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2020, the year of doing less

Like most people, I take the time between Christmas and New Year to reflect on the year that is ending. Throughout the Christmas holidays, I looked back at the entire decade. I fished old photos from old computers and made timelines of trips, the biggest achievements of each year, the biggest moments of growth, etc. However, I left 2019 out of those fun reflections. Instead, 3 days before the new year I travelled from Dublin to West Cork, sat by the fire with a cup of tea, and allowed my mind to look back at 2019.

Below you will find why I have declared 2020 the year of doing less, and how I am putting this philosophy in practice through deliberate omission and inclusion of ‘interference’ into my 2020 plans to help me achieve more while maintaining a healthy balance in all areas of my life.

2019 IN REVIEW

My first feeling was that it’s almost unbelievable how fast this year has gone by. Cliche, I know. But it is true. Isn’t it funny how some weeks seem to never end, but in retrospect, how the year flies by? My second feeling was that 2019 was the hardest year of my adult life, it pushed me professionally, personally, emotionally and spiritually. The combination of those two feelings motivated me to dig a layer deeper so I could find tangible learnings that I could apply to 2020 and beyond.

Unpacking my year, I completed 2 house moves, 2 job changes, 2 transformation initiatives, 7 master assignments + 1 masters thesis, and 3 major trips. Recounting just how much I did this year, I can barely believe it fitted in 365 days. This exercise allowed me to validate my feeling of how hard and busy 2019 was. Although, having looked at the decade earlier in the month, I knew for a fact that I had other extremely busy years this decade. So as the next step I decided to compare them.

I revisited the key challenges and accomplishments of each year. In doing so, I realised that the key difference between the years is the volume of unexpected issues I had to deal with on top of big planned goals. For example, in 2019 I had planned the time and the energy to complete my masters’ assignments and thesis, however, I did not plan for my new job to turn out to be within a completely dysfunctional organisation in the midst of an entire leadership change fuelled by acquisition.

I live by agile principles and keep revisiting my goals to ensure I adapt them to respond to change, but I wasn’t willing to let go of my big goals. So I pushed through.¬† Despite sharing one single example, this happened multiple times this year. I don’t regret holding myself accountable to achieving those goals, however, I also realised that in order to achieve big goals in an ever-changing world, while maintaining mental and physical health, one must focus on what is most important/urgent, and silence the noise.

In 2019 I have learned an important lesson: Choosing what not to do is as important as choosing what to do.

2020 IN THE MAKING

As the next step, I started to set my New Years Resolutions. Setting up my resolutions is usually very easy. I use a 15-month goal system where I set goals for the following year in October so I have time to plan accordingly. For example, if I am planning to be the fittest I have ever been, I use the following months to plan my weeks to fit in cooking and the gym, I research training options that fit my current level of fitness and sign  up for fitness classes, I read what other people are doing to get inspired etc. This way I can swiftly move from one year into the next because I have prepared, made informed decisions and started to create new habits earlier rather than later.

However, this time around, the first scribble in my notebook was: 2020 the year of doing less. Now, if you look into my 2020 goals, I have 5 big hairy audacious goals. So how can I do less when I want to achieve more? It took me some time to unpack this…

In Hubspot, when creating the company strategy for the year, the framework used by the leadership team specifically calls out “omissions”. Meaning, the things that they will purposefully not focus on for that year. In agile, ‘interference’ is a unit calculated to help the product team understand their true capacity for planned work, given the usual level of unexpected work. So I decided to borrow both those concepts and bring them into my 2020 planning.

Here is the 3-step exercise I went through:

  1. I reiterated on the 5 SMART goals I created back in October.
  2. I made a list of things that I will not focus on for 2020. Most of them are “shiny pennies”, things that usually, coming my way, I would grab with both hands because I am genuinely interested in them. As an example, one of my items is holidays and festivals with friends. This way, if those opportunities happen to come my way, I will have that list as a north star, reminding me to avoid potential time sucks this year, because reaching my goals while being healthy and happy is more important.
  3. I looked into the time I spent on genuinely unplanned issues that happened this year. My back of the envelope calculations gave me the result of 12 hours per week. If you think about it, this is basically 1.5 days of work. For 2020 I am being optimistic, given the size of the unplanned issues I had this year, so I am giving 6 hours per week of interference. The interference will bulletproof my plans with enough time to deal with any potential issues that can arise, without affecting my ability to achieve my goals.

After this exercise, it turns out that I have to drop one of my initial goals in order to not burn out next year. While I am not one for feeling happy with dropping goals, it was easy to do it this time because I had gone through the 2019 analysis that helped me see the effect of doing too much, and a thorough planning session that showed me how doing less and focusing on the right things will get me further.

I am feeling confident and excited for 2020 knowing that I have prepared my heart, my brain and my body to grow in a more sustainable way this year.

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