(This is cross-posted at BlogHer.)
I’m a big fan of having goals, doing things that challenge us, and trying new things. What I don’t like is waiting for a particular date, like making resolutions on January 1st, before I get started. All the major things I’ve done in my life were due to making a decision and going from there — not because it was a Monday, or the first day of a month, or a milestone day like a birthday.
Some people use January 1st as a good time to do an assessment of where they are, and that’s great. I, too, like to look back at the past year — the good times and the bad, what I didn’t accomplish that I really wanted to do or should have done. But I’ve made a commitment to myself to try new things on a regular basis, so I don’t feel like I need to start one particular thing on a particular date. I know the challenges will happen throughout the year.
Having said that, I made a 101 Things in 1001 Days list in January of 2007. Yes, technically this is a list of things I told myself I’d do within a certain time frame. But the good thing is, they don’t have to be done in any particular order — I do them when I want to do them.
So far, I’ve completed 74 tasks from my list. I still have 27 things to do, and about nine months remaining (my end date is October 2nd, 2009). Most of them won’t be too difficult to cross off; it’s just a matter of taking the time to do them.
The only negative I’ve found to completing the list is sometimes the things you put down when you first start aren’t as applicable to your life a few years down the road. There are a number of things I put down two years ago that just don’t appeal to me as much anymore. (A good example is #85: Learn at least 50 signs in American Sign Language. I was working for a closed-captioning organization when I first started this list, so I thought it would be nice to learn more about the people we were providing this service for. I think sign language is cool, but I don’t know any deaf people and I have a short memory. So even if I learned 50 signs just to cross it off my list, I doubt I’d retain many of them since I wouldn’t use them on a regular basis.)
The thing I like best about my 101 Things list is that it has challenged me to do a lot of things I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise (I tried to choose a variety: some easy, some difficult, some that involved travel, some that were fitness-related, etc). On top of that, though, a number of people have told me over the past few years that my list inspired them to start one of their own — and I never get tired of hearing that. It’s an awesome feeling.
Since I’ve been doing this for a few years, I’ve identified several things that might help people who are thinking about starting their own list:
What kinds of things should you choose? I spent several weeks preparing my list before I finally published it on my blog. After I sat down and listed everything I had in mind that I’d like to do, I used other people’s lists for ideas (just do an internet search for “101 Things in 1001 Days”). I skimmed through dozens, if not hundreds, of lists, and copied down anything that seemed interesting. Once I identified 101, I separated them into categories (they’re a lot easier to keep track of that way).
Another way to go about it (and this is most likely what I’d do if I decided to undertake a second list) is to fill in only 50 or 75 things in the beginning, and leave a certain number of things to fill in within a year, or two, or whatever time period you decide. Like I said, the only downside to my list are the things I no longer feel strongly about completing. If I’d left those things blank to begin with, I’d feel much better about filling them in once my interests changed.
Avoid: adding a lot of things to your list that may be out of your control to accomplish. If you really like to travel, for instance, you may feel inclined to add fifty destinations you’d really like to visit. But is that realistic? What if you lose your job, or have a baby, or break your leg? There are many items on my list which don’t cost a lot of money to do.
Be specific: Some people say they’d like to “Learn Spanish” or “Look into getting a new job.” How well do you want to learn Spanish? Enough to carry on a conversation with a native speaker, or just well enough to ask for the location of a bathroom? Along the same lines, “looking into a new job” could mean perusing the classified ads for five minutes.
Make modifications: Some people feel you shouldn’t do this (switch out certain things on the list for something else), but I’ve done it a few times. It’s only been 2 or 3 things, though, not a lot. And when I look at the 27 things I have remaining, even though I’m not wild about some of them, I’m not planning to replace them with something I’d rather do. I guess I feel like I’m too close to the end now; when I made the earlier changes I was only about halfway through (or less). For anything I don’t end up finishing, my final post this October will be an explanation of why I wasn’t able to do it.
Important: hold yourself accountable. At the end of each month, I recap anything I’ve crossed off my list (and I make sure to cross it off the master list as well). I’ve done this every month, without fail, except last month — December ’08. It was the first month since I started that I didn’t cross off at least one thing. However, I’m feeling re-energized now (could it possibly be a New Year’s kick-in-the-pants?). Hands down, writing a monthly update has been the best way to hold myself accountable — not to mention, it gives me a feeling of accomplishment knowing I’m that much closer to my goal.
Even though I’m planning to cross off as much as I can from my list, I’ll be perfectly happy if I don’t do all 101 of them. The thing is, if I look back at everything I’ve done in the past few years, I know these 101 things aren’t anywhere close to the number of things I’ve done that weren’t on the list. That’s a pretty awesome realization. So, in that light, I guess I’d like to add a suggestion (something I haven’t done myself, but I could go back and do it if I wanted to read through the past few years of my blog archives).
Keep a separate list of accomplishments: places you visit, new things you try, anything you do that makes you happy and/or challenges you. I think you might be surprised at how many things you can do in 1001 days.
Do you have a 101 Things list? If so, how do you keep on track? How do you hold yourself accountable? If you don’t have a list, would you be interested in trying it?