Successful planning

It’s the season for making plans. Making resolutions is easy but to make them a reality, you need a plan. In 2015, I became better at making plans. They say that the one thing you need to succeed is a plan, you have to have a clear idea of what you want. This time last year, I felt like I was not a good planner. I always had a to do list on the go and lots of a vague ideas about what I’d like to do but I didn’t have a step 1, step 2, step 3 kind of plan. I may not believe in God but I do believe that the saying “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans” has a lot of truth in it. Life is full of events that are hard to plan for.

This uneasiness about my planning ability followed me throughout the year. In July it became part of my application to take part in Cultural Freelancer group mentoring sessions. As part of the application process, we were asked to provide a ”burning question” that you have about your work or a specific project. Mine was about planning.

How do you make long term career plans in a precarious industry? How do you make even medium term plans (3-5 years into the future) when there are so many unknowns?

Cultural Freelancers Ireland have been running drop-in sessions for the last couple of years but this pilot programme brought the same small group together for four weeks, to offer support and peer mentorship one our individual questions. Over the four weeks, the CFI participants worked on answering our burning questions.

I found that my burning question was only a jumping off point. Through the discussions with the group, I learnt that it wasn’t my ability to plan that was troubling me. It was hard to make a plan because I didn’t know what I wanted. I needed to figure that out first.

At the end of each session, we set ourselves homework, things we needed to think about or work out before the next session. One of the first pieces I set myself was to write down “What does success mean to me? What does my idea of success look like?”

This was an important and personal exercise and it helped me figure out a lot. Money is not my main motivator but my idea of success still includes getting paid for my work, which is not always easy in the arts. It also includes having a group of people to work with again and again. It includes professional recognition and being able to make choices.

It was an interesting exercise that lead on to another piece of homework – figuring out what success feels like. To do this, I made a list of times in the past that I have felt successful or proud of something I’ve achieved. It’s a great exercise to do if you’re feeling a bit stuck or uninspired. It will remind you of past successes and make you feel much more capable. I wrote down everything I could think of – anything that gave me a feeling of joy or accomplishment, no matter how small.

When I had my list I looked for common themes. I learnt that I don’t really value the achievements that come easily to me – the challenges feel much more like successes. Looking at the past made it clear what I had to do to achieve success in the future. I had something that I could use to make a plan.

The CFI sessions gave me time and space each week to sit down and think about these things and that was really valuable. Having homework to do meant that I had to put time aside to think about what I wanted and write down my thoughts. Spending time thinking about what I want out of life, in this structured, homework-driven way, made me happier. I felt more in control of my life. Planning can be boring. It’s not very sexy but life is better with a plan. It means you get to call the shots and decide what success is. Decision making is easier when you have a clear plan – the thing you’re being asked to do either fits in with the plan or it doesn’t – decision made!

Another thing that I discovered was that a lot of the things on my list of successes involved lots of planning. I realised that I have a good track record of coming up with plans and seeing them through. My view of myself as a bad planner wasn’t true!

If you are still working out your resolutions and plans for 2016, these Guardian articles might help.

Put off procrastination…forever
How to be a moderately successful person

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