I’m not big on New Year’s Resolutions – if you want to start exercising or develop better writing habits, you can start today, right now, rather than waiting until tomorrow, Monday, or next January 1.
But I am a big fan of planning. At this time of year, many of my clients set goals for what they want to accomplish by the end of the semester, often with intermediate goals along the way. In April or May they will review those goals, and set new goals for August, and then repeat the process once more in late August or early September.
However, when I ask writing workshop attendees to complete a planning exercise, I often hear from frustrated participants who say, “I know how to plan, I’ve made plenty of plans. But then something happens that throws everything off, so now I don’t even bother.”
As a creative process, it’s true that academic work is not predictable. This makes the work engaging and exciting, but can also lead to frustration when things don’t go as expected. But we accomplish more when we set concrete goals and intentions. The trick is to realize that planning is an iterative process. We plan and execute, then we need to evaluate our progress and plan again.
(In a workshop just before Easter, one of the participants noticed that the first letters of the steps of this iterative process spells the word peep, like the popular marshmallow candy chicks that are sold at that time of year).
I often compare planning to navigating with a compass rather than a map. When we use a map, we can fairly well predict what time we will arrive at our destination, even with some traffic delays or detours. With a compass, we set our direction and head off through the woods until we reach a river. We may have to go far out of our way to find a safe crossing, and then reset the compass and begin again. If we don’t regularly pause to check the compass, we’ll never reach our destination. Our plans are like the compass – they keep us headed in the right direction.
So I encourage you to get started right now. Open your calendar to the end of the semester, and write down what you would like to complete by the end of April or early May. When you reach that date, repeat by writing new goals for the end of the summer, and do the same for December or January.
Plan, Execute, Evaluate, Plan, Repeat…