A Planner’s 3 Rules on Resolutions

In 30-some years of professional business planning, I’ve developed a few theories on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to trying to get something done. Usually I’m talking about business planning, and how to make plans into actions, how to make it planning as a long-term management improvement, rather than a single plan that doesn’t mean very much stuffed in a drawer somewhere. So today, applying some of my planning fundamentals to New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve developed this list of three points that I hope can help us all — certainly me included — with those resolutions.

1. Choose Your Target Well

Obvious? Good. It should be. Change what you do, not who you are. Change habits, not attributes. Change behavior.

Make sure you’re focusing on things you can control. You and only you. In budgeting we talk about discretionary vs. non-discretionary spending. That works for life too; discretionary behavior, things you can control. You know the difference.

2. Make it Concrete, Specific, and Measurable

Avoid generalities. For example, not just “lose weight,” but rather stop drinking soft drinks between meals, or stop eating after 8 p.m., or stop having the donut with the morning coffee. Not just “more exercise,” but what days, how much, what routines, how long.

Try this test: Ask yourself how you’ll know, two weeks, a month, three months from now, if you kept your resolution.

Break your habits or behaviors down into specifics. Break them into pieces you can follow. Are you too quick to get angry with your kids? Break that down into something you can control, like maybe two full minutes of quiet time per day with each kid. Yes or no, did you have that time together. One time per day your kid gets a moment to talk to you, without rushing. Break it down into something you can track. (I’m father of five, I know the value of setting a moment aside from the chaos, and how hard it is to do sometimes.)

3. Set Specific Review Tactics

Wow, this sounds really nerdy and list-making annoying, doesn’t it? Scares me. Maybe that’s why I’m not so good at resolution keeping (do what I say, not what I do). But I said I’m taking this from my business planning practice, and in business planning if you don’t schedule your plan review in advance you’ve diminished your chances of implementation by half or more. So in New Year’s Resolutions, set up your reviews.

That would mean, hmm, maybe you’re going to promise to record failures to do your specific measurable actions, like an email to yourself every day you run that mile or skip the muffin, or maybe an email every day you don’t run the mile or don’t skip the muffin.

That would mean maybe you remind yourself to look at the results the third Thursday of every month, or every Saturday morning; did you stop the after-dinner snack, do you weigh less. Or did you stop and get that special daily minute or two with your kid?

A Final Note

It’s slightly embarrassing: I don’t claim any real expertise with the kind of life-changing stuff that New Year’s Resolutions ought to be made of. Giving advice in this realm is scary and probably presumptuous, so I have to apologize. But I’ve watched this kind of thing for years in business planning, and I think these three rules might help.

Now I’m going to try to practice what I preach. 


Tim Berry Tim Berry is Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software, Founder of Bplans, Co-Founder of Borland International, Stanford MBA, and co-founder of Have Presence. He is the author of several books and thousands of articles on business planning, small business, social media and startup business.

8 Reactions
  1. Nice Thoughts! It is indeed important to have concrete, specific measurable goals. If not, you can never be sure you’ve accomplished what you actually set out to do. Whenever I read about planning, goals, and misalignment of goals. I’ve been thinking about this again lately. I wrote about this on my blog (http://mojo-ramblings.blogspot.com/2008/01/goal-misalignment.html) about a year ago. It seems to be that new year that brings retrospective thinking about goals.

  2. Hi Tim, Great post! There’s so much to be said for being specific. It makes you think through the issues — that alone helps you achieve them. If you never get specific enough to articulate your goals and your tactics for achieving them, then you haven’t thought them through nearly enough.


  3. Tim
    Thank you for those thoughts. I’d not really thought about personal goals being specific in the same way as business or project ones. OK, now it’s not “stop this” or “do that” but set a specific goal – and preferably in small increments that are easily measurable.
    Now I’ll go and blog this and link back to you.

  4. Tim,

    Great reminder! I haven’t had time to write down my resolutions yet, but I will do it this weekend. I wrote on this topic in my post from December, 2007, WRITING DOWN NEW RESOLVING THOUGHTS.

    Regarding point 3, is it similar to the weekly review in the Getting Things Done time management system?

  5. Make it Concrete, Specific, and Measurable — Thanks for the great tips, Tim!

  6. These are good tips Tim. Anyone can write down a specific goal on a piece of paper but it’s the planning steps on how to achieve that goal that are usually missing. Without a planned sense of direction you end up spinning your wheels and getting nowhere. I like that your 3 simple tips can be applied to just about any goal whether for business or your personal life. I’m going to implement these into my own new year’s goals.

  7. Hi Tim –

    I good friend of mine often says that people know more about what they want on a deli sandwich than they do from their business or their life. The point being that you can’t get what you want until you know exactly what it is, what it looks like, and what having it will do. So thanks Tim for reminding us.

  8. Without a planned sense of direction you end up spinning your wheels and getting nowhere. — Very well said, Amanda! This is often a tendency that we do.

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