What if Obama tweets about me? (A story about New Year’s resolutions)

January 1, 2020

What would I do if Barack Obama were to tweet that he loves one of my courses?

I found myself thinking about this the other day.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I talk a lot about the tactical level of getting things done and becoming more organized: for example, which task manager to use, how to use it, how to build a workflow around it, how to think about projects, etc.

But from time to time, it’s good to zoom out and get up to the strategic level: what do you want your big picture to look like?

New Year’s resolutions

It is that time of year now when people talk about New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps you too have been thinking about what you want to accomplish next year: 2020 will be the year when you finally get organized, or 2020 will be the year when you will really make [insert productive/healthy/fun thing] a priority.

I’ve been thinking about what I want in 2020: in 2020, I want to help ten times at many people, and make ten times as much revenue, as I did in 2019. So I could make that my “New Year’s resolution”. The problem with making “grow my business ten times” my New Year’s resolution is that it’s incredibly vague on the how. How will I grow my business ten times?

What Obama has to do with it

Here’s why I was thinking about the hypothetical case in which Barack Obama praises one of my courses on Twitter: @POTUS44 has roughly 15 million followers. If he were to tweet about one of my courses, perhaps one million people would see that tweet. Certainly a lot of those people would click through to my course sales page and buy the course—and I’d probably meet my 2020 “New Year’s resolution” in one day.

And then what? Would I sit on my butt for the rest of the year, content with having achieved what I wanted? No way! First I’d thank my new friend Barack, of course. Second, I’d allow myself to enjoy having reached so many new people. Third, I’d spend the rest of the month answering support emails and tweets. 😉 After that, though, I would think about what’s next. How can I help these people out even more than I do with my existing products and services? How can I make bigger changes in their lives?

Of course, Barack Obama is not likely to tweet about one of my courses. My point is that it is possible to achieve this “resolution” without putting in any effort.

Lag goals

Conversely, it is also possible for me to bust my ass all year and to not grow my business ten times. Perhaps I’d misunderstand what you need help with. Maybe I’d create a new product or service but totally mess up the marketing. Or I could simply make a bad product. Business is risky; sometimes things don’t work out.

Does the existence of risk mean that I shouldn’t bother working hard, and just hope for someone like Obama to give me more exposure? Of course not. That would be ridiculous. I’m just illustrating that there’s a lot of randomness in the world and that you do not fully control outcomes.

When most people set “New Year’s resolutions”, what they’re actually doing is setting lag goals. A lag goal defines success in terms of outcomes, for example:

  • Make $200,000 in sales
  • Get a more senior job in your industry
  • Make five new friends
  • Get three new papers published in top academic journals

You control the effort you put into these endeavors, but—in the short term—you do not control the outcomes. Sure, in the long term, if you do the right things and if you do things right, you’ll get those papers published. But there might be a lag between your input and the output. Randomness is involved. Why would you set a resolution or goal that you may or may not achieve, depending only on a roll of the dice?

Forget New Year’s resolutions. Set lead goals instead

I urge you to stay away from traditional New Year’s resolutions—from lag goals. Instead, set lead goals—goals about your input, about your effort. For example:

  • Make 200 sales calls
  • Apply to ten senior job positions
  • Attend four conferences (to meet new folks)
  • Send in a new paper to top journals once a quarter

You control whether these things happen. (In general—of course life happens.) In my case, I could commit to publishing a new YouTube video each week, for example. That has a decent chance of growing my business tenfold over the coming year. If I set a goal to control the input like that, rather than to aim, hope, or wish for an outcome, I can look back at the end of 2020 and be proud regardless of whether Obama tweeted about my course or whether I screwed up my new product marketing.

Your goal(s) for 2020

So as you’re thinking about 2020, I encourage you to set lead goals. Here’s a few that I would recommend for most of you:

  • Do a weekly review, every single week.
  • Meditate for at least ten minutes every day.
  • Sleep eight hours a night, every night.
  • Every workday, work on the most impactful task first.

Or perhaps you already have one or more lead goals in mind. Either way, I’d love it if you let me know what they are:

What lead goal(s) will you set for 2020?

In the meantime, I wish you all the best in 2020.

— Peter

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