среда, 31 декабря 2014 г.

5 Types of Goals

This time of the year lots of accountants validate balances in the books of their firms. In quite a similar fashion when December draws to a close my thoughts constantly come to back to the goals that I had set back in January. Seeing how my results of the year vary from area to area, it is quite easy and at the same time interesting to break these goals into categories based on both the degree of success with them and the reasons that stand behind it.

First and most simple, there is a number of things that I wanted to do this year, but didn't even start to shoot in their direction. In some cases I did make initial steps but lacked persistence to see even minor results and gave it up. The failures of this kind are mostly caused by mere laziness. However, sometimes the problem is deeper: many of unachieved goals were not understood and formulated properly. This does actually boil down to laziness, but that's the laziness that occurred back on the stage of planning and prevented me from setting myself up for success. The presence of such failures reminds me that I must put more thought into planning and avoid picking goals, of which I am not sure whether I really want to pursue them and why.

Fortunately, neither of the past years were marked with complete failures only and 2014 is not exceptional. With some of the plans I came very close to the objectives. Even though I fell short of my own expectations in regards to, for example, the number and frequency of posts in this blog, I am still quite happy with the fact that I was regularly working on this goal. The interesting thing about this kind of under-achievements is that they bring me almost as much satisfaction as the act of reaching a target. The only difference is that when I don't manage to fully meet a goal I have to analyze the reasons that stand behind underperforming - mostly to allow for more accurate planning, but also to find where exactly I am inefficient and try to improve on that in the next year.

On the other side, there are some points on my 2014 checklist, which I pursued hard and can easily mark as achieved, but which gave me mostly disappointment. A nice example of a goal of this kind is to accrue a certain amount of savings over the year - I do have this on my list. I was quite disciplined, got some help from outside - particularly, from my employer - and, thanks to that, succeeded at having the desired amount on the bank account by the 31st of December. The problem is that the currency that I used to set the goal and accumulated my earnings - the Russian Rouble - depreciated by more than 30% since the moment when I had prepared my plans for the year. I could lament a lot about the world and Russian economy, in particular, being unfair and make a tragedy of this in dozens other ways, although this would be attributing my own planning mistake to someone else's actions. Even though the goal looked pretty reasonable at the time of setting, it did become 30% less relevant over the course of the year. Despite the fact that this happened due to external events and without much of my own guilt, I should have had some measures of protection against depressions of this kind. Instead, I assumed that once an objective is set I only have to work hard to meet it, but goals may and do lose value over time because both we and the world change, so one has to monitor and adjust them accordingly.

Judging by the above paragraphs one might think that I am mostly a failure, because I either don't achieve my goals or they bring little satisfaction to me. Fortunately, that's not the case and I did proudly check-marked some important points on the 2014 to-do list. These took quite a lot of work and made me feel happy about both putting in all the efforts and getting to the finish line. Success of this kind not only lets me see what I am good at - it also encourages me to continue working simply because I know I am capable of something. Add the feeling of proudness for merely getting planned things done and you'll see that a year worth of time wasn't wasted and opened new roads for the next one.

Finally, there is a type of goal or achievement in my classification that looks quite strange to me. Back in the beginning of the year along with a list of goals I wrote down some thoughts on where I want to move with my job and which new responsibilities I am willing to take. Since I had only vague understanding of what my goals in this area are and how one can achieve them, that was merely a set of ideas with only a few action points, which could hardly lead to any serious changes. Still, despite the fact that this didn't look like a plan at all, by virtue of luck, other people's will and who knows what else, during the year I was moving in the direction defined by these notes and in December found myself far beyond what I could have expected and hoped for in January. Things like this - when I get something that makes me happy without any definite plan - happened to me occasionally, but it is the first time when I had something written down, didn't understand how I can get it and nevertheless got much more. 

Even though the "overachievements" like this do bring tons of happiness and satisfaction, it is also crucial to analyze them carefully once you're done with the celebration. That's a good thing to do because understanding one's strengths helps both planning and working, and, more importantly, because it is useful to know how big is the share of mere luck and colleagues', friends' and relatives'  help in that success.

So, now I have a great basement for building and meeting plans for the next year. I see where I underperformed, what I am capable of and how I can improve my results in certain areas with little effort. Equally important, I know the things, which I shouldn't pursue the next year and also understand how to avoid getting too disappointed about failures, a certain amount of which is inevitable. All this will help me make clearer goals, do better at working towards them, adjust the direction on the way and avoid getting depressed when I fail or find that I have been pursuing the wrong target.

I wish you to set your goals for 2015 and make it a Happy New Year through achieving them!

четверг, 18 декабря 2014 г.

Running a Podcast for a Year

Last January, together with Michael, we recorded the first episode of the Code Speak Loop podcast. Shortly after that I set up a goal to record 20 to 22 episodes over the year 2014 and it looks like we  are succeeded at it. At the moment, after almost 11 months since publishing the episode 1 we have released 19 shows and will release one more in less than a week. The experience was magnificent!

While this marks a great achievement for us, there are lots of spots where we didn't perform as good as we would like to. For example, we could have released more episodes - 22 or maybe even 24. This a bit more impressive milestone would be easy to reach if we managed to maintain more regular release schedule. Unfortunately, during the last 3 or 4 months we failed to record a number of episodes on time, thus loosing several weeks. This also resulted in larger gaps between episodes - at least once the gap exceeded 4 weeks, which hardly complies with our original plans.

While the lack of discipline that led to these gaps is shameful, it didn't prevent us from reaching the original goal in terms of the number of episodes - both because the goal was quite cautious and, surprisingly, we were not as bad as expected. On the other side, there are things that look much worse. One of the most important problems is the quality of the content that we produced. Sometimes our accents, the level of control over our voices as well as the quality of the language were bad enough to make me seriously consider throwing the recording away. However, I believe that we were right to ignore this problem for some time and push the first episodes in public despite it - over time we did much better. Not only did this allow us to achieve sort of satisfactory quality, it also helped us improve general communication skills significantly and do better at our jobs. I am more than sure that the trainings that I delivered this summer as a part of my job would have been much worse if I didn't spend that much time chatting with Michael, listening to the recordings and preparing them for publication.

However, all the above problems are basically technical ones and I understand how to control them. What bothers me most in regards to the Code Speak Loop is that now, after releasing 19 episodes we don't really understand whether we have any listeners and what do they think about the show if they exist. This sounds stupid, but that's how it is. Thanks to the awesome Signal Leaf podcast hosting service we do know that we have some subscribers, but it is not clear whether these are real people or some sort of a Skynet trying to understand its enemy better.

Furthermore, the fact that over a year we got virtually no comments - both in the blog and on our social media pages - makes me think that the number of our actual listeners is quite close to zero. I know that some of my friends did check out the podcast, some even listened to quite a few episodes and I am extremely thankful to them. Still, because we didn't receive a word from anyone outside our usual circles it feels like we were broadcasting to nowhere. To be honest, this isn't too much of a surprise because, as usual, we avoided going into public and promoting the podcast at all costs. Additionally, the topics that we discussed are maybe too diverse, so we failed to position ourselves for any definite audience. Bad news here is that this is not the first time I make a confession of this kind: earlier this year I wrote that I had completely failed at marketing my Windows Phone app and actually I did this with two of them (the third is coming soon). Even though Michael worked much harder in this area, the efforts were still not enough to attract at least some angry comments to our blog.

Peeking into the future, I can say that whatever we will chose to do about the podcast there are some things that I am willing to change. First of all, we are not going to set any goals for the number of episodes or any schedule for the next year. Sometimes under pressure of our own plans we didn't pay enough attention to the quality of the show and that's not something that we want to repeat in future. I do believe that this was the right thing to do at the first stage when it was crucial to see whether we are able to produce anything at all, but now we can turn to recording only when we want to and have something really interesting to discuss.

Making the schedule less strict will also allow us to focus on getting more guests into our studio. We had several fabulous people this year and the episodes with a guest were definitely a lot denser with content and more focused than the ones with only two of us. Pursuing the same goal of making episodes more interesting and increasing their value, I'd like to put more work into choosing and preparing topics, so let's see what happens.

Finally, we do have to put significant effort into attracting and engaging listeners. Even though for us this is likely the most difficult part, there are some ideas, which may execute well. We don't have much choice here actually: while running a podcast without listeners for a year is possible, we don't look crazy enough to do that for two years in a row.

We wouldn't be willing to continue this enterprise without the support that we got from our friends who listened to the show and gave extremely valuable feedback as well as the awesome guests who came and shared cool stories and valuable experience. Our thanks go to all these fabulous people! And even though our subscribers are invisible, we know someone is refreshing the feed from time to time. So thank you for listening and tune in next year!