This is the second post in a series about summer writing plans… check out the first post here.
Last week I wrote about 5 traps that can easily derail your best laid summer writing plans. These included: unrealistic goals, magical thinking about time, unstructured time, forgetting to rest, and diminishing momentum. For me, unstructured time is a real productivity and momentum killer. I often neglect to schedule any official vacation time. All of that leaves me with a vague sense that I’m always working and never getting anything done. It’s neither restful nor productive, and certainly not balanced. However, a week of pre-planning can make all the difference.
The question is: how can we be realistic and make good use of this golden time? I want to walk through three critical pre-planning processes to engage in right at the start of your summer writing plans that will help you set yourself up for the summer you really want. I’m calling these “reality checks.” They involve a little forward thinking and also some practical tracking to help you nail down what your days actually look and feel like.
Reality check #1: Goals
Have you set your summer goals yet? If not, a great first step is to simply cast your imagination forward to the end of your summer. If the summer went just as you wanted it to, what would you be feeling happy or proud or pleased about? What would you have accomplished? How would you have spent your time? Who would you have spent time with? How would the summer have felt?
With that vision in mind, start to write down your goals. These should include your work but also other things that are important to you, whether that’s family or hiking or gardening or napping. Keep it big picture for now.
Here’s where we need to start getting real: for each of your goals, add a time component. For example, if you said “Spend time with friends,” get a little more specific about what that means for you. One night a week? Two weekend trips? Coffee every day? If you wrote, “Gardening,” add in how many hours a day or week you want to give. For your work goals, such as “Write three chapters of the dissertation,” work backwards and figure out how many words or pages you would need to complete each week or month to meet that goal.
Ack! You knew the reality check part was coming, right? Are you feeling a little panicky, like there’s not enough time? That’s ok! The goal of this process is to make it easier for you to have more of what you want in the end.
If you’re already scribbling out your goals or whittling them down, hit pause on that for a moment. We’re just trying to get a sense of the size and shape of things right now, in other words, pre-planning. Making your actual writing plan will come after these reality checks.
Reality check #2: Time
It’s easy to imagine summer days as relatively “empty” compared to the busy days of the teaching semester. However, there’s no shortage of things that will eat up summer time. In step one, you looked at your goals and started to assign some rough time estimates. For this step, you need to dig a little deeper into your days and get real about all of the things that are likely to crop up, day to day and week to week. A few ideas to get you started: home maintenance and repairs; taking kids to camp; visits to or from family and friends; ongoing administrative work; special events; impromptu events; health and dental appointments, etc.
It might feel a little overwhelming and maybe even disheartening to think about all the things that aren’t summer writing. Maybe it’s tempting to see them as unfortunate distractions and time wasters. But they’re not. They are simply your life. As Kellee Weinhold and Karen Kelsky from The Professor is In say in their Unstuck program, you have to tell the truth about your life. For many of us, especially women (given the persistent unfair gendered division of labour), this means accepting that you might never have that semi-mythical summer of 8-hour days to retreat into your intellectual passions. Few do. And that’s ok. That’s great even.
Why is that great? Because when you understand your own reality, you can make plans that actually work. Disappointment comes from unrealistic expectations. A sense of accomplishment comes from knowing that you set the right kinds of goals and met them to the best of your ability.
Now is a great time to pull up a monthly calendar – either on your computer (e.g. iCal or Google) or a paper calendar (you can easily print blank calendar pages from the web). Mark the following: vacations; other travel; visitors; kids at home; special events; renovations/bigger house projects; pre-scheduled meetings; health and dental appointments. Is there anything else that’s likely to take up big chunks of your day, e.g. a local festival? Planting season? The fewer “surprises,” the better.
Reality check #3: Tracking your time
The last pre-planning process involves a week of time tracking. Before you try to solidify your summer writing plans, take a week to closely observe your summer reality. Of course you can make a plan for the week, but the point is to get a clear picture of what’s actually filling your time. This is a no-judgment zone: you’re not giving yourself a grade on how close you stuck to the plan. Rather, you’re taking a somewhat detached look at where your time and energy are going.
For one week, track your time in hourly or semi-hourly chunks. Use symbols or notes or colour coding to indicate things like energy levels, moods, distractedness, physical sensations (hunger, sore back, etc.). Note down interruptions or unexpected happenings. At the end of the week, study this “data” like the researcher you are. What do you notice? If this was someone else’s tracker, what advice would you give them about how to structure their days? Remember: no judgment. Just observations.
The next step is to take all of this pre-planning goodness and start to transform this rich set of information into a realistic, balanced, and even exciting summer plan. Stay tuned for post number 3 in this series for my thoughts on making a plan that works!
SUMMER WRITING MENTORSHIP PROGRAM
I’m excited to launch a customized, one-on-one mentorship program to help you have the best summer ever! The Summer Writing Mentorship program is designed to help you create a balanced summer: one where you’ll be rejuvenated and meet your goals. All the details are right here!