Daily Checklists for Lifelong Goals

by Mike Shea on 30 July 2009

On the Blog of Tim Ferriss, Chad Fowler wrote an interesting article called Are you Better Than Yesterday which got me thinking about lifelong goals and the tracking of these goals every day. Back in 2006, when the whole Getting Things Done craze was digging into my subconscious, I was in London and I read about Ben Franklin's Virtues. Ben Franklin kept a list of the seven virtues that were important to him in his behavior and then he tracked them every day to determine how well he was doing. Under the concept of "success requires measurements", this is a great concept.

Too many personal organization systems dig up the big rocks, the large things in our lives that are really important to us: family, career, personal fulfillment, spirituality; but it doesn't move us any closer to them. How important is your family in your mind when you're worried about the 7,200 unread emails in your inbox? The same goes for New Years resolutions. Studies have shown that people who write them down succeed more at them, but how often during the year do we check back and see how we're doing?

Ben Franklin had the right idea, as did Chad Fowler in his essay. We need to track these things daily. What are the things that are important to you as a human being and how can you do a little every day to accomplish them?

Three years ago in London, I came up with a list of ten things that are important to me. Ten things I want to do every day, written as single word verbs (one of them is two words, forgive me) to keep them as actionable as possible. They came out to the following: Read, Write, Work, Relax, Love, Befriend, Eat Well, Exercise, Simplify, and Benefit. Every day I can take some small step to move these forward. The key is to ensure I can accomplish each of these every day without spending too much of my day worried about it. Ideally the main actions of my days falls into these already. Here are some example daily actions that fit the goals:

Read: Spend 15 or 30 minutes a day reading some fiction. Create: Write a couple pages of a story, write in my journal, make something interesting for D&D, spend 15 minutes drawing something. Work: Put my energy into my work. Focus and move things forward in my job. Relax: Take 30 minutes to just chill out and do whatever I want. Love: Spend 20 minutes having coffee with Michelle. Do something nice for her that she didn't ask for. Call my mom and let her talk about her life. Befriend: Call a friend I don't often talk to. Seek out an old friend I lost touch with. Get together with my friends and reinforce our relationships. Eat Well: Eat under 2000 calories and avoid the real bad junk foods. Exercise: Ride my bike for 20 minutes. Go for a couple miles worth of walking. Stretch or do some calisthenics. Simplify: Throw something away that's been sitting around for a while. Clean out a shelf or drawer. Donate some clothes or books. Sell old video games. Get out of an obligation I don't care for. Benefit: Recycle stuff I might normally throw away. Help a stranger out. Throw away some trash in our park out back. Donate some money somewhere. Help out a coworker with a problem or volunteer for a job to help out others.

Every week, during my GTD weekly review, I write out this checklist in my Moleskine with the days of the week across and the goals on the side. Every day I check off the ones I accomplished the day before. At the end of the week I can see how well I'm doing what I want to be doing.

I very seldom meet all of these goals. I can only recall one day where I actually got all ten. Usually I get about 60% of them done every week, 40 checks out of a possible 70. The benefit goal seems to be a hard one to meet. The others are things I can do easily in about 15 to 30 minutes, often as part of my regular day, but benefiting is often circumstantial. That is the one I least often check, next to exercise and eating well which are hard ones for me. Still, refocusing to just ensure I do something to help the world out is something I can strive to do.

We might even turn these into the rituals Twyla Tharp wrote about. Build these goals into the rituals we perform every day and we can accomplish everything we want to accomplish every day. So what are the things most important to you and how can you move them forward every day?