There's been a nasty, niggling little item on my "to-do" list now for about three weeks: "Finish 6-month planning list!"
A few weeks ago, I looked at the calendar and came to the unpleasant realization that the year was, officially, half over. Mentally, I'm stuck at about March or April -- surely I'm only three or four months into the year? Surely not six? But the calendar refuses to play along. Even if I could pretend that I'd just flipped a couple of pages on the wall calendar by mistake, my computer stubbornly insists upon telling me that, yes, the year is half gone.
That means that instead of asking myself, "What do I plan to do this year?" I must now ask myself, "What do I plan to do in what is left of this year?"
The reason this is a nasty, niggling little task is that it requires some unflinching honesty about what I have already done. To determine what I hope to accomplish by the end of the year, I have to take a look at what has become of the plans I made at the beginning of the year. Of the things I set out to do in January, how many have I done? If a project is short-term, was it ever completed? Was it ever begun? If it was a long-term project, where am I in terms of progress? If I believed a project to be a one-year task, am I really at the six-month point? Or am I only at the two- or three-month point?
July is a turning point in the year. Winter and spring are over. Summer is upon us. When we look ahead, it is to autumn, and then to winter yet again. And so it is appropriate, I think, to regard this as a turning point in planning as well.
At the beginning of the year, we're full of plans, ideas, and resolutions. This will be the year that we accomplish this, achieve that, complete the other, and finally... well, fill in the blank! In January, a full twelve months stretches before us, filled with possibility. Gosh, what couldn't we do with all that time? Even as we say to one another that the years rush by faster and faster, in January those twelve months still look like a huge stretch of time.
Six months... not so much!
So if, like me, you're looking at the calendar and wondering what on earth happened to the first half of the year, here are some tips on making the most of this "turning point."
1) Take a look back at what you've actually done. Don't just look at the list of goals you set up in January, and shake your head over the number that aren't accomplished. Look at what you have actually done. Sure, that short story still hasn't been written -- but that's partly because you got that big magazine assignment or that unexpected copy-editing job. It's a lot easier to answer the question "where did the time go?" when you can give yourself credit for your achievements.
2) If you find it difficult to reconstruct what you actually accomplished over the last six months, set up a system to begin tracking your achievements. It's a lot easier to answer the question, "where did the time go?" when you have a list of what you've accomplished each day, each week, or each month. (I maintain a daily list that helps me figure out where each day went -- e.g., errands, family phone calls, newsletter -- and then transfer the significant items to a monthly "achievements" file.)
3) Take a look at the projects that you planned to do but either haven't begun or let slide. This is a good time to evaluate why those projects aren't moving forward. Have you lost interest? Is the project too large to get a grip on? Are you avoiding it precisely because it is important to your life or career? Figuring out why you haven't done something is the first step in working out how to actually get a project started.
4) Examine the personal factors that prevented you from accomplishing as many work-related goals as you might have wished. With the exception of unforeseen calamities, in most cases these personal factors are still going to be an issue for the next six months. It's easy to forget that we need to plan around "life" -- and then wonder why life keeps "getting in the way."
5) Pick a theme. One reason we don't get everything done is not simply because we're trying to do too much, but because we're jumping around amongst many different projects. If you're trying to juggle a batch of articles, a column, some short story ideas, and a couple of copy-editing projects, consider paring your workload down to a cluster of related projects. Focus on the copy-editing, or the articles and column, with the goal of getting those tasks completed and off your plate.
6) Decide what you don't want to have to face (again) in the year to come. Some of my mid-year planning has to do with "cleaning house." A number of projects on my list have been hanging around for two or three years. Because they are large, I tend to pick at them, doing a bit of work here and there when I'm not doing anything else. And so they keep hanging around, indefinitely. One of my decisions for July was to try to clear some of these off my plate once and for all -- so that I don't have to face them yet again when planning my goals for next year.
7) Take a look at your financial goals for the year. This is a good time to analyze whether your freelancing finances are on track. (If you haven't been tracking income and expenses on a monthly basis, for shame! See my article, Handling Writing Income and Expenses, for some tips.) If you've discovered that you're behind on your freelancing goals, you may decide that you want to focus the next six months on projects that have the greatest revenue potential.
8) Don't forget personal goals! It doesn't help to reach the end of a year and realize, looking back, that while you did most of the things you needed to do, you did very little that you wanted to do. Consider whether you need to build in some vacation time, or time to work on craft projects. For example, I took a weaving class in February. When I put "weave a scarf for my sister" on my list of goals, I felt, then, like I had all the time in the world to make it happen. Now, I realize I'd better get busy if I want to achieve this by Christmas!
So go ahead. Sit down with a cup of coffee, or something stiffer, and take an unflinching look at the calendar. It may not be pleasant to face the fact that you have only five months left to achieve your goals for this year. But you'll find that it's a lot more pleasant to face those months with a plan than without one!
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