I’ve tried a lot of different approaches to setting goals. I’ve set yearly goals, weekly goals, quarterly goals and even set daily tasks for myself in Todoist. I like having a plan for what I’ll spend my time on. If I wake up and need to figure out what I’ll work on that day that’s a recipe for binge-watching shows on Netflix. Even having a loose idea of the next step is incredibly helpful for me.
For Q2 2018, I set a bunch of goals – too many. When I reviewed the quarter, I realized a number of places I could improve for this quarter. With that in mind, here are my goals for Q3 while these takeaways present.
One exercise I love for brainstorming is called start-stop-continue. Start-stop-continue is an exercise you can do by yourself or with others to bring to the surface some of the most important action items in each of those three categories. Here’s how this works:
Turn a piece of paper sideways and create three columns with the headers “Start”, “Stop” and “Continue”.
Next, set the context of the exercise. This is the subject you want to improve. We’ve used this exercise as a retrospective at work often, setting contexts like “The project that just shipped” or “Technical Feedback”.
We have even focused this on a specific person, for example, “Feedback on Adam”. This level of feedback is extremely direct but can be amazing. It takes some time to build up trust with a team – as well as a thick skin looking to grow and be uncomfortable. Getting that immediate, direct feedback from those you work closest with can be extremely valuable.
For my exercise today, I’m using the context:
Reaching actionable goals.
This acts as a retrospective on the last quarter’s goals to see what worked and doubles brainstorming exercise. The focus isn’t about reaching my long-term goals, but just the ones that are next in line. The hope is that I’ll have a bunch of ideas to draw from for next steps.
In each of those columns, it’s good to have a time limit for brainstorming — typically 5 minutes. During that time, focus all of your attention on thinking of as many things as possible that begin with the phrase from the column:
“<I/we/name> should <start/stop/continue>…”
With you filling in what comes next. At the end of these 15 minutes, you’ll have a huge list of things that you think are important to start going, stop doing or continue doing.
Whew, ok, time to try the exercise! Here are my notes from start-stop-continue for the “Reaching actionable goals” focus.
Note: these have categories associated with them, but they didn’t start that way! On your paper, just list out what you think is important. You can categorize them after the fact if it’ll be helpful.
Start: I should start…
[Health] Tracking what I eat to better understand the impact.
- Trying to do shorter, more frequent exercise sessions.
- Having more tea at home.
[Focus] Develop a time of day where I can get into deep work/focus state.
- Create a single “next step” project that I work on until completion.
- Creating a focused list of future posts that I can write whenever I have time.
- Finding ways to enjoy the next step I’ve laid out.
- Letting Mrs. Minafi know when I’m going to work heads down on something.
[Relationships] Connecting with other bloggers more.
- Reaching out to friends to hang out more often.
[Mental Health] Reading before bed rather than being on the computer.
- Going to bed before midnight.
- A gratitude journal, or something else that focuses my happiness/thankfulness for how lucky I am.
- Spend less time on my phone while commuting to and from work.
Again, this list didn’t start as nested bullet points but as a single list. After brainstorming and seeing these listed out, I noticed they naturally grouped into these four areas that I felt it important enough to highlight.
Stop: I should stop…
[Focus] Spreading myself too thin by taking on too many goals at once.
- Setting too many things to “today” on my todo list.
- Watching TV while trying to get something done.
[Mental Health] Being down on myself for lack of growth.
- Worrying about metrics and instead focus on creation.
- Letting Facebook/Reddit become my default place I go to relax.
- Letting myself feel internally pressured to get things done.
- Feeling like I’m behind where I want to be (in this blog, or anywhere in life).
- Consuming as much news as I currently do.
[Health] Drinking as much alcohol.
- Having diet soda and unhealthy snacks at work.
- Having as much sugar in my diet.
Like with start, these didn’t start as a bulleted list. What was interesting to me is that when I did start organizing them into categories, they ended up being the same categories as in start.
This got me thinking – maybe what’ll help with the “Start: Focus” items would be helped by some items in the “Stop: Mental Health”? Time to move onto continue and see if anything else comes up!
Continue: I should continue…
[Health] Schedule 2 hiking times a week, and trying to go at least once.
- Going to the gym after work.
- Preparing meals with days of leftovers.
- Getting around SLC without using a car as much as possible.
[Relationships] Going on date nights and having nights dedicated to fun together with Mrs. Minafi.
- Reading others blogs and learning their stories.
- Writing weekly custom emails.
[Focus] Waking up early every morning to write.
- Writing at least one long post a week & 1 custom email a week.
[Growth] Learning and putting into practice SEO topics.
- Listening to audiobooks.
- Playing videos games.
- Saving as much as I can and investing it.
- Setting ambitious goals.
Similar categories here, which one interesting addition – things that are working for growth. It’s interesting that growth wasn’t a category in Start or Stop, but was in continue. I (apparently) see focus, relationships, and health as a path to growth, and that’s what it makes sense for me to cultivate.
Alligators and Kittens
These three areas (start, stop and continue) helped clarify some thoughts I was having — specifically around the stop area. It reminds me of the idea of having alligators and kittens in your household:
Right now you have metaphorical kittens and alligators running all around your house. The kittens represent the good things about your life, and the alligators the bad things. Now good and bad here are not absolutes. Alligators can have good traits and kittens can occasionally cause big problems.
Should you: Get rid of the alligators? Or add more kittens?
I love this analogy. No matter how many “good” habits I bring into my life if I have a few awful ones they can upset everything. The “stop” side of Start-Stop-Continue becomes extremely important to look at if I want to get rid of some alligators!
Goals for Q3
So how does this impact what I’m actually working on? Well, for one they help set the boundaries that keep them healthy. A few items on the above brainstorm even made it directly into my Q3 goals!
Overall these goals for Q3 look very similar to Q2’s goals, and that’s OK. Goals don’t need to be completely novel and new every time you plan them. If you’re still focusing on health, tweak your goals for what’s working best but keep health as a focus.
I’m trying that approach for these, where anything I still want to do has been rephrased in a way that excites me and makes me want to actually work on it. For some (like health) this is more of an iteration and acknowledgment to continue focusing there.
1) Improve my energy level and productivity by focusing on diet and exercise
Since moving to Utah, I’ve been slowly introducing more healthy behaviors to my life. It’s somehow been easier than before the move – maybe because I’m not years into a daily routine. Now’s the time to make these changes.
I’ve found that when I exercise and have a solid routine of challenging myself in that way, productivity and happiness in all other ways increases. For years I started my days with a CrossFit workout – which woke me up and got me excited for the day. I’ve switched to writing in the mornings, but I’d like to try doing a quick morning workout as well during this time to get my blood going.
With that in mind, here’s what I’m hoping to do on this front in the next few months!
- Track food I consume every day (well, every day that I’m not traveling)
- Throughout the day, and at the end of each night, enter everything into FitBit.
- Reduce calories to a point where I’m losing 1lb a week
- Switch from drinking diet soda to seltzer or water when at work.
- Switch from sugary treats to fruit and nuts when snacking at work.
- Drink less alcohol and drink more water
- Make large quantities of food to have more leftovers to eat when hungry
- Continue my pace of 2x hikes a week and 2x CrossFit sessions a week.
- Start a morning routine on other days that includes a quick 10-minute workout.
- Keep a habit journal in Productive to keep me on track.
- Look at it every morning before work to remind me what I need to do.
The big focus here is to keep moving and be more mindful of what I eat. When I eat better I exercise more. When I exercise more I focus more. There’s a direct line between being healthy and being productive – and with me being a productivity nut that’s important.
Weight wise I wouldn’t mind losing about 10lbs. In the past 2 years I’ve put that much on, and it’d be nice to go back to around 150lbs. The lighter I am, the easier every workout suddenly becomes. A few years ago I hit over 30 pull-ups (@ 137 lbs) which to me today is just crazy. While I don’t plan to get that lean, dropping a few pounds would make workouts more fun.
The tracking side is especially powerful. The same way tracking my spending helps reduce spending, tracking my food reduces the urge to eat. What’s interesting to me about tracking is that it doesn’t feel like deprivation the same way a diet does. Instead, it feels like informed control. I wildly prefer that method for change.
2) Create and launch the Minimal Investor Book
I’ve started converting the Minimal Investor Course to a book! I’m excited to complete and share it. It’ll include all content from the course plus a bunch of chapters and graphics to help fill in the gaps.
This book is an opinionated approach to begin investing. It focuses on low-cost, diversified, tax-efficient index fund investing – the same approach I (and most in the FI community) prefer. This book is for people getting started on their journey – those who want to achieve FI/RE but need help with the investing side to get there.
The more people I talk to early in their journey, the more I realize this is a HUGE topic. There are so many investing books and available that it’s easy to choose the wrong path. The investing world is really a sea of “here be dragons” where it’s increasingly unlikely you’re going to find a book that does it in the way I’d consider “right” (Bogleheads Guide to Investing and The Simple Path to Wealth come to mind). Even these have major areas that might conflict with the financial independence path (namely around tax-efficient choices now that could pay off in retirement).
The trouble, as I see it, is that people want to learn how to build wealth and they hear “invest in the stock market” as a path to that. Going down that route, there are a lot of options! How does a new investor know which ones to go for, or even which books/articles will guide them towards what they want?
That’s the focus of the Minimal Investor Book. It’s an opinionated guide for people who want to retire early and don’t want to spend a ton of time learning how to do things that won’t help them on their journey. If you’d like to get notified when the book is released, sign up for my book prerelease list.
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To get there, here’s what I’m hoping to do:
- Work on The Minimal Investor Book a little each day.
- Focus on putti
- Expand on the book
- Add more graphics illustrating topics all in the same illustration style
- Get formatting right so it looks consistent.
- Research how to get an ISBN and (if it makes sense) register for one.
- Find a designer and contract them to create a cover
- Find a good 3rd party credit card processor/way to sell the book easily.
- Should have an affiliate program.
- Update the Minimal Investor Launch Page to reflect new pricing tiers
- Email = free course, book = main one, high end = coaching + book.
- Create an onboarding flow to my mailing list that drives towards purchasing the book.
- Update copy on all older posts to reference the book.
- Or conversely, keep things as is, but let the email flow in those posts do the work.
The more I get into writing this one, the more fun it’s been. The free email Minimal Investor Course has good bones but is very rushed. When I created it, I set up my email provider to send the course to subscribers once a week – then I wrote one post a week to send out for it. Some of these emails were written in the morning they were sent out. Did I mention some are as long as 5,000 words? Waking up at 5 am to write 5k words before work was no joke!
I’m looking forward to turning this into something much more refined – although the topics will be similar to what’s out today. There’s a lot more I want to do here later on, but this is a good start. I’m not attempting to reach out to tons of people to join the affiliate program, work with editors, shop this around to publishing companies, or turn it into an audiobook – but all are subjects that I think could happen with time. I’m thinking of this as v1.0.0 with the full intention that it’ll change and get better over time.
3) Create and launch “An Interactive Guide to Investing”
This is probably the most “fun” one on the list. I occasionally have to stop myself from working on it because I know there are other things I want to do in a specific order that makes the most sense (ex: complete the book to send people to as the next step after this interactive guide).
I’ve been excited to work on this since launching An Interactive Guide to Early Retirement last year. I have a bunch of ideas on how this post will go, and what some of the interactive components will be, but they’re all just ideas on paper at this point.
The idea is simple – if someone is completely new to investing, this is a guide you could send them to in order to get them excited about investing. It’ll cover a lot of the topics in The Minimal Investor Course / Book, but at a higher level with engaging ways of exploring the concept. This guide would be more of an introduction to those topics, while the course/book would help readers gain deep insight.
- Create an initial draft of the content for the post
- Lay out the flow of what topics I’ll cover.
- Layout sketches of what the interactive components will convey.
- Create paper prototypes of the interactive components.
- Create survey used to poll experts in this field.
- Send out a survey to 20+ experts to include their input in the post.
- Reach out to others interested in investing to help spread
- Give a sneak peak to early readers.
- Reach out to 10 podcasts about the post.
- Reach out to 50 bloggers about linking to the post. (after launch)
- Launch the post
That’s a lot to do this quarter *gulp*. This is the one on the list I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets pushed to Q3. Mostly because I don’t want to rush it, and I don’t know how long the Minimal Investor Book will take (I hear books take a while?). The first Interactive Guide took me about 6 weeks working extremely hard each night on it.
This one should go faster, but I want don’t want to ship it until I’m outright ecstatic about it. You only get one first impression, and I want to make it count! After creating the first guide last year, I also know just how many bugs can come up, and I’d like to have it in a state where it’s not likely to need much additional work.
One area that I haven’t done much on as it relates to Minafi is the idea of “outreach”. I’m really interested to do this as part of this post – more to make connections with other bloggers than for the promotional side. I’d love to reach out to a bunch of people and see if they’re headed to FinCon – giving us a chance to meet up there!
4) Refresh & refine top performing Minafi Content
This is one area that I spread myself way too thin on in Q2. Not because it was impossible, but because it was at odds with the other goals I laid out time-wise. For that reason, I’m keeping this goal extremely small.
- Complete an SEO audit, fixing all major errors
- Go through an ahrefs automatic audit and fix anything that’s considered an error.
- Refresh my top 15 posts
- Create a Pinterest image for each of them.
- Add additional content related to their focus that could boost SEO.
- Make sure there are backlinks from other posts to these posts.
- Try out group boards on Pinterest
- Learn and apply to 5 group boards
- Learn the basics of Tailwind (or Coschedule) for cycling posts.
These shouldn’t take too much time, but they will take time away from other things. The goal for Pinterest isn’t to become an expert in it. I’d like to learn enough that I know what I need to focus on that I can then do in Q4. These are good topics I could do some evening with a glass of wine watching TV and relaxing – while the other items on the list require more attention and focus to complete.
In an ideal world, my Q3 looks like this:
- Do a better job on my diet side and lose a few pounds.
- Finish and launch the Minimal Investor Book.
- Same for the Interactive Guide to Investing.
- Refresh a few posts.
- Try out Pinterest group boards.
When it’s presented in that way it’s a lot less stressful huh?
Do you have any plans for the rest of the year? How often do you set or refresh your goals? Are you going to FinCon and want to meet up? Let me know!
1 CommentWhy not add to the conversation below? Your voice is welcome!
July 19, 2018
Love the analogy too for alligators and kittens and the Stop/Start/ Continue is a really great way to check out where you are. It provides candid, positive and negative feedback which is really useful to individuals as well as project teams. I’m definitely going to bring it up at my next review at work and try to use it in when I think about next steps for my own blog!