Using Evaluation Theory to Help You Set Your New Year’s Resolutions

“New year, new you”, so the popular saying goes.

However negatively this mantra tends to be received, especially online, I am here for it because for me, I have a pretty good track record of making it work.

I’m always looking for ways to get better at setting and achieving my goals.  Recently, it occurred to me that I could look to my working life to inform how I perceive what I do in my free time.

I realized that my personal interest in New Year’s resolutions and general goal-setting could be framed in accordance with my professional interest and practice in program evaluation.

(It also occurred to me that some people set very poor goals and resolutions for themselves, but that is a topic for another blog post.)

No New Year’s resolution is ever achieved without a clear strategy for seeing it through to completion.

Last year, my strategy involved a quarterly assessment of my resolution progress to date.  This was valuable in helping me figure out how to course-correct—or maintain—as necessary as the year wore on.  I will definitely employ this strategy again this year.

But this year I’m adjusting my strategy to also be useful in the moment, rather than just in the near-future for each quarter.  Because when I think about the coming year as a whole, and where I want to be at the end of it, I realize that large, sweeping resolutions lack the necessary precision to truly get me where I’m trying to go.

Which is where the connection to program evaluation comes in.

Indicative of success

In evaluation, you have evaluation questions, which are broad headings of inquiry for the specific impacts you’re trying to assess.  Sometimes these questions seek to assess things that are intangible or otherwise difficult to measure numerically, for example a test group’s increase in self-esteem.

Underneath the evaluation questions you have indicators.  As the name suggests, these are proxies that provide answers to the evaluation questions.

An indicator of self-esteem might be a test subject’s ability to list their positive qualities where previously they could not.  Indicators are specific, measurable, and perceptible.

In looking at the totality of what I want to accomplish this year—some of which are failed holdovers from last year—I made two key observations:

  1. I want to do a lot of things, and
  2. They all fall within discernible categories.

These categories, although not properly questions, put me in mind of evaluation questions. They could be considered my overall New Year’s resolutions for 2019, and include the following:

  1. Become a better writer
  2. Improve my non-writing life
  3. Keep track of my achievements for the year

(I couldn’t phrase #3 as something to “improve” because I’ve four times prior failed to even achieve it.)

Getting down to a more granular level, I’m able to list a number of specific tasks (indicators) for each of these three resolutions.

Some of these tasks were resolutions themselves last year, but since they’ve already been started/attempted/are currently in progress, they no longer warrant singular focus.

These specific tasks include the following:

1) Become a better writer

  • Finish the current draft of my WIP
  • Read at least 18 books total
  • Read at least three writing craft books
  • Attend a writing conference
  • Conduct research into Ancient Greece in support of my next novel
  • Always be researching in general
  • Devise more of the plot for my next novel
  • Buy a new laptop
  • Create and send out at least two newsletters

2) Improve my non-writing life

  • Explore and sample potential new hobbies
  • Create/put myself into situations that allow me to meet new people
  • Spend less time at home/work in alternate locations
  • Say yes to more social invitations
  • Initiate more social events/activities

3) Keep track of my achievements for the year

  • Start journaling again and write in my journal a minimum of every second day
  • Use the “Bullet Journal” format
  • Post my accomplishments to my blog every quarter along with my resolution progress assessment

BONUS: Stretch goals

  • Attend two writing conferences
  • Pitch my WIP at a writing conference
  • Complete the outline for my next WIP
  • Write the first chapter of my next WIP
  • Read the first draft of my WIP’s sequel and make general/overall revision notes

By breaking each of my resolutions down in this way, not only will it be easier for me to see what I should be doing at any given moment, it will also makes the assessment of success or shortfall easier to track.

I’m excited to make 2019 a great year—one that is positive, productive, and most importantly, documented so that I can actually remember all I’ve done at the end of it rather than my achievements being subsumed in the mindless blur of daily life.

And now I have a plan to make it so.

What are your resolutions for 2019?  What is your strategy for seeing them through?


A/N: A reminder to my regular readers and followers that my posting schedule is now the first and last Monday of each month.

(Image source #1 and #2)

3 thoughts on “Using Evaluation Theory to Help You Set Your New Year’s Resolutions

  1. I love your organizational skills, and your energy. Setting precise goals is much more measurable, and measurement leaves the feeling of achievement behind (if it’s positive). At your time in life, it is imperative to become as efficient and focused as you can be, because you have many things you want to achieve, and wasting time gets none of them accomplished.

    I wouldn’t worry about the failed one, keeping track, though many people enjoy the bullet journal method, and knowing where their time went.

    I’ve never been one to track word count, because I write what seems like thousands of words every day, and few of them result in finished fiction, my stated goal. Even when I’m writing very well, producing fiction I am willing to put my name on is a slow and unpredictable goal. I have a process, and I follow it, but it is like a parkour course, where I hit all the stops, but how many reps I do at any before proceeding to the next is almost random.

    I think a lot of people measure word count because they aren’t planning to refine those words much: what they write will be corrected for spelling and grammar, but not for beauty. I fear too many indies are operating on that model, to put out book after book for the purpose of generating income. To be fair, it gets the stories out. I’m dismally slow at that.

    The claim is that the writing will improve just by putting out book after book; that I don’t believe. But as long as they’re selling, what does it matter? When they aren’t selling, or aren’t selling well, some people who frequent the online forums I read seem rather desperate. Not my circus, not my aerialists. I rarely complain about the quality because I can’t read those books, but others may or do. Meanwhile, any fans I may have wait and wait.

    It was a relief to get out of 2018, even though most of the problems are still not solved completely, the big move is over, and I never thought I’d get that one done. The small move – to another apartment when it’s ready with our choice – should be over within a couple of months (we picked paint yesterday!).

    And I’m writing again, with a huge slowness in getting back to where I was before I threw a hand grenade at my life.

    All I can say is try not to move too frequently. Keep doing what you’re doing – evaluating what works for you and dumping the rest. Doing it deliberately ultimately saves a lot of floundering around, wasting time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Knowing where my time went is my primary motivator for trying the Bullet Journal method. At the end of last year, my failed resolution to keep track of my accomplishments led to an overwhelming feeling of having accomplished nothing. I’ve read up on the Bullet Journal method and like its connection to mindfulness, and its simplicity. I was getting nowhere in this tracking pursuit on my own, so maybe a formalized system will help. I’m still at it two weeks in, which is supposedly a habit-forming amount of time. We’ll see.

      I don’t track word count either because I often edit as I go, especially while doing rewrites, as I currently am. Even when I’m drafting, I’m not a full-time resident in the “shitty first draft” camp. I am really big on prose and like to put a fair bit of thought into it up front. Even if I end up deleting whole sections later, I get bored with my own boring turns of phrase in the meantime. And I almost never do TKs; those are a real pain to encounter when revising historical fiction. If you made any wrong assumptions regarding historical facts, this may have taken your plot in a completely impossible, inaccurate direction. I stop to look up facts as I need them to be sure I’m always drawing the right conclusions. As well, in general, some scenes are harder to write and necessarily require more stopping to think, which makes word count useless measure of success.

      All this to say, I measure my writing progress by completed chapters, and by how many days a week I spend writing (almost always 6 of 7).

      I’m glad that you are writing again and hope it’s going well.


      • Some scenes ARE harder; the present one has something in it I haven’t written before, street violence.

        I managed the bar fight last volume; went back and read it, and found the critical part was a single sentence. This scene will be the same. The lead up is important, the violent act very short, and the direction it sends the plot in is critical.

        No pressure.

        Keep at it – I think you know what you’re aiming for.


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