Setting Goals and Changing My Life – Metrics, Systems, Motivation, Execution

by Darwin on July 26, 2010

As I’ve waded through life, I’ve often taken a toned down approach to goals and lived by the mantra “everything in moderation” and overall, things have worked out well for me.  But they could be always be better.  While I’m a goal-setter and metrics hawk at work, I don’t follow the same rigor in my personal life.  As such, there are a few key issues in my personal life for which I’m setting AND MEASURING goals and objectives in order for force myself to achieve these lofty ambitions rather that dithering along and never actually making progress.

My Weight

I’d always been in pretty good shape, but in the past few years, ever since college I’ve been in gradual decline.  I guess the most telling sign that you’re no longer in good shape is when you’re actually kind of embarrassed to take your shirt off at the public pool.  I used to know I looked pretty solid, while now, pretty out of shape.  In college, I was a “V”, and in recent years, started to turn into more of a pear.  At 5’9″ and lifting twice per week or so, my ideal weight at 20 was about 165 pounds (the glory days of being pretty muscular and 5-8% body fat).  Over a decade of tacking on “just 2 pounds per year”, I peaked at around 185 pounds in recent years.  2 pounds doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the EVERY YEAR that’s the killer.  So, this summer, I started taking running more seriously and probably lost 4-5 pounds but not enough to truly notice a significant difference in the mirror.  My exercise was up, but diet was still lousy.  That’s where my ambition to get back in shape needs more rigor, so here’s how I’m tackling it.

Measure – Notice I was pretty much guessing about where my weight was and where I peaked, etc.  That’s because I didn’t have a damn scale!  The scale at my gym has been broken for years and I pretty much relied on a trip to the doctor once a year to find out what I weighed.  Well, this weekend, I finally splurged on a $25 scale that was 10% off at Sears.  It’s a “Weight Watchers” brand-name, so I figure it should have decent reliability and accuracy over buying the cheapest thing I could find online.  Anyway, now I have an objective way to measure – DAILY – my progress and report it (more on that later).

My System – Through dumb luck, I read an article this weekend about the Best Free App for weight loss  called LoseIt.  I checked it out and was immediately impressed by both the simplicity and its ability to give me exactly what I needed.  While it was pretty simple and requires manual input at every meal, now that I’ve started using it, I’m surprised by what a motivator it is.  It has a database of all kinds of random foods and even restaurant foods if you order/eat out.  Now, I literally just enter my meals after I eat them and the app tells me how many calories I’ve eaten for the day, how many remaining, etc.  There’s also an interface for showing your weight daily and a trend, which is a simple but motivational interface.  Now that I finally have a scale and will be able to see real-time results, I imagine my current high level of motivation will be sustainable rather than a fad diet or my prior weak attempts to actually lose weight.

Have a Distinct Goal – LoseIt starts off by asking current weight, goal weight and how many pounds I’d like to lose per week.  I entered 177 (like I said, I’ve lost a couple pounds running this summer but haven’t noticed a difference), target weight is 165, and I want to lose a seemingly reasonable 1.5 pounds per week.  If I just wanted to maintain my weight, I’d be able to eat 2500 calories per day, but in order to lose this weight of 1 pound per week, I’m at 2000 calories per day.  That doesn’t account for exercise of course though, which allows me to eat more, since 2000 seems pretty low on any day where I eat out or order out, which I still want to be able to do occasionally.

I didn’t go there, but I saw another study a while back that showed that when people share their weight loss, budget results, whatever, with peers or online, they are more motivated to achieve results due to shame or embarrassment once it’s out there.  So, I’ve seen some people posting pictures of themselves before and after.  I’ll refrain for now, but if I can’t lose the weight and need additional incentive, maybe that will get me over the edge.  Fear and shame are great motivators!

*post publish note: I weighed in today at 173 lbs – blowing away that 1 pound per month target!

Blogging Income

Historically, I’d been relatively haphazard with my blog monetization.  I rarely even talk about blogging on my blog, which is actually kind of odd since it is a blog about money after all, and I make money from blogging.  So, without getting into detailed specifics, I can talk about some of my goals at the very least.  Based on experience I had had with earlier blogs I started, I was reasonably growing my traffic every month, often by 10%-50%.  Realizing that so much of this is due to Google’s search algorithm and the 80/20 rule, I’m conservatively setting a goal of growing income by 10% every month.  Since I have a few different revenue sources, if I’m not going to cut it on Adsense for the month, then perhaps I need to fill the gap with by hustling to line up a paid ad or two.  If that’s not working, I have freelance opportunities.  Perhaps that means I need to write a few extra articles for the month.  With this goal in mind though, it will ensure that by this time next year I’ll be making about 2.5x what I’m making now.  This could have considerable benefit for some of our family’s financial goals and contribute in a meaningful way (next).  Longer term aspirations might include an ebook or creating an online store.

Kids’ College Funding

My #1 priority in life at the moment is giving our children the best start in life, of which a huge factor is their education.  Therefore, my top financial priority in the coming years will be to ensure they have a top primary school education experience and that they have the financial resources to attend college (whether or not we’re fronting 100% for ivy league is debatable, but we want to guarantee a fully funded top state school at the very least).  I’m already relatively comfortable with where our retirement funding trajectory is, but it’s a much shorter time horizon until the first college bills hit.  While I already feel we’re in one of the Best 529 Plans, that’s just the beginning.  Our situation’s a little more complex than some since my wife’s home with the kids now and when she returns to work, we plan on having virtually all her income go into college 529 plans for the kids, so at the moment, I’m not directing the couple thousand dollars per month into the accounts for 3 kids it would take.  However, I want to continue to fund the accounts now to the best of my ability to allow for that extra time to grow.  So, near term, I have automatic withdrawals going from my savings account into each 529 plan account and when my wife goes back to work, I’ll be linking up that account with her paycheck and up the amount accordingly.  As far as deciding how much is needed each month, it’s as simple as making some reasonable estimates on what tuition, room and board will cost and interpolating the monthly payments from there.  Estimating market returns are too subject to variability, so I’m just going to assume my investments grow roughly in-line with college tuition inflation, so conservatively, stocks growing at 5-6% which is more conservative than many financial advisers and economists tend to assume.

These are just a few examples of how I’m taking new, more rigorous approaches to tackling goals and forcing myself to achieve them rather than being complacent and hoping for the rare positive exogenous event that comes along like a spike in traffic or a great ad deal.  Achieving these goals in the manner I lined out will have life-altering results for me and my family.  In order to increase my odds of success, I’ve gotta be more disciplined and hustle.  Here are some more examples.

What are Your Goals and How are You Achieving Them?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Financial Samurai July 27, 2010 at 10:19 am

Sounds like some exciting goals Darwin. I’m sure you will succeed.

Getting down to “fighting weight” is always difficult! I’m about 7 pounds above college athletics fighting weight myself. Hard to lose.

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Darwin July 27, 2010 at 11:29 pm

Yeah, this app is so much more motivating than my early summer half-ass approach. It basically shames me into either eating less come dinner time or taking a run at 10PM to get below that goal calorie count for the day. So far, so good!

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Investor Junkie July 27, 2010 at 10:30 am

What about your retirement savings goal? That should always be funded first before children’s education. I assume you are doing this?

This is based upon you can get loans (yourself) for your children and to qualify financial aid things like 529s count against it. Related to my theme lately, by you being responsible (saving for college), you are getting penalized compared to others who do not.

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Financial Samurai July 27, 2010 at 8:48 pm

Darwin is rich. You didn’t see his Apple call options?

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Investor Junkie July 27, 2010 at 9:07 pm

What all $900 made? :-) That wouldn’t make you rich in 1930′s.

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Darwin July 27, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Hah, you guys are too much. Junkie, you’re right, I only list out a couple of the dozens of major goals I have. I’m continuously plowing money into the 401K and Roth, but I’m not counting on any aid so I am focusing on the 529 as well. Heck, states are broke, I’d be lucky if we got a single dollar toward college.

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Investor Junkie July 28, 2010 at 6:08 pm

This is true.

I’m also not 100% sold on 529′s iBonds is also part of our education savings since it’s more multi-purpose. I’m kicking myself I didn’t buy them 10 years ago.

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