Something a little out of the ordinary today: by request, we’re doing a review of the LifeGoals iPhone app from Reefwing Software. Mainly because, well hey we were asked and we’re an agreeable sort of troll, but also it was an opportunity for a little introspection and pontificating that we don’t do very much of and it’s good to on occasion, the unexamined life is not worth living and all that.
To break it down to its simplest, the idea of goal setting is to eliminate unproductive activity and develop productive activity through prioritization and autosuggestion. If you prefer those principles wrapped up in mystical nonsense, then you’ll enjoy books like The Secret. (Thanks, Mom! Great present! We love you, really!) But as most of you Dear Readers no doubt like us would prefer your self-help quota to be approached more in the nature of an engineering problem, we’ll direct you to what was and still is based on our browsing around this last week the best book ever on this subject:
Seriously, if you haven’t read it you should. If there’s any better primer on psychological success anywhere, we certainly are not aware of it. And you really do need to get the basic principles down so that tools to reinforce it, like the LifeGoals app we’re going to get around to talking about sooner or later, are going to be of any use whatsoever. In the meantime, the online help at Reefwing’s website is a pretty decent introduction.
Now, about those tools. We’re not big on rigid organization in anything, and especially not in goal setting. You’ve heard the “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy” aphorism? Or, to expand on that, perhaps you’ve heard Eisenhower’s quote on the Normandy invasion, “The plans were useless, but the planning was indispensable”? That’s pretty much the way we see it. Achieving your goals isn’t about laying out a rigid timetable and sticking to it, which is pretty much guaranteed to fail, it’s about having your Plan A, and Plan B, and Plan C, and on down the line, all ready so that whenever something serendipitous — or negatively serendipitous, whatever the word is for that — comes your way you have a range of possible actions already thought out and prepared. And in the worst case, you end up with what you’ve no doubt seen in large organizations attempting to manage projects what we can call “TPS Syndrome” — that uselessly wasting time on the superficial trappings of process managment becomes a substitute for, you know, actually managing the process. And we’re instinctively inclined to suspect any tool designed for management, whether of software development or life goals, of being an open invitation to fall into that trap.
Now, on the tactical level, a tool to organize immediate tasks has great value. But even there, we’d never found a piece of software worth the trouble of using until last fall, where you may recall our gushing paean to the near-perfection of Cultured Code’s Things task manager. And yes, we still pretty much stand by that, we are relying on it completely, as a matter of fact we’ve started to push long term goals into it, making it pretty close to competition to what LifeGoals is intended to be. Sooo, is there any place for it? Well, let’s — finally! — start to actually take a look at the application.
So it starts up, and there’s a pretty comprehensive list of categories one would set goals in: “Artistic”, “Attitude”, “Career”, … blahblahblah. Well, we’re a troll. There’s really only one thing that qualifies as an overriding goal in our life, and it would be summed up nicely as “finish mosttraveledpeople.com“:
According to our members, the world is made up of 871 countries, territories, autonomous regions, enclaves, geographically separated island groups, and major states and provinces. To visit all 871 would be to go everywhere.
Now that’s a goal worthy of a troll, indeed. And at 202 out of those 871 (23.19%) we’re not doing too badly, but some more formalization is quite possibly in order. So we go to the ‘Travel’ section, create a ‘Finish mosttraveledpeople.com!’ goal, and add a couple tasks towards that goal that we had in mind for the nearish future. And a third rather larger task.
That all goes smoothly, the editing process is well thought out. But well, there isn’t much room for LifeGoals to display its prioritization and balancing features if that’s the only thing we track. So let’s add something else. Well, as it happens there is something that could help with; we definitely do tend to spend more time at the computer than is optimal for peak health, so there’s a bit more troll around then we’d ideally like there to be, if you get our drift. Not enough for us to be bothered enough to actually pay attention more than sporadically to actually doing something about it … but that’s pretty much the whole point here, isn’t it? So, let’s add an appropriate goal and a couple achievable daily tasks towards it in the ‘Health’ section:
… and whoa, we run smack into the problem that there appears to be no way to set recurring daily tasks. Hmmmm. Well, perhaps we are thinking less strategically than the tool is really intended to be aimed at, but you’d think there ought to be some way to do that, wouldn’t you? So we dig around a bit, and heh, look at this on the Reefwing blog:
… Two obvious mistakes (in retrospect) was ability to edit/add categories and repeating tasks. Rest assured that I am continuing to improve and develop Life Goals…
… Yes repeating tasks will be added. This has been one of the most requested features…
Not just us that wants to use it as a task manager then! Arguably, just putting those tasks as daily tasks in Things would be a lot more sensible anyways … but we can see that putting in a comprehensive set of goals could be of use in filling out the prioritization matrix a bit. And it is pretty cute. Actually, we’re kinda amused how it splits our entries between pretty much trivial and off the chart.
Yep, it’s very pretty. That goes for the rest of the application too — very nicely designed and intuitively laid out and apparently well programmed, you can pretty much take all that for granted by our lack of observation that it’s not. But is it actually worth the effort to use? Hmmm-mmm-mmm. Well, if you actually need help balancing your various long term goals, why yes we can see this would be an excellent tool. If your strategic directions are pretty much set (that would be a politer way of saying “as one-dimensional as we are”) and you’re only really interested in some help with tactical management, not so much … and at the moment the lack of repeating tasks is a pretty hard block to that, although as mentioned above it looks like that lack will be remedied.
So, there you have our thoughts. If this sounds like something you figure could help you out — click away!
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