Life is all about transitions…. it’s about starting things and ending things and moving between things. That’s what I love about life. Challenges coming to a conclusion. New challenges to explore. Yesterday saw me watch this years graduates walk across the stage to be given their award. It’s a wonderful day because the journey to a degree is not an easy one. It’s a lot of hard work. But what starting a degree does is set you out a plan. The 3 years of an undergraduate degree, or the 2 of a postgraduate degree, sets out a framework around which all other challenges hang. It absorbs you. For better or worse!
We need challenges. We need to set ourselves targets. There’s evidence that if you have a plan that you record in some way you are more likely to achieve it. That’s remarkable. Just by writing it down it’s more likely to happen.
When I turned 50 (just short of 2 years ago) I set myself a ten year plan and I wrote it down (yes! For those who know me… in my spreadsheet!) My plan was simple. That by the time I was 60 I wanted to be making all my income from writing and other freelance work. I wanted to have the luxury of not having to work for an organisation. A kind of retirement of sorts. A ‘retirement’ to me setting the agenda for the part of my life I get paid for. This was a big task because 10 years, in reality, is not a long time. So, I had to make a plan. I had to start building up my writing. I had to think about the financial impact of such a move. I had to think about the skills I had and the skills I needed to develop. I needed to take a big idea and break it down into smaller ideas, smaller steps.
This relies on a nice little metaphor that I love to use which is – How do you eat a whole elephant? One bite at a time, of course. You couldn’t possibly eat a whole elephant at once! You need to work on things incrementally and what you’ll find is that when you tick a step off your list you will get a psychological buzz and that will generate forward momentum with whatever it is you are wanting to achieve.
I find myself with a day at home today. I had a meeting cancelled this morning so now I have a whole day to myself. I’m feeling a bit anxious about some things I need to achieve over the next 6 months because at the minute I don’t have a plan. Firstly, I need to write a book! I’ve signed a contract so it has to be delivered by the end of the year! And at the minute all it is is a list of chapters with a brief outline…. and I’ve never written a book before! I need to map out how this is going to happen. So while a 10 year plan is important so are shorter term plans. Because of the way my job works it’s useful to have a 6 month plan. So today I’m going to figure out my 6 month plan. What am I going to do between now and the end of the year and how does writing a book fit into that?
I’m running the Kielder Marathon in October and I can apply the same principle. So working backwards from the date of the run I’ll figure out what mileage targets I need to hit week by week. That way, I know what I need to achieve and I’ll diary time out to do it.
And finally, for today at least, I need to figure out how to fit the work I need to do at University into my working week. So I’ll plan where the lectures are, when I’m going to prep them, who I might need to talk to and when I’ll do that, when I’m going to work on placements, and so on and so on….. right up until the end of the year.
And I guarantee by the end of the day I will feel a huge sense of relief because I’ll have a plan. As David Allen (author of Getting Things Done) says, “if you don’t control ‘it’, ‘it’ will control you.” There is concrete evidence that having a plan reduces stress both at work and at home.
So get planning, get organised, let’s nail this!!