Podcast: Take Control of the New Year with Michael Hyatt

A new year is a time for new beginnings, whether we’re pursuing a goal, changing careers… or, in our case, re-launching a podcast.

The old Evernote podcast had a good run (from 2009 to 2013, with a couple of special installments after that), and we were sad to see it go. We’ve wanted to revive the podcast for a while now, so when we began talking about New Year’s resolutions here at Evernote HQ, it seemed only natural to add it to our content team’s goals for 2017.

Starting on a high note

We’re proud to introduce Taking Note, a new interview-based series where we’ll talk with movers and shakers in the realms of productivity, entrepreneurship, and creative thinking.

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Length: 26 mins
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For our first episode, we wanted to talk about how to make resolutions work for you. How do we harness the good intentions and energy of a fresh start and turn that into concrete results that last? How do we conquer our fears and empower ourselves to reach our goals?

For questions like that, there’s no better person to turn than to Michael Hyatt. As a leadership development mentor, Michael helps high achievers get the clarity, confidence, and tools they need to win at work and succeed at life. It’s a message that resonates with hundreds of thousands of people who follow Michael on social media, visit his blog, take one of his courses, or attend one of his speaking engagements. His podcast, “This Is Your Life,” has run for more than 200 episodes. And his recent book, Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want, is a Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller.

Michael has also been a champion of Evernote for years (check out his excellent blog post describing his tag-based organizational system, or his guest posts on the Evernote Blog), and he has plenty to say about the role Evernote can play in a developing a plan for achieving your goals.

Michael Hyatt Sitting on a Desk in Front of Bookcase

Michael Hyatt spoke to us from his home base in Nashville, Tennessee. A partial transcript is below. To hear the complete interview and catch our future episodes, head over to iTunes, SoundCloud, or Google Play.

Okay, it’s the start of a new year. People are thinking about recalibrating, about making life changes. Of course, we are all pretty good usually about knowing when we’re not happy, or when we want to change something. Not so good, perhaps, when it comes time to figuring out how to take action on that or where to start. How do we know that we’re choosing the right goals? I could list about 50 things I’d like to change in the coming year.

I think first of all, I would not set goals inside what the authors of The Four Disciplines of Execution call “the whirlwind,” just your normal job. You’re going to have goals there anyway. There’s a difference between projects and goals. Every goal is a project, but not every project is a goal. There’s going to be hundreds of things you’re going to attempt this year and going to have to do for work or in your private life, but goals are really outside of the whirlwind. These are the things that would really move the needle and create for you a remarkable year.

Only you can answer that question. What would it be? What would be the extraordinary thing that you could accomplish in your career or in your business, or your marriage, or your health that looking back on it once you get to December 31st, 2017, what would make this year extraordinary?

One of the things that we’ve discovered in all the research we’ve done about goals is that when people try too many, they get overwhelmed. You talked about a list of 10, 20, 50 goals. People have a lot of things they want to accomplish when they think about self-improvement, but the multiplicity of goals actually works against you because it divides your focus.

There’s an ancient Chinese proverb that I love that says, “Man who chases two rabbits catches neither.” If we divide our focus over too many goals, then we really run the risk of sabotaging real progress. We’ve got to narrow the focus and really lock in, and this takes priorities, on seven to no more than ten goals that we’re going to shoot for for the entire year. Even those, the deadlines need to be staggered through the year so that we’re not trying to do too much at once.

That’s a great point. When we’re thinking about productivity, we often think in terms of just getting more done, piling more onto the plate. It’s not really about that, is it?

It really isn’t. It’s really about getting the right things done, not about getting more things done. This past year, I published an online course called Free to Focus, and the subtitle really says it all about my philosophy. It’s, “Achieve more by doing less.” Now how in the world do you do that? How do you cut the number of tasks down so that you only have a few?

My basic rule is that I only have three tasks on any one day. They’re important tasks. They might even be urgent, but there’s only three tasks. To do that, you’ve really got to know what your unique ability is, or you need to focus. I think I first read this in Tim Ferriss’s The Four Hour Work Week. You’ve got to be able to eliminate, automate, and then delegate in order to get the things off your plate that you shouldn’t be touching at all.

The problem with drifting is that nobody ever drifted to a destination they would’ve chosen.

If you’re doing three really important things every day, those things start to add up and really move the needle in your life whereas most people set out with this giant to-do list every day. They go to bed at the end of the day frustrated that they didn’t get it all done. They wake up in the morning dreading what they’ve still got to do that was hanging over from yesterday, and they don’t feel like they’re winning. They don’t feel like they’re making any progress. That’s just a game you can’t win. Why not design a game you can win?

How do we go about doing that? I hear three tasks per day, seven to ten goals for the year, so we’re thinking in terms of layers. How do you go about narrowing that list down and coming up with some sort of a realistic, achievable plan?

I think it starts with clarity about what it is that you want for you life. Most people don’t take time or pause long enough to really think about what it is that they want. They’re fuzzy. They’re just kind of drifting through life, and the problem with drifting is that nobody ever drifted to a destination they would’ve chosen. That takes intentionality. I’ve got a little model that I use in my courses and in some online assessments that I have where we talk about the Three Circles of Life. The Circle of Being which includes your spiritual life, your intellectual life, your emotional life, your physical life. That’s you in relationship to yourself. What do you want in those areas? You, as a private person.

Then there’s the Circle of Relating, which is you in relationship to your spouse or your significant other. Maybe your children, your friends, your social network. That’s you in relationship to others. What do you want there? Are there friendships that you need? Do you have friends outside of work? Is your marriage or your relationship with a significant other at a place where you’re really happy and satisfied and deeply connected, or do you want something different?

Then there’s the Circle of Doing, which would include your vocation, your advocation or hobbies, and then your finances. In all these areas, I think one of the things we have to get clear on is what do we want. What do we want out of our marriage? What do we want out of our career? What do we want out of our finances? What do we want out of our intellectual life?

When we write, we get clear. When we get clear, that acts like a magnet that pulls us toward it.

Articulate that by writing it down. This is a huge mistake that people make. They have these vague aspirations, these dreams, but they’re not written down. There was a researcher at Dominican University in California who did a research project on 267 participants on goal setting. One of the findings that she had among others was that just by writing your goal down, you’re 42% more likely to achieve it if nothing else happens.

When we write, we get clear. When we get clear, that acts like a magnet that pulls us toward it.

Of course, a lot of us need some help in reaching that point. Did you have a mentor or someone that helped you attain clarity?

Yeah, I’ve had quite a few through the years. One of the most significant ones, I hired an executive coach in the year 2000. Daniel Harkavy. In fact, he’s the co-author of my most recent book, Living Forward. He was a huge help to me because he was the first person that actually said, “You need to think about what you want in each of the major domains in your life.” We went through a process which we write about in the book, a life-planning process where we get clear in each one of these areas and think about where do we want to be in 25 years.

Let’s talk about the book for a moment. Living Forward: A Proving Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want. How did that book come about?

Well, I’ve been involved in life planning with Daniel since about 2000. I’ve done it every year, and it’s just been a hugely helpful, clarifying exercise. At one point, I said to Daniel, “You know, this process has been so helpful to me, and I’ve just been somebody who’s been on the receiving end of practicing it. You’ve been on the coaching end of it coaching thousands of people how to do it. What about if we get together and do a book that would help people go through the process?” He loved the idea, and so we wrote the book. We launched it this last spring. It’s a Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly bestseller. Evidently, a lot of people feel the need for life planning or to think more intentionally about their life.

That’s just one of many projects you have. You’ve also got a weekly podcast called “This is Your Life,” and you’ve got an online course which I think is very relevant to this time of the year. Is that right?

Yeah, I do. I’ve got a course called Five Days to Your Best Year Ever. This was launched about four years ago, and it came out of a practice that I began more than a decade ago where I took the period between Christmas and New Years and thought through what I wanted for the next year. I always ask myself the question, “How can I make this next year the best year ever?” At one point my daughter Megan, who is the COO of my business, she came to me and said, “Dad, I really think we should create a course around that.” I said, “What? Really?” I kind of almost thought that everybody does this. Everybody takes that time to reflect. She said, “Look, almost nobody does this. I think the process that you use could be hugely helpful in helping people get clear about what they want and making their year an extraordinary year.”

You know, it’s funny. It seems so obvious that you would take a few days at the start of the year if you wanted to make some sort of major change throughout that year, that you would take a few days to plan that out, but it’s true. Most of us don’t take that time.

I’m not going to ask you to compress five days into the next few minutes, but if we could talk a little bit about some of the brass-tacks actions that do need to be taken…


Having a goal, having intentionality, having clarity. That all makes a lot of sense, but that might not be enough if we can’t actually turn that into new behaviors and new habits. What’s your advice for actually changing patterns of behavior?

One of the things I talk about in the first session of Five Days to Your Best Year Ever is the importance of identifying your limiting beliefs. I think a lot of times, it’s our beliefs that hold us back. They keep us from behaving in a certain way because we think maybe that we’re too old or that we’re too young, or we don’t have enough experience, have enough education. The problem is is that limiting beliefs are typically in our head. They don’t exist out there, although we tend to externalize them. That very first session of Best Year Ever, we boil that down and try to identify those limiting beliefs and replace them with liberating truths.

In session two, we talk about completing the past. So many people drag the worst of the past into the best of their future, and they sabotage themselves because they’ve got something they haven’t completed in the past. We go through an eight-step process where we talk about completing the past. Not just the negative things and processing our regrets and disappointments from the last year, but also celebrating our wins. Talking about the things we wished we’d been acknowledged for but weren’t. Those items that we were the most proud of so that we can be in our strongest possible position when we begin to set goals which happens in session three.

I do use the SMART framework, but I’ve expanded it to the SMARTER framework. The two pieces that I add onto the end of the SMART framework which most people are familiar with is that the goal’s got to be exciting. That’s the E. It’s got to be something that’s really compelling to you because if it’s not compelling, you’re probably not going to follow through. You’re going to lose steam when the going gets tough. Then, it needs to be relevant. By relevant, I mean it needs to align with the rest of your life. Somebody that’s a mom of small children is in a very different season than somebody like me who basically is an empty nester. I’ve got more discretionary time than somebody in that situation, so the goals need to reflect that.

Then we talk about connecting with your “why” on session four. Hugely important. Why is this goal important? Actually writing those things down. By the way, I do this in Evernote. Then, fifth is how do you make it all happen? This is all about execution, and how do you actually make the changes.

You mentioned the SMART framework. Just in case people aren’t familiar with that, that’s an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-based. Is that correct?

Well, people have different words for that but mine is Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Risky—this is a key idea here—and then finally Time-keyed.

Risky. Most people set their goals too low. Sometimes people translate the R into Realistic. Actually, that’s the worst thing you could possibly do if you want to follow through on a goal. All the research shows this. If you want to follow through on a goal, it needs to be harder, not easier. A goal that’s easy won’t command your attention. You need for it to be in your discomfort zone. Now this is important because there’s three zones.

A goal that’s easy won’t command your attention. You need for it to be in your discomfort zone.

The first zone is your comfort zone. That’s where you do email, that’s where you go to meetings, that’s where you shop for groceries, just all the basic stuff of life. It’s the comfort zone. Nothing hard about it. It’s forgettable. You don’t need a goal that’s in the comfort zone. The discomfort zone is when you begin to feel a little bit of fear, a little bit of uncertainty, a little bit of doubt. Those negative emotions are actually positive indicators that you’re on the right path, that this is something where you’re going to get a breakthrough result. Something where you’re going to experience something extraordinary.

All the good stuff happens in the discomfort zone, but it’s not zone three and you want to stay out of this one too. This is the delusional zone. This is where you set the goals so high that there’s no way that you could possibly accomplish it, or no way that you could accomplish it without sacrificing all the other areas of your life. For me, for example, if I decided I wanted to play golf on the PGA professional tour, that would be delusional. I don’t want to do that; I want to go right to the door of delusional and dial it back a few clicks to where it’s just uncomfortable.

When we talk about making goals risky and getting into our discomfort zone, that raises a couple of questions. How do we keep ourselves accountable? Also, what happens if we fail?

Yeah, two great questions. First of all, accountability’s critically important. I cited the research earlier from Dr. Gail Matthews at Dominican University about the 42% better chance of achieving your goals if you write them down. The other major factor that she found is accountability. That when people are accountable to somebody else for their results, they’re much much more likely, about twice as likely to follow through. You’ve got to be careful here. Derek Sivers has this great TED Talk where he talks about the fact that when you share your goals publicly, then you have the same psychological benefit of actually achieving the goal so it actually works against you. You get the same satisfaction. He suggests you don’t share it with anybody.

What I recommend and what we teach in the course is selective sharing. In other words, you want to share the goals with a few people that could hold you accountable, that could be supportive, that can be a resource when you get stuck. That’s the key: have an accountability partner or an accountability group that you know they’re in there with you and they’re trying to work for improvement just like you are.

What if we fail? Well, I got this from John Maxwell, another one of my mentors. He says, “There’s no failure; there’s only feedback.” Whenever we fail, it’s okay. Failure’s kind of overrated. One of the best ways to make progress is to fail and to fail fast. If we can look at fail and not internalize it so that it affects our identity so that we say, “I’m a failure,” if we could just say, “Yeah, I failed at that. Now what’s the learning from that?” We go through a process in Best Year Ever called the After-Action Review where we’re able to process that, squeeze the juice out of it, and use it for learning so that we can pick ourselves up and actually improve what we do.

Failure’s kind of overrated. One of the best ways to make progress is to fail and to fail fast.

Another piece of research that we stumbled across this past year is that your areas of failure or your areas of disappointment or regret, it’s called the Opportunity Principle, are usually indicators of your greatest opportunity for growth in the next year. Those areas where you fail, if you could just reframe it and see it as an opportunity, that can be an area where you can experience substantial progress because you’ve already figured out some things that don’t work.

That all makes a lot of sense, and it all ties back into the things you were saying earlier about learning from the past and not letting your previous experiences turn into limiting beliefs. I want to talk a bit about system before we wrap up. We’ve mentioned the importance of writing things down. I should mention you’ve also written some excellent posts on your website about how you use Evernote. I’d like to know how you use it as part of a system and something that you can use throughout the day, throughout the year.

Part of what I do with reference to goals is that I have basically a goal template in Evernote that I export as a template, and then I use it for each one of my goals. I state the goal, I identify my key motivations, I put my next actions, any kind of inspiring thoughts. I use one of those for each of my seven to ten goals for the year. This year, I happen to have nine so I’ll have nine of these separate notes in Evernote. Then I take the table of contents function. This is something I discovered last year. I cannot believe that I somehow missed this in the past. I basically create a note that has all of those nine other notes referenced with a link to each one.

Now here’s the cool thing: I drag that note as a shortcut to my sidebar, and that’s what I review every morning. I don’t do a deep dive, but I’m just reviewing those nine goals each morning, just the statements. Got a link if I want to go deeper, but just the statement of my nine goals. What I’m looking for is maybe a task that I can put on my task list today that would advance me in the direction of one of my goals. Every morning, that’s my process. Then once a week during my weekly review, I pull up that same note again as a shortcut on my sidebar, and now I click into the links and I review a deeper dive on each one of those, particularly I’m looking into key motivations. I want to connect with those intellectually and emotionally just to remind me about why that’s important, and that’s why it’s on my goal list for this year.

The people that really achieve great big results aren’t smarter than you. They’re not more educated, they’re not more experienced. They’re people that have clarity and people that have courage.

All right. We’ve talked a lot about motivation. What’s your motivation? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

I think to make a difference. I love nothing more than helping people realize their potential. When I’m talking to people, when I’m coaching, when I’m teaching, whatever, I just think to myself, “You have no idea how much potential you have.” The people that really achieve great big results aren’t smarter than you. They’re not more educated, they’re not more experienced. They’re people usually that have clarity and people that have courage. By courage, I don’t mean that they don’t have fear, but they’re willing to do it scared even when they experience fear. That’s the only difference. People can accomplish an enormous amount if they’re willing to work to get clarity, and if they’re willing to be brave and do it scared.

We’re pleased to be podcasting again and we hope you enjoy hearing from experts like Michael Hyatt as much as we do. You can hear the complete interview and catch our future episodes at iTunes, SoundCloud, or Google Play

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