moving from goals to themes in 2013

For the past several years, I have spent the final days leading up to New Year’s Day thinking about what I want to achieve in the upcoming year and writing down those goals so that I can track them throughout the year.  This has been a very effective way of keeping myself on track especially as the year progresses and I begin to lose some of my initial passion about some of the goals.

Often as I review what I wrote at the beginning of the year, I am pleasantly surprised to find that there are some goals that I have achieved even after forgetting that I wrote them down in the first place.

This year, however, I find myself in a different place.  Throughout the year, as I have read from several different sources, digested what I was reading and thought about how I can implement some of the ideas that have resonated with me, I have realized that, instead of goals, there are some overarching themes that I need to explore.

Undoubtedly some concrete goals will emerge from these themes, but I think writing down detailed goals this early in the year will limit my thinking and possibly make me miss greater opportunities than I can imagine at this point.

Each of the themes is a critical component to the vision that I have for how I believe I am supposed to contribute to the world in the next five years and they transcend spiritual, personal and professional boundaries.

I believe that the themes will guide who I become – and what I do will then be guided by who I am.  I feel that this is the most authentic way for me to live and I am excited to embark on the journey.

So what are my themes in 2013?

There are 5 of them:

  1. Build Platforms
  2. Define the Hard Edges
  3. Create Space for Reflection
  4. Provide Mentorship
  5. Focus on Lean Methods


I am convinced that the most effective way to have an impact with your message, talents or vision is to build a platform from which you can share your gift with the world.  Over the past year and a half, I have read Seth Godin’s blog almost daily and this is a recurring theme in his writing – now that I know the theory, I am going to spend 2013 putting it into practice and discovering what it means for me specifically.

Hard Edges

This is an idea from David Allen’s book "Getting Things Done" that provides very clear direction on how to create and manage boundaries to control the information that flows in and out of your life daily

Personally, I am expanding this concept to the boundaries throughout my life (personal, professional and other); the main idea is to make sure that I have clearly defined ‘buckets’ in which the commitments in my life fall into so that when I am faced with a new idea or commitment I can make decisions faster and with more clarity without allowing the edges to ‘bleed’ into each other.


Without fail, whenever I take the time to think through an approach to a problem or an opportunity, I significantly reduce the amount of wasted time I spend on it.  However, despite my knowledge of this, the ‘busyness’ I often find myself in prevents me from true reflection that would enhance my results.  So this theme is about continuously simplifying my environments to create space for reflection.


The more I teach, the more I learn.

Lean Methods

Instead of trying to plan the risk out of any of my ventures, use a process of experimentation where I use carefully designed ‘tests’ to determine what is working and what isn’t and then make the changes necessary (Build, Measure, Learn).  I don’t need to have the full picture before I start – just enough to gather feedback that will help me take the next step.  This process of experimentation is probably the biggest departure from how I usually do things and will help me to fight against the lizard brain.

every system is perfect

‘Systems are perfectly designed to achieve the results they get’ – Organizational Scientist, Marvin Weisbord

I had an interesting discussion with my wife recently about the ‘mail sorting system’ in our house.  The system consists of a plastic container on our kitchen counter next to a powerful paper shredder and the goal is to make it as simple as possible for us to enter the house with the mail and sort it immediately to avoid a large build-up of mail.

In the ideal scenario, the outcome of this system would be that we are always up to date with the shredding of junkmail, filing of important documents and general sorting of mail.  Instead, our counter looks like this:

The content of our discussion can be summarized as follows:

I think we need a better system

My wife thinks she needs to comply better with the system

Because we are both analytical people the discussion was rich with strong rational for each viewpoint but I had a hard time articulating the essence of my argument.

The quote at the beginning of this article very elegantly encapsulates what I think about our mail sorting system – it is doing exactly what it is designed to do because part of the design of a system takes into account the constraints that actors of a system will perform.

So the best way to measure the suitability of a system is to look at its results and not what it is supposed to be doing.  Its design is perfect for the outcomes it is yielding.

In the case of our mail sorting system, it doesn’t properly account for the fact that when my wife brings the mail into the house, she has a screaming 6-month old who most likely needs a feeding and two other young kids (four and six year olds) in tow.  Her priorities in that moment are not to shred the credit card offer from Chase or to file away that medical bill – its to get everybody settled down and fed.  So her default action is to place the mail – all of it – into the plastic container with no further action.

Repeat this several days in a row and she ends up with a pretty intimidating pile of mail to sort and she begins feeling like it is a much larger task that she needs to set aside time for.

But don’t forget the 6-month, four and six year olds haven’t gone anywhere – so there is no time to ‘set aside’ … so the pile just keeps growing and growing.

The solution? I don’t have one yet, but I think this is a perfect candidate for the two rules of simplicity.

We have to start by looking holistically at the problem and trying different approaches with constant tweaking until we find a system that perfectly yields the result we want.

editing my life to live more simply

I have been thinking a lot about how much clutter – physical and digital – there is in my life.  For example, this is what my home office looks like:


My wife and I spend a considerable amount of time trying to ‘get things cleaned up’ but I am becoming more and more convinced that there is a more holistic approach that I need to take with my possessions.  The video below is an inspiring approach to both diagnosing the problem and offering some simple paradigm shifts to aid in gaining more out of less.

Graham Hill’s two simple rules are:

1. Edit Ruthlessly – stem the inflow of new posessions into my life.  For every new thing that I get, ask myself if it is really necessary, and will I have consistent use for it, rather than using it for one or two events in a year.  Will I love it for years?

2. Think Small – Hill points out in his talk that Americans have 3 times as much space as we did a few decades ago, and the personal storage industry is a 22 billion dollar industry.  This means that we have more space, but have more shortage of space at the same time.  The way to reverse this trend is to think in terms of ‘space efficiency’ – getting things that are designed for how they are used the vast majority of time, not a rare event.

“Why have a six-burner stove, when you rarely use three?”

Buy things that nest and stack.  Digitize everything I can.

You can see the entire video below – its short but very well worth it.  I will be taking Hill up on his two rules to guide my simplification project.