101 in 1,001

Today I read an article titled A Kinder Take on New Year’s Resolutions for 2015.  Mere minutes later, my therapist handed me a set of questions asking me to reflect on the past year and set goals for next year.  She was quick to point out that she likes the term “goals” much better than “resolutions”.


I had already planned a post about resolutions – I mean goals – and my goal involves revisiting The 101 Things in 1,001 Days Challenge.  My original end date for my original list was September 26, 2008.  Obviously a few years have passed.  I only completed 11 tasks from my original list, and had a few others in progress.  At this point I revised my list, because my life had changed drastically since creating it and many of the items were no longer relevant to my interests.

When I didn’t get very far before quitting for months, I decided to create a new list and start over.  I made plans to restart on January 27, 2008, but never actually created the list of 101 tasks.  That is my goal for 2015: to create the list.  I’m not required to make any progress on it, simply to create the list of 101 tasks.

At the time that I planned to restart my list, I did some writing about how to create a list.  Confession: the rest of this post is nearly identical to what I’d written before.  Someone needs a nap before getting up to celebrate the new year.

“How can I possibly think of 101 tasks?” you exclaim. The flexibility of having 101 spaces to fill with your own choices is great, but also quite scary. Here’s a suggested outline for giving your list a bit more structure:

  • 18 Categories X 5 Tasks
  • 9 Specific Tasks for the Past, Present, and Future
  • 2 Purchases

The first part of forming your list involves defining 18 categories of tasks that are important to you. My 18 categories are listed below as an example. It’s unlikely that anyone could directly use my set of categories since we all have a different combination of interests (my list is heavily weighted toward the arts, since my education and most hobbies are in that area), but marking out the categories that don’t interest you and then finding replacements is a good way to start.

My Categories:

  1. Education
  2. Theatre
  3. Creative Writing
  4. Photography
  5. Knitting/Crochet
  6. Music
  7. Culture
  8. Recreation
  9. Social
  10. Family
  11. Health
  12. Civic Duty
  13. Financial
  14. “Adulthood”
  15. Organization
  16. Adventure
  17. Overcoming Fears
  18. Special Skills

After you have 18 categories selected, list 5 tasks relating to each category. It may feel a bit restrictive having only 5 tasks for your current favorite activities, but this limit encourages you to think carefully about what your most important goals are and to aim for improvement in multiple areas of your life. Once this section is completed, you will have 90 tasks on your list.

The next 9 tasks on the list come from three groups known in brief as Past, Present, and Future. While you certainly aren’t required to do these exact tasks, especially if they are things that are already done in your life, I feel they’re important for everyone and you ought to consider whether you can improve upon what you’ve already done or replace the task with a different one that fits the category.

Recalling the Past

  1. Create a genealogical record for at least 4 generations of your family (yourself, parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents)
  2. Compile a scrapbook of your childhood, with pictures of yourself at each age, your close family, your friends, and your pets
  3. Start writing an autobiography (there are many great books out there with prompts to help you figure out what topics to cover)

Recording the Present

  1. Assemble a time capsule to be opened in 20 years
  2. Record your daily life in photographs for a week
  3. Start a journal (your choice as to how often is reasonable for you to write in it, although I’d suggest at least once per week)

Preparing for the Future

  1. Start a savings or investment plan
  2. Get health insurance (if you’ve got adequate insurance already, get life insurance payable to your next of kin…if you’ve got that, well, lucky you!)
  3. Write your will and advance directives

Now we’re up to 99 tasks, and the last two are fun ones. Select two significant purchases you’d like to make. These should be within your long-term budget but not things you’d make a casual decision about purchasing. Many of us would probably choose a new computer as being one of those things we’ll want in the next few years, but anything works so long as you wouldn’t just hop into a store and throw it in your shopping cart without a second thought.

No matter how you choose to structure your list, here are a few tips for selecting individual tasks:

  • Make your tasks very specific and concrete. You have to be able to measure whether a task has been accomplished or not. Don’t just write “learn to tap dance”…how will you know if what you’ve done constitutes learning enough? Instead, choose tasks such as “take a tap dance class at the community center”. Class ends, you’ve had the experience, and your task can clearly be marked as complete.
  • Make your tasks achievable. There’s a difference between challenging yourself and setting yourself up for failure. Base your tasks around your own actions, and aim for things that don’t involve reliance on the actions of others. If you want to get a poem published in a literary magazine, you can’t aim for getting published. It’s not entirely in your control. What you can and should aim for is sending a certain number of submissions to the magazines in which you’d like to be published. Then your part is done, and it’s time to let it go and focus on another task that you can do.
  • Choose tasks where you can apply the old adage “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” The fastest route to misery in this project is declaring that you will do a specific task every day for the entire 1001 days. It’s simply impossible. Forming a good habit doesn’t mean that you have to be perfect from the start, but that you can pick yourself up and start again if you slip up. Tasks that involve forming good habits are great to have on the list, but you need to limit the duration so it’s possible to accomplish them. For example, “quit drinking caffeinated beverages” is a purely evil goal to set for yourself. One little mistake and you’ll beat yourself up and probably quit trying entirely since you’ve already “failed”. Instead, try something like “Limit caffeine intake to one 20 oz. cola per week for two months”. If you don’t manage it on the first try, look how many more two-month spans are available in which to attempt it again!

The final and most important tip for success in this project is: don’t trap yourself into completing tasks if the course of your life changes. If you find out that the task you listed a month or a year ago is no longer relevant, replace it! There’s an important lesson here regarding willingness to assess a situation and make necessary changes. Making changes is what this project is all about.