Welcome to Life List Club Friday!
Today’s post is brought to us by talented writer, Pam Hawley, who blogs over at Hawleyville. I’m guest posting over at Diana Ligaya’s blog today, so come visit after you enjoy Pam’s post. Then you can hop around to all the other writers’ blogs to see what’s happening. You’ll find a list of Life List Club writers in each writer’s sidebar.
Take it away, Pam!
All those scribbles and shapes ended up on my whiteboard at work during a meeting this summer. I am a systems development person at a college. The ferret and the Steelers stuff sit there just to make me happy. But all the scribble in the middle is the result of a major brainstorming session.
Among other things, my colleagues and I run the process that puts our students on probation, suspension and dismissal for poor academic performance. It is one of the least fun aspects of our work. No one likes to be the bearer of bad news. But it is a necessary function. If students are performing poorly, not intervening to help them get back on the right path does more harm than good.
So what does all this mumbo-jumbo about my job have to do with the Life List Club and our work towards our goals? There is a connection, I promise.
All those scribbles and notations are the result of an evaluation session that occurred almost a year after we first put the process into our system. When we initially implemented it, we spent days mapping out how things would work. We hashed things out for weeks, trying to come up with every possible student scenario we needed to manage. We built our thoughts into the system, then tested and tested again.
Finally, we were ready to go live. We had mapped out the plan, and then we put it into action. That was a year ago, and we have now used our process two times.
Each time, we discover new scenarios that hadn’t crossed our minds. They require us to go back to the drawing board and do a little tweaking. Our process works well, but there is always room for improvement as circumstances change.
Some would see having to do so much reworking and evaluation as a mark of failure. We don’t. We see it as growth and the ability to respond to change.
Sound familiar? It should.
A critical part of setting and sticking to our goals is a constant cycle of evaluation and tweaking. When I initially set my Life List Goals, I tried to make them attainable. I considered my priorities and my obligations and came up with a plan that was both ambitious and reasonable. I think that’s pretty much what we all did.
But I’ve noticed a trend over the past month or so. Many of us, me included, feel overwhelmed and stressed to the max by all the conflicting priorities in our lives. Demands on our time come from a combination of the goals we set for ourselves and circumstances over which we may have no choice or control. Most of us have had to go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate our goals. For some, that means spending less time on other hobbies or activities to have more time for writing. Others choose to scale back their writing goals so that they can still make progress without sacrificing other important things in life.
For some of us, taking a good hard look at our progress has even meant we’ve had to stop participating in the Life List guest post rotation. We are a group of people who committed to publicizing our goals, working towards them, and supporting each other along the way. Yet almost all of us are still tweaking and re-evaluating things a few months into the game.
That’s exactly as it should be.
In many ways, our work towards our goals is very similar to the way my colleagues and I must continually revisit and improve our processes as our students put themselves into new situations.
When we embark on a mission, we can do all the planning in the world, and still not account for every possible circumstance. We can’t foretell the changes that may come into our lives along the way. We can’t even predict how our own feelings and priorities will shift and change as we move forward.
What we can do is be flexible. We need to frequently analyze our progress, understand our struggles, and make adjustments accordingly. That which doesn’t bend will break.
Personally, I choose to evaluate my goals on a monthly basis. This evaluation is a time of reflection and discovery. I also recognize that as long as I’m keeping my desired end results in sight, making adjustments to the way I get there is not defeat. It is only adaptation.
When I do my monthly “self-checks” and identify areas where I am not making as much progress as I’d hoped, I ask myself three questions.
1. What has changed in my life circumstances that may be making my goals harder to achieve than I had predicted?
Perhaps the issue is that I’ve had unpredicted projects dumped in my lap at work, and have had no choice but to put in overtime. I can’t change that to meet my writing goals, because without a job, I’ll soon have no house in which to write. But I can recognize a changing circumstance and adjust accordingly. I can accept fewer social invitations, cut back on blog posts to put more energy into my novel, or give myself a “pass” on housework and live with a little dust. Or I can adjust my writing goals to something a little more manageable. Three writing days a week rather than five is, after all, still progress.
2. What have I learned so far and how can I use it in future planning?
Sometimes you just don’t know until you try. It is easy to say “I will write X amount of words per week on my novel.” But then you start writing, and get stuck at a certain point. You realize you need to do more research on a certain aspect of your story. That research takes time you didn’t factor in to your plan, so you have to adjust your timeline. That doesn’t mean you are failing at your goals. It does mean you need to take a little detour to reach them.
3. Are my priorities still the same as they were when I set my goals?
This is what I call the “painful honesty” question. But as humans, our priorities do shift and change. When I set my Life List Goals, I incorporated writing more short stories into them. Although I’ve been writing up a storm, I haven’t started a single new short since I’ve joined the Life List Club. Instead, I’ve been focusing a lot of efforts on humor writing and essay-style work. It isn’t that I’ve been avoiding writing outside of the novel. It is that my priorities have shifted a little along the way.
If I wasn’t writing anything else at all, I’d slap myself on the wrist. But instead, maybe I need to follow this trail and see where it leads. Perhaps my goal for the year isn’t to add several short stories in addition to a first draft of my novel, but to also finish several humorous essays and ship them out for potential publication.
Assessment, evaluation and adjustments are part of any successful project. The key is to know when an adjustment supports growth and allows flexibility for change, and when it is just allowing too much slack. The only way to perfect the balance is to try, and try again.
How often do you assess and adjust your goals? Have your priorities shifted since you began Life Listing? Have you discovered new things about yourself that have led you to add and/or remove goals from your list?
Pam Hawley is a writer living in Baltimore, MD. When she’s not working at her day job, writing or in the gym, she can usually be found at her family’s pub, Hawley’s in Baltimore. So far, her new approach to achieving goals seems to be working – her first published short story, “A Wingding and a Prayer” appears in the July issue of eFiction Magazine. Pam blogs regularly at Hawleyville (http://hawleyville.wordpress.com).
Thank you, Pam for a thoughtful post! So, in other words, we don’t have to lose our minds, lose our families and friends, have no fun at all, just to stick to our original plan when life throws a log jam in our way? Whew, thanks for showing us how to maintain our balance on that precarious pile of rolling logs!
You know we love hearing from you and anxiously await your comments! When you’re done, go visit all the other Life Listers!