Goal questions.

OK, I’m trying to figure out what I think about something, and I’ve got some of the way there, but I’d love your input on this one.

Goals.

How do you set them? What sort of goals do you set? What do you do when you reach a goal?

When I was a stay-at-home mum, one of the things that I really didn’t cope well with was the feeling that I wasn’t progressing anywhere. The kids grew up, but that wasn’t due to my input. They would have got older anyway. The house got cleaned, then dirty, then cleaned, then dirty. The washing was put away, and built up again. The weeks went past and nothing seemed to change.

For me, going to university was a way to escape that feeling. At the end of every semester I would get a report card with marks on it. I knew that I was working towards something, and there were milestones to mark how I was going. It was a wonderful interlude, but we know that life is not generally like that.

When I started working at the university, people would say to me things like, ‘You need to do such-and-such so that it looks good on your promotion application.’ And I would think, ‘Why do we need to be thinking about promotion all the time? Why not just be allowed to do a good job and leave it at that.’ I decided to forget about promotion or tenure and just to do my work well. And that worked for a while.

But I remember sitting in a seminar, letting my thoughts wander, and realising that I needed some direction. Some measure of forward progress. I needed to come up with my own goals so that I knew where I was going.

And I’m at that point again.

I’ve been working as a freelancer for almost a year now and I’m realising that I need some measure of forward progress. I don’t want to put myself under a whole lot of pressure, but I need some way to know that I’m not just going through the motions. Not just doing the same things day after day just for the sake of filling in the hours.

I need some measure of whether I am doing enough work, or too much. Sometimes I need to know that I have achieved something and that the hard push was worthwhile. And sometimes I need some way of giving myself a kick up the butt when I’m not working hard.

I remember reading something about how instead of goals we should focus on systems. Instead of a goal of ‘lose 10 kg’ we should focus on a system like ‘go to the gym three times a week’. I understand the reasoning here, and I realise that without systems like this you do not get anywhere. But I think that in addition to the systems I need a goal, something to aim for and  when I reach it, something to celebrate.

I also understand that goals need to be something that you can control. This is why ‘lose 10 kg’ is a bad goal (especially for us women) because there can be reasons – illness, or some family issue or something that stops us from reaching such a goal and is totally out of our control. It’s the same for me with book-writing goals. I can determine when I should have the first draft by, but then cover design, editing, beta-reading, all of these things depend on someone else, and I can’t predict or account for all the variables that might happen.

I think I need some SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. I know I have some really big goals – pay off the mortgage is one – but I need some smaller milestones that I can mark off along the way. I think I need to gamify my life so that it resembles (a little) the university years. Goals for every six months or so that I can tick off and feel like I’m getting to the big ones.

So that’s where I’m at. But I’d love to know your process, your goal-setting ideas. Even some of your goals, if you feel comfortable sharing. What do you do here? Or do you set goals at all?

PS We had a lovely four-day adventure in Swansea. That’s where today’s pictures are from. We totally unwound and relaxed. Watched TV, read books, went for long walks, sat in front of the fire and played crib, jammed a bit on our musical instruments. It was delightful and necessary, and we’re going to be doing this sort of thing regularly in the future.

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When to push yourself

marathon

Earlier this year I was privileged to host a visiting lecturer to our institution. I have been trying for some time to be an advocate for gender equity in our workplace and the idea of a Women’s Lectureship was suggested to me – bringing a role-model down to Tasmania to encourage our female PhD students. I won’t go into all the reasons here, maybe I’ll leave that for another blog post, but I jumped at the chance to organise this visit.

Professor Michelle Coote agreed to visit with us for a week and I dove into the organisation. I had no idea just what was required for the hosting of a visiting lecturer. There were the flights and accommodation of course, I didn’t book those but I did liaise with our office staff to make sure we got it right. Then I had to decide on when to hold the public lecture, when to hold the seminar, when to hold the gender equity forum. And where.

And then things got a little more complicated. After choosing a time for the public lecture, booking the lecture room (and making sure that we’d booked it with a little lee way  so that we could easily get set up), and advertising on all the university websites and Facebook and, well, everywhere that I could think of, we found out that we had cleverly booked the lecture room for 7am rather than 7pm. And that the lecture room was already booked for another group at 7pm, and that the other booking couldn’t be changed.

PANIC

Then try not to let the panic show, and try to calm everyone down, and don’t let Michelle know that anything had gone wrong with the plan, and head for plan B.

We had a couple of options for plan B and we went with the lecture room that was available and closest to the original room. The only problems being that 1) it was a much larger room than we really wanted so our crowd would look tiny, and 2) it was booked right up until our opening time and the group before us would be having wine and cheese in the foyer as our attendees were coming in to our (wine and cheese-less) lecture. But it was the best option so we went with it.

The night arrived. However, the pizza that we had ordered to eat for tea in-between work and the lecture did not arrive so I was fairly hungry. What did arrive was the rain and the bitter cold, which made me wonder if any audience members would decide to arrive. But we battled on.

The lecture happened and it went well. Of course. Michelle is a professional and her research is fascinating. We had a reasonable audience (more than five anyway). We even managed to pick up a couple of attendees from the wine and cheese event. They came and sat in our lecture with their glasses of wine and hopefully learned something about self-healing polymers and solar cells.

The next day was the gender equity forum and I was busy buying cakes and snacks to encourage people to come and trying to fit that in around my regular work. And the day after that was the seminar that I was also chairing, and the special lunch afterwards.

It was a busy week. I didn’t have time to breathe. There was definitely no work-life balance that week. No gaps between appointments. No time to evaluate whether this or that was what I wanted to do or not.

But I am very glad I took on the challenge. Really grateful for the opportunity and the lessons learned.

The term ‘work-life balance’ can sound static. Like it’s a set point that we’re trying to find that we can set our thermostat to and have the same balance all the time. But life isn’t static. Even when our days are good life has its ups and downs. Maybe it’s better to try to find a work-life rhythm than a work-life balance. (No, that idea isn’t my own, but I can’t remember where I heard it first).

As a normal way of being, I think it is right to build margin into our days, to set aside time to follow our goals, to build in some down time, to make sure we have some peace.

But sometimes it is right to push ourselves – to squeeze more into our days, to stretch a little outside our comfort zones, to try to reach a little bit further. Some days bring us an opportunity to work hard and to be busy and go for it a bit.

I guess the question is, how do you tell which are the good moments to push yourself, and which are extras where we should say no?

I don’t know the total answer to this, of course, you are you, and I am me, and what we need to decide are two different things. But there’s a few things we can think through when making this kind of decision.

One is to get a reasonable estimate of the amount of time we have to give to the project. This takes practice of course. I had no idea how much time would be swallowed by Michelle’s visit, but I know now. I was very grateful that my other projects could be shunted to the side somewhat when Michelle was down so that I could give the lectureship the time it required without totally burning out. I think I could have helped myself with the time estimate by finding someone else who had done something similar and asking them for an estimate.

Another question to ask is whether this event will bring you closer to your life goals or whether it’s just busy-work. If you find your day is regularly getting built in by endless tasks that don’t seem to get you anywhere that you want to go, then maybe it’s best to start delegating or organising or somehow getting that busywork off your plate. Easier said than done I know, but if you don’t even recognise the problem then you’re unlikely to find any answers.

And finally, are you doing this out of selfish ambition? Is the only reason you’re taking on this event or project that you’re going to look good? I know that some of my readers might not like the fact that I’m making a distinction here but I’m all about going for it to reach your goals (ambition) but really not into doing it to make you look good to others (selfish ambition). Working yourself to death because it makes you look good to others is a really bad idea in my book.

Anyway, to summarise, yes, I think there are good reasons to push yourself sometimes. But I also think that these should be short-term sprints and not a way of life. And I would hope that they are in service of others.

We’re nearly at the end of this series, just a couple more posts to go though I’ll keep writing the blog don’t worry. You can sign up to my writer newsletter by dropping me a line to rijamos@gmail.com or you can get more of the artwork by heading to instagram @deteor42