Khe Hy is onto something in this Quartz article about the importance of a tracking system, even more so than a goal, in achieving success. It’s an idea I’ve been playing with for a while now with noticeable results. But to me, it’s not a system INSTEAD of a goal. It’s using a system to help you refine your goals.

I used to think it went like this:

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“First, define your objective. Then, use analytics to make better decisions..” — Me last year

The problem is, you’re ALWAYS making decisions. And you often need more time and understanding to come up with the right goals.

So now my approach is:

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Ultimate goals are elusive, dynamic things. Use a system to help clarify them.

And the update schedule goes roughly like:

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Insights come when they come. It’s all about getting better at distinguishing the signals from the noise.

The middle part of collecting data points and analyzing and reflecting ad infinitum is perhaps my favorite. See my personal dashboard here.

For now though, lets make the stuff on the vertical — projects and ultimate goals — more concrete.

Projects fall into two camps: ongoing habits and discrete deliverables. They last around 3 months. Here is an example of each:

  • Habit - Read articles for 25 minutes as part of a breakfast routine. I chose to focus on this project given my vague professional goals. It’s mostly to keep up with data science (via the Banana Data Newsletter) and visualization and world affairs (Visual Capitalist, Pew Research newsletters). I track my habits in an app called Way of Life. If at the end of the 3 months I feel it’s a set habit, I’ll archive it.
  • Deliverable - Learn [x]. Build [x]. Train for and run a race. I write these in OneNote and review them every week. At the end of the 3 months, I archive the projects (now accomplishments) in Trello.

As for my ultimate goals, here is a working picture:

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Optimal Work, Health, Relationships, Extracurriculars, Finances, Philanthropy, and Possessions placeholders for vague wants. They allow me to categorize and come up with projects.

In short, choose projects that feel right, even if you can’t articulate why. Put your energy and tracking system towards reaching them. Then see if your goals come more clearly into focus, and use that insight to come up with future projects.

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One cannot fix one's eyes on the commonest natural production without finding food for a rambling fancy.

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