Productivity Tactic #10: Stay Positive

As February nears its end and we prepare to enter the final month of this year’s Q1, it’s a good time to remind ourselves what we’re doing all this for. You’ve got your list of goals and you’ve been chugging along every day, step by step, towards each of them. So first, I want to congratulate you on your continuing effort and resolution!

But I also understand that it can be a tough act to keep up, especially when there are disappointments and obstacles that can threaten to slow you down. You might have even taken a turn earlier in your journey that you now realize wasn’t the best strategy. Or you could be frustrated with that one thing that’s preventing you from checking off the next task on your list.

Things are bound to get in your way. And you will definitely be faced with the temptation to give up. So it’s important, especially when things get rough, to remember why you are on this road in the first place.

I recommend you keep something visually inspirational nearby, maybe on your work desk or by your bed, for a jolt of encouragement first thing in the morning. Make it something that reminds you of the ultimate goal you are trying to achieve and, more importantly, the ultimate reason you want to achieve it. What drives you? What inspires you? What is your reason for this journey?

I keep my inspiration on a chain around my neck. It’s a golden charm shaped like a leaf, and it tells me that life and beauty come in seasons. It helps me remember that everything is fragile and finite, and the only real thing is what I can hold on to right now – that things up today can be down tomorrow, but also that the process is full circle and those same things will be up again another day. It reminds me that I am just a small part of this greater world, and that to do my part is to produce (and help others like you produce) more of that life and beauty that captures our world and makes it worth living through the ups and downs.

You can also keep inspiration in front of you throughout the work day, so you have something to reference back to when you start to lose momentum. I keep my daily inspiration in the form of a “My Priorities” Google doc that I keep open in my browser all day long. On it, I’ve listed out each of my high-level projects and goals for the year, along with what steps I’m going to take and what milestones I’m going to complete to get there. Seeing it all laid out on one document, in one place, really helps me stay focused when the daily grind gets to me. It helps remind me of what I’m doing all this for anyhow.

But it’s not just about what I’m trying to accomplish. My goals this year are also about what I need to let go of. It’s just as important to learn not to dwell on your mistakes or when things go wrong. And this is as true for the process as it is as the goal itself. You can learn from your mistakes without dwelling on them, and then move on to improve the future. Stay Positive through the down moments, and use that momentum to push you even higher in your ups.

Stay Positive.

But also stay focused on the Chaos that you can influence. Life is too short to waste a moment, especially on things you have no control over. So don’t worry about that immovable obstacle that you can’t move past. Let go of that route, and pick up a new one. Get honest with yourself, and then get creative.

Because as much as we have resolutions and goals, it isn’t just about the end result — it’s also about the journey. We aren’t meant to spend the whole process worrying about what difference we’ll make in our lives, or how we’ll be judged in the end. Remember that you ARE making a difference right now with every single step you take towards your goals. And what’s more, you can’t even be certain if the goals you set now will still be relevant or important to you in the future.

So stop stressing about the things in your way that you can’t move, stop worrying about the goal itself, and start enjoying the journey! It sounds cliche, and some people may call me a hippie for saying so, but I just want you to understand how staying positive can actually have a positive impact on the things you want to achieve. And enjoying the journey can also mean learning to see the opportunities that come along the way, in spite of — and sometimes even because of — each obstacle.

That’s actually the secret to balancing the chaos in your creative endeavors, and appreciating what great things can come from it. Because the secret to being a Productive Artist is not about suppressing and ignoring the chaos — it’s about giving it the structure and freedom it needs to create, and understanding the value it can add.

And in the end, what will make the biggest difference for you and what you want to achieve won’t be how hard you can work or how efficiently you can do something, but rather how much you believe in what you’re doing and how well you can share your passion with others. So Stay Positive, stay motivated, stay inspired, and I promise that will fortify everything you put out into the world.

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Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Comment below and tell us about one thing that’s been slowing you down and how you can remind yourself to Stay Positive and move past it!

Productivity Tactic #9: Teach It

The saying goes: “Those who can’t do, teach.” But I’ve got a challenge for you. What if you could be the exception, and be the one who can do both?

I’ve found that one of the best ways to learn something yourself is to try teaching it to others. And it’s been such a treat for me to learn from my clients as I help them with their individual creative chaos. As I’ve researched and relayed each of my Productive Artist tips to them, and to you all, I’ve been learning new and better ways to improve my own life.

At the same time, I’ve also been learning more about each area of focus my clients work in, which are each wonderfully unique and yet all equally as creative. That’s what I love about what I do – helping the creative minds of the world to work through the chaos that inevitably comes with their creativity. So in the end, I’ve been the teacher and the student at the same time – and each one helps to strengthen the other – making me better and more effective at both.

You can benefit from this same mentality too.

As you power forward with your own creative game plan and try to reach your goals, find a friend or colleague who wants to learn what you are doing and share with them along the way. Perhaps you can even help teach each other, exchange knowledge and push one other along your separate but similar paths.

There’s nothing like a study or learning buddy, and there’s no better way to try and master something than when you have someone else to practice it with. So try on your teaching hat, and let the student within you become the master!

Go forth and be both, young grasshopper.

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Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Comment below and tell us about one thing you can learn better by teaching to someone else. Who will you teach it to?

Productivity Tactic #8: Define Your Space

Hopefully by now you’ve defined your goals and started making strategic progress towards them.

But what about the spaces in which you do this? Have you found that properly productive space wherein you are able to fully focus on your work and your goals; where the creative juices keep flowing, and the To Do lists practically check themselves off?

In my own experience, I’ve found it to be nearly as crucial to define your work space as it is to define your work goals themselves. That space can make or break your ability to work productively and can influence whether you make smooth progress or none at all.

So if you’ve been following my Productivity Tactics so far, and still find yourself struggling to make headway on your goals, consider whether this might be your missing link.

Take some time to really identify that place (or those places) where you feel most productive. It could be your office at work or at home, or your living room, or a coffee shop down the street. Then make room in your daily schedule to use that space regularly and consistently for your work routine.

This might involve incorporating travel time into your work schedule, to ensure you can get to and from your ideal work space. And if your ideal space requires this, make room for it. Don’t sacrifice it for something more conveniently located that might not be as productive. Trust me – it will make a difference.

This could also mean locating the nearest sources for necessary fuel that you will need whilst working in your ideal space, such as power outlets, food and caffeine. Whatever it is you need to have around you to stay focused and productive – be it a coffee maker, or steady wifi, or that stuffed animal that’s been your lucky talisman since the 9th grade – make that your first step to secure before you commit to your new work space. You’ll want to make sure you are fully supplied for success when you sit down in your ideal space and can avoid interrupting your workflow in order to go find these later on.

But perhaps the most vital step I advise is the physical setup of your ideal work space itself. If you will indeed be working in this space on a regular basis, you will need to keep it well lit and well organized with all (and only) the necessary materials and resources you’ll need to work towards your goals. This means you’ll also need to make an extra effort to keep it free of any other irrelevant clutter, to make sure you can focus all your energy on the tasks in front of you.

If you can do this, I’ve no doubt you’ll find the progression of your work and goals much smoother and faster… and your ability to balance the chaos in your creative work much easier. Because defining your work space will also help you to define the spaces for other elements in your life. And you’ll be amazed how much knowing exactly where you are and being exactly where you want to be can do for your creativity and productivity.

So go on. Define your spaces. And then see how much more you are able to employ them & enjoy them!

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Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Comment below and tell us about your ideal work space!

Productivity Tactic #7: Imitate

As you continue charging through those nicely broken down, prioritized and deadline’d steps towards your goals, you will no doubt hit occasional and seemingly insurmountable roadblocks that can slow you down. At the same time, you will very certainly receive ample and unsolicited advice from well meaning observers that want to help you pick up the pace again.

Most people would tell you to ignore the peanut gallery. However, while I do encourage you to carve a path that is unique yours, I also don’t see any reason why you can’t take advantage of those nuggets of advice that are actually productive, or even (crazy as it sounds) seek the guidance of others on your own.

I already wrote about the benefits of outsourcing & automating, but what about the stuff you still need to do yourself?

Even then, when it’s a task that requires you to roll up your sleeves and get your own hands dirty (and they very often will), I don’t see why you can’t learn from others in order to help pave your road to success?

When we’re already up against so many obstacles, and the path to unique & independent success is such a rocky one, I have to ask: Why feel the need to reinvent the wheel?

Yes, it’s important to be original. And you absolutely should be bringing something new to the table. But it’s also important to use your time and resources wisely. Just because you want to create something new doesn’t mean you have to create it entirely from scratch.

One the key ingredients to efficiently developing your product, service, or even entire business, is to know how to effectively use the applicable information and resources already out there, and then improve upon them — take them a step further — to give them your own flavor. You don’t have to reinvent the entire wheel to be original, just reinvent the idea or the purpose of the wheel, or give it a new spin!

And if you are struggling to identify ways you can improve what’s out there, or even learn what’s out there to begin with, talk to your friends, your colleagues especially, and even (or possibly most importantly) your competitors. Look at what others in your field have done and how they fared for good examples of either what to do or what not to do.

I’m not saying you should copy exactly what they did! But their experience can prove a more helpful starting point than if you tried to start from nothing. You can still take what you learn from them and make it your own.

So get out there and learn from the best… and then make it even better!

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Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Comment below and tell us about one thing you like that someone else is doing and how you can imitate and improve their experience for yourself.

Productivity Tactic #6: Outsource

Alright (creative) people. So now you’ve got that list of your resolutions, broken down into bite-size steps, and organized in a nice spreadsheet (or other system) based on priority and the deadlines you’ve set for yourself, right? And now you’ve also realized how you can take full advantage of the time you have by not justifying busy work and procrastination.

But the problem remains that even if you maintain maximum productivity at all times (and let’s be honest, none of us can do that), you’ll probably still have more to do than time to do it.

So I’ve got another super top secret tip for you: Outsource!

Look at your list of steps towards each resolution, and ask yourself if any of those can be automated or done by someone else?

It’s important to remember that you don’t have to do everything yourself to make sure it gets done, or done well. The key to being a good manager (of your time or anything else) is the ability to delegate.

Even when it comes to your personal list of goals and to do’s, there is nothing wrong with seeking additional resources to help you achieve them. In fact, handing over that task to someone (or something) else may even get it done faster and better than you could have on your own.

So don’t be afraid to ask for help. Remember, the key to having more time is doing less.

Personally, I recommend doing this in either (or both) of two ways:

1. Empower others to make decisions for you and for your goals, which eliminates you as a bottleneck and helps the task get done faster. You may even find this allows problems and tasks to resolve themselves (or disappear altogether).

Here’s an example: One of my resolutions is to consolidate my finances and investments under one easily-managed roof – emphasis on easily-managed. So part of this is finding an investment advisor that I can trust and empower to help decide what my portfolio should look like. After several meetings with Chase Investment Services, and making the initial decisions with their help to get setup, I feel confident I can sit back and trust them with a lot of the ongoing monitoring and managing of my account.

2. Maintain control of your decision-making, but hire a virtual assistant or other service to help you execute (human or machine).

If you hire a human helper, there are a great many companies that specialize in offering virtual assistance for your every personal and business-related need. I recommend checking out Your Man In India, Elance, or Brickwork India for efficient and affordable help from the other side of the world. Sure you can hire an assistant right here in your own time zone, but the benefit of an assistant from India is that they work while you’re sleeping! So you can give them a task, then go to bed, and in the morning they’ll have it waiting for you in your inbox. You can’t beat that!

Of course you don’t have to turn to human assistance to get the job done. Depending on the task you need help with, there are a great many tools and software designed especially for taking the burden off your shoulders and doing the work for you. Some of my favorites for, say, managing your finances are QuickBooks Online (which I now use for my business finances) and the super-simple Mint.com (which evolved from Quicken Online, and I use for my personal finances). Both of these will automatically update and aggregate your financial and bank information, saving you the manual trouble.

Now I can understand the hesitation to ask for help, and I know it’s hard to let someone else do something for you. But remember you can still maintain as much of the control and final decision making as you want. And if you delegate well, it can save you mountains of time and stress.

So get out there and start outsourcing!

You’ll thank me later.

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Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Comment below and tell us about one thing you can outsource to improve your own workflow and sanity.

Productivity Tactic #5: Don’t Justify

OK, so now you’re on the right path. You’ve got your simplified list of resolutions that you’ve broken down into bite-size steps. And you’ve begun tackling that list based on the priorities and deadlines you’ve set for yourself. Bravo!

Now comes the hard part – sticking to your plan.

Because no matter how motivated you were at the beginning, that initial excitement will fade and you may start to feel overwhelmed or uncertain that anything you’re doing is making any difference. So it’s important to continue checking back in on your progress and your path as you go along.

And as you do, I urge you to be mindful of one very tempting trap: Don’t Justify Your Time!

I know it’s easy to start feeling overwhelmed and stressed out as the day-to-day minutiae builds up and takes over. So the best way I’ve found to keep myself in check is to stop, take a beat, and ask myself:

  • Am I being productive or just active?
  • Am I adding more work for myself just to feel busy?
  • Am I inventing things to do just to avoid the important?

Sometimes the things we least want to do are the things that most need to get done. But they can feel a bit daunting to take on. So it’s perfectly normal to find yourself filling your time with other menial tasks so that you can argue (to yourself of course) that you don’t have time to take on those bigger, more important ones.

But just because it’s normal, doesn’t make it healthy or productive.

So it’s important to stay self-aware and catch yourself when you get into that place. Because as good as it feels to keep putting off the big scary stuff, I promise it will feel even better to actually get those big scary things done and off your list.

So if you do find yourself facing this challenge, maybe this mantra will help:

“The sooner I do it, the sooner I don’t have to do it!”

So go out there and take procrastination head on.

And remember: Don’t justify.

Identify the hesitancy, falsify your justifications, and then vivify – just go for it!

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Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Comment below and tell us one big scary To Do you are going to stop avoiding and tackle today!

Productivity Tactic #4: Set Deadlines

“The ultimate inspiration is the deadline” -Nolan Bushnell

The next key step I advise to productively tackle any goal or resolution is to set proper deadlines for yourself – emphasis on the “for yourself” part there. The most important thing is that you are the manager of your own time and the maker of your own expectations.

So give yourself a time frame to accomplish the steps towards each of your goals, which you’ve begun laying out with Tactic #3: Thing Big, Act Small. Each step will need its own deadline, as well as a higher level time frame for the bigger resolution. Both are important, and juggling them can be challenging. That’s why I’ve developed My 2012 Resolutions Google Doc, where I list out each step I’ve tasked myself with, which resolution it helps achieve, and when I will aim to get it done by.

Remember, I’ve also made this system into a Google Docs Template, so you can try it out as well and see if it will help you on your journey.

Now the key with deadline setting is to be realistic, but not afraid to push yourself. While it’s good to recognize that a particular step will be impossible to achieve in say, just 1 day, I also urge you to remember a certain rule of thumb I’ve come to appreciate, which I discovered with the help of Tim Ferriss. It’s called Parkinson’s Law. It essentially says that any task will take as much time as you allot it to get done. So whether you give yourself two weeks or two days to complete a task, it will probably take you that long.

To illustrate this point, think back to a survey you’ve sent out to your friends in the past, perhaps one meant to help schedule a fun outing. You might have noticed how everyone seemed to fill out the survey either instantly after you sent it out or right before its expiration. The lesson is it’s always easier to do something the fresher the reminder, whether that’s right when you start to do something or right when you’re supposed to have finished it.

So do yourself a favor and set deadlines as ambitious as you can reasonably manage, and then hold yourself to those! No one ever accomplished anything extraordinary by taking the easy road.

Plus, you should already have a manageable list of goals with actionable steps to take towards each that you’ve prioritized nicely.

Now just add those deadlines, and you just might surprise yourself with how much you can achieve and how quickly you can achieve it!

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Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Comment below and tell us one of your Artist goals this year & what deadline you are setting for yourself to get it done!

Productivity Tactic #3: Think Big, Act Small

OK so now you’ve got your nice and concise list of prioritized goals for 2012. Now what?

Any one of your goals can seem like a huge undertaking, let alone the whole list of them, and it can feel a bit daunting to figure out how to start tackling them.

That’s why it’s so important to be able to Think Big, but Act Small. Keeping the end goal in mind is always a good practice, but don’t let that distract you from the smaller steps you’ll need to take to get there.

Take each goal and break it up into smaller bite-size steps. Try to quantify each step with a minimum amount of progress you want to reach, such as “run 3 miles this week” or “put away 10 stray items” – instead of with a time limit. This will save you a great deal of stress and better motivate you to get them done sooner with a greater sense of reward once you do.

As you identify these steps, map them out in the order you’ll need to do them, as well as their priority, in whatever form is easiest for you (i.e. list, a spreadsheet, a timeline, a flow-chart, even picture art), as long as it’s something you can keep around and easily refer back to throughout the process.

As I mentioned in my last post on prioritizing, I am personally a big fan of Google spreadsheets. So I keep my smaller steps laid out on one of those, with columns to indicate their priority, action item, progress and due date. This system worked for me last year, so I’ve created a Google Docs Template of my spreadsheet for you to try it out too. Just keep in mind that it may not be the best method for you, depending on what kind of system you are looking for and feel comfortable with.

The important thing is to try different things out until you do figure out what system works best with how you already naturally get tasks done. Do you like having a handwritten to-do list in a notebook you carry with you, or would you rather organize your to-do’s in your email inbox? Or perhaps you’d find it most useful to schedule blocks of time on your calendar for when you plan to work on each task?

Whatever the case, find what works for you and make it your own – so it won’t be hard to keep up the habit as you continue to tackle your Chaos!

The other important thing to remember is to take them one at a time. As I said in my last post, multitasking is a myth. Don’t get distracted trying to juggle multiple tasks at one time. You can have several in progress at once, but don’t try to focus your attention on more than one at any given moment, or you’ll end up taking even longer to get each done.

On the same note, you also don’t have to start tackling all 10 (or however many you have) goals all at once. You have the whole year to reach your goals, so don’t rush it. Start with your top 3 goals (based on the priority you set in Resolution Tactic #2) and then add a fourth after 3 weeks if you can handle it.

Here’s a tip: Assign yourself NO MORE than 2 critical to-do’s each day that move towards your goals, and make sure you do them! If you need help choosing, ask yourself:

If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be satisfied with my day?

So good luck to you and get to stepping!

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Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Add a comment below to tell me one of your Artist goals this year, and how you can break it down into bite-size, actionable steps!

Productivity Tactic #2: Prioritize

Ok now for the second step I recommend for achieving greater productivity with your goals, be them New Years resolutions or any other kind:

Prioritize!

Unless you assign your goals a relative order of importance, you will end up trying to tackle all of your creative chaos at once, which will only overwhelm you and slow you down. Having a handle on your priorities is essential, especially to help you get back on track when you do find yourself getting a bit overwhelmed.

There are different methods for prioritization, but these are 2 of my favorites which I personally employ. Give them a try and see if they work for you too.

1. The P-System

The first and most obvious step to prioritizing your goals is to list them all out in the order of your chosen importance, 1 through 10 (or however many you have).

But what about beyond that? You’ll need to balance all the smaller steps you take towards reaching each goal. But how do you manage the priorities of all those?

I do it with something I call the P-system. It consists of 3 very simple values:

  • P0 – means it needs to be done in the next few hours 0r by end of day
  • P1 – means it needs to be done within a week or two
  • P2 – means it can get done whenever, low-priority

You’ll notice that all these values are based on deadlines, and how fast each needs to be accomplished. That’s the key to making sure you continue making progress – staying action-oriented in your priorities.

Then as you develop the game plan for each goal or resolution, and decide on each step you’ll need to take, assign it one of these priority values. I maintain all of my ongoing tasks in a spreadsheet with the P-value as one of the columns, so I can easily sort the list and keep my priorities in mind.

Remember – multitasking is a myth and can actually be quite disorienting and distracting. But if you prioritize properly, there is no need to multitask.

2. The Lists of Fives

Besides keeping all your tasks in a nicely laid out list, it can help to make other kinds of lists – especially if you are still a little fuzzy on what your priorities actually are and what’s most important to you.

Not everyone loves making lists, while others are way too obsessed with it. But if you do find yourself prone to this habit, this can definitely work in your favor.

Try this exercise – open a blank word or Google doc, and write the following headings:

  • 5 Moments in My Life When I Felt Most Live
  • 5 Things Those Moments Say About Me
  • 5 Things I Love To Do
  • 5 Things I Don’t Enjoy
  • 5 Things I’m Really Good At
  • 5 Things I’m Honestly Not Good At
  • 5 Things I Enjoy About My Work
  • 5 Things I Want to Add to My Work
  • 5 Things I Could Do Without at Work
  • 5 Things I Appreciate About My Life
  • 5 Things I Want to Add to My Life
  • 5 Things I Can Do Without in My Life
  • 5 Things I Must Have in My Life (ideals or values I want my life to stand for)

Then number 1-5 below each and try to fill them out for each heading. It can be tough, but try tackling the easier ones first and they’ll help you get your head into the space where you can answer the harder ones. It may take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours to answer all these – you can even take a few days if you need to feel satisfied with your answers. And in the end, you’ll have the final answer vital to keep your priorities on track: 5 “Must Haves” for your life.

Because besides setting priorities based on how quickly things need to get done, it’s also important to base them on how important they are to you and the kind of a life and business you want to build for yourself.

So get to it and Happy Prioritizing!

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Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Add a comment below and tell me about your Artist goals this year, and how you plan to prioritize them!

Productivity Tactic #1: Simplify

OK Productive Artists! At the beginning of this year, I listed out my 10 Tactics for how to rock your 2012 resolutions. Once you have a good idea of your resolutions & un-resolutions, whether for your personal life or your business, the next step is figuring out how you’re going to achieve them! And if you are still uncertain on the how, I’m going to break down each one of my 10 Tactics for you over the new several posts. Stay with me, and I promise these will help you become significantly more Productive in your creative endeavors.

So with that, let’s start with the first productivity improving Tactic #1… Simplify!

I can’t stress enough how crucial this step is, and how applicable it can be to just about any area of your life. It should always be your first step, to make sure you are set up for success before you go diving into that big ol’ pile of mess.

So how does this relate to your resolutions, or goals in general?

Well let me ask you this: Have you made up your list of resolutions and are now wondering how the hell you’re going to actually do them all? Well before we get to the part of breaking those goals down into more easily digested pieces, let’s get a bit more realistic about the size of your plate.

Look at your list of resolutions and ask yourself:

  • “Do I really need this many goals?”
  • “Are any of these less important or too much to tackle all at once?”
  • “Can any of these be consolidated together?”

And be honest.

If you have more than 10, try narrowing your list down a bit.

Keep your list simple and actionable, and you’ll have a better chance of actually completing them all.

For example, I could have made a resolution to reorganize and redecorate my entire house, but that would have been biting off more than I can chew, and might have taken longer than 1 year. Instead, I kept it simpler and easier by aiming to organize the clutter in just my work space only. Now getting this piece done may give me the motivation to continue on to the rest of the house. But if I don’t have time to get to the rest of it, I don’t have to feel disappointed. I still accomplished something significant and worthwhile. So for now, I’m keeping myself focused on this reachable goal first, and giving myself the option of saving the other rooms for another year.

Now let’s look at another example. One of the most popular New Year’s resolutions of 2013, and very likely every previous year, is to lose weight. But try not to set your sights too big (or in this case, small). You may not reach your goal weight in one year – in fact, depending on how much weight you want to lose, it may not be terribly healthy to drop that much that fast. So instead, set your resolution to more realistic figures, and include other useful measurements besides just weight, like your body mass index (BMI), or calorie intake, or amount of daily exercise.

Simplify by keeping each resolution to something you can actually measure and meet. Simple may not mean having a really short list with really few words. It’s good to keep it concise. But it is far more important to make your resolutions simple to achieve, than just simple to read.

So go to it, and Happy Simplifying!

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Questions? Comments? Absurd Ideas? Please feel free to comment here and tell me about one of your resolutions or goals this year, and how you can simplify it to make it more achievable!