What Are Your Goals for 2012?

A CD cover from my pal Dougie

This goal setting lark looks deceptively easy but is in fact pretty tough. It actually involves sitting down (that’s the easy part) and thinking (that’s the difficult part).


I found the first part of Chris Guillebeau’s Annual Review process easy enough – what went well and not so well in 2011. Chris was even kind enough to link to my post on his blog!

But as you can see, when it comes to the second part of the process, Chris focuses on a number of categories in his life, e.g. business, health, writing, travel – and then selects 3-5 measurable goals for each. He then maps out the key actions needed to achieve those goals.

Depending on how many categories you have that are important to you, that all adds up to a lot of goals, and can quickly become overwhelming.

One Big Goal

I also wrote about Leo Babauta’s book ‘The Power of Less’ this week because it suggests a slightly simpler, more manageable process, which is – just choose one goal each 6-12 months.

However whilst I admire his minimalist approach, and find it useful to an extent, most people are a bit more complex than that. We want to achieve our creative goals, but also have goals relating to health or family and can rarely just drop those whilst we completely focus on one thing.

Where I Am So Far

So I’m aiming to find a middle ground. I do have one main goal for the year – to establish a successful freelance writing business. By successful I mean that I want to be earning as much freelance by the end of 2012 as I do at my full-time job now – but I will also need to keep a strict limit on the amount of client work I do so that I have time for the creative, promotional and admin sides of the business too.

So that’s a pretty huge goal that is going to take precedence this year. I also want to develop some of my other skills to a more professional level such as video and audio production and InDesign etc so that I can offer additional services to writing in future.

Establishing Habits

I know that establishing regular habits are a key to the success of what I do, but I know from 2011’s morning routine fail that this is not something that comes easy to me. Therefore I’m going to stick to Leo’s suggestion to focus on one new, positive habit per month, and in January I’m going to follow the advice of Sarah J. Bray’s 90 Minute Workday post. If I have that habit in place for when I go full-time freelance on Feb 3rd I think it’ll be a great start.

I am still working on some goals for the other categories in my life as Chris suggests, but I’m still in the early stages of deciding what these are and I expect they will evolve over the next couple of months.  I particularly want to work on improving my fitness this year, so in January I’m also going to avoid drinking for the most part which should free up time, energy and cash and enable me to really focus on what’s important.

What About You?

I think that’s enough goal-setting for now. I wanted to share how I’m getting on with this as I know a lot of people will be thinking about this kind of thing right now  so I hope it was useful – and I’d love to hear what your main goals are for 2012 in the comments!


Clear-Minded Classic #7: The Power of Less by Leo Babauta

I’ve been intending to re-read this for quite some time, and as part of my Annual Review I’m currently working out my goals for next year (one of which is to ensure I get more creative work done without getting overwhelmed) so thought it was good timing to also write a wee review for the ‘Clear-Minded Classics’ series.

The Power of Less was written by Leo Babauta who writes the hugely popular blog Zen Habits. I enjoy Leo’s writing on his blog but have to admit the first time I read the book I was a bit disappointed. It seemed almost *too* simplistic. Surely much of this advice was common sense?

However in hindsight I realised this kind of information needs to be written as simply as possible, and there’s no doubt that Leo practices what he preaches when it comes to both the way he lives his life and the way he writes. The fact is, we action so little of what we read, or learn, that the best writing needs to be extremely simple if we are to remember and action it.

On my second reading, my main concern was that it was impossible for me, as someone with loads of different interests,  to achieve the level of simplicity that Leo suggests in terms of cutting down my goals/projects/commitments. There’s no doubt that for anyone with a full-time job where it’s difficult to be in control of what projects you’re tasked with, it can be tricky to follow his advice to the letter – but there’s still a lot of advice that’s worth following.

And because taking too much on/trying to do too much last year led to complete overwhelm for me, I thought it would be good to be a bit stricter with myself and actually follow his advice this year.


Clear-Minded Creative Annual Review 2011

Season's Greetings from CMC!

I like Chris Guillebeau’s approach to the ‘annual review’, where he takes stock of the year that’s about to come to a close and begins planning for the new one.

So as many other bloggers are doing, I’m following Chris’ lead with a quick attempt to sum up what went well and not so well this year for me. If you’d like to share your own answer to these two questions please do so in the comments, or post a link to your blog if you’ve already written a similar post.

What Went Well (in vaguely chronological order)

Blog launch

The launch of this blog in January was a huge success for me in terms of positive feedback and engagement, with lots of people obviously relating to the name and subject matter. I was delighted with the response to the Four for Feb Challenge and Share Your Wares Sunday in the first few months of the year.

I’ve also been in contact with and got to know some amazing new people through it, mostly online but in some cases I’ve been able to meet them offline too. The blog was even named one of Scotland’s best websites by The List Magazine and featured on the Guardian’s website and Creative Boom.


In terms of freelancing things got off to an excellent start in February (following my decision to cut my hours to 4 days a week) with a regular gig at LEWIS, whose gorgeous new website is now live and features quite a bit of my writing (in particular the ‘About us’ and ‘Work sections’). I also had a few other jobs on throughout the year which has given me a confidence boost in terms of being able to make a go of freelancing full-time.


Photo by Marc Millar

Our wedding in May was also a huge success – we had such a fun day and everyone else seemed to as well. It was great having our friends and family together, and taking them out on a boat to an island for the ceremony, then coming back for decent food and a dance to what I still think is one of the best playlists I’ve heard at any wedding – but then again I chose most of the tracks :). This year was a good year socially in general, I felt like as a couple we have been more outgoing than normal which is good because we have had a tendency to be quite introverted in the past.


In this slightly disturbing picture, my face looms large in the classroom, which must have been disturbing for the students!

I had the unusual experience of speaking to a small class of extremely smart students from Washington College in Chesterfield, Maryland, for a course that provided an introduction to online entrepreneurship and blogging. It was all made possible by Google + Hangouts, I guess it could just as easily been over Skype as well. The fact I could have this experience due to the wonders of modern technology was amazing. I found it really enjoyable and again it was a big boost to my confidence (thanks to Mike!).

And of course I finally took the decision to leave the civil service after 10 years and go full-time freelance. I was lucky enough to be accepted for a ‘voluntary exit’ scheme meaning if all goes to plan I should get a lump sum which will give me a temporary financial cushion whilst I build up my copywriting business to the level that it can support me.

Radio show

The year was topped off nicely when I was invited to join a couple of friends to co-present a radio show on the local student radio station. It is pretty self-indulgent but has been lot of fun and just what I needed after a difficult few months (see ‘what didn’t go so well, below!).

List Awards

I was also invited to be on the judging panel for The List Awards, which is a new award recognising creativity in Scotland. Other members of the panel included a Turner Prize judge and a BBC producer! I also got to attend a fancy do at the National Portrait Gallery of Scotland (more on the awards in a later post).

We Adopted


Oh yeah, and we adopted a cat! She is still a nervous wee thing and definitely prefers Mel more than me (well she does feed her most of the time), but she is gradually settling in and it will be nice to have her with us over the festive period :)

What Didn’t Go So Well


In retrospect, trying to both set up a successful blog and a side business in the year I got married was pretty foolhardy. Obviously the business took off a little quicker than I’d expected, and I had to prioritise that if I was going to achieve my goal of leaving my full time job.

So I was unable to stick to my initial aim to post here twice a week and send a weekly email (didn’t even come close!). I got pretty overwhelmed in fact with everything that was going on and after the wedding there was a definite sense of anti-climax as we found ourselves back to ‘reality’ after all the build up and then the excitement of the day itself. I found things tough at work and struggled to cope at times.


I’ve neglected my health, not managing either the 10k or 5k runs I planned to do or going to the gym – plus drinking too much (and therefore being hungover and not feeling like going to the gym!). I really want to get rid of this damn beer belly in 2012.

Reading when I should be writing

One of my other main failings this year has also been reading too much and not writing enough. I had hoped to publish my first manifesto before the end of the year but haven’t managed this as it was a tougher job than I expected to decide what to include and how to structure it. But it is coming soon, honest!

It’s not like I couldn’t have done it if I’d been a bit more organised and spent less time reading online. I have far too many feeds in my Google Reader not to mention Twitter and Facebook etc. So I need to make this more manageable.

Whilst services like Summify can help, I still can’t escape the feeling I’m missing something unless I at least have a scan through all my incoming sources. In the end though, it’s stopping me writing and being more productive as well as exercising to some extent and something has to change.


So.. in balance this has been a transitional year for me, and therefore though difficult, I’m in a great position going forward.  I’ve got married, got regular freelance work and quit my job, all of which are pretty amazing achievements for me as I feel I’ve gone a long way to overcoming my lack of confidence in my own abilities that has held me back so many times in the past.

And I’m still very proud of this blog and the fact that I’ve had quite a few people tell me the content has helped them over the course of the year. I’m just disappointed that I haven’t been able to devote as much time to it as I’d hoped, and I’m wondering how I can simplify my life to allow me to achieve what I want and keep putting good content out without becoming overwhelmed again in future.

Chris explains his full annual review process here in case you want to join in – and please do share what you got up to this year in the comments, especially if there’s a creative achievement that you’re particularly proud of!


Choose Your Story Wisely

Whether you’re a photographer, an artist, a journalist or a dancer, there is a common thread running through your creative work – storytelling.

Some of us are better than others at a particular medium and choose to tell our stories in one specific format, e.g. music, words or film.

Others, those with multiple interests, who have been described as ‘Renaissance Souls’, choose the medium depending on what best suits the story they want to tell.

If we are to be clear-minded creatives, we need to be aware that everything we put out into the world is telling a story about us and what we stand for. Especially now that so much of our lives appear online (and in many cases is recorded there permanently).

If we put out confused messages about who we are, then we can expect only confusion back from those we come into contact with (I’m working on this, myself).

Each creative work we produce will tell its own, compact story, but will also be a chapter in the story that is our overall body of work.

If we can consistently create meaningful work, we will leave a legacy behind and it will have its own tale to tell.

What story do you want to share with the world?

Related reading: The deeper root by Pam Slim

This is an extract from the forthcoming manifesto: Refresh Your Mindset, by Milo McLaughlin. To be notified of when it will be available, sign up to the newsletter.

Inspiration Supercharged


This is a guest post by Clear-Minded Creative Type Fabian Kruse of The Friendly Anarchist. All the photos featured are also his handywork.

Travelling through several countries on two different continents, living in eight different cities (and one island), switching apartments every couple of weeks and visiting dozens of parks, sights and landmarks nearby doesn’t sound like the ideal way to get creative work done.

To be honest, it probably isn’t. And still, while doing this over the course of this year, two books got somehow written.

Here’s the thing: Even though learning to be productive anywhere was quite a challenge for me, getting input and inspiration on the way – from the South American Andes to the Austrian Alps, from Caribbean beaches to Berlin’s club culture – was what fuelled my work more than anything else.

If you are a creative type and thinking about travelling the world to find inspiration, here’s my personal plea for you to get your suitcase packed and your ticket booked!

It’s also a plea for a different kind of travel, a plea for diving into local culture and moving off the beaten track. The right mix of connecting and disconnecting, getting lost and finding input, constant creation and conscious moments of leisure is what will provide you with plenty of fertile grounds for your creative endeavours.


1) Connect, Connect, Connect

When moving to a new city, the easiest way to get a feeling for the place is to connect with as many locals as possible.

Ask for their recommendations, and make sure to state you’re interested in things that go beyond the usual tourist spots: Which are the up and coming districts? Where does the alternative culture thrive? What about local events that are generally ignored by tourists?

If you’re shy or don’t speak the language, simply take some time to observe: Which are the places crowded by natives rather than tourists? Which medium of transport do they prefer, how do they deal with each other, which kind of food do they eat?

I had some of the best and most inspiring travel moments when attending champeta parties in the barrios of Cartagena, drinking draft beer in the shady bars around San Salvador’s central market, or trying to find the best ajiaco soups in the suburbs of Bogotá. I wouldn’t have experienced any of those places if I hadn’t connected with locals who invited me to accompany them.

2) Then: Disconnect

Disconnection is the second major element of being creative on the road for me. While it’s admittedly not good for blog traffic and social media presence, I have noticed that fully immersing myself in a new place will skyrocket my creativity.

This means: Ignore email for a while, close your Twitter client, even leave your laptop and cellphone at home and just start to walk around, being totally in the here and now. It’s hard to get a feeling for the area if you’re looking at a screen all the time!

Pieces of Vienna 9

3) Getting Lost: The Anti-Guidebook

Sure, you wouldn’t want to visit Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower, but if you’re up for taking inspiration to a new level, don’t just stop there. Move beyond the photographic highlights and the recommended restaurants, even if time is short.

The easiest way to do this: Walk around your destination until you don’t have any idea where you are. Then, find your way back. Taxis are not allowed, unless you really are drifting.

Of course, this advice is to be taken with a grain of salt when you’re travelling in dangerous areas, but even cities like Medellín in Colombia provide plenty of opportunities to get lost without risking to get mugged on your way.

4) Rip, Mix, Burn

We’re living in a remix culture in a remix world. I believe that everything you see and experience on your travels will be reflected in your creative work in one form or the other, anyway – so why not embrace it consciously and create the craziest remixes you can make up?

Cross traditional indigenous music with punk rock from back home, mix Indonesian shadow puppet theatre with early Austrian expressionism, combine magic realism and gonzo journalism.

Even if you end up doing this just for your personal amusement, it will be a relieving practice that will impact your approach to creative work. Bonus tip: If you’re interested in “meta remixes”, be sure to check out the immigrant quarters of the city you’re at: The amicable “clash of cultures” (like the meeting of Austrian and Balkan traditions in Vienna’s 16th district) will baffle your expectations and make your creativity thrive and prosper.

Die Prozess

5) Your Travel Journal

Don’t just collect your receipts, photos and memories from the trip, do something with them! The classical format of this is a travel journal. But as this stuff tends to backlog quickly, experiment with keeping the journal regularly and in real-time, even when on the move.

You won’t have more time later, anyway – and if you need to get some photo prints done or copies made, you can do this in most cities in the world nowadays. The results might look a bit less polished than a journal created back at home, but the real-time process can trigger a lot of creative energy for your other projects.

6) The (Playful) Do Habit

There are many challenges when it comes to being creative on the road, but the principal one is the same as always: You have to do stuff in order to get stuff done! Trite but true – you have to get going in order to make some progress with your creative work! For me, the thing that tends to hold me back me the most is an exaggerated perfectionism and an all too serious approach to creativity. Thankfully, there’s an easy remedy: Be playful! The only thing that matters is to keep moving, to keep creating, to keep doing. Circumstances will never be perfect, but despite of that, taking small but real steps towards your magnum opus is the only thing you can do to make headway.

7)In Defense of Idleness

Adopting a do habit has a flipside, of course! While some people seem to thrive on crammed agendas and stressful lifestyles, I believe that most of us actually benefit from regularly enjoying some hours of idleness!

The reason for this is simple: Idleness gives your brain time to process all the input you permanently receive. It will lead to new connections, new insights, and new ideas. This is of course even more important if you are permanently traveling and exploring.

The things you see and experience will have an impact on you, and it could be helpful to give yourself the proverbial headspace to deal with them. And let’s be honest: Not only will your creativity benefit from some leisurely hours here and there. In a world of total work, doing nothing for a little while can simply be a delightful act of rebellion.

Amazonia - Be Prepared

Wow, he has got around a bit hasn’t he? 

Fabian’s new book Productive Anywhere is available now, and features great advice on travelling and getting things done as well as great interviews and other bonus info.

To get a free taster you can listen to or download a transcript of his interview with Chris Guillebeau,  who currently runs a hugely successful online business whilst being well on his way to completing his mission of travelling to every country in the world by the age of 35. So yeah, probably worth a listen.

Disclaimer: I will get a cut of the profits if you follow my link to Fabian’s book and buy it, but the cost to you remains the same. Then once I’m filthy rich from I can travel all around the world like Fabian does, drinking the spoils away in a variety of Caribbean beach hut bars.