My New Year’s resolution is to make no more New Year’s resolutions. I’m going to stick with “new week’s” resolutions from here on out. New Year’s resolutions just don’t seem to work for me.
Making resolutions by the week rather than by the month or year is really the best way to be more productive and focused. A weekly plan keeps us focused on the “here and now” of our real-time existence. A good habit of planning week-to-week also keeps us less burdened by anxieties because it helps us to live with a greater sense of accomplishment in life.
You might say the weekly plan conforms more naturally to the rhythms of life. The weekly plan also conforms to God’s plan.
To begin with, God gave us the seven-day week as our primary marker of time. Of course, He also created the year of 365 days, but He does not mention the calendar year in Scripture. In the Creation story (Genesis 1), God established the seven-day week as the key unit of time by which humans are to organize their lives. Yearly feasts in the Bible even occur mostly in the pattern of a seven-day week or a determinate number of weeks. The provisions for several of these feasts are found in Deuteronomy 16:3, 15 & 9.
About the feast of Passover, for example, God says: “Seven days you shall eat no unleavened bread . . . ” The feast of Tabernacles follows the same pattern: “Seven days you shall keep a sacred feast to the Lord . . . because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you surely rejoice.” Pentecost (called the feast of weeks in Hebrew) has a similar structure: “Begin to count the seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the grain.” Blessings seem to come in weeks!
Our way of thinking
There is something eminently practical about setting goals and objectives (resolutions) in weekly increments. There are a few reasons for this.
Above all, we tend to think of and plan our activities in categories of weeks, rather than years, or even months, especially when it comes to family life. Those who have responsibilities for children and their needs inevitably have weekly schedules.
Kids have repetitive events and activities on certain days of the week, and they go to school in weekly installments of classes. Kids do not have long horizons or projections for their activities, so their schedules are more modular and short-term.
Parents tend to deal with next week’s problems when next week comes. A more immediate concern is making sure there is enough milk and cereal to get them through the week.
Adult lives and schedules are week-bound in many ways. While salespeople may have monthly goals to meet, and financial planning and retail require yearly goal-setting and projections, most of the human race lives week to week. People ask their loved ones, after-the-fact, how their week has been rather than how their month has gone, or how is the year going.
We begin a work week on Monday and work our way through the seven-day week, calling the last two days of it a “weekend.” We usually plan and take vacations in increments of weeks and tend to evaluate our accomplishments week-to-week. There’s a reason why week-at-a-glance is the most popular schedule planner: It corresponds to the way most people think about – and live – their lives.
The rule of three
Taking the seven-day week as the core unit of planning then, let’s consider how to get the most of out it. A very easy and effective way to be productive in your week employs the rule of three. This rule is based on the way most people think. We can hold three things in our minds easily, but once we are asked to remember four or more things in sequence, the task becomes more challenging for most people. The rule of three simplifies the complexities of life by breaking them down into manageable portions.
To use the rule of three, simply take a simple 3×5 note card on Sunday afternoon or evening and write down the three main things you propose to accomplish during the week. Choose three serious goals that are not matters of your common routine. (“Go shopping” for instance, is not a goal. It is a routine task.)
The three objectives for the week do not have to be arduous or earth-shattering, but they must be things that will deeply fulfill you or help you make significant headway in your longer-term goals. (Remember, weekly goal-setting does not exclude larger planning but helps to strengthen it.)
Your three goals may address things you have put off for some time or things that need more diligence from you. A goal should always be something that makes you say, “I’m glad I did that” after you did it. It should always give you a sense of moving forward or of filling in gaps in your responsibilities. “Following up with John” on an important project is a goal that fills in a gap. “Call Mary to finalize the deal“ or even “Sign up for Microsoft Access class” moves you forward on your current significant project.
Once you have written your three weekly goals on your 3×5 card, set your mind to accomplishing those three things – and only those three things – amidst the many routine things you must do that week.
On the back of that same card write any number of secondary goals you may wish to accomplish once you complete your three main goals. The reason you put them on the back of the card is that they are not to be confused with the week’s three critical, essential, necessary, indispensable goals on the front. If you get your three main goals finished in four days or five, you have the rest of the week as a grace period to start whittling away at the others. Grace periods are always good to have. They remind us that both time and life are graces from God. That’s a good way to think and live.
A simple but effective discipline
Accomplishing three goals in a week requires enough personal discipline to give you a challenge but not make you feel overwhelmed. Focusing on only three things will not add a burden to an already-busy calendar. Those three things, if you choose them well, are the stuff of your life, not add-ons to your schedule.
On the following Sunday, sit down with your 3×5 card and evaluate your performance. Ask yourself a series of questions: Did you actually accomplish your three goals? If not, why not? What do you need to change in your life in order to get just three significant things done every week? What obstacles do you need to remove in order to be more effective? Did you slack off in your resolve to get them done, or did you let too many distractions derail you?
Your evaluation should also include an assessment of the quality and real benefit of your activities. Make sure you are not spending a lot of time on trivial things that do not have value or make a difference in anyone’s life. Sometimes we get caught up in doing things that others demand of us and neglect to do the things that matter most. Other questions to ask in this evaluation are: Is X, Y, or Z important to me? If so, why? Have these three activities made a difference in my life or my family’s life this week? Do these things reflect my basic values? Am I a slave to what other people want and neglect my own basic values and priorities?
We all want to feel that we are making an actual, meaningful contribution to the world rather than living as slaves to the tyranny of the urgent or to the whims and fancies of others. Based upon your evaluation, take some time to reflect upon three goals for the coming week. Ideally, these should build on what you accomplished this week. Write them down on a new 3×5 card.
The spiritual value of goal-setting
Seven-day planning according to the law of threes is a simple and manageable exercise for busy people. That is its value. Seven days. Three goals. This plan is better than the proverbial New Year’s resolutions, which we all forget about sooner than later. The very thought of 365 days of goal accomplishment can be intimidating and unrealistic. Even monthly planning can be overwhelming and hard to evaluate.
There is also an emotional benefit to having a weekly planning system. Every week is a “new week,” a new period of life with great prospects for accomplishing the things that are most important to you – kind of like how you feel on January 1st every year. We all want to feel productive and excited about living. Everyone wants to look forward to their week knowing that they have a chance to make headway in something they value.
If you are still not convinced that weekly planning and three goals will make you more productive and focused, consider this: seven and three are biblical “perfect numbers.” They explain the perfection of creation and the perfection of God. If they are good enough for God, they should work for us!