Find a way to hit your goals this year (no, really!)
In a hyper-individualistic culture, it can feel like all the important parts of your life are at odds with one another: You may want to socialize regularly, spend time with family, save money, crush it at work, and exercise frequently, but as that one quippy girlboss coffee mug slogan reminds us: There are only 24 hours in the day (and something about Beyoncé).
What’s an ambitious person to do, especially when the overwhelm of big goals makes you want to throw in the towel, melt into a Netflix puddle, and nap? There’s only one sustainable solution: integration.
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Chelsea Fagan:It's not shocking to me that that would become a default in an economy. And again, capitalism loves atomized individuals because they're the perfect consumers. Because in the absence of connection and in the absence of all of those free, fulfilling, enjoyable activities that give you that long, stable, balanced mix of dopamine and serotonin, well, you're gonna be constantly consuming for quick hits.
Katie:Welcome back to this week's episode ofThe Money with Katie Show, Rich Family. That was our guest, Chelsea Fagan, on a previous episode about self-care. But I felt like it was so super appropriate for this episode because it was all about the way that an individualist, late-capitalist society tends to atomize us.
At the end of December, I had embarked on the nerdiest, most demanding new year annual review process that I've ever done. So a friend of mine sent me this guide that he was using—we’ll link it in the show notes. And after a cursory scroll of the 18-page multistep process that began with e-housekeeping—like “get to inbox zero, clean out all your note-taking apps”—and then ended with this elaborate assessment of all your “pillars” of your life, I almost bailed. I was like, this is too much. And the fear and the overwhelm was just seeping in as I scrolled through it. And I thought, I just don't want to take the time to do this.
But then I paused to interrogate the sense of overwhelm. What was I afraid of? Why didn't I want to spend a couple of weeks just slowly chewing through it? Like if I was gonna set these crazy goals of “earn a million dollars” or “be on Forbes 30 under 30,” it was probably worthwhile to spend some time assessing the big picture, right? So I decided to do it. And the results were jarring enough to me that I wanted to do a full episode about my takeaways and just share the review with all of you. Because, dear listener, it led to a colossal realization that I was not doing as well as I thought I was.
So here's what I found. Physically, I was exercising five to six days per week, but I wasn't eating very well. I think I was clocking one serving of vegetables every several days…question mark? Financially, my husband and I were doing a great job tracking toward our goals, but we've really tended to go off the rails with food spending to a level that just felt inexcusably wasteful. Relationally, because we both work full-time, our quality time together usually resorted to watching TV or reading in bed together, which is fine, but not super active. And creatively, while my job is creative, I didn't have any creative outlets that were low-stakes and just for fun.
And I thought I was completely crushing life. But clearly there was a lot of room for improvement. We'll be right back after a message from the sponsors of today's episode.
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Katie:So immediately I felt overwhelmed, right? I almost closed the document. I almost completely wrote it off as just uncomfortable truths that I did not have the time to fix, because it would've required four or five independent goals to do so.
But then I had a bit of a brain blast and I thought, wait a second, what if I tried to combine these goals? So I realized that the easiest way to reliably hit multiple meaningful goals would be to create habits that just layer on top of one another. So the guide basically suggested four steps, and I'm gonna add a fifth.
So number one: Identify the key areas of your life that you care about. The guide listed physical health, mental health, spirituality, creativity, family, relationships, work, fun/travel, and finances. Number two: Rate their current presence in your life on a scale of one to 10. Number three: Determine what you want to continue, stop, and start doing in each category. And number four: Create your goals that speak to each category. So my revelation added this fifth one: Transmute the goals into repeatable habits that knock out multiple categories simultaneously.
Fortunately, before I began this deep dive, I had read Nat Eliason's piece about de-atomization. In other words, undoing the ways in which, and these are his words, not mine, “Late-stage capitalism is conducive to an atomized existence wherein your work is disconnected from your physical fitness, which is disconnected from your socializing, which is disconnected from…”
You see where I'm going with this? Eliason concluded, “The more creatively we can integrate the various parts of life that matter to us, the more satisfied we'll be in our day-to-day.” End quote. When we used to do manual labor for money, we didn't need to attend an exercise class before our sedentary day jobs began. And when we lived in communities that were mostly filled with our friends and family, we probably made affordable meals together and maybe took long walks after dinner, I don't know. Because all of our important life experiences were somewhat interconnected: money, work, friends, family, physical health—they all worked to support one another. So life didn't feel as much like an endless checklist of competing priorities to be constantly, exhaustingly weighed against one another for possession of one of your 16 daily waking hours.
The closest metric that I can think of that reinforces this phenomenon of atomization is the “single-person households in the US” statistic. In other words, people who live alone and might even work from home and therefore have to make a more deliberate effort to exercise, socialize, eat, et cetera. Though I've never lived alone, and I still experience this issue within my suburban nuclear family life. And, spoiler alert, the rate of single-person households has risen fivefold over the last few decades. Though to be fair, I don't believe the graph is population growth adjusted. So take it with a grain of overpriced Himalayan pink salt.
But de-atomization isn't just the secret to deeper happiness; it's also the secret to habits that help you reach your goals. While the process of closely examining these different life pillars honestly sent me spinning with existential agita because I was like, “Oh my god, I don't do anything creative that doesn't ladder up to a productive output,” I realized that reinstalling some interconnectedness between the pillars and their associated goals made the process far less stressful.
At first, the overwhelm was tangible. I was like, “Am I gonna take up knitting? Am I gonna eat more ramen? I am not feeling very inspired.” But then I realized I can address all four of my earlier findings with just one habit: cooking. Cooking would ensure that I'm eating better, because I'll make an effort to intersperse the cans of sour cream and onion Pringles with meals that include broccoli. It would address our shameful $2,500 a month food spend on chef services and takeout and delivery fees, you name it. It would provide a low-stakes creative outlet for trying new things regularly. And it would give my husband and I something fun to do together.
And while I fear that six months from now, I'm gonna look up from the takeout container with my face smeared with spicy mayonnaise and just wince at this optimism, I am encouraged by the fact that this is no longer simply about saving money or eating better or having a creative hobby or hanging out with my husband. It is now about all four of these things, in one relatively simple lifestyle change. After all, I'm now three months in, and I can say that our food spending has decreased by 60%. We spend more time together after work because for whatever reason, we're actually more likely to sit down at the table and eat together when the meal is home-cooked. I wasn't tracking my vegetable intake before, but I can tell you I'm actually eating greens on the daily now, which I was not before. And I'm genuinely enjoying coming up with new recipes. I really like to try to re-create meals that I eat at restaurants. That's been super fun.
So while the goals are important, the habits are what really matter. It includes making time to grocery shop on the weekends, and devoting the mental energy to determining what we want to make, and then setting aside the half hour every night to make it. The real hurdle is establishing the new habits that'll inevitably create the desired outcomes, like creativity, togetherness, saved money, physical health, if I enact them. We'll be right back after a message from the sponsors of today's episode.
Sponsored content:We've recently partnered with TaxAct to create a custom episode ofThe Money with Katie Show, all about changes you should be aware of in tax season 2023. The full episode is up on our YouTube page, but we're also going to be playing excerpts during our other episodes for the next few weeks in lieu of traditional advertisements. Here's a little bit of my conversation with TaxAct’s VP of tax operations, Mark Jaeger.
Katie:Would you be willing to talk about some of the specific ways that TaxAct can ease the burden of filing your taxes? I had a very complicated tax season last year and I was using TaxAct to go through. This is a silly thing, but one of my favorite parts about using the software was that you don't have to pay for anything until it's done. It kind of hurts to pay up front for something when you're like, “Oh man, I don't even know what I'm gonna end up owing and I'm already out the gate, you know, in the negative.” And I really liked that you didn't have to pay for anything until you were all done with filing.
Mark Jaeger:Yeah, that's right. We want people to go through it, to try it, to learn from it, and just really feel comfortable with it, 'cause maybe at the end of the day you don't feel comfortable with the inputs that you put in there. We sure hope that's the case, based off the questions that we ask. We keep it simple. We really want to bring the questions to light that are relevant to your tax situation.
Katie:I hope you enjoyed that excerpt from our conversation. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming, and as always, happy tax season.
This process helped me reconsider the way that I structure my entire day, because there were a couple of other findings I had that pertained to my attitude about and enjoyment of my work and the way that I structure my day, which just felt crucial given my financial and professional goals for the year.
So imagine my surprise, after I spent four years working in an office pining for the unrealistic work-from-home ideal that felt so out of reach that I barely registered it as a legitimate desire, that I'd find myself two to three years into working from home feeling kind of isolated and adrift. The endless freedom of being able to structure your day however you like means that if you don't take a proactive approach, you end up falling into routines that kind of suck.
And reflecting on what I like and don't like about my day, I did realize a couple of things. Morning routines that are too long or require me to do too much before I can start the day actually stress me out. I don't like really long, leisurely mornings; I’d kind of rather just rip the Band-Aid off and start working. For some reason, I was also still holding myself to the “early workout and get ready in the morning” framework of my old life, despite not actually really needing to anymore. And that also felt like an area ripe to change. I realized that I actually feel most creative early in the morning when other people aren't yet awake or expecting a reply from me. And my energy and motivation hits a bit of a low point in the midafternoons.
And the worst part of my job is being on social media too much, which usually begins with a positive intent and then ends with me scrolling TikTok and comparing myself to Alix Earle for three hours at a time—or worse, comparing my progress to other financial talking heads.
My goal for the year was to achieve more, earn more, do more, while actually doing less. So, less context-switching, less work that doesn't matter. Less doomscrolling, less discourse with anonymous Twitter accounts. And crucially, to just enjoy it more. So that is to say, I wanted to hit my ambitious business and financial goals in 2023, but I wanted to do it while having a less frenetic, less stressful, less emotional whirlwind of a workday.
Restructuring my workday with a few key tweaks really seem to address most of this. And this isn't exhaustive, but I think it hits the good, illustrative high points. So to start: just hitting a quick little five to 10 minutes of breathing or quiet time after waking up, drinking coffee, feeding the animals, and brushing my teeth. I don't know if anyone else picked this up, but I picked up a really bad pandemic habit of waiting until like noon to brush my teeth for the first time. I don't know…anyone else? Just me? And then I would sit down for a sprint, like two or three hours, ideally from around six or seven in the morning until around 9am still in my pajamas, and just knock out the most important, focused, creative work first thing in the morning. That way it's done and dusted before the day can really start requiring things of me. And I've heard this referred to as playing offense first.
Then take a break to check in with people kind of mid-morning, knock out the easy to-dos, walk the dog again. And then this was a really big shift for me: exercising in the middle of the day, when I can sense that my energy is starting to dip, and then eating lunch, showering, and becoming presentable. And then I block all my meetings in the afternoon and answer emails and Slacks at the end of the day, because otherwise it just totally thrusts me into reactivity mode way too easily. And I find my time getting split up throughout the day and it's hard to focus. And that's really about it.
So I've blocked my calendar accordingly, with availability in the afternoons for meetings, the mornings reserved for me. And I realize that the nature of my work lends itself to some level of empowerment over how my day is structured. And for that, I feel super lucky. But I do think leveraging whatever flexibility you have available to you to structure your day with the habits that work best for you can have disproportionate ROI. Maybe you do like the long morning routine, or you like to sleep in and do your work late at night. I mean, there's probably a window of time during the day that you need to be responsive to the people you work with. But you might have more agency over when you do your actual work and when you rest than you realize.
My hope is that the concerted effort to scroll less and free up my afternoons for meetings will give me more time to, hmm, I don't know, call my parents, reach out to my friends, schedule afternoon coffee meetings with people I'm trying to get to know better, as opposed to looking up from Google Drive at 6pm and going, ‘Oh my god, I have not responded to any text messages today. It's already dark outside. I guess I will engage in human connection next week.”
You can leverage these tactics pretty directly financially as well. So if one of your goals is to spend less money this year and another is to check in more frequently with a friend, you can build a weekly habit around doing both. If your pal is also trying to improve their finances, you can suggest a little weekly coffee date where you spend the first 30 minutes filling out your budgets together, and the second 30 minutes catching up on life. I know it sounds kind of nerdy and lame, but you'd probably be surprised by how many of your friends also want an accountability buddy and some social connection in a realm that can be as isolating as money. And if you're married, you and your spouse can do this together.
Even though I feel like I attempt to make these types of changes every year, for some reason, this year just feels different. And I think it's because I've finally acknowledged that these areas of life are integrated. They're not competing with one another. Whereas in the past, I saw prioritizing physical, mental, or relational goals as detracting from my work and financial goals. So they always just took the back seat, because I am nothing if not consistent. And recognizing their interconnectedness has really flipped a switch for me, and I hope it does for you too. So if you end up doing the review or instituting some layered habit changes, slide into our inbox at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us about your experience. Like I said, we will link the full review in the show notes.
All right, y'all, that is all for this week. I will see you next week, same time, same place, onThe Money with Katie Show. Our show is a production of Morning Brew and is produced by Henah Velez and me, Katie Gatti Tassin, with our audio engineering and sound design from Nick Torres. Devin Emery is our chief content officer, and additional fact checking comes from Kate Brandt.
And don't forget, if you enjoyed the excerpts from today's episode of my conversation with Mark Jaeger from TaxAct, to visit my YouTube channel to hear the full conversation and learn even more tips to help you file confidently this year.