Tassia Pellegrini

March 10, 2021

How I use Basecamp to organize my life

Since 2012 I started experimenting with personal goal-setting. I think that happened because I was wondering what to do with my career (go deeper on the academic route? freelance? move to another country?), and the avalanche of ideas was overwhelming. I didn't know where to start, and the most attractive options seemed out of my reach.

So I explore things that resonated with me at the time, such as SMART goals, and voilà, I had plenty now!

And shortly after I felt guilty about them too, because months would pass and I couldn't possibly accomplish or feel like I was moving on the right direction. Clearly I didn't estimate well, and went overboard.

Sounds familiar?

Then I swung the pendulum to the opposite direction: not having any goals at all. That didn't work very well because I enjoy having some sort of "plan", even though I know plans get changed as soon as they're written (actually, these changes are welcome).

So after years of playing around with many ideas, methods, and tools, I settled on a system that worked well for me: intentions instead of goals.

It's a subtle change, but it helped me set some directions — so that I don't feel completely lost — in a loose enough manner that still allows (or welcomes) plenty of spontaneity. Who am I to challenge that?

That happened when I realized that I like to write. I journal a lot. People ask me "so what do you write in your journal?" and I would be like... er... I don't know? I sit down and write? Whatever wants to be written gets written. Sometimes it's an embarrassing purge of past pain, sometimes clever jokes about everyday absurds, and recently even some sort of poetry. I don't even read poetry.

Thanks to HEY World, you're now reading the sort of stuff that comes out of my fingers every now and then.

And what does it have to do with goal-setting? In my personal experience, that's where I found the balance to say "this year is all about..." and use the rest of the time to just capture and reflect upon what happens. Since I like to write, Basecamp was the perfect tool to house it all (note: I used this system way before joining the company, so although I'm definitely biased now, take this in consideration).

I got some inspiration from a Plan Your Year course I took around 2017, and I still use some of its core ideas, but my "goal-setting" is very loose. Much of my thinking is around keeping myself in check while things happen.

This is not to say that more structured goal-setting doesn't work; for instance, SMART goals and similar techniques can be great for saving money, learning something new, getting healthier. As I said before, they helped me when I felt lost.

But after feeling trapped by the same things that helped me, I found my own balance. Your point of equilibrium will be different — and it could include no goals at all.

On my account, I have a project for 2021 (and archived ones for 2019, 2020...). In this project, I have a couple of tools (with custom names), and this is how I use them:

  • Seasons: here is where I put my intentions, without much at all. For instance, I would like to exercise and eat healthier this year. I don't have a huge plan for that, but having this as an intention helped me prioritize it (I invested in food preparation and exercising equipment since we're in lockdown). I don't have targets, but this is a nice reminder to keep me motivated. I also capture here stuff that happens every month, in a loose manner and with very short descriptions — at the end of the year I can look back and remember things in context. It's a ritual I do on the last day of the year. This is more on the "capture" idea.

  • Journaling: I journal a lot, but mostly in loose documents since these are random themes. But here, every month I go back and consolidate some of the stuff in my head, sometimes more than once. Those are longer entries, and I created some categories that they seem to fall into (but not always). This is more on the "reflect" part of it.

  • Important events: birthdays and things I know are going to happen (anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, etc.), or that I should at least have on my radar to think about (trips I would like to do, personal projects I'm interested in starting), and even stuff like festivals (remember those?). This is very simple but reminds me of things I tend to forget.

  • To-dos: there are things that I really need to do, no matter how loose I want to be — and some of them are complex, like... losing your citizenship. I'll explain that later.

  • How is it going? (automatic check-ins): these are questions asked to me every month. These are related to my intentions (health and inspiration), and they resemble journaling, but they're shorter and more "on topic". 

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Some of my journaling categories (I don't always follow them, and I don't have to, but they're surprisingly common to me):

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As I said before, I don't like to get too granular in my personal planning because that doesn't fit my mental model anymore. But there are things that we gotta do that can benefit from some preparation.

For example, this year I had to give up my Brazilian nationality. This is a 15-step process that spans months with multiple documents and complicated details. I could wing it and potentially get overwhelmed with scattered information everywhere, or I could put it there in a list and drop links and important information for each task, which was fundamental to get things done in time and correctly.

Screenshot 2021-03-10 at 16.36.42.png

For other simpler to-dos that need less granularity, I can just put a list and track them on the hill chart; it's visual, and it's enough.

I like this approach because I have pretty much everything in a single place: my schedule, my thoughts, my tasks, and I can choose the level of granularity based on the situation.

I visit this project twice a month, generally. I often create documents there to add notes from books I'm reading and ideas that may or may not become something, someday. And I like that I can just pull off my phone and mark a task as done when I'm on the move — especially those bureaucratic ones.  

So that's it, that's how I use Basecamp to organize my life, somewhat loosely. 

Do you have any routines or rituals you do, too? Let me know!