Life Auditing for the New Year

I was recently complimented/teased for running a fairly efficient life. I track my activities, my goals, and consistently seek to do everything “the most” I can do it. Whether this is a product of pure ambition (probably not) or just boredom and my craving for completionism (probably) is yet to be determined – but I have built a reputation of being pretty, if not ruthlessly, efficient.1So efficient that, as Kathleen was editing my piece, I was approving her edits in tow… but here I am, typing out this footnote, and she’s not halfway through it yet.

With 2019 only days away, I wanted to really take it up a notch for the new year with a personal “life audit system I devised, inspired by Ximena Vengoechea’s audit process and pulled The Postrider’s other editors with me along the path to efficiency. I wanted to see all my life goals written down (instead of bouncing around in my head – which just stresses me out because, honestly, I’m worried I’ll forget them), so I could see what patterns existed within them, and try to set some rules and guidelines for myself going into 2019.

Here’s what I did:

First, I created five core categories into which every goal could be filtered: health, financial, social, professional, and achievements/experiences. Then I gave myself a week to write down at least 50 goals (I ended up with 83), with at least five per category. A single goal could fall into more than one category (for instance, making a new friend at work is both a social and professional goal while getting an advanced degree is an achievement/experience, a financial goal, and a professional goal).

Once every goal was assigned to at least one category, I filtered them into five timeframes based on how long each goal would take to accomplish: greater than a year, less than a year, less than three months, less than one month, and less than a day. This shifted items like “run for public office” or “be mentioned in The Economist” into the “goals that would take longer than a year” timeframe, and items like “drink more water during the day”, “snack healthier”, and “go to the Baltimore aquarium” into “things I could do within a day.” Items like “memorize ‘City of Stars’ on the piano”, “get a raise”, and “be able to do 50 push-ups in a row” ranged from the “less than one year” to “less than one month” timeframes.

I reviewed my audit pretty obsessively for a few days – tweaking goals, discovering patterns, jotting down helpful notes on them like “designate a whole day to throw out old clothes AND old junk taking up room in my apartment”, and determining how much money I’d need to save to go on the trips I listed. Now’s a good time to note that there’s a great piece of software that can facilitate this entire project called Trello. It allows you to create boards with “tickets” (each goal would get a ticket in this example), and tag tickets with different colors (which I used for each category). I tcan be collaborative if you want it to be, allows you to drag and drop tickets around (useful for sorting them into timeframes or marking them “complete”), and lets you leave notes on tickets.

Finally, I joined back up with the other editors. We all sat down and spent hours going through each other’s audits and pushing each other to consider both our current lifestyles and future goals by asking questions like “Why didn’t you do this last year?” (which is most poignant for those items that take a day or a month to start doing) or “How are you going to do this?” (which is helpful for breaking larger goals into smaller chunks). This process brought forth the underlying patterns in our goals, as we saw how goals that should only take a day or month to accomplish (like “snack healthier” and “adjust the amount of my paycheck going to savings”) build towards those that could take you a few months to a year (like “lose ten pounds” or “save up $8000”). It also allowed us to advise and poke at the things we were each good at and could help the others improve on (the other editors had goals to be tidier or to build out a budget – two things I could write books about if I wanted to; whereas I had goals to “be more chill”, “listen to 10 must-listen-to albums”, and “read two books” – which a certain The Postrider Editor-in-Chief is a clear expert in). The big reveal is that the stuff you can start doing in less than a day will trickle up, making it easier and easier to hit your biggest long-distance goals. Adjusting your 401(k) today, working out twice a week, and cleaning your dishes can all be accomplished in the short term – but they provide you more time, more money, and more of a productive mindset to make your long-term goals attainable.

As part of this group audit format, we all have access to each other’s boards for the year to come and can watch, track, and comment as we see fit, which adds a level of accountability. Ideally, this lets us make agreements with each other or find what we can share the burden of, which we would not be possible if we each did the audit it privately. This can absolutely lead to some awkward moments, or points of stress (there’s some pushing necessary to really find out why folks didn’t go on dates, didn’t eat better, get a new job, or even just floss). It also leads to some good findings (we all independently wanted to go on a trip, so a group trip may be in our collective future, probably helping us all spend less money on a trip than we otherwise would have). But overall I think we all emerged relatively unscathed and ready to work with each other to be better people in the upcoming year.

Now, as 2019 approaches, we’ve set a three-month-in review as the only other major check-in event in the life audit cycle before I (or maybe we!) start again at the end of 2019 for 2020. The three-month-in review is the part that might get the most heated and where we need to really poke each other – because by then it’ll be pretty clear whether we’re capitalizing on being who we want to be or not, as well as where we’ll need to change course if our plans aren’t working out. If your goal for 2019 was to read 30 minutes most days or to make your bed every day, and you’ve only done those things once or twice – it’s time to really find out why that is and how you can actually change, or if you want to change at all. We took the time to identify what we want to do better, or who we want to be, and the three-month review is really about making sure we’ve each at least started to take action.

I may have more to say as the process unfolds, but I’ve already got some ideas for how to improve the process next year, and we haven’t even started meeting this year’s goals yet. Incorporating some of Vengoechea’s additional items, like auditing your social circle and how you spend your time, are definitely on my list of things to add next go-around. But, for now, I’m interested to see how the group dynamic of a life audit will work to encourage accountability and intend to post again in the new year (here’s hoping with more goals accomplished, or on their way to being accomplished, than not…) on some other takeaways once we’re in the swing of 2019.