It’s January 1st in America, which means we’re all creating resolutions that the vast majority of us will bail on by January 17th. Dolph explores 11 tips, tricks and hacks for achieving your resolution.
- USA Today article on New Year’s Resolutions: USA Today article published earlier this year
- Download Dolph’s 12-month Resolution Planner here
(2:15) Why resolutions are really goals
(2:55) How to create a plan that will achieve your goals
(12:20) Hack #2: Celebrate milestones appropriately
(27:30) Hack #7: Know what you’ll do when the going gets tough.
(27:30) Hack #8: Don’t let failure derail you
(33:36) Hack #11: Make it a lifestyle
Episode 138 Transcript
2020: From Resolutions to Reality
Welcome to the Successful Nonprofits Podcast, I’m your host Dolph Goldenburg with our annual New Year’s episode.
Let me start this episode by saying how grateful I am that you choose to be on this podcasting journey with me. When I launched the podcast almost 140 episodes ago, I had no idea the impact it would have on listeners and certainly no idea how it would change and shape my own life as well. Bringing this podcast to you is a labor of love, and it’s my way of giving back to the nonprofit sector where I’ve spent my career.
Since you listen to this podcast, I’d be willing to bet that you and I have a lot in common. We both work and volunteer in the nonprofit sector, are relatively progressive and are passionately committed to making the world a better place. You know what else you and I have in common? We each have 366 days in this leap year, and each day holds the promise of moving us forward. Of advancing our careers, our cause and our families.
While most of us start the year with fresh hopes, ideas and resolutions, we quickly abandon them. In fact, USA Today article published earlier this year reported that January 17 is the day that most people abandon their resolutions and revert to old habits. Sometimes busy and forgetful combine with shorter, darker winter days to derail us, while other times we lose enthusiasm when the resolution’s newness wears off.
For this New Years episode, I wanted to share some ideas for making your resolutions a reality in 2020. So that you can look back a year from now with a sense of accomplishment after achieving your goal.
By the way, you may have heard me call resolutions goals in the opening minutes of this podcast, because that’s really all they are. Having goals is critical to us accomplishing anything in our lives, and we all have a lot of experience setting and achieving goals. We also all have a lot of experience setting goals and giving up on them. That means we’re human.
I always encourage my coaching clients to set three to five goals for their first year as a chief executive. These are high level goals – that you can use to determine whether or not you’ve had a successful year. If you’ve accomplished this handful of high-level goals by the end of the – congratulations – you’ve been fabulously successful.
Some folks will say to me that three or five goals doesn’t feel ambitious enough. They want to have a dozen or even two dozen goals, but any more than five goals is really just a to do list. In fact, your small handful of annual goals should actually be indicators of achieving something – not the steps necessary to get there. As an example, if you want to be fitter this year – the goal might be to finish a half marathon (or a 10k, depending on the level of fitness you’re starting with). If your you want to increase your team’s engagement and morale, the goal might be to lower attrition by 10%.
As your thinking about the indicator to measure your achievement – don’t use a resolution that you’ve made multiple times but never achieved. If your resolution every year has been to get at least 8 hours of sleep and you’ve never averaged more than 5 ½ hours of sleep each night – that might not be the best resolution for you. Instead think about making it 6 or 6 ½ hours of sleep each night.
I also want one of my annual goals to be completely personal. For new executive directors – I usually encourage them to commit to taking a two- or three-week vacation as a personal goal. Nearly every new ED will doubtfully agree to make this their fifth goal – usually saying that they have never taken a vacation this long and don’t think they’ll need it. But, when they are on the eve of that first two-week vacation, they often tell me that this was their most important professional goal. Yup – that’s right – taking care of ourselves helps us be everything we’re supposed to be at work, in the community and at home.
So at this point, let me share my goals for 2020 that I’m going to share with you. And they’re a mix of personal and professional:
- Be present for my husband on weekends and vacations
- Rework my consulting practice so that at least 60% of my work is virtual or in Atlanta while generating at least as much revenue as 2019.
- Conduct an annual practice evaluation
- Double podcast listenership in 2020
Of course, I created a project plan to achieve each of these goals using a simple-one page twelve month calendar that has only six lines per month. On this calendar, I’ve outlined the tasks I need to do each month in order to achieve my goals. Since each month only has space for five tasks, I still don’t get bogged down in the minutia. And it only took me about an hour to complete my calendar.
If you’re interested in getting a blank copy of this simple, one page calendar, you can download it from the show notes at successfulnonprofits.com. I created it in excel, and made it completely editable for you.
Once you have a few realistic resolutions and a simple plan for achieving them, here are some tips, tricks and hacks that will help you on your way:
#1 – Habits keep and break resolutions. Last June, I decided to stop drinking for a year. Frankly – drinking had just become a habit for me, and I would have a cocktail every evening when I got home from work. While I thankfully didn’t have any physical addiction to alcohol, that act of having a nightly mixed drink was a powerful habit that I knew I would miss. I replaced the nightly drink with a seltzer water and lime in a cocktail glass.
Guess what? For about three months, I would get home, pick up a cocktail glass from our bar, add some ice, slice a lime, and pour myself a seltzer. Then one day, I pulled the limes from the fridge and thought, “I don’t want to go to this much trouble anymore,” and poured my seltzer without a lime. A few weeks later, I even stopped pouring my seltzer into a cocktail glass. I feel pretty confident that having that similar but healthier replacement habit was the bridge I needed to stop drinking.
#2 – Celebrate milestone moments. As you identify your annual plan, identify the milestones that you’ll celebrate and reward along the way. If you’re the CFO and your goal is to produce monthly financials by the 12th day of each month – how will you recognize and celebrate success when you’ve finished the first quarter of timely monthly financials?
If you’re a development director with the goal of calling every donor making a gift of $500 or more to personally thank them – decide up front how you will reward yourself at the end of successfully completing the first month, quarter and year.
Let me quickly say a word about things we offer ourselves as both an incentive and a reward. Your reward should support continued achievement of the goal – not give you a break from achieving the goal. In that same example for the CFO, celebrating that first quarter of timely financials by giving yourself a break the next month undermines your goal. But implementing bill.com as a reward makes your life easier and supports the achievement of the goal.
Here’s a way I used rewards in my own life. I started the second year of my consulting practice with a promise to buy myself a really nice Monte Blanc pen and pencil set if I had a six-figure year. I selected a beautiful set that would be quite an extravagant purchase costing almost $1,000 – which coincidentally was the same price as my first car.
That second year closed with my consulting practice having net revenue of just $99,500. This was only $500 short of my $100,000 goal, but I didn’t earn the reward. I then started my third year with the same promise of a pen. That year, however, I easily earned six figures by late summer, and I was able to purchase the beautiful writing instruments that I had spent over 18 months working for. I still have and use them every day, and I feel special every time I pull one out to take a note.
This was perhaps the perfect reward for a job well done – and it was the best possible reward for me. A fancy pen and pencil set might not be your thing, and it’s important that you find the reward that motivates you and supports your continued success.
#3: Get an accountability partner
Whether it’s a friend, mentor, former colleague or paid coach, it’s critically important that you have an accountability partner. This is someone you can check in with to share your successes and your struggles. Someone who will challenge you without judging you; someone who will help you brainstorm a way around obstacles while also letting you take the lead in finding solutions. And a safe person who will serve as your sounding board – which allows you to talk through your obstacles and identify the best solution for you.
You’ll want to share your resolutions with your accountability partner and give them permission to ask about them – – – and challenge your answers.
There are, however, a few people in your life to avoid as accountability partners: specifically, please don’t ask a spouse, boss or board chair to serve in this role. Each of these folks already plays an important role in your life, and asking them to serve as an accountability partner blurs the lines of your relationship in some pretty unhealthy ways.
#4: Get enough sleep.
Getting enough sleep and being well rested is essential to achieving any goal or resolution that you may have. Getting enough sleep has so many benefits, such as
- Enhancing and strengthening your willpower
- Ensuring your memory and mind are working well
- Improving your mood and making you feel happier
As a life-long insomniac, I have learned about the importance of sleep the hard way. I’m also really proud to say, that 2019 was the year when I hacked my sleep. I have gone from averaging about 5 hours of sleep a night to routinely getting 6 ½ to 7 hours every night, and the difference is incredible. I’m currently working on a blog post about hacking my sleep – so be on the lookout for that in the New Year.
#5: Make your resolutions a priority
While this may seem obvious, it’s essential that you make your resolutions a higher priority than other things in your life. In making your resolution a priority, decide up front what might take precedent. If you’ve resolved to work out three times a week this year, what are legitimate reasons for not following through one week? You might decide that having a fever, the week leading up to your nonprofit’s big special event or an out of town conference are good reasons why you can’t keep the resolution for a week. Now that you have this list of acceptable reasons, you can hold yourself accountable when some other false priority seeks to take over your week.
#6: Calendar your resolution
I know many people who have made a resolution to reach email zero before going home each night. By the sixth workday in the new year, however, that resolution is long forgotten because they didn’t schedule 30 or 45 minutes at the end of every day to follow up on email and achieve the coveted inbox zero status. Because they didn’t schedule reaching email zero before leaving the office at night, they let the crisis of the day sabotage their resolution – or even worse – they sabotaged it by scheduling meetings until the very end of their day. At first, they would go home and work on email for 30 or 45 minutes at night, but eventually that was just too much. Instead, they abandoned their resolution and accepted that their email inbox would never be empty.
#7: Know what you’ll do when the going gets tough
There are two points when a resolution is easy: at the very beginning when you are enthusiastic and toward the end when you are on auto pilot and the behavior is a habit. But the going gets tough in the middle. After the first three or four weeks, the newness has worn off, the marginal benefits have faded, and you haven’t seen the windfall benefit that only comes after months or years of a new habit.
It’s in this difficult middle period when a bad day, a headache, work demands, family responsibilities or laziness will start to make excuses for you. At this point, some part of your brain will start talking yourself out of the resolution. Sometimes it starts with a tradeoff – you saying, “I won’t send donor thank you notes today but will definitely do it on Monday and Friday next week”. Other times it’s a get out of jail for free card – your voice will say “I won’t send thank you notes this week, but it’s the only week of the year that I won’t send my thank you notes.”
Since you can be certain that this self talk will happen, you can also prepare yourself for how your more disciplined and stronger self will respond. This is where it’s important to know what motivates you. If you’re genuinely motivated by a future reward, you might simply remind yourself of the reward you would be giving up by not sending thank you notes.
Others are motivated to action in order to avoid a loss or punishment. If that’s you, determine what you will give up if you don’t send donor thank you notes one week. Perhaps you’ve decided to work the first Federal holiday following any week when thank you notes don’t get sent. If having to work President’s day or Memorial Day will motivate you to get those thank you note sent, then this might work.
Some people are motivated by external validation, and this type of person can remind themselves what it will feel like to tell their accountability partner that they didn’t get their donor thank you notes sent out by Friday.
Again – everyone is unique and is motivated differently. So know yourself and set up motivations that will get you through these difficult times.
#8 – Rember that Success is not forever, Failure is not fatal. Consistently following your resolution for a few days, a week or even a month doesn’t guarantee that you’ll stick with it throughout the year. So be certain to renew your commitment as frequently as you need to – and many of the hacks I’m describing will help with keeping your commitment fresh. But also don’t give up pursuing your resolution if you lapse for a day, a week or even a month. Forgive yourself for the lapse and figure out what you must do to get back on track.
#9: Embrace Failure – And Learn From It
One of my favorite Pat Conroy quotes is this “Losing is a fiercer, more uncompromising teacher. Cold Hearted by clear-eyed in its understanding that life is trial than game. More dilemma than fair play.”
Losing is a fact of being human. We all lose sometimes, and, while it’s important to not let a lapse or a loss keep us from achieving great things, it’s equally important to step back and examine why we didn’t succeed.
It’s in this self-exploration that we gain insight, are better able to manage ourselves and achieve success.
As my mentor Terry Stone says, “It’s okay to make a mistake. It’s not okay to make the same mistake over and over.”
#10: Use Technology
I often say that we live in a miraculous time. With the one exception that we don’t yet have flying cars, we enjoy much the same lifestyle as the Jetsons were supposed to be living in 2062. But, as Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams says, why do we use 8-track technology in an iPhone age?
I’ve mentioned a number of hypothetical resolutions, and I will suggest just one technology hack that might help with each:
- If your goal is to get fitter this year, download a free app that will help track your progress. In my own life, I’ve used the app Map My Run and, of course, my Fit Bit app to track my exercise. And the best part? You can reward yourself for consistency for an extended period of time by paying to unlock premium app features.
- If your goal is to increase your team engagement and morale, your organization could implement Culture Amp. This cloud-based system will provide statistically valid measures of engagement and offer you specific tips on how you can increase engagement.
- Like many people, your goal might be to get more sleep. My fitbit has been invaluable for tracking my sleep, and there are also cheaper alternatives if you have a goal to save money, too.
- Some development directors will make a resolution to call every donor that gives over a certain amount. You can schedule time each week to call donors in your digital calendar, and create a query in your CRM to push the names and phone numbers of all donors who’ve exceed the threshold. The best part is tht you can likely have the CRM push those donor names to you minutes before your scheduled calls.
- If you’re a CFO who is bound and determined to close the books and produce financials by the 12th of each month, consider apps like expensify, tsheets and bill.com. They will streamline your documentation and make it easier to close the books.
You get the picture – look for apps that automate your reminders, gather information for you, make it easier for you to do the task, recognize when you’re on a streak, or serve as digital accountability partners.
#11: Make It A Lifestyle
The final way to turn your resolutions into your reality is to make it a lifestyle. You make it a lifestyle when you devote a portion of your bandwidth and your bank account to achieving the resolution.
Join a group or association of like-minded people and participate in that group real time. Consider joining online communities on Reddit, LinkedIn or Facebook that are geared to your resolution.
And the absolute best way to make your resolution a lifestyle is to tell the world about your journey through a blog, a podcast or a youtube channel dedicated to your specific resolution. I promise you, that will be the best accountability partner you could have.
And, of course, engaging a coach who can help you meet your goals is always a good idea.
While not all of these 11 tips, tricks and hacks will work for you, I do hope that you’ve found some inspiration and hacks for achieving your resolutions this year. And I hope you’ll share your resolutions, as well as your plan for achieving your resolutions, on our Facebook page and in our LinkedIn Group.
We have some big things in store for the podcast and successfulnonprofits.com website in the coming year, and I look forward to sharing them with you as they roll out. That’s why I hope you’ll connect with me by signing up for our email newsletter. We never sell, trade or swap our email list, and I’m committed to never spamming you either.
You can easily sign up for the list at successfulnonprofits.com.
Thanks for listening to our 2020 New Years episode – – – I’m wishing you a year of personal and professional fulfillment. And, of course, I hope you’ve gained some insight to help your nonprofit thrive in a competitive environment.