I’m a sucker for new beginnings. New calendar year, new academic year, any other kind of fresh start and I sit down with my pen, diary and pad of paper to make a plan, set some goals, generally get my life in order.
I’m not naturally well-organised. The default state for my flat is cluttered, I am almost invariably late to things, I only remember the birthdays of my closest relatives and sometimes not even them, and I frequently find myself frantic at the very last minute trying to meet a deadline. But I don’t want to be like this! I’m too busy to let my life organise itself, for a start. And I genuinely enjoy making a good plan and sticking to it.
So over the last few days I have been getting organised for the new academic year, which starts mid-September for me. For several years my main planning tool has been my diary: I think on paper, and for at least the last five years I’ve not gone anywhere without it. I spend months selecting the perfect diary to replace my old one, and for 2014/2015 I’ve designed my own using Personal Planner. This morning I sat down and wrote in all the commitments I already know about: the e-learning courses I’ve signed up to, which weeks are in university and which on placement, any academic deadlines, and my annual leave. Having everything written in for the entire year means I can easily see how busy I’m likely to be on any given week, and avoid over-committing to extra projects (something that I am very good at doing, and very bad at coping with).
I’ve also written a list of my goals for the year. These are things I already wanted to do, and some of them are things I’ve already been trying to do, but taking time to think seriously about how I would measure whether I was achieving them and what steps I need to take to do so really helped. I’ve ended up with five goals, ranging from academic to personal:
- Achieve an average of 60% for second year. This is broken down a little more; I’m aiming for an average of 65% for academic work with a minimum of 60% for all assignments, and a minimum of 55% for placement grades. If I achieve this goal, I’ll have significantly improved my grades from first year, especially for placement. Even if I don’t, the steps I will take towards my goal should help lift my grades.
- Learn basic Punjabi. I want to be able to speak to the women I care for who don’t speak English, and have identified three key languages: Punjabi, Arabic and Polish. I took a six-week course in Arabic which gave me some very basic phrases, and have been acquiring resourses for learning Punjabi next. Ideally, I will be able to introduce myself, ask how the woman is feeling, and make basic small talk in both Arabic and Punjabi by the end of next summer. Then I’ll start to tackle Polish.
- Read the Bible chronologically by the end of next summer. I’ve found a reading plan which will take me through the entire Bible in order of the events described (rather than trudging through book by book; my experience has been that I give up half way through Deuteronomy using this approach!) in 365 days. Realistically, the chances of me reading my Bible every single day for a year are fairly slim, so I’ve given myself a couple of months of wiggle room.
- Get the flat organised. This includes things like establishing a habit of washing up and spending 15 minutes tidying every day, and also a quarterly purge (I’ve already written these into the to-do list for the relevant weeks – conveniently I have reading weeks or annual leave roughly once every three months). I’ve also got a list of items I want to acquire when finances or circumstances permit, such as a cutlery organiser, a CD rack, a whiteboard… I’m keeping an eye on Freecycle and a portion of any unexpected income will be put towards this list.
- Take control of my finances. This is a big one; my new flat is more expensive than my old one and therefore my budget has constricted even more. I can still live comfortably on my income, but I need to be purposeful about monitoring my spending and making sensible decisions about money. I have a good monthly accounting system set up, but need to be more deliberate about maintaining it. The final aspect of this is maximising my income by moving my savings and ISAs whenever I can get better rates, and keeping on top of how often I am being paid for tutoring. I’m very British about money; I hate talking about it, I hate asking for it, I would prefer to just ignore it. But that is not a sensible way to stay out of debt!
So those are my goals for the year. I haven’t detailed everything I will do to achieve them – that would be incredibly boring for anyone who isn’t me – but I have made an effort to ensure that I have concrete, measurable steps that I can take towards each goal.
To help me stay motivated and track my progress, I’ve started using HabitRPG. My friend Anna put me onto this – basically, it turns your life into a role-playing game by giving you gold and experience points for achieving the daily tasks, habits and to-do items that you’ve set yourself and removing health points if you miss any of the recurring tasks. I’m not really a gamer, so the more gamish aspects such as quests, challenges and guilds don’t really appeal, but the tasks interface is very easy to use and I like how visual it is.
I’ll probably blog about my progress as the year goes along; I’m hoping that these systems will work but if not, I’ll be on the lookout for alternatives! Do you plan your year? If so, how do you do it?