Over the past year, I didn’t make any progress on one of my main goals. So, what the hell happened?
A Story as Old as Time
The internet is littered with similar tweets and blog posts. Inboxes are filled with TinyLetters of resolutions and there’s no shortage of YouTubers teaching anyone who will listen how to have their best year ever. But very few people follow through on their goals. This might be even more true in the design and development world, what with the plethora of new technologies, languages, libraries, and tools that hit the scene on a regular basis.
These stories all follow a similar path:
- Person determines major goal
- Person tells friends (or who knows how many CSS-Tricks visitors)
- Person gets distracted, overwhelmed, disinterested, or all three
- Goal is completely forgotten about after X amount of time
- Person apologizes and makes up excuses for friends (or, again, who know how many CSS-Tricks visitors)
In my experience, it’s not the goal-setting or telling everyone about said goal that’s the problem. It’s step three above. When goals go off the rails, at least for me, it’s due to three main issues: distraction, stress, and lack of interest. Barring unforeseen life events, these three issues are responsible for all those unachieved goals that we struggle with.
In thinking about my goals for this year, I decided to start first with deconstructing why I couldn’t reach the one major goal I set for myself last year. So, let’s dig into those three issues and see if there’s a way to prevent any of them happening this time around.
Distraction seems to be the big one here. We all have a lot going on. Between job and family responsibilities, other hobbies and hanging out with friends, it’s hard to fit in new projects. As necessary as they are, all those other interests and responsibilities are distractions when it comes to our goals.
The key here is to block out those distractions, which is easier said than done. We can’t simply ignore the needs of our families and careers, but we need to give ourselves time to focus without distractions. For me, I’m increasingly convinced that the solution is time blocking.
Time blocking is exactly what it sounds like: You block out specific periods of time on your calendar to focus on certain tasks. Time blocking allows you to prioritize what’s important. It doesn’t force you to sit down, crack open a book, or start coding, but it gives you the time to do it.
There are a ton of articles online that go into different time blocking methods, a few of which are below:
- Schedule it so it happens: The art of time blocking
- How to time block (and why it’s the best productivity hack you should use)
- The Hyper-Scheduling Experiment
It can also be helpful to block smaller, but just as impactful, distractions on your phone and computer. Closing out browser tabs not related to your task, silencing notifications, and clearing your desk of otherwise distracting items should be part of the routine when you sit down to start working on your task. It’s easy to scroll through Twitter, Hacker News, or even CSS-Tricks and convince yourself that it’s time well spent (that last one usually is, though) but that time adds up and doesn’t always result in learning or growing your skills like you think it will. Cutting out those distractions and allowing yourself to focus on what you want to accomplish is a great way to, you know, actually accomplish your goals.
I don’t care how smart you are, that’s intimidating as hell. Feeling overwhelmed on the web is common place. How do you think it feels as someone just starting out? Combined with all the responsibilities and distractions from the last section, and you have a killer recipe for burnout.
Flipping through any programming book (at least for a beginner) causes most people’s eyes to glaze over. The code looks overly complex and it resembles a math textbook. I don’t know about you, but I hated math class and I found it hard to get excited about investing my free time in something that felt a lot like going back to high school.
I think the key here is to relate what I learn to some subject that I find fascinating.
My plan to overcome disinterest is to work my way towards a project that I want to build. Go through all the basics, trudge through the muck, and then use the concepts learned along the way to understand more advanced tools, like D3.js.
It’s a Hard Road
Learning is rarely easy. But, sometimes, it’s when it’s the hardest that it pays off the most.
I’m convinced that the more we can uncover our own mental roadblocks and deconstruct them, the better positioned we are to achieve our goals. For me, my mental roadblocks are distraction, stress, and disinterest. The three work together to keep me from my goals, but I’m putting plans into motion to overcome all three. Your roadblocks may differ, but you probably have ways of dealing with them, too.
This is the best article I’ve ever read! And I’m newbie, though.. haha. Yes. I apsolutelly agree. Motivation variates but distractions and stress are main ‘bad guys’ to progress. I like this Chris map.. i really find it motivating and I think it’s very compatible.. even for a newbie like me haha.. Im on my way to become front end developer.. but I can say that I have big problems with those 3 issues, You’ve mentioned above, even if I don’t have wife and kids and that kind of family responsibility. I dont see my self as a geeky programmer person, also I was/am bad at math haha, but I find motivation in learning something new and in a way to materialize that knowledge, for exemple, to make a website. Greetings Jason, I wish You all the best on Your way to accomplish goals and to write more interesting and trully helpfull articles.
Hmm math makes it easier only to an extent. Purpose is what matters. I’m actually great at practical math meaning engineering math. It helps yet to me this is not harder than learning a language if you move to the country and live with the people you will learn it. The key is 10000 hours to master anything on earth I find this to be true. If you spend 3000 hours you would be able to build a fantastic website it seems.
What an honest post! Thank you for the vulnerability.
I definitely don’t have an answer except I believe there has to be some major intrinsic motivation surrounding the goal.
Most research shows that without intrinsic motivation, where you want to do it just because you want to, it’s inevitable to give up.
If you do it for a job or for money or for social status or any external motivation it’s much more difficult, not to say impossible.
Where is this ‘ideas’ directory that is mentioned in the chart?
My 15 year old son teaches kids to code. It’s free for kids. Kidzideaztech.com. this week he starts a class for adults. It will force adults to take time from their busy lives and learn coding every week with a person to guide them. I think this addresses the issue of focus as well as navigating thru so much information. His approach is hands on. They code very quickly and they build a working app.
My experience says it’s not always helpful to tell “the world” about our goal in the first place. Doing so creates a release of endorphins in your brain that makes us feel good without actually accomplishing much; we then find ourselves talking and planning more than doing the good work. It’s a hard balance to strike between autonomous work, which promotes Flow, and fostering accountability. Tell the world what you intend to do, but first, show us.