Photo by Cliff Johnson | unsplash.com
What are you working on? What do you want to achieve by the end of the month? And what do you need to do this week to reach those goals?
Many people are familiar with this approach to time and project management.
But sorting out what you need to do is one thing, while actually following through is quite another!
This can be especially difficult if you operate in a more solitary environment, as do many writers, artists, researchers, and people involved in projects outside of their paid job or formal study. Without the everyday structure of collaboration deadlines, team meetings, and so on it’s pretty easy to let the weeks slip by, to transfer an item from one to-do list to the next, to de-prioritise your own goals in favour of things that other people want from you. It can be hard to hold yourself accountable.
I started The Monthly Weeklies online goal-setting group with this in mind. My aim was to create a structure that would help me think seriously about short and medium term goals, a place to record those goals and my progress, and a team of people who could help keep each other focussed and celebrate each other’s successes.
The group started in September 2016 and, as the name suggests, it runs in monthly cycles with weekly check-ins. Members come and go, finding the structure useful in different ways.
Benefits might include:
- devoting time to thinking about and setting their goals, even if it’s just 5-10 minutes each week;
- stating explicitly what they have done and what they aim to do;
- directing time and energy into the things they want to prioritise;
- breaking down big ideas into actionable, measurable tasks;
- keeping focused;
- getting a nudge to return each week instead of letting things slide;
- having a record of what they are capable of achieving on a weekly/monthly basis;
- the social contact element, which helps with accountability and enjoyability.
It can work for all kinds of people – we’ve had writers, researchers, freelancers, librarians, bloggers, makers, teachers, artists, and folks who simply wanted to get things done.
The Monthly Weeklies is a private/invitation-only group on Slack, but the fairly simple format should be easy for others to replicate. So, if you’re interested in setting up a group like this, here’s a bit of information about how we operate – and some issues to consider.
Where will you meet? How will you structure your online space? Is it easy to sign up for an account? The Monthly Weeklies is a Slack group (so if you’re not familiar with Slack, this summary may not make much sense!). At the core of the group is a channel for each week of the monthly cycle:
- Week 0 – introductions, state monthly goals/aims, set goals/tasks for the first week
- Week 1 – report on progress, discuss what worked or didn’t, set goals for the second week
- Week 2 – report on progress, set goals for third week
- Week 3 – report on progress, keep monthly goals in mind when setting tasks for the final week
- Week 4 – summarise/report on monthly progress, reflect on what’s worked/what hasn’t, celebrate successes
Sometimes, the last day of one cycle (Week 4) falls on the same day as the next cycle (Week 0), so we start again on the same day. All members of the Slack group are included in the Week 0 channel, but only people who set monthly goals are added to Week 1, only people who report back in Week 1 are added to Week 2, and so on. At the end of the cycle the facilitator removes everyone from weeks 1 to 4 and we start again.
Length of cycle
How long term are your goals? What if someone wants to take a break? I was previously part of a Slack writers’ group in which each member aimed to finish a major project by the end of the year. I loved it, but the group disbanded after a few months, partly (I think) because the overall goals were so large and distant. If a person changed direction or put their big project aside for a while, or if external pressures meant letting go of their year-end deadline, they tended to become disheartened and disappear. Setting goals on a monthly cycle makes it easy to take part for just one month (e.g. for a particular project or deadline), to sit out for a month (e.g. if going on holiday), and to join (or re-join) at the start of each cycle.
When will you meet? What will that look like? Another reason the writers’ group petered out was that it centred on live meetings. We were from all over the world, so it was difficult to find a time each week that worked for all of us – and when the clocks changed, it became impossible. The Monthly Weeklies is less tightly structured. We set goals and report back on Sundays (or thereabouts). This offers a lot more flexibility around individual schedules.
Long term and short term goals
Goal setting is at the heart of The Monthly Weeklies. In this context, monthly goals are our big aims. Some have specific outcomes and clear steps to completion (e.g. “Complete first draft of Chapter 4”); other people might not know how their goals will be achieved or what the outcome will look like (e.g. “Get my studio into a state where I can enjoy painting without distractions”).
Weekly goals are the tasks we set to move towards our monthly aims. It can help to set these goals using SMART principles. Goals can be outcome based (e.g. “Read 3 articles and take notes”, “Send application for Job X”) or process based (e.g. “Spend 5 hours working on novel”, “Practice calligraphy every day”). Using this system can help us prioritise, reflect on what is realistic for us, and see if we’ve achieved our goals.
Who can join your group? When? The Monthly Weeklies is invitation-only (which is not as VIP-ish as it sounds!) and tends to work best with about half a dozen people. Numbers go up and down, though, and a few people usually bow out during each monthly cycle, so I try to operate on an easy-come, easy-go basis. This is meant to be a helpful tool, not an additional stressor in people’s lives.
The only “attendance” rules are:
- people can only start a monthly cycle during the first week, and
- if someone doesn’t “show up” one week, and doesn’t contact me to let me know otherwise, I assume they have dropped out of the monthly cycle and don’t add them to the following week’s channel.
How much work does facilitating involve? Who does it? I spend about half an hour on facilitation admin each week and can appoint another administrator if I’m away. I need to make sure that the right people are included in each weekly channel, assist new members, and post reminders so people are aware of meetings. I also find it helps if I kick things off each week by restating each person’s weekly goals (I tag people, so they’re more likely to see the notification) – this can enhance group camaraderie and add more sense of accountability.
Of course, this is not the only way to run a goal-setting group.
The Monthly Weeklies isn’t perfect and it doesn’t work for everyone. Slack can be confusing to new users. People still need to take responsibility for reporting back on the right day. Some cycles feel disjointed. And, while some folks thrive on this kind of goal setting, others find their “failures” difficult and dispiriting.
If you’re thinking of setting up a group like this I recommend you keep things simple, be clear with your structure, encourage supportive interactions, and be kind.
If you’re part of a group that’s set up in a similar style, I’d love to hear about it!
So, what are your goals this week? Good luck!
In his day job, he wrangles a school database. He completed his PhD on trans cinema at the University of Melbourne in 2011 and has avoided academia ever since.
Jonathan currently lives in East Sussex, UK. You can find him on Twitter: @jonathanworking.