Do This If You Are Embarking On A Long Project
April 14, 2021
2021 planner

I received an unusual planner for 2021. It was part of a gift box subscription from Books That Matter. Although it arrived a couple of months after my birthday, thanks in part to Covid-19-related shipping delays to my address in Singapore, it appeared in time for my annual rumination about the new year.

Although I am a compulsive list maker, I am on the fence when it comes to new year resolutions. Writing down your thoughts is a good way to make them concrete, but making a checklist has pros and cons. 

Over my lifetime, I have lived through years when unexpected events beyond my control (even before a global pandemic), turned my life topsy-turvy. 

Therefore, I prefer to set vague or generic goals such as “eat less sugar, write more, get more exercise”.

The difference between professional and personal goals

Anyone who has been through an annual goal-setting exercise in the corporate world knows the acronym “SMART”.  Employees are encouraged to set goals that are: 

  • Specific 
  • Measurable 
  • Achievable
  • Relevant 
  • Timebound 

I know the theory. I have applied it at work. But when it comes to personal goals, I have chosen to not adopt it. 

Given my curiosity and impatience, I usually try something new and have a handful of achievements to report by the end of each year. Yet, I hesitate to declare specific goals. The reason is simple. If I don’t make such promises in January, I don’t have to beat myself up in December for falling short and  end up rueing the year instead of celebrating it.

Trying something new

2020 December was a time of reckoning. After a year of being cooped up, there wasn’t a whole lot to celebrate in terms of achievements, although there was much to be thankful for in terms of good health and the blessing of living in a safe environment. When 2021 arrived bearing a faint possibility of a return to normal life, I decided to try a new approach with my 2021 planner. 

The pleasant blue-green cover with a cheerful “Goodbye 2020 Hello 2021 – A reflective journal” seemed to be the perfect way to begin. It was an offering of Project Love, a UK-based enterprise whose mission is to “inspire and empower you to create a life, relationship and career you love”. 

The format of the journal was interesting. Seneca’s oft-quoted quote – Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”, was featured on the first page. It was a timely reminder for a world venturing boldly into the new year hoping to eliminate the virus and return to the familiar ease of pre-pandemic life. 

It took me a whole day to answer questions like – What were you grateful for in 2020? What do you want to fill your life with? 

My main goal for the year, as I had disclosed in my newsletter, was to finish writing my memoir.

It’s all very well to have a lofty goal. Many of us are experts in making expansive statements. But there is only one way to accomplish anything. 

Start small. 

Put one step in front of the other. 

Show up. 

On some days it feels as if all the small steps don’t add up to anything worthwhile. I feel like I’m trapped in a maze with multiple paths but no way out. Or as if I’m on a carousel going in circles, passing the same landmarks over and over again, but not really moving forward

Luckily, this journal was not just a pretty one-off document but also included a valuable tool in the form of a quarterly check-in. 

How to figure out whether you are on the right track

There are two ways to know where you stand – measure your progress from the starting point or the distance until the finish line.

For long projects, especially ones that evolve as you work on it, it is difficult to measure the end point. As far as my book was concerned, it was better to see how far I had come since the beginning of the year.

In April, three months after publicly declaring my goal, I answered thoughtful questions about how I was feeling  

What had worked? What was making me happy? And what could be better?

My responses surprised me. Instead of berating myself for lagging in obvious areas, I realized I had progressed in others. In fact, one of the three things that I had committed to was an outcome (grow email list) that wasn’t in my control. While it was steadily growing thanks to my consistent efforts, I had done better with the other two (write every day, make new connections to form a community) which I could control.

My check-in wasn’t as miserable as I expected. I realigned myself for the next three months, changing a few things around given the current state of my life. As the second draft of my book comes to a close, I have new ideas floating around that are natural off-shoots of my work thus far.

Clarity sometimes comes as an insistent thought that you cannot ignore. And sometimes it comes as naturally as breath, an extension of a logical exploration of the path taken and an honest assessment of what lies ahead.

I feel energised to keep moving ahead knowing that the way will reveal itself, even if it happens to diverge from the original path.

Do you use a journal or planner? Have you done a quarterly check-in? How has it worked for you? Share your story.


Photo credit Ranjani Rao

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