Welcome, 2019. I hope you brought a nice wine and some chocolate. We’ve got work to do.
If you know me, you know I like to set a lot of goals. If you’ve known me for a ling time, you know I usually set unrealistic or super challenging goals, and only get within spitting distance of achieving a handful at best.
A friend recently asked, “So, Athena, have you been successful at anything this last year?”
I’ll admit, it stung. I also know she didn’t mean it the way it sounded, and we all had a good laugh about it. The truth is, my goal setting and subsequent non-achievement is a lot like buckshot. I pick a bunch of things, throw my energy at it, and hope to hit something, anything in the attempts.
Last year (2018) My goals were to:
What I managed to accomplish of those goals?
My chickens are not dead…yet. And I explored a first round of hard cider fermentation, that tastes like Satan got drunk and threw up in my mouth. That’s it. Those were the only things on my official list I succeeded at.
It’s hard to remember sometimes, that we are not the sum of our failures, nor of our successes. I frequently remind myself I rarely get things right on the first try—that’s why my books are usually seven drafts before print. Polish. Time. More polish.
It’s with that in mind that I’m sitting down for my annual planning session. I’m such a geek about planning. I love it. I love the new planners that come out in the winter. I love the new calendars, scheduling tools and so on. It’s been a tradition for the last three years that I sit down on New Year’s Eve or day and make a map. I compare the previous year’s map, make notes about progress, and then knock out a schedule, an outline…more like a guideline than actual rules. Once the map is in, then the rest is all wingin’ it.
My tricks... (Can’t say they are guaranteed with my track record, but this is how I do it):
Build by priority first. Pick three things to focus on in the new year. Who am I kidding. I pick like twelve. Then I try to prioritize them by need, urgency, excitement, and financial ability. (I color code everything by priority in a draft wheel, seen below.)
Build by quarter. Don’t cram all the goals in Q1. Sure, there are some deadlines that need to be met by season and financial ability. Such as getting the garden in on time, or the new bees established before the forest goes into bloom. Save some good goals for Q3. It’s the prime quarter for non-urgent deadlines, and non-seasonal timelines. (See quarterly draft below. This is the sketch I make that allows me to see the needs of the year. I’ll use this draft to build a schedule, then input it into my calendars and planners)
Mark completion dates – then map backward to start points, and pivotal timeline needs.
Example: (using what I learned last year) I’ll mark on my calendar that the trillium blooms in my forest three weeks before the daffodils and the ground cover starts to flower, three weeks after that the forest is in full swing and the fruit trees start to blossom. SO-if the bees need a month to establish in their new hives (I’ll be feeding them for that month, then they’ll need to forage) The bees need to be in by the time the trillium blooms the last week of Feb – to the second week of March. That will give them time to establish, feed, then begin foraging when the forest goes into flower. This will maximize their survival chances when the mid-summer flower shortage begins. Go to calendar: Order Bees by Jan 20th, receive Feb-March, install no later than March 5th, 2019.
Save exact “dates” for the most important events. Giving windows of time, such as third week of May-to first week of June to items that are not essential dates, allows for fluidity and flexibility as schedules shift and change. Save important dates such as “Scold of Jays to layout designer, Feb 13th” as an exact day, so you can shuffle other non-essential items around to fit a more urgent deadline.
Don’t lock yourself in too tight. I say this, then I do precisely the opposite. I know better as a project manager, but I do it anyway. So, for what it’s worth- give yourself breathing room on both time, and goals. This is why Q3 is such a great period for catching up, breathing, pocketing time for items that fell behind schedule. Often, my most creative work is done in Q3-Q4. I take care of the business end of matters in the first half of the year, deadlines, planning, etc. Then the second half of the year is creative development, Nanowrimo, publishing and so on.
Create “Hold Space”. If you’re pre-planning vacations or other activities, that’s awesome. Be sure when goal setting to leave pockets of wiggle room for down time, mistakes, and just being. If you pocket the space in advance, you can use it for hold over projects that run together. It also helps for things such as dieting or working out, or getting organized—sometimes you just need to take a break from the efforting. Sometimes you need to go off the diet/workout plan for a week, or just sit by the river and veg. Save space for feeling human.
Be realistic. This is such a load of crap. Seriously, I should just stop this blog post, because I don’t follow any of my own advice. When have I ever, in my entire life been realistic? If you want to be realistic, set goals you know you have in the bag. Such as “Eat more chocolate” “watch more Netflix”. You know you’ve got that. But…how does that stretch your matrix in any way? How does striving for what you already know you can achieve push you to be anything different from what you are? How does being realistic get you anywhere near your dream margin?
Correction= Be Unrealistic.
Unrealistic dreaming and goal setting are where creative magic happens. The hunger to try, the curiosity to experiment, the willingness to reach—it’s a creative goldmine. Be as freaking unrealistic as your little heart desires, just prepare yourself for a tough road of hard pushing, and or some let downs. You might not--in fact probably won’t win them all. If you’re lucky, you’ll get close. If you’re blessed and lucky, you’ll get close, have fun, learn something, and become re-invigorated enough to re-think and try again.
Manage expectations. Yes. I push myself hard. Too hard sometimes. But I love it. I love the challenges. I love the complexity of multiple adventures running parallel to one another, to the potential that something might work, or I’ll learn something new, or I’ll accidentally succeed beyond my wildest dreams. It’s like ADHD goal setting. I try to do it all. Unfortunately, this tactic comes with inevitable failures. Fractured focus, not enough energy, money, time to go around to all the things I want to accomplish in one year. Focus, and tunneling in on one or two things is a better chance of success, absolutely. Where’s the fun in that?
Still, I cried when my trout died. I cried when my bees flew away. I cried when my deadline for Scold of Jays lapsed, again. I also knew-I’d try again. And again. And again, if I had to. I knew some of my first attempts wouldn’t work. It was my first time farming bees or trout, so yeah, there was a learning curve. That learning curve took time away from other projects like Scold of Jays, and my other writing. I picked up a new part time job to make ends meet. This ate into time and energy.
When I stung at my friend’s remarks, it wasn’t because she’d hurt my feelings, it was because I hadn’t managed my own expectations well. That is totally on me. Taking on too much, taking on a lot of firsts, reaching beyond my comfort zones, coming up short in my own mind. Bam. Expectation management failure. I knew it in last year’s planning session that I might not hit any of the targets, but I wanted to know how close I could get.
How do I plan to combat that this year? Learn from what went wrong. Trim my workload. Plan better. Realize I still might not make it this time around. Remember there’s always next year to try again. I mean, what else am I going to do out here in the middle of nowhere, but try again, and again, and again until it works?
Which brings me to my last piece of advice. (Seriously, why are you still reading my advice that doesn’t work?)
Don’t be afraid to fail. That’s my best advice for goal setting and planning for 2019. Failure sucks, but you’ll get over it. If you’re so afraid of failing that you don’t try, then you probably didn’t really want the challenge/success in the first place. Be honest about it. It’s okay to not really want to lose twenty-five pounds, or give up Facebook. If you don’t really want to do it, why both. If you really DO want to do it, then crack on, yo!
Give it your best, and don’t be afraid of the outcome one way or the other.
Sometimes I win. Rarely. I fail a lot. Like, a lot. I don't want to say I'm comfortable being a failure, but I recognize that it's a part of real development and life innovations. It's the other side of the coin, so I've made peace with it as a function of stretching beyond my comfort zones.
When I roll into winter solstice tired, hung-over, exhausted beyond words, trailing a to-do list a mile long, feeling like I got hit by a bus. Ego burnt. Body wilted, chubby (stress eater), cupboards bare, dishes dirty, house in general disarray. Stacks of notes to process, piles of books to reference, but I just want to sleep for a year. That's a job well done.
How do I know? How do I know the lack of fruition won’t keep me down? How do I know the tally of everything that went wrong on my planning list last year won’t discourage me from trying again?
I know because I woke up an hour before my alarm on New Year’s Eve 2018 so excited to plan 2019, that I couldn’t sleep in another hour. I need to know. I need to know what I can do next year. I can’t wait to try again, to screw up a lot, to build some cool new things, to plant new beginnings, make new future possibilities, write more stories, and evolve, again. What shenanigans lie in wait? What chaos will bring magic? What successes or failures will I learn from this year? What misadventures will I be writing about next year? What wondrous wins will I be able to report?
I’m not just the sum of my failures or successes, I’m the amalgamation of my attempts. I’m alive with curiosity.
So I wish this for you, dear reader. May 2019 bring you a year of curiosity. May you be smitten with the hunger to try new things. May you be pricked with just enough discomfort to look for new solutions to old problems. May you be awestruck with new passions. May you be open-eyed, wide-hearted, and full of fresh desire. May you be infused with courage to reach, dream, and discover. May you be protected enough that some failures will not wreck you, but will invigorate new opportunities and spark the engines of innovation in your life.
Sounds like a mixed bag, right? Life, isn’t it just, though? May your mixed bag have some delicious goodies, and a tribe to share them with.
PS. Now that the sketching and lists are wrapping up, I’ll start to migrate the notes, dates, and deadlines into my calendars and planner. Voila!