Y is for Yearly Theme

Y is for Yearly Theme

Feeling like I'm making progress in my life is important to me.

Being able to measure that progress or see results of my actions is even better.

The most effective way I've found for me to improve my life is to set a yearly theme. Back in 2014, I decided to focus on living a healthier life. With that theme in mind, I set a few different goals about eating, cooking, shopping, and exercise. More recently, I've concentrated on work-life balance for my yearly theme.

Choosing an annual theme allows you to focus your energy.

Too often, I feel like that poor little dog in Up. Every time I hear about new study results on the news or read about a break-through piffle wiffle, my head spins and I'm barking "Squirrel!"

I've learned to compartmentalize those extraneous factors. If it's information I want to get back to later, maybe for a different annual theme, I'll clip the article or pdf to Evernote. If it's more of a general idea, I'll toss it onto my "Dream Projects & Goals" list on Trello.

Otherwise, I try to stick to information that supports my annual theme.

Once you have an annual theme (or more if you're ambitious), decide on individual goals.

As a teacher, I've gone through a few trainings on SMART Goals.

While the letters of the acronym vary, I use this formula:

  • S = Specific (What do I want to accomplish?)
  • M = Measurable (How will I determine that I met the goal?)
  • A = Action Oriented (What's my plan of action? Steps to success?)
  • R = Realistic (Is this goal attainable as I have it defined?)
  • T = Trackable & Time Bound (What's my true end date? What kinds of mini-due dates can I set to keep me motivated?)

I don't actually write out each one of my goals. Instead, I use Trello to support my goals. Each goal will get a list on Trello, so I can write out individual cards, each with one action step toward reaching the goal.

I like how I can easily re-arrange the individual cards within lists, and move lists to re-prioritize what I want to work on.

Pick a realistic due date for all individual goals related to your annual theme.

I usually mark my progress by the school year quarters and summer break. Since my professional life revolves around those dates, it's easier for me to fit in personal action steps around those other commitments.

In his book The Accidental Creative, Todd Henry suggests re-assessing progress on goals every fiscal quarter. Pick a time frame that works for you.

Go ahead and choose the same annual theme more than once.

Last year in 2016, I tried to focus on work-life balance. I didn't meet my goals. I was spending entirely too much time on grading papers, planning lessons, and getting things done around my classroom.

While that may appear to make me a better teacher, I'm not actually happier with my life. And having time to enjoy my life is much more important to me in my 40s as I realize I'm at that half-way mark.

If your annual theme is important to you, then continuing to make progress on achieving those related goals makes sense. Maybe you rotate between two themes. Or spiral themes back in every few years.

If I can re-balance my life this summer and fall with some changes I'm making, then my 2018 theme may go back to healthier living.


As a kid I had so many interests, I wanted to know everything about every topic. As an adult, I'm not much different. And in today's world identifying information-rich sources is not difficult.

My problem is still time and focus. By choosing an annual theme, I allow myself to collect a great deal of information on a variety of topics, but concentrate my efforts on the pieces that help me achieve my goals related to the yearly theme.

Z is for Zap Your Crap

Z is for Zap Your Crap

X is for Xeroxes

X is for Xeroxes

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