2019: What Will Your Story Be?


The new year is almost upon us, and today I want to ask the question:

What will your 2019 story be?

You’ve got the opportunity right now to do some reflecting on 2018 and some planning for 2019.

Though there will be much that happens in the year to come that you don’t have control over, what you can decide is how you will approach each day.

The Three Buckets

This process of looking back at the past year and then looking forward to the next one is something that I’ve been doing for about five years now, and every year I revisit “The Three Buckets” idea from Jonathan Fields, who runs Good Life Project.

The three buckets you fill with your time and energy: contribution, connection, and vitality. Each can only get as full as the least-filled.

The idea here is that there are three main buckets that we fill with our time and energy.

Those three buckets are contribution (the work that you’re doing to make the world a better place); connection (the relationships that you build with other people); and vitality (the things that you do to take care of your mental, emotional, and physical health).

The caveat here is that no bucket can be any fuller than the least filled bucket.

So if you neglect one of those three areas of your life, that essentially means that you’re poking holes in the other two buckets. I appreciate that wholistic approach to looking at how you spend your time and energy, especially as you’re setting intentions and goals for the upcoming year.

That need for overall balance also helps to prevent overcorrections that might occur if you chose to focus only on the thing you want to change.

To decide how you’d like to fill each of those buckets in 2019, first I think it’s worthwhile to look back at the previous year and respond to this simple prompt:

“2018 was the year I ___.”

Fill in that blank for each of the three buckets, with as short or as long of a response as you need to capture what happened with that bucket in the past year.

Don’t be surprised if you find that you neglected one (or more). That’s what I’ve recognized every time I’ve gone through this activity. Though initially discouraging, what that points to is the change that you can make in 2019.

So after you’ve had a somewhat comprehensive look back at 2018, then look forward to this next year and think about how you want to distribute your now-full pitcher of water:

“2019 will be the year I ___.”

Don’t be afraid maintain the things that went well in 2018 (remember the overall balance that’s required), but do pay particular attention to the places where you’d like some change to occur.

On Decluttering Your Brain

If you find yourself having trouble wrapping your head around all of the things that happened in 2018 as well as all the plans your making for 2019, then check out the video from a few weeks ago about decluttering your brain:

In that video and in this blog post I provide a lot of specific ideas on how to get ideas out of your head and onto the page, in a way that allows you to work with those ideas and see them from a different perspective.

As you look toward the next year and start to make some plans around how you’d like to spend your time, there are a handful of ideas that I think are worth considering.

From Goal-Setting to Fear-Setting

If you’re thinking about pursuing a new opportunity in 2019 and the prospect of doing that scares you, then watch this TED Talk on fear-setting from Tim Ferriss:

The main idea: rather than focusing on the goal that you’re setting for yourself, take a closer look instead at the fears that you have about those goals.

Within that talk Ferriss shares a three-page process.

In a 2017 TED Talk, Tim Ferriss suggests you shift your focus from your goals to your fears as you investigate their validity.

First, you address the question “What if I actually do the thing?” On that first page you explore three things: what’s the worst that could happen; what you can do to prevent that worst-case scenario; and how you can repair things if that worst-case scenario comes to pass.

On the second page you explore the benefits of a partial success, of just attempting to do the thing. I like the nuance of that, that it’s not a binary success or failure, but that even a partial success might move you in the direction that you’d like to take your life.

On the third page you ask yourself “What’s the cost of inaction?” Think about the emotional, physical, and financial cost if you choose not to pursue the thing that you might like to.

That relatively simple three-page process is a great way to take a closer look at something new that you might like to take on, so that you better understand the risks involved as well as the potential rewards.

Grit & Mastery

From there, once you’ve decided what you’re taking on in 2019, it’s worth recognizing that it’s going to take some grit to achieve even partial success.

That’s where an idea from Sarah Lewis will come in handy, from her book The Rise, which is about creativity, the gift of failure, and the search for mastery.

The definition of grit is two-fold: commitment to a higher-level goal AND a willingness to change lower-level tactics in pursuit of that goal.

One of my favorite ideas from that book is the two-fold definition of grit: the commitment to a higher-level goal alongside the willingness to change lower-level tactics.

By taking that definition to heart you’re acknowledging the fact that you can’t possibly see the most direct route from where you are right now to your goal. So, in those moments when your current approach starts taking you away from your goal, you need to be willing to change that approach and adjust your lower-level tactics until they’re once again moving you in the right direction.

I appreciate that nuance and the clarification that grit is NOT about the bull-headed attitude of “I’m moving in this direction and nothing’s going to stop me.”

So as you look to your 2019 plans, I encourage you to define those plans as higher-level goals rather than lower-level tactics, because those tactics are likely going to change.

If your year-long plan focuses only on lower-level tactics, then you’re setting yourself up for discouragement because when you realize in January that doesn’t something about that tactic doesn’t work for you, you’ll have to give up on that plan. Quitting that particular approach is likely to take away some of your energy and enthusiasm(since you made it your plan for the entire year).

But if instead you frame your 2019 plans as higher-level goals, that gives you the ability to adjust the lower-level tactics as you figure out what will work best for you on a day-to-day basis.

Build a System

When it comes to achieving long-term goals, it really is the day-to-day that matters.

Yes it’s fun to think about what you might accomplish in an entire year, but if you’re not taking daily steps toward that goal, you’re never going to get there.

That’s where the last idea comes in today, from the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown, and the specific prompt in that book to build a system of small wins:

2019: What Will Your Story Be?; Verbal To Visual, Doug Neill, sketchnoting, visual note-taking; jonathan fields three buckets; tim ferriss fear setting; sarah lewis grit mastery; greg mckeown essentialism; annual review, new years resolution

To move from high-level goals to concrete steps, create for yourself a system of small wins: a sustainable daily routine.

The most important system in our discussion of yearly plans is your daily routine.

So think about how you can build a daily routine that helps you to fill each of those three buckets of contribution, connection, and vitality, with an emphasis on small daily contributions.

That system of small wins that you build for yourself, those are the lower-level tactics that might require adjusting throughout the year. So my suggestion is not to be on the lookout for one system that will work for you forever, but recognize that your system will need refinement over time.

With intentional action and experimentation you will be able to uncover the underlying principles of that system that work well for you, even as you make adjustments to it over time.

I hope that the collection of ideas that I’ve shared here helps you to take the energy that comes from the end of one year and the start of the next and use that energy in a meaningful way, in a way that gives you some momentum as we enter the new year.

Remember that you do have control over what your story will be in 2019, and my hope is that these prompts help you to identify that story, and then take the daily action to live it out.

The Role of Sketchnotes

If you would like sketchnoting to play a supportive role in your story of 2019, then check out our library of online courses.

Whether this is the first Verbal To Visual post that you’ve see or if you’ve been hanging out for years, I just wanted to say thanks for being here. This might be the most excited I’ve ever been for a new year.

I’ll be sharing my plans for 2019 in the first week of January, so stick around if you want to see where we’re headed!

Good luck as you do your own reflecting and planning in the weeks ahead.