I think any conversation about planning should begin with setting an intention for the year. Just so we’re on the same page, here’s what I’m thinking when I use the word intention: “a determination to act in a certain way.” How do you want your year to go? How do you want it to feel? What do you want to focus on? What do you want it to do for you?
My intention for the year serves as a guide for all decisions I make in each area of my life, whether it’s my relationships, my career, my parenting, my health, etc. It’s my compass. I set one intention overall (vs. one for each area of life... but you do what works for you!). This activity was inspired by the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, which I listened to during my first year on the tenure track. They talk about “themes,” I like intention... I feel like it adds more depth/sounds fancier, ha! But really, they are the same thing - at least for this exercise! You can find the podcast episode here and the blog post here. They don’t go into too much detail on how you actually chose a theme, so I’m detailing my process below. [Side note: I really liked this podcast during Ellie’s first year of life as their episodes were super short. It was really difficult to focus for long periods of time on one thing, so I appreciated these short snippets I could learn something from and then move onto the next thing.]
I initially implemented this practice in December 2016 during my first year on the tenure track. In subsequent years I’ve done this at the beginning of the school year or at the end of summer, instead of at the end of the calendar year... the flow feels better for academic life! Below I’ll walk through the steps that I took (and give an example from my first year doing this process).
Step 1: To start, take out a notebook (or open up your computer or maybe even pull out your phone and record yourself, it’s up to you!) and do some free writing that focuses on the past year. Write down anything that comes to mind. You can write about major events, major feelings from the year, highs and lows, what worked well, what didn’t work, how you’re feeling now, etc. If you have time, you might get through this in one sitting (perhaps an hour or so) or you might want to space it out over a few days... depends on how the past year went. Once you’re done reflecting on the past year, set your writing aside and come back to it on another day, they need time to sit!
Year 1: When I sat down to do this in December 2016, I thought back over the past year. Since December 2015 we had a kid, sold our condo, moved 2000+ miles to a place we knew no one, I started a new job... lots of major life changes. I felt overwhelmed and exhausted just thinking about it. There were lots of highs and lows - lots of emotions all over the place! I wrote about all the changes over the past year, and feeling depleted.
Step 1a: Read over what you wrote to see if anything feels like it’s missing or if it feels like it’s accurately capturing your experiences. If not, add what’s missing or if everything is good move on step 2.
Year 1: I read through my reflections and felt like I captured everything so I moved on.
Step 2: Go through your writing and highlight, underline, or jot down (whatever works) anything that comes up over and over again. Once again, set it down and give your brain some time and space to breathe and process.
Year 1: Overwhelmed, exhausted, depleted, huge changes... all things that kept coming up in my writing.
Step 3: More reflection and free writing! Now you’ll move on to creating a vision for the coming year. What do you want the next year to look like? How do you want to feel? Are there major milestones that will happen? Imagine what your best life will look like over the next year, focusing on the ideal. Now is not the time to get caught up in all the barriers you may face or things that could go wrong. Don’t hold back, no one but you is going to see this. Once you’re done, set down your writing and come back to it at a later time - let things sit!
Year 1: I knew I did not want the new year to look like the last one, that’s for sure! I wanted to feel replenished, not necessarily energized, but not depleted. I wanted to feel satisfied with daily life. I wanted to feel calm and not anxious, I wanted to spend lots of quality time with Mike and Ellie, and spend time outside. I wanted to feel at home in our new city. I craved the mundane.
Step 3a: Review your reflections for the coming year. Do they fully capture what you want? If yes, move on to step 4. If no, add what’s missing.
Step 4: Just like in step 2, go through your writing and note anything that keeps coming up. What major themes are you seeing? Then, give it some time to rest!
Year 1: Replenished, refreshed, relaxed, zen, balanced, humdrum (no excitement), pretty much the opposite of the prior year.
Step 5: Now, take all of your free writing and notes where you identified themes from your writing. Review everything! After you’ve reviewed what you wrote, use these reflections/notes to help you brainstorm an intention for the coming year. I like to get everything out of my head - no matter how silly I think it sounds - so I’ll just write everything down that comes to mind for ~10-15 minutes, and then review what I’ve written, to see if anything sticks out to me, or if I need to tweak wording.
Year 1: I don’t have examples of this step, but I’m sure you can use your imagination!
Step 6: Once you’ve got a good list of potential intentions going, review your options to see which one feels best and go with that! I’ve done this 3 times (not necessarily in as much detail as the steps I’ve laid out here, but it some way shape or form) and each time there is always something that stands out as most important to me.
Step 6a: Once you’ve picked your intention, define what it means for you.
Step 7: Write your intention down, somewhere where you can look at it every day!
Step 8: Go live your life and find time to pause and notice if your intention is serving as your compass!
Year 1: I used my theme list as a starting point and ended up with a final intention of R+R: recharge + recenter.
Year 1: This year is all about rebuilding myself up from exhaustion/depletion. I will involve myself in activities that feel restorative and say no to the things that are depleting. [*Note: Honestly, I have a better sense of what this intention physically feels like than how to verbalize it - so you don’t necessarily have to write everything down! Also, this is a guide, so I’m not saying that this is what life looked like 100% of the time, but it did help me edit out pieces of my life that weren’t helpful when I was able to.]
If you’re curious, my intention for year 2 was getting into a groove (figuring out how to do all the things and build community!). And for year 3 it is finding myself (who am I as a person, a parent, a researcher, an educator... hence the blog, ha!).
If you give good old google a search you’ll find lots of examples of people doing something similar - this is my version! How do you like to start your year (whether it's the calendar year or the academic year)?
Next up in the planning series: Goal setting for the year.