30 Days Until Finals

It's time to set goals that are ambitious and realistic, writes Kerry Ann Rockquemore.

November 8, 2010

I don't know about you, but I realized during my Sunday Meeting that the end of the semester is a mere 30 days away! As we head into the late-semester sprint, I want to encourage all of us to pause, review our semester writing goals, and assess the probability of completing them in the next 30 days. If the probability is high that you will meet your goals, congratulations on your ability to create reasonable goals, sustain your daily writing habit, and stay on target! For the rest of us, it's time to formulate Writing Plan B.

Developing Attainable Writing Goals

One of the most difficult time management skills to learn is how to develop writing goals that are attainable in a specific period of time. The problem is that many of us create writing goals based on what we hope (or even dream) of accomplishing in a given time frame. This is commonly done by pulling numbers and deliverables out of thin air without the slightest idea how or when we will do the work to achieve our lofty goals.

As yet another manifestation of academic perfectionism, we often set audacious writing goals because making reasonable ones seems so small and uninspiring. But when we create unrealistic goals, we set ourselves up to feel disappointed, discouraged and demoralized. I see people set unattainable goals all the time and they tend to result in one of two negative outcomes. Some faculty set such big goals (i.e., "finish my book") that they never start writing because it seems far too enormous to tackle in 30 minutes a day. Then these same faculty members find themselves at the end of yet another semester with unmet goals, unfinished projects, and the awful feeling that they work all the time but aren't moving forward. At the other end of the continuum are people who are incredibly productive. But because they set semester goals that are literally unattainable, they don't meet them. Then they end the semester with feelings of failure and frustration, despite having made significant progress on their writing projects.

Consider a PLAN B That Connects Your GOALS To TIME

I encourage you to start your Weekly Planning Meeting this week by reviewing your semester goals. I know it's difficult, but let's take an open and honest look at our goals without criticism, judgment or guilt. Instead, start by appreciating the optimism that you felt when you wrote your goals and acknowledging all the work that you have completed this semester. I am inspired by the progress many of you have made by:

As you revise your semester goals, try to move beyond just listing your goals by figuring out how you will accomplish the goals and when you will do the work. In other words, apply the same process you would use to create a semester plan to your next 30 days.

STEP #1: Go through the next four weeks in your calendar and block out all of your existing time commitments: classes, meetings, daily writing time, travel, etc.

STEP #2: Take a long, hard look at your remaining goals and try to figure out the steps that are necessary to complete them. I like to use a flow chart or mind map to do this because sometimes it’s hard to fully understand what tasks will be required to complete your goals. This clarity is essential if you are going to begin accurately estimating your time.

STEP #3: Go ahead and map the actual work tasks onto your calendar. For example, if you planned to draft a new article, figure out what specific tasks need to be completed to finish a first draft. Then block out time in your calendar to complete each of those writing tasks.

The value in this exercise is that it will force you to connect the abstract idea of a writing goal, break it down into its constituent parts, and connect that work with time. The ugly reality is that if you are unable to find the time in your calendar to complete the tasks that will get you to your goal, then you are unlikely to achieve the goal. If you are not sure how long it actually takes to complete various writing tasks, take your best guess and then multiply that guess by 2.5 (the average factor by which most people I work with underestimate how long writing tasks take to complete). Still can't find time for all the work necessary to complete that new article? Then it's time to get real and prioritize. Maybe you won’t finish a complete first draft of the article in 30 minutes a day, but you could realistically complete a first draft of the introduction and literature review sections and create an outline of the methods, findings, and discussion sections. I know it's painful, but adjusting your expectations and planning the work now sure beats feeling like a failure at the end of the semester. Why? Because you will feel better having scheduled and completed several tasks that move you closer to drafting the new article then you will avoiding the whole thing and starting 2011 with no progress on that article you’ve been promising yourself you would write for the past year. For now, just try to gently ask yourself: What can I realistically accomplish in the next 30 days? Then carve out the time in your calendar to accomplish the tasks that will move you towards reaching your goals. This is your Plan B, and I will be very proud of you for accomplishing it!

This Week's Challenge

This week, I challenge you to:

  • Hold a Sunday Meeting.
  • Review your semester writing goals. If you still haven't written any, then go ahead and take the time to draft goals for the last 30 days of the term.
  • Honestly ask yourself: Can I complete these goals in the next 30 days?
  • If the answer is "no," patiently revise your goals based on what you CAN realistically accomplish in 30-60 minutes of daily writing.
  • Go through the remaining weeks of the semester and block out your daily writing time and specify what task you will complete during that time.
  • Try paying yourself first by writing in the morning before you do anything else.

I hope that this week brings you the courage to assess your semester goals, the creativity to revise them, and the discipline to write every day!

Peace and Productivity,

Kerry Ann Rockquemore


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