“The beginning is the most important part of any work.” – Plato


This is exactly the right day for thinking about what you want to accomplish in 2020. You can’t do that seriously, however, unless you spend some time reviewing your success in accomplishing the goals you had for 2019.

If you have read any of the dozens of essays, books, and blog posts I’ve written about personal productivity over the past 20 years, you know that I organize my goals in four categories: health, wealth, personal, and social.

And at the beginning of each year, I challenge myself to complete a number of objectives in each of those four categories. Last year, for example, I gave myself 5 major financial goals (all of which were about preserving and protecting wealth – not adding to it). My health goals were also few in number (fitness, diet, strength, and mental acuity) but challenging (improving despite aging). My social goals were even fewer (be kinder, be more generous, pay more attention). The big category in terms of number of objectives was personal. I had several dozen projects – writing and building and collecting – that kept me busy.

It takes me less than 15 minutes to review my goals of the previous year, recognize where I met them, where I fell behind, and where I failed completely. And that helps me shape my goals for the next year.

If you wrote down goals for 2019, you might want to do the same thing. Be frank in your assessments. (Fooling oneself is much easier than fooling others.) And be realistic in setting new goals, giving yourself challenges that, based on past experience, you are confident you can achieve.


Contrarian Rules for Goals and a Zen Mindset for Accomplishing Them 

I don’t assign myself “stretch goals” because I’m hardwired to stretch. For me, the challenge is to be realistic about what I can do.

Contrary to what you are likely to hear from other productivity “experts,” your yearly goals should not be specific. They should not be “Write six books of 30,000 words by August  31.” They should be more like “Write several good books.”

After you’ve finished your yearly goals, you figure out how much you can reasonably accomplish each month throughout the year. Here is where you can get more specific. In January, for example, your goal for book writing might be something like: “Write 6-page outlines for 3 books.”

Then you break those monthly goals into even more specific objectives: “Write outline for one book this week.”

Keep in mind that your yearly goals should be important-but-not-urgent goals – the sort of goals that, though not urgent or even necessary, would nevertheless have a profoundly positive impact on the quality of your life.

And here’s a suggestion if you tend to beat yourself up over failing to meet your goals. This, again, is contrary to what most productivity gurus advise. They advocate a mindset of passion and zeal, of lighting a burning desire in your heart to accomplish everything you set out to do. I believe this is a big mistake. Instead, take a Zen-like approach to your New Year’s Resolutions. Write them down. Intend to accomplish them. But don’t allow yourself to care whether you do or you don’t.

You can learn to act intentionally without attachment. Remember, the way is the true goal. And movement is the reward.

There are lots of people that don’t believe in making New Year’s Resolutions. They will tell you that they are artificial and unnecessary. I think they are wrong. Dead wrong. Setting and pursuing goals the way I do has made my life immeasurably richer in all the most important ways. I believe it will have the same result for you.

But don’t take my word for it. Try it yourself. Start today. Let me know how it works.

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intentionality (noun) 

Intentionality (in-ten-shuh-NAL-ih-tee ) is being deliberate or purposeful. As I used it today: “You can learn to act intentionally without attachment.”

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January is named for Janus, the Roman god of gates and doorways. He is depicted with two faces – one looking backward and one looking forward.

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“Burning the Old Year” by Naomi Shihab Nye


Letters swallow themselves in seconds,

Notes friends tied to the doorknob,

transparent scarlet paper,

sizzle like moth wings,

marry the air.


So much of any year is flammable,

lists of vegetables, partial poems.

Orange swirling flame of days,

so little is a stone.


Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,

an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.

I begin again with the smallest numbers.


Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,

only the things I didn’t do

crackle after the blazing dies.

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