Zelophehad’s Daughters

A Spreadsheet for 2011

Posted by Vada

While I don’t hold with the idea that you can magically change yourself and your habits by setting goals as New Year’s rolls around, I still find it useful to occasionally stop and look at how I’m doing in various areas of my life, and try to figure out how I can improve. New Year’s and my birthday (which happens to fall in July) always work out to be good times to re-evaluate and try to change some things, and this year is no different.

I set some goals last year, like I do every year, and (as in most years) I achieved some and didn’t achieve others. I’m okay with that — my general philosophy is that I’ll never be perfect, but better is always good. Since I didn’t get as far as I wanted to on some of my goals last year, I decided I should try something different to help motivate me this year, and I had a brilliant idea — a spreadsheet. (I know, it doesn’t sound that brilliant, but really, it was. For me at least.)

You see, I like charts. I like lists and checking things off. I often don’t make lists, because it’s one more thing to do, but when I do make them I take great pleasure in crossing out those things I accomplish, and sometimes I do one more thing than I otherwise would have, just to put a line through one more thing on that list. When I wanted to be better about cleaning my house a few years ago, I made a chore chart complete with stickers to put on it for every chore I did (daily and weekly). It helped me get better, but the chart (and some of the regular chore-doing) fell by the wayside because it was something I had to remember to make up and put up on a regular basis (or in other words, one more thing to do).

The spreadsheet doesn’t have the problems that past lists and charts have always had. You see, all I had to do was label the columns at the top and put the calendar dates down the side, and voila! — all set, no more work to make it up or keep it up. I also don’t have to keep track of it (always a problem in my house which tends to get overrun with papers) since it’s on my computer. Plus, there it’s a constant reminder (because let’s face it, I spend way too much time on my computer). It’s always open, and I look at it multiple times a day, and I want to check those little boxes off. And guess what? It’s working.

It’s 12 days into the new year, and my goals are going great so far. I’ve read my scriptures 11 of those 12 days, and exercised 8 of the 12. That’s the best I’ve been about scripture reading in quite a while, and the best I’ve ever been about exercising (with the possible exception of high school, when I was forced to exercise and graded on it). (In fact, I even stopped in the middle of writing the post and exercised, just so I could say 8/12 instead of 7/12.) I set up a daily automatic transfer from my checking to my savings account so that I could see the number in my money saved column keep going up toward the goal. I’ve read 6 books already (of the 25 I set as my goal for the year)(not that I really needed a goal to read, except that now I get to feel good about reading rather than feeling guilty about reading). And I’ve written 10 of the 12 days — not as many words as I would’ve liked, but I’m making regular progress, and if I can keep that up I might actually get something finished. In fact, the only goal I haven’t worked on yet is to get the rest of the boxes in my house unpacked, but the 17 in my last column is beginning to haunt me, so I’m pretty sure I’ll get started on that one soon, too.

All in all, I’m quite happy with my new spreadsheet, and the progress I’ve made so far this year. What about the rest of you? Any new goals for the year? Any thoughts on how to make new habits and actually change the things you need to improve upon?

8 Responses to “A Spreadsheet for 2011”

  1. 1.

    I am like you in that I get satisfaction out checking off and tracking the goals. People have called me the spreadsheet King because I have taken it to some extreme levels.

  2. 2.

    I really like your idea, Vada. Like you, I spend far too much time on the computer. :)

    One of my goals for this year was to go to bed at a reasonable hour more often. But then Lynnette has come to visit and we’ve stayed up talking a few times, and that goal is pretty much toast.

  3. 3.

    I’m not a list-maker or a goal-setter. Not sure what difference there is between your spreadsheet and a list, but somehow it seems strangely compelling — maybe it’s that “spending too much time on the computer” thing. Will have to think about this …

  4. 4.

    I love it, Ziff. Charts and graphs have always helped me when I am trying to track personal progress–even if it is something so simple as putting a check mark next to each day after accomplishing some daily task.

    I’m sure it’s not for everyone, but without these kind of data-centric records, goal-setting (and accomplishing) is a lost cause.

  5. 5.

    Also, as far as techniques for keeping a goal go, I found my inspiration from Ronan over at BCC who detailed a bet with his son over Twitter–tweeting daily updates about it. Similarly, when I decided to cut out all refined sugar in late November, I made a point to announce it on Facebook and then log it Twitter.

    Although virtually no one cares about my tweets or FB statuses (especially in regards to these topics!), I find that the simple act of declaring something publicly created a sense of accountability–to the Interwebz–that was ultimately quite compelling. It absolutely helped me get over the hump re sugar to the point where my daily pain of avoiding sugar became a habit that now sustains itself without effort.

  6. 6.

    Very impressive, Vada!

    I haven’t ever come up with a comprehensive self-improvement system for myself, but I must say I’m really impressed that you manage to exercise. I don’t. At all, ever. Unless walking around and around and around my house with a screaming baby counts.

  7. 7.

    Don’t laugh…but how do you set up a spreadsheet like that? I’m sure I have all the tools, Just have no idea how to do it. It would be so helpful to me….

  8. 8.

    Harlene, make Google Docs your friend.

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