Each goal is wish that you have clarified and are committed to making real in this world. Each goal can be a doorway to the future. The next part of the work is finding or creating the doorway by creating your plan.
Once you have goals
Before you begin planning, review your list of goals to ensure each one is:
- Stated in terms of what you want (not what you don’t want)
- Stated in present tense
- Stated to include what you will experience (see/hear/feel) when you achieve it.
- Stated to include the evidence that you have achieved it
Most of the time my goal list, the one I print out and paste in the back of my agenda, and in my journal; the one I look at every day and each week when I do my journal entry for the week, is more of a point form reminder and doesn’t have the detail I need to create a plan. It’s like the title. The plan provides chapter headings, and weekly and daily actions provide the substance of the story.
Pick one goal to work with first
Choose the goal that relates to your focus for this year; the one that will have the most impact. Sometimes the focus is a role, sometimes a feeling, sometimes an area of your life such as livelihood or relationships. Here’s how I’ve built a plan for my focus area, creativity, and my focus role, writer. Once you’ve done one goal, do the others in order of priority.
My Core Desired Feeling in the area of Creativity is Joyful. Underneath there are three goals:
- Finish the first draft of the novel
- Write 52 Blog posts
- Play with paints, collage, fabric
After my review I restated them:
- First draft of novel 80-100K words completed; excited to begin revisions
- Post each week is beautiful, edgy(for me), useful(for readers), and is shared
- Journal weekly using paint, collage, visual play in weekly summaries
The goal and resources
The next step is understanding how I can use my resources (time, money, network) to achieve the goal.
The productivity software I used to use came with my first laptop computer—a program based on Stephen Covey’s First Things First, an older book with a ton of good ideas in it. In both the software and the book, Covey used the analogy of filling a jar with sand and rocks. If you fill the jar with the sand first and then try to put in the rocks you won’t manage it, but if you put the rocks in first and then pour in the sand you can fit them all into the jar. He tells you to put your most important life commitments in first and then let the sand of all the other commitments fill up the space that’s left. It is great advice, and I’ve used it for years.
It works when I am self-disciplined enough to do it. Part of the challenge for me is determining what’s a big rock, what’s sand, and then there’s the dilemma of recognizing when I see someone else’s big rock (or sand) as mine.
Big rocks are your most important tasks. How do you figure out what’s important? Another tool from First Things First has been a big help. Four Quadrant Thinking. Divide a square into four boxes, and label as follows:
- Q1 Urgent & Important, top row left
- Q2 Not Urgent & Important, top row right
- Q3 Urgent, Not Important, bottom row left
- Q4 Not Urgent, Not Important, bottom row right
Then take your list of things to do (action items from goal planning and other items from your list) and sort tasks into the appropriate box. Most of us start with a pile of things in Q1, not so much in Q2 and a bunch of stuff in Q3 and Q4. To be productive and less reactive, you want to carve out more time for Q2 items like planning, creating, editing, researching, learning, and key action steps for your goals. This is what moves you forward and begins to make more space. Your urgent and important list, often firefighting, begins to disappear as the the results of planning and more long-term thinking are felt.
The other gem that’s stayed with me and helped me work in a way that’s congruent with my values and feelings, is recognizing that:
What you do every day is your life. What you do every day, whether or not you are aware of it, whether or not you intend it, becomes your life.
Staying aware of what you do every day, even just logging it and seeing where the time goes, can be sobering. Logging has been helpful for my writing. Last year I kept track of what I wrote each day, and though my intention was to write some on the novel everyday, there were too many days when I only wrote Morning Pages (thank goodness for Morning Pages).
The first chapter in Priscilla Long’s book The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life is called Daily Writing. It begins like this:
Writing every day is the key to becoming a writer. It is the only secret, the only trick. Don’t despise the fifteen-minute write. Don’t despise writing in your journal. Don’t despise writing down your complaints for fifteen minutes before going to work. Any writing counts.
Taking heart from this advice, I am honouring my Morning Pages, the other writing I have done, and recommitting to writing more than Morning Pages every day.
The the discipline of daily practice is good for those with writing goals and for meditators, musicians, fitness enthusiasts, and a host of others whose goals benefit from daily work.
Creating the plan: begin with the end in mind
Another Covey quote
Begin with the end in mind,
has become an operating principle. It’s habit 2 from Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The first step in creating the plan is creating a more specific and concrete vision of what it will be like when the goal is achieved.
- How will I feel?
- How will I celebrate?
- What will I see, hear or notice?
Goal: First draft of novel 80-100K words completed; excited to begin revisions
As soon as I include how I want to feel I realize that I need to pace myself and build energy toward the end of the process so I’ll be eager to begin revising. This tells me more about how to approach writing the first draft differently. I think I’ve been allowing myself to revise too much along the way. Time to just get it down!
- When I’ve completed those 80-100K words I feel like I just finished a delicious appetizer and am hungry for the main course of revision.
- I am going to celebrate with a dinner out and a five-day holiday on work on the novel (to create some space before I begin revising).
- I see a double-spaced hard copy ready for a first read through beginning to end, and a fresh pad of lined paper ready to take notes. I have a red pen and a yellow highlighter handy and a pad of 3 x 3 sticky notes.I notice how real the novel feels and how much actual space it takes.
I’ve got a big smile on my face just writing this description, so I’ll be ready to dance and shout when it’s really there.
Creating the plan: consider the context
The goal lives in a context of
- forces that support achievement
- forces that oppose achievement
- the current status of the goal, and
- other commitments.
If you understand the context you’ll have a better chance of making a plan that will help you achieve your goal.
- Feelings: I want to feel joy at having brought it to completion and energized by the story being ready for work.
- Values: I want to complete the first draft having learned more about writing, and I want to have created something of beauty and meaning, something that speaks to my community, something that explores the importance of kindness, and something that demonstrates the importance of presence.
- Forces that oppose or hinder the goal: self-doubt, lack of focus, not being in the world of the novel enough to stay attuned to it, fear of the dark parts, pushing instead of discovering.
- Forces that support the goal: life-long desire to write, clarity of the dream that launched the story, daily writing, appropriate breaks, connection to other writers, attunement to my soul’s longing to see it finished, just enough reading about craft and practice, right effort.
- Current status: 35,000 words of first draft done, approximately 65K to go, 5500 words per month, 1300 week per week.
Breaking it down makes it feels much more manageable. Hey, I might even get it done early. I’ve been working about forty-five minutes a day on the draft so far this year and the time seems to be about right, so I’ll continue. When I tried to go for an hour I gave up early, and when I tried for several hours a day, I didn’t do it at all. I am looking for my sweet spot, the one that lets me sustain the work.
- Other commitments on your calendar: For most of us, there will always be other claims on our time and resources.
Before you can make a realistic plan for new goals you need to review current commitments. You will probably have to find things to say no to before you can say yes to the time and resources needed for your new goal.
I start by figuring out how much time I’ve already committed elsewhere: work, family, courses, vacations, and then count the days that are left. For example, in January,for me 7 days were gone right away, along with two evenings, and 20 other hours. I have roughly 166 waking hours to play with in January over 24 days. To allow for unforeseen events, I’ll give myself an hour per day for Sera. I now have 142 hours left. Even though these calculations are fiddly, for me, it’s really helped me understand the urgency behind using that hour each day. It helps me cherish the time.
I need to do enough time calculations to create commitment and a realistic perspective without getting so caught up in the time the issue that I lose sight of the writing. I know that an hour for the book is a Quadrant 2 activity and clearing email is usually Quadrant 3, so at the very least I can learn to do the hour on the book before I tackle email.
Committing to time and keeping an eye on the word count works best for me. I also know I need to build in activity that will nourish the writing, and space for connecting with other writers so I don’t go too far down my own rabbit hole.
Steps for creating a plan:
- Review goal statements
- Plan your most important goal first; the one that will make the most difference
- Review the resources (time, money, network) you will need to achieve the goal
- Understand how big rocks, daily practice and a four quadrant approach can be used with this goal
- Begin with the end in mind
- Consider the context
May you have fun creating your plan; may the process bring you new insights and help you achieve your goals for 2013.
Join the discussion: What kind of planning process works for you?