All-Year’s Resolutions: Thoughtful Goal Setting (29:15)
As we approach the end of the year, many of us are winding down for the holidays, traveling to spend time with family and reflecting on the year, and ultimately, setting resolutions for the new year. But is the end of the year/beginning of a new year the best time to set goals and resolutions? Chris Bixby, of Mariner Wealth Advisors, suggests a different approach. In this episode of Your Life, Simplified, he suggests we spend this time of reflection as a way to set your goals in motion for the next year in a more thoughtful manner, planning out overarching themes and supporting milestones for each quarter to achieve those goals.
Brian Leitner: Thank you for listening to another episode of Your Life, Simplified. My name is Brian Leitner, and I’ll be the host of this episode. And as of right now, we’re approaching a new year, which means a lot of different things to many people. It could be new year’s resolutions, things that you want to do differently, maybe even reflecting on what went right last year, maybe what changes you want to make this year and things of that nature. This podcast is all about educating you, whether that be on the topics of wealth management or having guests come on and talk about ways in which we can all live a better life or improve our lives. And so, with the start of the new year, I’ve asked Chris Bixby, one of our senior wealth advisors out of the Bellevue Washington office to join us today. Chris is one of those individuals who is incredibly organized and intentional about how he runs his day, his week, his year. And having that clarity enables him to be really successful at what he does. So Chris, thanks for joining us today on the show.
Chris Bixby: Thank you, Brian. It’s good to be here.
Brian: Chris, you’re a new guest on the show. So do me a favor, maybe just spend 60 seconds for our listeners on who you are and your background.
Chris: Absolutely. I’ve been in the industry for over 20 years. I’m a certified financial planner, chartered life underwriter as well as an enrolled agent, which is a designation that many people aren’t familiar with, but it’s granted by the IRS as a designation of tax expertise. And I use that to really get deep into the tax planning and management issues so that we fully understand what ramifications there are from the advice that we’re giving our clients in financial planning.
Brian: Thanks, Chris. I appreciate that. I think all of our listeners at this point probably know how we integrate tax and wealth advice and how they’re absolutely hand in hand and not in silos. I think having that designation, that expertise, obviously helps you do a phenomenal job for the clients you work with. But what I think a lot of people don’t know is some of the secrets of your success, like how you stay organized. So maybe to kick it off, if you could just talk to us a little bit about how you think about setting goals, how to begin that process. What does that look like for you?
Chris: Sure. Well, when we think about making goals, the first thing I want to make sure is that I am making goals that are consistent with my personality. I think we’re all very different in how we approach work and how we approach life. Our values are different, our personalities are different. Recently, I came across a book by Gretchen Rubin, called The Four Tendencies, that has been very influential for me, where she starts to talk about how we react to expectations. And if we think about goal planning, it’s really about setting up expectations for what we want to accomplish and how we want to live over the next quarter, over the next year. And so truly understanding who I am and how I react to those expectations, whether it’s external accountability, whether it’s internal motivation, but setting up goals that fit within my personality construct then set me up for greater success throughout the year as far as accomplishing those goals and objectives.
Brian: Chris, that’s really interesting. I’d never heard it said that way. Trying to align your own personality because if you think about it, a lot of the reasons in which people fail, one of the main areas, is procrastination, right? And there are people who really struggle with that and there are others who don’t. So knowing who you are and what your challenges are. What your personality is offers a really interesting way to think through your goals and then how you want to attain them. Just knowing your strengths and weaknesses. That’s interesting.
Chris: Absolutely. I think many times we think about smart goals or there’s a consultant out there, Michael Hyatt, who talks about smarter goals. We think about making goals, but we haven’t really thought about how are we going to accomplish those goals. What’s that internal motivation, those external motivators that we have. I also like how Intel used to use or still uses OKR, Objectives and Key Results. I think sometimes people start with the key results instead of really getting to what that overarching objective is. A lot of times we see the number one goal of the year is physical fitness or something like that. We know the gyms are crowded in January, yet they don’t start with what is it that I’m trying to accomplish that objective. But then what are those key results, those metrics along the way that we are going to know whether or not we’ve had success throughout the year. So again, all of those key results are going to be different by my own personality as far as how I’m willing to be able to achieve those key results throughout the year.
Brian: So overall objectives, what is the strategy and then ultimately what is the result? And then measuring those along the way.
Chris: Correct. Because if we don’t have check-ins throughout the year, then how do we know if we’re making progress and how do we know that we’re going to get there? Do we need to modify? Do we need to switch the objectives? Was the goal too easy? Was it too unrealistic? We need those check-ins throughout the year to know that we’re accomplishing the goal or we’re going to forget about the goal by February. As in most cases, we’re going to get to December and realize that we haven’t done most of the things that were our goals for the year, which is a very defeating situation from an emotional aspect.
Brian: So when do you start your goal process? Is it right now? Is it another time in the year and is it a calendar by calendar year? What does that look like for you?
Chris: Well, again, based on my personality, I’m not one who necessarily always believes that I have to set the goals at the beginning of the new year. I think in some ways it’s a little arbitrary to say January 1st is the day that I start my new goals. Having said that, I think there’s some value to being able to look over a calendar year and look at those goals from a tracking mechanism year over year. The beginning of the year is certainly a good way of measuring those achievements throughout the year. So as we’re sitting here, I always take a look typically in the November time frame, a lot of times the Thanksgiving holidays is a slower week in most people’s lives. It’s a time of reflection of sitting with family, of being thankful. And I feel like that’s a great opportunity to sit down and say, how was this year and how do I want next year to be?
Chris: And remember, goals aren’t just about that physical fitness. They could be about relationships, they could be about work. Life is life. All of these goals have to mesh together to work toward achieving our best life. And so I think, again, that toward the end of the year is a great opportunity to reflect and start to set the goals. We sit down on January 1st and just try to write out a bunch of goals and they won’t be well thought through. They’ll just be reactionary as opposed to thinking about it over a period of time to truly refine the goals that we want to achieve throughout the year.
Brian: So Chris, I love what you’re saying about getting a jumpstart. If you do have annual goals, not waiting until January, but maybe putting those on paper and beginning to execute those toward the end of the year. I also think it’s helpful that toward the end of the year, you might be at holiday parties, spending additional time with family, taking time off, really reflecting on what’s important in your life. And so, perhaps you’re spending time around the table, and you’re looking at your family and reflecting on them and you think about how do I want to be more intentional about spending more time with them in the new year or things of that nature. I think it’s a great time to sit back and reflect and then begin to plan for the next year. So I love what you said.
So after you’ve set your goals, you mentioned that there are checkpoints that you put in place. What does that look like? How often do you have those checkpoints in place? I’m sure it depends on if it’s an annual goal or if it’s a weekly goal. Whatever that looks like. But can you talk a little bit about that?
Chris: If you think about goals, December 31st, if we’re talking about an annual goal, is a long ways away. So we really need to set that goal for where we want to be, that visionary view of the future, but then we need to step it backward and have an action plan that works backward. Typically, what I like to do is try to set quarterly checkpoints along the way. Again, it’s an arbitrary method, but our society tends to work in those quarterly blocks of time. So having a quarterly check-in, which is I want to be here by a specific time. Now each quarter as we step into the quarter and we review where have we gotten to so far, then now we’re looking and saying what are the activities that I need to do that are predictive of that goal success? Fitness being a typical one.
If I want to reach the end of the year and be in the best physical shape that I’ve ever been in, that global objective, I may have goals around how many times a week I want to go to the gym. What type of weight, things I want to hit, targets for myself. What type of nutrition and diet I want to have in my life. So maybe at the beginning of each quarter, I’m sitting down and saying, for the next three months I’m going to focus on nutrition or I’m going to focus on a routine of being into the gym. So that annual goal gets broken down quarterly. But then those quarterly goals get broken down monthly so that we have a more manageable, achievable sense of ownership and power over those goals. Now I’m looking throughout the year, did I meet my first quarter checklist of being able to achieve the annual goal?
If it’s 10 pounds that I want to lose this year, I don’t want to lose it all in January and then gain it all back by the end of the year. I want to reach the end of the year there. So maybe a more achievable goal is to get the routine of exercise and nutrition in place in the first quarter. In the second quarter, now I’m ramping up my physical fitness and strength in the third quarter. Now I’m looking at bringing down the weight. Some of that has happened naturally and organically and in the fourth quarter being at a lot of holiday parties. My goal is now to maintain that weight, to reach the end of the year at that target. So each quarter there’s a different focus that still reaches that end objective.
Brian: That makes a lot of sense. And there’s also a lot there, so you sit down, you do an annual goal, you break that into maybe a 90-day game plan and then you’re working on different strategies to accomplish that goal. You have regular check-ins. If you start there and now you break it down to your week, what does a weekly game plan look like in that type of structure? Perhaps even daily? How do you transition from that annual goal to, I’m waking up Monday, what happens next?
Chris: I would say if we’ve woken up on Monday and we’re saying “what’s next?”, we’ve already missed the boat because Mondays start with a bang, and we jump right into it. So I like to sit down typically on Sunday evenings, if at all possible, and do what I call my weekly review. And in that weekly review, I’m doing a couple of things. I’m really taking a look at what is on my calendar this week and next week. Next week, because there are things that I have to get done this week to prepare for the following week, so I have a big vision of what it is that’s coming up from an activity standpoint. In that weekly planning session, I am actually going to then list on my calendar the type of tasks that I have to achieve throughout the course of the week and what I do is I break these up into different categories.
I have what I call my big three. I didn’t invent that by the way. There are many consultants out there that talk about this. Michael Hyatt of Brendon Burchard, just to name a few. Great resources and great research on how all of this works. In those big three tasks, I really want to make sure that the top three things I’m going to do today, whether it’s personal, family, business, it doesn’t matter. The big three most important things that I’m going to do today are directly related to achieving my goals. Now, there are some days that I don’t have time to do three things to achieve my goals, but at the end of the day if I can get the things that were on that big three list, whether it’s one, two or three, then I can feel like I was successful. I achieved something that was directed toward the achievement of my goals over time.
Now I will tell you Brian, that daily routines are really critical toward achieving these daily goals along the way and that daily routine doesn’t have to be long and complex but it’s about how do I start off my day, whether it’s prayer or meditation, whether it’s exercise, whether it’s coffee in the morning before you check your email, whatever it is that works for you. But that cadence of starting off the day with a focus on achieving my goals. A few weeks ago I had some knee surgery and as a result, was kind of out of my daily routine, and I will tell you it was very difficult to get back into that daily routine and as a result of not having my daily routine as part of an everyday affair, all of a sudden I’ve had a harder time meeting my goals and objectives throughout the week. So having that routine at the beginning of the day that sets you up for success for the rest of the day is very crucial toward achieving that weekly planning session goal.
Chris: Another thing that I want to make sure that people do, is to not just put those goals in some sort of sheet or paper that gets put away in a drawer or write it on their computer that they’re never going to look at it again, but to have something that’s visible. I actually have a vision board beside my desk at home that lists out my goals for the year, my goals for the quarter, and I see those every day. Just having that awareness, whether I read through them or not, but that conscious presence of these are the goals that I’m trying to accomplish is also very motivating for me.
Brian: That’s powerful. It’s a great reminder to see it every day. Absolutely encouraging. I’ve read a decent amount of material on the morning routine in the morning rituals and the data itself is pretty compelling. If you can, it’s the same thing, wake up at the same time every day, if you can. Get yourself in that routine, try and wake up. I know I try and exercise every morning because I know I’m doing something that’s good for my body, wakes me up and all those different types of things. To your point, I have a morning routine. It serves me well. It works for me. Everybody’s a little bit different. You hear a lot of people say, I’m not a morning person. I’m not in this, I’m not that. I don’t know that I was ever a morning person, but I wake up at about five every day, at least Monday through Friday because there are certain things I want to accomplish before the day starts. So I think to your point, it’s critical.
Brian: The other thing that you mentioned is your weekly game plan. I have my own weekly game plan. It’s something that I do as well as a lot of my colleagues do, which is taking that to-do list to another level. Again, we didn’t invent this, we likely got this from a consultant as well, but I’ll have the three critical things I have to get done this week. Then it’s the people that I want to engage with and be intentional about.
Brian: Then it’s my strategic to-do list and what do I want to do before the end of the week. And then I share this with my team and other colleagues and it helps from a synergistic perspective, “Oh, you’re speaking with this person about A, B and C,” that’s terrific, because I just talked to them about D, E, F and having this information may help you with your conversation or things of that nature. It just helps promote a more cohesive operating environment, if you will, from an office perspective. I appreciate what you’re doing and I think you just said it a minute ago. It’s one thing to have a, to-do list, it’s another thing that it ultimately gets on your calendar. Someone has said this in the past and it wasn’t me, but if it’s not on your calendar, it doesn’t exist.
Brian: It doesn’t really matter what your to-do list says. I think that’s really important. Then going back to your point about tracking, sometimes I think we’re all guilty of this. You’ll come home, you’re exhausted from work and you think to yourself, what’d you do today? What did you accomplish? And you accomplished nothing. It’s like we got busy about being busy, but we weren’t that effective. I think some of what you’re talking about really enables people to be more efficient at whatever it is on their goal list, their weekly to-do list, their daily game plan.
Chris: And Brian, I love what you say and you’re absolutely 100% correct. The one thing I would add to that is, let’s not forget that our personal life and our business life are intertwined. A lot of times we think about setting up the goals for the week as a business activity, but we also need to make sure that we’re putting the time in for our relationships, for our friends, for our family into those things. So an example was, I was previewing my week for next week, as part of my goal setting. And I realized that I had a kid’s school concert coming up on Thursday evening. I didn’t have that on my work calendar for some reason. So I was glad I previewed it because I needed to put that there. And sure enough, someone said, “Hey, can we have a Thursday evening appointment?” And the answer was no, because I have this personal engagement that is critical to me and very important that I have to have. So making sure that we integrate the personal and the work of business into the big three and into that calendar for the week.
Brian: That’s a great point, Chris. We have a lot of interns who come in during the summer and one of the questions that each of them ask is, “How do you deal with work-life balance?” And I think that the answer to that, at least in my opinion, and from what I’ve read, it’s truly integrating all aspects of your life. Before work, you’re likely on email after work, you’re on email. But today there’s a lot of flexibility that technology provides us. And so I think integrating those two to your point is critical. It’s very difficult to be black and white as it relates to work and family in a time in which we live. So I think that’s an excellent point. So just out of curiosity, do you have a special app that you use to track all this or is it simply a notebook or a spreadsheet? Are there any tips from that perspective?
Chris: So Brian, we’re in a technological age, and I have tried so many different apps, so many different resources for that. I honestly have found, and research has proven this out as well, that pen and paper is the best way to deal with your goals and objectives. I’ve looked at several planners out there, some that I’ve mentioned from consultants like Brendon Burchard and Michael Hyatt that are fantastic resources. I personally have, for the last four years, used a planner from a company here in Bellevue called Ink+Volt, which is a great resource. I like the idea of using pen and paper. Yes, transferring the calendar items to my work and personal calendar, because other people need to be able to see my calendar, but that interaction of actually writing things out, taking the time to have that kinetic energy of writing has proven scientifically that it actually is more ingrained in your psyche and your mentality. And people who write their goals down are more likely to achieve them if they’re writing those down on a consistent basis. So I’m an old fashioned planner, a written planner. Again, some people their personality says they want to use electronic devices for everything. But for me personally, it’s that writing it down physical form that has worked the best for me.
Brian: That’s great. To your point, everyone’s got their own style. I travel a decent amount, everything’s on my phone, I use an app, I use Evernote as an app. You can build templates in there as well. I’m sure there’s a variety of other products that are out there to your point, but whatever works for you, right?
Brian: So what are some of the mistakes that you’ve made in planning your goals? I mean, we all set out, but we try and get off on the right foot. We’ve got great expectations of ourselves. But something happens. What are some of the mistakes that you’ve seen in terms of goal planning?
Chris: I was hoping you wouldn’t ask this question, Brian.
Brian: We all fail, right? It’s about getting back up.
Chris: I’ve made every mistake in the book, and every year I make more mistakes and, as a result, I learned more things. Every year it does get more refined. I’m by no means an expert in this field. I am just a user of this field and have experienced a lot. The biggest mistakes that I see that I have made, and I’ve heard of other people making as well is, number one, taking on too much. It’s so great. That enthusiasm for a new year or a new goal-setting period or whatever it is. We sit down, we come up with 20 goals that we want to accomplish this year. That’s too much. So the first mistake I would say is taking on too much.
Honestly, if we’re looking at a goal setting, we should probably be looking at no more than about three goals. It may be if we’re really segregated in our activities, three goals per domain, whether it’s personal and relational and work, but we really want to have just a handful of goals that we’re solely committed to achieving. If we take on too much, we’re not going to accomplish anything. The other thing that I’ve done is taking on goals that are competing. As an example of this in the financial realm would be clients who want to get a hold of their spending and they want to reduce some consumer debt and at the same time they want to take more vacations this year. Well, without a significant change of income, those goals are somewhat mutually exclusive. So we need to make sure that we’re achieving goals that are congruent with themselves for the year.
So if we’re talking about a diet and fitness goal, then maybe going on a quarterly vacation where we’re going to be eating a lot of food, is probably not congruent with that goal for the year. A third one is confusing projects and goals. I’ve done this one so many times, frankly, this year. I think I finally cracked that code. That goals are things that have process and steps included in them. Projects are things that you just need to make the time to do. So I had for years goals around getting my garage organized and things along those lines. When I realized that that’s just a project, that’s not a goal, that’s just something I have to decide that there’s a priority for a weekend or two to get done, then it really made the goals much more meaningful and impactful in my life. Then the fourth one, is the one I talked about, which is keeping those goals visible. I don’t want to lose sight of them for the year. I don’t want to write them down and put them in a drawer where I never look at them again. It’s keeping those goals visible. So I would say those are the top four mistakes that I’ve experienced.
Brian: Chris, those are all great. And what you said about confusing projects with goals, I think we’re all guilty of that at some level. I see that at the office sometimes, and I see it within my personal life. And just to your point, drawing the line between those is really important because if they’re all goals, I think sometimes we get overwhelmed and we look at how busy we are. If we actually break some of that down or realize that they’re projects, and I need to put an hour in and do some calendar blocking. It’s an hour here and an hour there for those projects, it becomes a lot more manageable. That that one resonates for sure.
Brian: So Chris, this has been terrific. I really appreciate you being here and sharing some of your own best practices of what you do to stay organized. As we wrap up the show, we ask every new guests the same question. And that question is, what is the biggest financial mistake you’ve ever made?
Chris: I’ve made my share of financial mistakes even being in the industry. But I’d say the biggest financial mistake I made was a number of years ago, I joined a new employer and they didn’t match in the first year of employment into the 401k contribution. So I decided that I would make my own contribution into my IRAs, and the year passed, and I forgot to sign up and the second year path, forgot to sign up and I missed out on about 18 months of an employer’s match into my 401k. So that was a pretty significant financial mistake from not planning and not reviewing my financial life.
Brian: So in that case, I guess you didn’t have a sign in your bedroom or by your desk that said, save for retirement?
Chris: I did not.
Brian: Well, we all make them. I appreciate you sharing, but more importantly, I really appreciate you taking the time today to share some of your best practices and what you do to set yourself up, whether it be goals the year, whether it be business or personal. I just really do appreciate the time. So thank you very much for being here, Chris.
Chris: Thank you, Brian.
Brian: So, everyone. Thanks for listening to the show today. If you have questions, ideas, comments for the show. Please go ahead and email them in at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again for listening.
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