Goals? Where we’re going, we don’t need goals.


Denis Gobo tagged me in his post about his 2010 goals, and challenged a few of us to gauge our success for 2010 too by revealing our yearly goals and how we did. I should have seen it coming, because he tagged me on this before.

I’m all over the Getting Things Done philosophy, which involves setting some 50,000 foot goals to keep your overall life on track – but my GTD 50,000 foot goals aren’t “goals” in the way we usually think of goals. They are:

It's hard work looking this good.
Goal for 2011: Improve My Poker Face
  • Be very financially secure.
  • Be a fantastic partner for Erika.
  • Enjoy life while I can.
  • Be strong and healthy.
  • Be a good son and brother.
  • Be a good Catholic.

None of those can be crossed off, so to speak – I’m never done enjoying life or being very financially secure. These are big-picture guidelines, more of a compass direction than a map destination. Underneath each of those 50,000 foot goals, I’ve got a series of – wait for it – 40,000 foot goals, then 30k, and so on, getting more and more tactical.

I’m not so anal-retentive that all of my day-to-day tasks are mapped up all the way through the list. Because I know my 50k goals, it’s easy for me to know at a glance whether an incoming task maps up to the big picture, or whether it might not be something I should take on. Every couple of weeks, I go through my task list just to be safe (called a GTD review), and make sure nothing snuck in when I wasn’t really thinking straight. I re-prioritize things, decide to postpone things indefinitely, and so on.

My big picture (the 50k foot goals) are very static – they haven’t changed in years – but the lower you get in altitude, the more the landscape changes from month to month. Having a really solid grasp on the direction I want to go helps me be more flexible when new opportunities arise. If someone presents me with an opportunity or if I get a wacko idea, I do a quick gut check: does this match up to my 50k foot goals, and will it skew the amount of time I spend on each goal? For example, I often turn down new clients that need help RIGHT FREAKIN’ NOW because if I took it on, I would spend less time with Erika and I would enjoy life less.

Having said all that, let’s look at what I checked off under some of the big-picture goals this year.

Mad Men
My SQL MCM Rotation

Be Very Financially Secure

Life threw me a curveball when Quest asked if I’d like to pursue the Microsoft Certified Master of SQL Server program. This hadn’t been part of my life’s goals, but I said hell yes because it would make me more valuable. I busted my hump studying, so saying yes to this temporarily threw my goal system way out of whack. I sacrificed some of my other goals in order to make this happen.

After I passed, life threw me another curveball when Microsoft reworked the MCM. They decided to offer it to the public without the Microsoft-based training component, which meant that I could offer MCM training myself. I looked at this as a gold mine opportunity – if I moved fast, I could write MCM training materials and make a lot more money doing training. I had absolutely zero interest in leaving Quest initially, even after I got my MCM, but the MCM program changes meant I had to think fast. Leaving Quest was tough, and leaving the security of a full-time salary job was especially tough. If I hadn’t been working on this particular GTD goal for a few years, I wouldn’t have been able to give up the salary and health insurance.

Be a Fantastic Partner for Erika

I’ve committed to Erika that I’m only going to travel one week per month on average. I struggled to keep this in 2010, and I didn’t do as well as I’d have liked when I mixed consulting and conferences. In 2011, I’ve had to say no to some really attractive events like SQLRally because I just can’t be gone all the time, and I don’t make money at those events (or SQLSaturdays). If I have only one week away per month, and I have to decide between making money at a client or losing money at an event, I gotta take care of business. (See the first GTD goal.)

Erika’s wanted new furniture for a while, so we refurnished the whole house this year. The last bits and pieces, a pair of mirrored nightstands, arrive Friday 12/31.

I did other stuff but I’m not posting that here. Mostly involved a turkey baster, a clown suit, and a videocamera.

I'm On a Boat!
SQLCruise 2010 Leaving Miami

Enjoy Life While I Can

This one suffered a lot during my efforts to pass the MCM program and start consulting, but I managed to sneak a few boo-yahs in.

I never would have predicted that Tim Ford and I would have launched SQLCruise. It came out of nowhere – I was so sick and tired of Seattle in the winter (seriously, PASS, what the hell are you thinking?) and was desperate to go somewhere fun at the right time of year and talk SQL Server. This was one of my most fun weeks of the year.

I’ve always wanted to learn more about photography, and this year I finally broke down and bought an interchangeable-lens camera, a couple of books, and subscribed to photography magazines. I’m slowly upping my game here, and I really enjoy this as a hobby.

Be a Good Son and Brother

Mmmm, salmon
Watching Bears in Alaska

By chance, I found out Dad had always wanted to go to Alaska, so I surprised Dad & Caryl (my stepmom) with their first cruise – an Alaska one out of Seattle. We had a wonderful time, saw bears and eagles and whales, oh my.

I took Mom on her first cruise this year, a 5-day one out of Miami. She had a blast (just like I hoped she would), and in 2011 I’m taking her on another cruise for her birthday.

Again this year, I made a point of telling my parents in person how much I love them, and how thankful I am for how they raised me. I’ve learned that I need to do that every single year because I learn something new every year. This year, I found out my mom feels guilty for spanking me. No, Mom, that was not a bad thing, and yes, I deserved it, and it make me a better grown-up. (I’m a big believer in spanking, although it’s easy for me to say in public because I don’t have any kids. Your kids, though, they need a swift slap across the bottom. Especially you, the lady in Oysy the other night. For crying out loud, if you can’t control your damn kids, take them to Chuck E Cheese, not a sushi restaurant. You’re not doing any of us any favors, including your kids.)

I sucked as a brother this year. My sister and her husband are hilarious, and I gotta hang out more with them.


Looking up at this list, almost none of it was predictable on 1/1/2010. I’ve done annual goals in the past and been nothing but disappointed because life changed my plans along the way. Life kept throwing me curveballs, but because of my GTD 50k foot goals, I was able to knock some of ’em out of the park.

I do have some things at the top of my to-do list at the moment that I’ll share, though:

  • Build more training material – I’m taking my game up a notch and writing sessions that really make me proud. This maps up to my financial security goal.
  • Get a maid – Paul & Kim have a personal assistant, and seeing her in action, I was sold. I talked Erika into letting us get a cleaning service in for starters. This maps up to me being a better partner, plus enjoying life.
  • Improve my accounting – I’ve been using a web-based accounting package, and I’m switching to Quickbooks. I hate accounting, but as an entrepreneur, you gotta do what you gotta do. Also maps up to my financial security goal.
  • Start podcasting – I’m working on a new way to share my interests with you in an easier, more enjoyable way, and that maps up to me enjoying life and financial security. Stay tuned!

To learn more about GTD, check out how I use 50,000 foot goals.

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21 Comments. Leave new

  • Quick tip – Find a cleaning service that doesn’t mind you working alongside with them when you want.

  • This was helpful, thanks for sharing.

  • Brent I really like your 50,000 foot goals. Reading them makes me wonder two things about my own 50,000 foot goals. One, my 50,000 foot goals might be too detailed. For example instead of Be Very Financially Secure I have Generate 1 Million dollars annually. Second, maybe I should publically display my 50,000 foot goals. I will have to put more thought into doing that. Maybe we can chat about this sometime?

  • I like your summary paragraph best, because I just posted the results of my annual goals and I think I only made 4 out of 10. That’s definitely disappointing, but if I review what I DID do in 2010 the year looks a lot better. I need ti write that post now.

    I do need to decide what my 50000 foot goals are. I’ve always kind of flown by the seat of my pants, but have been challenged, especially in the last year to have plan or vision that I’m working toward. I just need to find it.

  • Get a maid – Great idea. With the new furniture you can keep it “good as new”.

    Improve my accounting – Yea, but a but like above, outsource the stuff you can afford to let experts do properly. Get a TRUSTED accountant / financial advisor. In uncertain times, s/he will be able to help you weigh up the risk/reward on some of the activities you do, and let you concentrate on the added value. Avoid anything more complicated than a simple home budget.

    …and wait until you have your own kids. You will then understand the conflict and guilt your parents when they had to smack you. Naughty boy!

  • [..] I’ve been using a web-based accounting package, and I’m switching to Quickbooks [..]

    I’m curious as to why you’re going from the cloud to a client based package. I’m thinking of going the other way and I’m interested to hear your thoughts.


    • Craig – good question. I haven’t found a web-based accounting package that meets all of my needs. I would much rather stick with the cloud, but I just haven’t found a provider that can match Quickbooks’ abilities, and the monthly fees for the good web-based accounting packages end up being higher than Quickbooks’ cost.

  • “Be a good Catholic.”

    Glad I’m not the only one.

    Thanks for inspiring me for my own goals for 2011.

  • Yeah, quite a few people share your views on spanking until they have to deal with an unwieldy, out-of-control child or a temperamental teen. I think adults often forget that, in general, children and young adults are focused on the same goals we adults are: getting their needs met. Violence, and if we’re being honest spanking is really violence, is sometimes easier than reason but it doesn’t really accomplish the desired goal in my opinion primarily because it models frustration and acting out as an OK way of dealing with stress.

    Another thing adults either conveniently forget or never really consider is that children don’t have the benefit of the logical thinking and impulse control that a fully developed prefrontal cortex affords their adult counterparts. They just flat out don’t have the same cognitive capabilities that we adults have. That little tidbit is an inconvenient truth that no amount of violence will change.

    • Will – I’m a little confused. It sounds like your arguments are actually *pro*-spanking. You noted that kids focusing on getting their needs met and having less cognitive capabilities – that’s exactly why spanking gets the message through.

      • In my experience as a father of 3 ranging in age from 9-16 (yeah I played the parental experience card….) what spanking tends to relay is that the adult is stronger and has more control over whatever situation confronts them. Moreover, spanking tends to model an undesirable way of dealing with stress and problems. It’s like saying that since reason didn’t work I’ll resort to physical measures that hurt. Please keep in mind that the “reason” I’m talking about must be age appropriate. It’s easier to have a dialog with an older child than a younger one. With younger kids the reason is mainly on the adult side and consists in the creative ways used to manage the problem. As a parent/adult I try to find crafty ways of getting my experience in certain matters across to my kids. I’m not always successful and I must admit that I sometimes yell, but I never hit.

        Also there’s a difference between doing what you need to do to have your needs met and understanding the implications of the method(s) you use to achieve those ends. A tired kid acting out in a restaurant is saying “I’m not enjoying being here confined with no end in sight. Please take me home.” What is achieved by hitting the child in this instance? What do they understand? Who are you trying to appease by this behavior?

        • Will – just so we’re clear, you’re saying that a tactic you’ve never used doesn’t work? Hmmm.

          And for the record, no, I certainly wouldn’t spank a kid for acting out in a restaurant. We both agree on that.

          • It wasn’t clear from my response that I have spanked and have learned it doesn’t work as intended, at least with my kids. When I said never I meant that I’m reformed.

            For what it’s worth there are many things I’ve never done that I have a reasonable expectation of knowing I could accomplish one way or another, so that argument is somewhat suspect 🙂

            I used the restaurant example because it was convenient, especially since you mentioned that yourself in the next sentence in your blog post.

        • I’m gonna have to support Will on this.
          From experience (2 of them, 6.5 and 3.75 years old) I can say that kids really know how to get on your nerves better than anyone else. But spanking is usually not the solution. What we do when they’ve crossed the border is put them in another room, if needed with the door locked. After telling them that what they did isn’t acceptable. When they’ve cooled down, we let them out and again remind them why they were put there. Seems to work fine.
          (My wife is an orthopedagogue specialized in kids/adults with learning difficulties and/or mental limitations. As she’s got a masters degree in it, I guess she knows what she’s talking about :-))

          And yelling, well, I don’t think there’s any parent around who hasn’t yelled at their kids in the heat of the fire.

          As for the restaurant example: if parents take their tired kids to a restaurant (worst time of week is Friday evening), they know in advance what will happen. Every normal kid will grow tired of the situation really quickly (like 2 minutes after they finish their food, or even before they start eating if it’s a long wait) and the only solution is to take them home. This is an example of where the parents are at fault, not the kids.

          On the other hand, if it’s Saturday noon and the kids are really uncontrollable (throwing around food at other customers, yelling at each other, or whatever is unacceptable at that point – taking the age and their “normal” behaviour into account), then action (like putting them in a separate corner) should indeed be taken.

          • Forgot to mention: before we put them in a separate room, we count to three to give them a chance to correct their behaviour first! The more you use this strategy, the more successful it becomes!

      • (Different Will.) As a father of 4 ranging from age 0 to 9, we use spanking very rarely, as a last resort, and in a controlled way (count to 10 first – don’t just do it out of anger). While I am open to the discussion of “spanking is hitting / violence”, sometimes it is the only way to get a child’s attention on something important, such as the safety of another child or the safety of the child in question. “Honey, please listen to Daddy’s interesting discourse on why running out in the street is a poor judgment call” sometimes just doesn’t cut it.

        Also, I would point out that “yelling” and “manipulative guilt-tripping” are often less respectful and more “violent” to the child’s being than a quick swat on the backside. Control, moderation, and backed by love – these are the key in any discipline technique, physical or otherwise.

        That said, I am trying to get better at asking the questions the other Will was getting at – is there something deeper in the child’s behavior that I need to be listening to, rather than just being annoyed?

        • Before I say anything else let me just say I’m not holding myself out as some kind of saint. I’ve spanked and yelled and I’m not proud of it. I’m evolving as a parent and hopefully getting better at it as I go…

          The “appeal to safety” is an interesting justification for spanking that I feel falls flat in the end for a few reasons. The most obvious to me is it doesn’t remove the danger. It is the parent’s responsibility to do this and often requires s/he doing the logical reasoning that the kid can’t. If the kid is in a position where running out in the street is an option perhaps s/he isn’t under close enough supervision.

          Also I’ve observed that kids get distracted and end up in potentially dangerous situations without regard to reason. What is the purpose of spanking in this case? If the kid is distracted enough by the shiny toy across the street to run into traffic does anyone really think s/he will stop to remember the parental consequence meted out the last time this happened? If the parent is frustrated and frightened by the incident and spanks what message does the kid receive?

          I agree that any discipline must be done in a consistent way from a place of love and respect for the kid as you’ve mentioned. In my experience prevention and redirection are invaluable tools in these matters.

          There’s also no substitute for experience and kids learn from natural consequences. Of course there’s a big difference between touching a hot stove and pulling down a pot of boiling water on yourself. That’s why all pots of boiling water go on the back burner with the handles turned in (a parental choice/responsibility).

          The “…something deeper in the child’s behavior that I need to be listening to…” is the same thing you should expect of others as they approach you. A genuine attempt at understanding what motivates the behavior at any instant and a measured and thoughtful response to that behavior. If you don’t have that understanding you’ll almost certainly respond inappropriately in almost any situation.

          • A thoughtful and well toned response. I’m glad civil dialogue about sensitive topics is not actually dead.

            I’m going to try to absorb some of your wisdom here as someone who has gone ahead and has some regrets. I understand regret from using overly harsh methods – we tried a rigid eating/sleeping schedule with our first child which was a disaster, and with our other children are much more in tune with just going with the natural rhythms (cluster nursing in the evening, etc.).

            But I’ll note that you are really beyond the spanking years with your kids and I’m right in the thick of it. I’m actively looking for what works. My second child today is “obeying well”, stays near the van when we are all getting out, is helpful when needed, etc. vs. the previous behavior of being unhelpful, unresponsive, and dangerously careless. This “behavior modification” was partly assisted by a controlled, specific spanking, and by a lot of other incidents regarding “choices” that we present.

            And by the way, when I say we “rarely” use spanking, I really mean it. I will be surprised if any of our kids get more than 5 or 10 in the course of their childhood. I can only remember getting 1 as a child, and it wasn’t “terrible”. If it’s someone’s goto method, then yeah, maybe they need to checkout “Parenting with Love and Logic” or something. But to say it’s never appropriate? I prefer conversations based on reason and respect, but at the point that your kids figure out that they can just out-whine or ignore you, sometimes you have to draw a line. The line may start with the dreaded “because I said so” for a few conversations, but if even that stops working, then what? You might try taking away toys as part of a “choice game”. And if that stops working, you might decide it’s time to make just make the point and remind the child that, loving as the relationship may be, you are the parent and they are the child. A swat makes that point pretty well.

            So what I would love to hear now would be “X also makes that point pretty well. Try X next time.” I’m genuinely open.

  • Poor Brent probably never thought there would be this much discussion from his spanking comment! I think he was trying to be honest and display a bit of cheeky humor as he’s wont to do 🙂 Your mention of the methods you employed (eating/sleeping) with child #1 made me recall a similar issue we had with the same child in our group. As it turned out he had a developmental issue that caused the greatest part of the challenges we were experiencing at the time. Oh how hindsight is 20/20!

    I think there’s always an alternative to spanking. There are so many situations that are out of our control in regular life. Can you imagine what it would be like if adults routinely made their points to each other by hitting? No one would tolerate that. Why do we do it with kids? Conversations based upon reason and respect must be age appropriate and are sometimes hard to have. I’ve found that I need to be really patient and try different methods. Sometimes that method is to not say anything. Ok…if you want to have this little meltdown here in the cereal aisle I’ll just wait for you to finish. I don’t really care what all of these onlookers think anyway. Surely they must have something better to do than watch you cry and judge me…

    While it is true enough that my kids are past the spanking age and the issues we deal with are different, there is an element that threads through it all. That is how we deal with the challenge of getting often unwilling people who are sometimes incapable of understanding why we want something done to, in the end, do it. For us running out in the street has morphed into “You really said that on Facebook? OMG!?!?!?!?”

    Looking back on that period when my kids were “spankable” and I did that or yelled I’m struck by what was happening at the time for me. I was either frustrated or frightened or feeling like they were getting the upper hand or plain upset because my grand plan (read: schedule) was rendered moot. During my “best” reactions the common thing was a willingness to flow with what the situation was giving me. For me that was and is still the key. You often hear coaches say they take what the defense gives them. I think parenthood is much the same at times.

    I feared that my kids would pick up on my attempts to redirect them or to accommodate them and interpret these overtures as a weakness to be exploited. These fears were baseless because my experience shows me that my kids are better at arbitration now and I think that’s a result of how I dealt with these situations (most of the time 🙂 ). They don’t always display this behavior to me but I see it in dealings with their friends, and to be fair to them they’re getting better at it with my wife and I, too.

    In my opinion you have to meet kids where they are. I can’t offer specific solutions and it may sound corny but the best advice I can give is to open yourself up to the possibilities the universe provides you in any instant. That for me is a VERY powerful tool because I know in my heart that the correct path is there for me to see if only I can be quiet and clear enough to see it. For me everything flows out of the sincere belief that kids are little people and that it is my responsibility to work exhaustively to meet them as whole people at their level. I’m not a patient person at all so I have to work really hard at this.

  • Hey Brent,

    Found this post on a good search for David Allen and 50k. I’m in the process of honing my own 50k goals. It’s helpful to see what other people have for their horizons.

  • Just stumbled upon this article. I LOVE that people totally missed the point and hankered down on spankings debate… people be dumb.


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