My goals were intentionally set high - I wanted a challenge and I wanted something that would require a full, 365 day commitment. I'm happy to say that I did stick with my resolutions for most of 2012. While I didn't hit my total goals, I did make some great progress and have some reflections as a result, both for personal goals...
And for startups.
#1 - Goals are great, especially when you track them
I tried to be vigilant about tracking my progress throughout the year, using tools dedicated to that purpose - my Garmin GPS watch for running and uploading to Runkeeper and a simple Google doc for tracking my pushups. By picking goals that were easy to track and actually had an impact on my progress, I was able to see exactly where I was compared to plan throughout the year.
As you'll see in the chart above, I had some ups and downs throughout the year. I started out strong then had some lulls in the summer, which culminated in a truly dismal August (who wants to run in the dog days of a North Carolina August?) This variability led me to a 2nd observation:
#2 - Big vision is great, but shorter term goals can be beneficial
I set truly big goals which required a year long commitment. This type of vision was important but it made the year feel like a marathon. There were moments within the year when I needed near-term motivation. My best monthswere in March, when I was training for an April 1st half marathon, and in December, when I decided to try and run 80 miles to get to 700 for the year. My worst month was in August when I realized that I wasn't going to get to 1000 and lost motivation for a couple weeks.
I see this concept a lot in startups, particularly in the early stages when there are visionary founders who are trying to build a concept or attack a large market. Vision is key, but what are the tasks that you can choose for this week or month that propel you along the continuum towards the vision-goal?
An important point here is to make sure that you are honestly tracking your short terms goals and to recalibrate if they misalign with the bigger vision. I remember when working at a software company that had an annual plan for a number of SaaS seats sold -- Each month we would scramble like crazy to try and hit the monthly number, but each successive month would require a bigger number.
We fooled ourselves for a while but eventually there was a need to recalibrate the total goal to fit in with reality.
#3 - Commit to the task but don't forget the purpose
In the dog days of summer I became disillusioned with my goals because it became clear I wasn't likely to reach them. Instead of focusing 100% on running, I began to tinker with other forms of exercise like cycling and actually did my first sprint triathlon in October. This was fun and re-energized me for the rest of the year. Yet, I found myself feeling a little guilty when cycling as it meant I was falling farther behind my running goals.
In reality though, this was a mistake, as I was putting means ahead of the ends. My purpose was to be healthier, and I should have allowed more flexibility to pivot along the way if I needed to integrate different exercises to achieve this goal.
In startup terms, I needed to adjust my product-market fit mid year, as the market (my body and desire to workout) was telling me I needed something new. And yet I was so committed to my product vision (PUSHUPS AND RUNNING ONLY!) that I missed out on opportunity and had several inefficient months.
#4 Failure is OK
On December 31, 2012 I was able to say that I had run more than 700 miles and done more than 22,000 pushups during the year 2012. In many ways, I considered this a great accomplishment. Yet, on a relative basis, it represented only 70-75% of my goals, which is perilously close to a failing grade!
However, resolutions are like startups - failure is a necessary evil and perhaps even expected. Trying and falling short is much better than having never tried at all. It's how we learn from the failures, and resolve (or start up!) once again with a new perspective that makes all the difference, which is why I'm pumped to set some new goals for 2013!