Spring has sprung here in Middle Tennessee. As I work on this episode, it’s pouring down rain, we have flash flood warnings, and we expect up to 4” to fall tonight and tomorrow. It’s going to drown out the daffodils and cherry blossoms I’m afraid. What that really means for me is that allergy season is underway in one of the worst parts of the country for allergy sufferers like me. And what that means for you is that you get to suffer through a month of me sounding stuffed up. I’ll do my best to spare you. But April Fool’s Day on the horizon also means that the first quarter of 2018 has vanished. POOF! Gone! Just like that!
Most people’s New Year’s resolutions or goals don’t make it out of January alive, and I told you when we were talking about it a few months ago, that I’d update you as we went through the year on my progress with my goals and how I stay on track. We're in a month with 5 Sundays and I thought I’d take this first week of the quarter to do some reflection and check in on my progress.
Whether you care how I’m doing on my goals or not, that’s the first key thing I want to remind you of today. Creating a rhythm of reflection in your life is really important for your personal, emotional, spiritual and intellectual growth. I think I spoke about this in an episode a long time ago, I’ll try to find that one and link it up in the show notes, but if growth in any area of your life is important to you, you need to spend some time reflecting on that area of your life on a regular basis.
Self-reflection is deliberate thinking about your own behavior and beliefs. We’re not used to doing that in our culture. It requires slowing down. It requires vulnerability, courage, and discipline. But without it, without a rhythm of reflection, growth is haphazard at best and learning doesn't happen. Here are five important tips to keep in mind:
I’m not doing a general self-reflection today, but more a peek into the process I use specifically to keep my goals on track. I spend about a half hour at the end of each month doing this. Because it’s the end of a quarter, though, I have one extra step.
First, I review my goals. I set my goals a little differently this year. Usually, I’d do some dreaming about what I want my life to be like, then I’d evaluate my life in different categories, like work, relationships, finances, etc. I’d figure out how to get closer to that dream and then I’d create goals in each of those categories. This year, however, I did something totally different. Back in episode 62, I talked about creating five commandments to live by. I named five things that if I’m doing these five things consistently, my life will have been lived well. Then I created goals in each of these five areas.
My five commandments are: love God, prioritize people, spend intentionally, choose health and create consistently. Typically, in this step, I’m reminding myself of what I said I wanted to accomplish. But, since this is a quarterly review, today, I’m doing more than refreshing my memory, I’m taking a deeper look and asking questions as well. Is this goal still valid? Is this really the path I want to be on? Circumstances change over time, and new priorities can crop up. For example, I’d specifically not set any work or career goals this year. It wasn’t where I wanted to put my focus. But, some things have changed in the last three months that have brought that to the very top of my list.
The first step is to go through each of my goals and check their validity and my progress. So, I’ll go with the first as an example. That first commandment is to love God. One of the reasons I’ve pulled back from work goals in 2018 is that I’ve taken on a ton of ministry responsibilities in the past twelve months. Part-time job-ish commitments, probably 20 hours a week. It’s very, very easy to get so busy giving and serving, that you lose track of your own relationship with God and you crash and burn in a variety of ways. My goal is to cement my own relationship time, not study, writing, team-leading, or serving time, but relationship time. I’ve been semi-successful. The first six weeks of the year were spot on and the last six, not as much. Is it still valid? This is still a critical goal for me, so I need to recommit to it and get back on the wagon.
I’ll do one more. Because I chose health to go through in episode 69 when we were talking about a plan t0 make permanent changes, I’ll review that for you. Up until this month, I’d been on a seven-month binge of really bad health choices, I’d gained 25-30 pounds, and was feeling wretched. To kickstart myself, I started a 30 day challenge on Facebook with a group of people that wanted to join me and I’ve met all of my March goals, I’ve made healthy choices for more than 25 days in the month, I’ve been exercising five or six days a week, I’ve lost close to ten pounds by the time this airs, and most importantly, I’m feeling a lot better. This one’s still important and I’ll be continuing what I’m doing in April. If you’re listening to this in April of 2018 and you'd like to join us, it’s free and you can sign up here.
It takes me a lot less time to mentally process that than talk through it. It’s asking myself:
The first two questions are the difference between a quarterly and a monthly review. On any given month, I’ll look at the goals and evaluate my progress, but not necessarily be checking in on the validity of the goal itself.
When I have that done, I run through a series of exercises in Cultivate What Matters Powersheets (a tool I mentioned in episode 66). Basically, I review the previous month, the good and bad. I put down in writing anything that’s stressing or bothering me. I look at my calendar and then I write down what I need to accomplish this month. Then, the key task, I create a month-long task list. This includes daily tasks or habits I want to cultivate in the upcoming month, weekly things I need to do, and monthly tasks—which I assign to which week I’ll accomplish them within the month. Then, I pull out the habit trackers I created in January and fill it out for daily tasks I listed and then place it in my journal/planner.
I see the daily task tracker in my journal each day. Weekly tasks tend to be scheduling issues, like making sure I send ministry emails, prep and print small group discussion pages, or work on this podcast. Weekly things tend to get done without this process, so the daily and monthly tasks are where I spend my attention. Sunday evenings, I usually set up my week in my planner, so I check my monthly tasks at that time to see what I need to focus on that week.
And that’s it, that’s my monthly process. It takes about 20 - 30 minutes at the end of each month and keeps me on track throughout the year while being flexible enough to adjust to changes and circumstances.
Back in episode 64, I mentioned that the gaps between how I wanted to be living and how I am living are biggest in two areas. Spending intentionally, (mostly about time) and choosing health. I’ve already shared that I’m doing well on choosing health now and I feel really good about that.
Spending intentionally, I’ve still got some work to do. April is going to be a super busy month for me. I have house guests coming, two out of town trips and dog sitting for a dog trainer friend of mine. Usually, that involves five to eight dogs at a time. At the same time, I’m starting two educational courses in April, and it’s the onslaught of the busiest time of the school year for my son. This is all on top of an already full schedule. Oh, and it’s allergy season, so I’ll be feeling generally rotten this whole month.
This is the season that my goal is to plan for less, not more. On the other hand, I’ve chosen to do these things intentionally. There are reasons, good reasons, behind each choice. My schedule didn’t fill up accidentally, which often happens. I’m paying close attention. I’ve also off-loaded some things and am continuing to pursue ways to do so to make room for those choices. So, I have been intentional about it, I’m just choosing to be busier than I prefer.
One last thing to mention. I said earlier that some things have changed with my work plans, so that will be taking up an increasing amount of time. I’ve added that on to my goals list for the year and will be working on that alongside the commandment goals. Things change. Circumstances change. If you need to adjust priorities, that’s a choice, not a failure to achieve something else. I need to decrease focus on some other things in order to increase focus on business.
I’ve added this to my list in February and March. There’s nothing magic about the beginning of the year, it’s just convenient and present in conversations around us. There’s nothing magic about the beginning of a quarter. It’s just a convenient time to trigger me to remember to review my priorities.
What is magic, whether it’s January first or a random Tuesday morning, is that you make the choice to get up and move forward, no matter what you’ve done or not done previously. I posted a photo that I took on a hike before work in my healthier challenge group a few weeks ago. It was of a NO PARKING sign. The only way to achieve what you want in life is to small-step-by-small-step walk toward that thing that’s important to you.
I haven’t done everything right in the last three months. But, I’m not parking. I’m continuing to take steps. Change is an ongoing process.
So, that’s a first-quarter update for you. I’ll check back in with you early July about my progress in the next quarter. I mentioned how busy my April will be, and so, I’m going to be talking for the next few weeks with you about the importance of rest. Makes sense, right? Here’s why. I’m realizing that I’m having a harder and harder time relaxing, even in downtime and I need to address that, it’s not healthy and correcting that is part of my choose health goals. Plus, I need reminding about the critical nature rest plays in our lives. Statistics say I’m not the only one struggling with this in our always-on, always-connected world. So, let’s see what we can find out about it this month. Until next time, y’all have a fantastic week!
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