This Is Not The Year For Ambitious Goal-Setting

What’s a planner to do, when it’s impossible to plan?

Let’s pretend that all planning is this peaceful and luxurious. Photo by on

Every December for the last five or so years, I’ve done some sort of goal-setting process, designed to bring closure to the current year and prepare for the upcoming one. Depending on circumstances and mood, there may be lots of lists involved or maybe I follow along with an online course, or print a workbook. If I’m feeling particularly sassy, I may even make a binder with tabs and everything.

I know this all sounds pretty nerdy and very Hermione-Granger-meets-Leslie-Knope, but I tend to really enjoy it. There are always prompts and questions about what went well this past year, and what I hope to achieve in the coming year, and I usually come away with a fairly clear path toward work and personal goals. For a self-employed writer, this is crucial.

However, due to reasons we’re all well aware of, this year hasn’t been like other years. I couldn’t get past the “review and reflect” step that these exercises always begin with. I got one page into an old workbook that I repurposed, and put it aside with an emphatic nope.

LOL. if only this was actually my desk. (photo by by on ).

I thought revisiting this familiar routine would bring some joy and clarity, but it actually did the opposite. Turns out, I’m in no way interested in reflecting and trying to make sense of “how I did” in a year that was a struggle start-to-finish.

Not only am I not ready to relive 2020, but I have little faith in my ability to manage plans and goals in 2021. There are simply too many unknowns still, and too much has changed. None of this is to say that I‘m preparing for the worst — I have hope in vaccines and Joe and Kamala and in the supply of masks that my family has which seems to multiple like rabbits — but that I don’t feel like I can start planning around any of it, not yet at least.

So, what’s a planner to do, when it’s impossible to plan? How does a writer prepare for and predict their output in the coming months when the months are so blurry? How does a creative person manage their time and resources when there’s so few clues about what they’ll be doing and making, and when they’ll be doing and making it?

imagine me holding my hand out longingly toward this notebook (Photo by on ).

For me, the answer — I’m using that term loosely — has been to embrace a more bite-sized method and to look ahead only a few weeks at a time. And, to acknowledge that skipping the ritual of reflecting and mapping out my year and solidifying big goals doesn’t mean that I’m skipping out on responsibilities.

It’s a shifting of finite resources; in this case, time and energy. I don’t have it in me to reflect and assess and make intentional choices about my writing and work beyond the next couple of weeks. That feels more introspective and luxurious than I can handle in December 2020. The effort I would normally put into this kind of planning is going towards parenting, and distance learning, and the little bit of creative writing I can manage to do, and showering, and chores like the extra dishes that happen when four people eat three meals and snacks at home every day. And that’s just how it is these days.

But some day, “these days” will become “those days,” and we’ll be in a new phase of this when maybe some of the things we used to enjoy will come back around.

If you wanted, I could tell you all about the new planner I have for 2021, and how I’m excited to have it even though I’m not ready to use beyond the next month or so. I went with a new size this year and I’m super into the color scheme used on the monthly tabs and the idea I had to designate quarters for the first time ever— but I will hold off because your time is precious, and it’s one thing to tell you that I geek out over this stuff, and it’s another to actually do it in paragraph form.

I’m hopeful that I’ll use this planner in all its glory at some point, though. And that’s kind of where I’ve landed — hoping has taken the place of planning. And, even though looking forward in small and insignificant ways is hardly what I’m used to doing this time of year, it’s enough for now.

writer | part 80s/part 90s | very PNW | words also on The Atlantic, R29, Bustle, Romper, et al | she/her

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