There is also the question of focus. When you have to prepare a report how well are you able to concentrate on it? I have recently listed to Cal Newport on a couple of podcasts talk about his book ‘Deep Work’. Although I am yet to read the book, the basics that I gleaned from the interviews were that in this world of instant responses and the temptation of social media, in order to be able to be productive you need to disconnect yourself from all of that. He recommends turning off your email alerts, putting your phone in another room and basically reducing distractions as much as possible. All of this may be very difficult if you work in an open plan office, of which Cal is not a fan. If you can reduce distractions, he then recommends practising ‘deep work’ by setting a timer for say 30 minutes and trying to immerse yourself in the work you need to do for that period of time. After 30 minutes you can check your emails or your phone. It might be a good idea to get up from your computer. You could make a cup of tea, or if like me you are at home, hang out the washing. I have tried this recently and I can only do so many 30-minute slots in a row before I feel exhausted and I need to do something less taxing. I have found it to be very effective though. I am hoping that when I get around to reading his book (which is on my bedside table) I will learn how to get better at this.

Now, I don’t want to sound as though I am perfect as there are times when I have worked on the weekend, but they are few and far between. Usually they are before or after annual leave. Unfortunately, in my job, there is no one else to pick up your tasks whilst you are off, therefore if you have a deadline for a report in the middle of your holiday that report needs to get written before you go away. Apart from that, as I said, life is simple. Work happens on weekdays and rarely extends past 6pm. That way I can enjoy my early mornings, my evenings and my weekends. Work feels just a part of my life and I have time for plenty of other activities.

So, how do you plan your working life? What do you struggle with at work? What tips do you have for others who have a busy schedule? Let me know if you want more information about anything that I have written.