Day planner with a gold pencil and gold pencil case on pink marble deskk
Writing

Summer writing: Make your plan

This is the third post in a series about summer writing. Read the first and second installments at the links!

Are you ready to start planning for a great summer? Hopefully you’ve done the preparation work I suggest in the first two Summer Writing posts. There’s no point in planning if you’re not willing to do some reality checks and let go of magical thinking. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a magical summer! In fact, once you get honest about your goals, time, and daily life, you can set yourself up for a really restful and productive summer of writing and research.

It’s time now to do some real summer planning. In this post, we’ll walk through some steps to create an overall plan for the summer, how to break it down month-by-month and week-by-week, and how to design your days to maximize quality work time and rejuvenation. Time to grab your planner, notebook, or bullet journal and any notes you made during the reality check exercise from the last post!

The big picture

In the last exercise, you listed your goals for the summer – work and non-work. I like to have a written, big picture view of all of this on one page. For me, that’s in my bullet journal, but it could be in a notebook, a word document, or on a page to display on your bulletin board. Here’s what mine looks like for summer 2019 (yes, that’s avocado washi tape on the side):

Page entitled Summer Overview in a bullet journal
Leslie’s summer overview.

As you can see, this is a pretty general list. I haven’t broken these down into specific, concrete, time-based goals or action steps on this page. It’s really a bird’s eye view of the things that are important for me to spend time on this summer.

Concrete goals

If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to start turning these plans into specific goals. Here’s a few examples of how I would transform the items on my overview into something more concrete:

  • Under “Collective Biography,” “finish tending” (tending is a nickname for a paper) will become: submit to journal by end of August
  • Under “WGS,” “MPHEC” (a program proposal) will become: have full draft of MPHEC proposal by end of August
  • Under “Personal,” “day trips” will become: one day trip per month
  • Under “Home,” “gardens” will become: fix up garden beds and add new mulch by end of May

Go ahead and do this for as many of your overview items as you can, either starting a new list or adding to your document if you can.

Month-by-month

For the next step, I’d create a new page for each month. Here, your monthly goals and action items are listed. You can break them out into distinct categories if you like, or keep them in one master list. Highlighting “high priority” items is a great idea.

This is a good time to pull out your calendar from the “time reality check” in post #2. Remember to be realistic – look at your monthly calendar and see what life has in store for you. For example, if you have two out-of-town weddings to go to in June and a home renovation project, you might want to adjust your goals accordingly.

As you’re focusing in on each month (and in the next step, each week, and then each day) you should notice that your goals are getting more specific. A great acronym to help you “reality check” your goals is SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-based.

Blank calendar page in a day planner beside cup of coffee and saucer of gold paper clips.

Week-by-week

Plotting weekly goals and tasks is probably best done at the start of each month (or at the end of the previous month). This has to be a flexible, living plan that can adapt as you move through the month. Rigidity is not helpful! But SMART goals for the week will help you track progress toward your goals. Weekly SMART goals might include specific word counts. They might also be tasks (e.g., complete bibliography, or, clean three kitchen cupboards). Again, fun stuff should also be on the list!

Once you have your goals, you’ll need to estimate how much time you need or want to spend on each. This will help you plot your overall plan for the week. Assigning some numbers here can also help you check for balance: has work completely taken over? Is something getting squeezed out? Are you over-estimating the time you need for something?

Day-by-day

If you’re following the pattern, you’ll have guessed that I suggest making your daily schedules at the start of each week (again, adjusting as you go). Your daily goals need to be very specific. This is why you can’t plan them too far ahead. They might be as narrow as: add citations to paragraph 3. Or, write 350 words. Or, wash curtains in living room. It’s really important that they be measurable and concrete. So, having “work on chapter 2” as a goal isn’t very helpful at the daily or weekly level. How will you know when you’ve completed that? What needs work? The more focused you are, the more likely you’ll be able to check something off your list each day and feel like you moved forward.

Remember, your daily schedule should include the non-work, and dare I say, fun activities that you intend to pursue throughout the summer. Feel free to schedule in nap, sunbathing, movies with the kids, walking the dog… all those things that make your summer special.

Rolling with your plan

By starting with the big picture and gradually rolling out your monthly, weekly, and daily plans, you can start to develop a focused and SMART set of goals for the summer. Importantly, including a variety of work and non-work activities can help you strike the right balance between productivity and rest/fun.

Of course, the smartest goals in the world won’t get met if you’re having trouble staying focused and organizing your time. In the next post, the last in this series, we’ll tackle the perils of unstructured time. Stay tuned!

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!

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