In September of 2017, I started working on a list of 101 tasks to complete in 1001 days. I’m over halfway through the allotted time, with less than one year to go. At this point, I have thought about my list and how the tasks are progressing.
The 101 in 1001 Project
As a brief overview, the challenge is to complete 101 preset tasks in a period of 1001 days. The tasks must be specific with a result that is either measurable or clearly defined. Tasks should also be realistic and represent some amount of work. The idea behind the 1001 days time frame is to set a deadline that allows several seasons to complete the tasks, which is better for organizing and timing some tasks than one year.
Firstly, I like the project. After sticking with it for nearly two years, I find it effective. It helps to have goals that can be completed across multiple seasons. The 101 number feels about right because I’m able to set goals in multiple categories–from health and fitness to career to finances to my relationships. It helps me focus on everything that’s important to me and not just one facet of my complex life. Everyone has a complex life; it’s not just me. I struggle to focus, but also sometimes get too focused on one aspect of my life and neglect everything else.
Reflection on the tasks
Despite liking the project overall, many of my tasks are not well-crafted. I tend to create tasks that are too specific, rather than not specific enough. When this 1001 days expires, my next list (assuming that I create one) will improve.
Here are some examples of tasks I included that weren’t ideal. Several goals had a year attached to them. That defeats the purpose of having multiple seasons to complete a task. Another type of task I’ve come to loathe is the one that embeds multiple tasks into a single item. A particularly egregious example is “Read 25 books in 2019” (Item No. 69 on my list). I have the Rebel Tendency and these types of tasks don’t work for me because they are too structured and limited. Instead, it’s better to list a handful of tasks related to reading, like: Read a book by a diverse author; read a nonfiction book; read a Russian classic; and read a Pulitzer Prize winning book. Although reading a single book doesn’t take a lot of effort, it does take some effort. And, I have to seek out a book that meets the criteria.
Some tasks, especially financial ones, were too specific and ignored the goal that the task was designed to achieve. Although I didn’t achieve some of the listed tasks, like complete a month-long spending diet each year (Item Nos. 1-4 on my list), we achieved the goal behind those tasks. During the 1001 day period, we established and implemented a positive cash flow monthly budget. When I created the 101 tasks list, I thought the annual spending diet would be the best way to curtail spending and learn to live on less. It didn’t quite turn out that way, but we are reducing our spending and learning to live on our projected retirement income. Despite failing to complete the task, we achieved the goal.
Which brings me to something else I’ve realized. Tasks might be a measurable progress step on the way to something bigger, but the task itself might not be something I actually want to do. And there are usually other ways to achieve the “something bigger”. For example, not eating out for a month is unrealistic and unappealing for us. Going out to eat is an important part of our social lives and travel plans. We already know that eating out is vastly more expensive than cooking at home. So we balance out that expense by limiting the number of outings, or avoiding alcohol at restaurants, or by sharing an entree, or using a gift certificate or credit, or by some combination of the above. We haven’t yet reduced dining out to zero, but this year we’ll spend about half of what we spent last year on restaurants.
Our financial aspirations are aggressive. We have short, medium, and long term financial goals. I tried to set milestones that seemed achievable, measurable, and within our control The idea of trying out a behavior was good, but my goal-setting brain didn’t always mesh with reality. What I hoped to do was to make big increases in our monthly investment amount, decrease our spending, and see a big jump in our net worth. All of that happened and continues to happen. So maybe I should cross off that annual spending diet item for 2017, 2018, and 2019?
Similarly, I wanted to monetize this website as a side hustle. I added “Launch a website” to the tasks list, along with a monthly income goal. Then, I changed jobs for a big salary increase (more than that side hustle income would have been). My new job is less side-hustle friendly. Also, maximizing my earnings at my career job is a more effective way to increase my earned income than a side hustle would have been. The objectives behind these tasks were twofold. One, to significantly increase my income and accelerate our financial independence timeline. Two, to develop a diverse income stream for early retirement. Having accomplished the first objective, I marked this task complete. The diverse income stream in early retirement is more complicated. That’s a topic deserving its own future post. A better goal might have been “increase income by $1,000 per month” leaving the method for earning more income up to me.
Does ease of achievement affect enjoyment?
The easiest goals to achieve are also some of the hardest to draft, like the travel goals. We’re going to travel, whether I set tasks or not. So I try to keep these goals as open as possible (which makes them easy to achieve). But that can lead to arbitrary tasks that are out of line with how we actually plan travel. Sometimes setting a travel goal can conflict with financial goals. And, I don’t much care whether we complete the travel tasks, only that we travel. I set a goal to visit one new continent, U.S. state and country (Item Nos. 19-21 on my list). It’s possible that despite plenty of trips during the 1001 days, I won’t complete even the easiest of these goals. Why? Because although I want to see new places, we often have other priorities when booking a trip. What’s the cost of the trip? What’s the purpose of the trip? What’s the weather like at the time we plan to travel? Travel related sidenote: How is it possible that I crossed off a new country by going to Vietnam, but still haven’t managed to get to a new U.S. state in almost two years of travel? **insert crying laughing emoji** I continue to struggle with how to set meaningful travel tasks.
It is a challenge to create meaningful and inspiring tasks. It is an even greater challenge to list tasks that will remain relevant nearly three years into an unknown future. Perhaps the point is not to cross every item off the list, but to use it as inspiration to get out and do more. And sometimes, when I feel rudderless or uninspired, I’ll look at the list and set out to complete a particular task.
Even though some of the tasks have lost their relevance, other items keep me motivated and on track towards bigger, longer term goals. And some tasks simply give me ideas for fun things to do. See “Go kayaking” (Item No. 52). These types of activities help us avoid boredom. Maybe a 101 tasks lists will be especially useful in early retirement? For those tasks that no longer serve my big goals, I’m okay leaving them incomplete rather than editing the list midway through. For example, do I still want to replace the dining room light fixture (Item No. 91 on my list)? Yes, but I’m not as convinced to spend the money on doing it. I plan to keep working on my current list through the end of the 1001 days (which will occur in June, 2020). After that, I might make another list. My next 101 tasks list will invariably benefit from these lessons, and the lessons I hope to learn over the coming months. Maybe a future list should include as an item: Make the next 101 tasks list.
Do you have any thoughts on goal setting? The 101 tasks list in particular? I’ll happily take suggestions for future tasks or list-making strategies that work for you.