Momentum & Writing Update
February is the shortest month of the year, and yet I’ve somehow written more in the last few weeks than I have in the last who knows when. Pretty fitting for a month themed around momentum, huh? Check out my 2.6 blog post to read more about momentum and writing.
My goal for the month is to write 7,500 words. My stretch goal is 10,000 words. In last week’s post on batchotasking I reported that I’d hit 61% of my stretch goal for my dissertation chapter, or 82% of my original goal. This week, I’m golden: hitting not only my goal of 7,500, but surpassing the 10,000 word stretch goal, too.
How did I do it? By working smarter, not harder. And by giving myself permission to do a good job at reaching the original goal I set out to accomplish: a 7,500 word raccoon report of my dissertation chapter. I know that the hard work of revision awaits me, but I feel prepared to take on the challenge with confidence and curiosity!
Now, onwards to teaching you how to do your own good job.
Good Job vs. What?
Please note that when I say “do a good job,” I am not passive aggressively implying “just do what you’re supposed to do already, sheesh.” Doing the good job I’m talking about requires identifying explicitly what good work means in a particular context, and then doing only that and no more. Limiting your output to a good job will save you time, energy, and focus, which will enable you to redistribute those resources to other parts of your life.
In what follows, I’ll teach you how to differentiate between doing a perfectly good job and doing stretch goals or “nice to haves.” I’ll give you tools and prompts that will help you streamline your good job practice and will guide you through the shift from “must be perfect (whatever that is…)” to “good is great!”
Stretch Goals & Nice To Haves
The term “stretch goal” is often used in business, described here as follows: “By design, stretch goals are aggressively ambitious, aiming for results radically beyond your current capacity and output.” For our purposes, a stretch goal is a purposefully challenging goal that is outside of the scope of your original goal.
While challenges may feel tempting, I’d like to encourage you to parse out your immediate goals from your stretch goals. Doing so can help prevent burnout, negative self talk, and can help you achieve your goals with intention and awareness. One way to differentiate between these types of goals is to check yourself before your overcommit your resources.
Think about a time when you went above and beyond and did more than you needed to and…no one cared. They didn’t even notice. Ouch. While I am sorry that you felt bummed out, I’m more concerned with the resources (time, energy, willpower, focus, etc.) that you wasted in your overachieving process.
The planning fallacy occurs when we underestimate how long a particular task will take us to complete. I’d like to expand this definition to include overcommitting ourselves when it is totally unnecessary to do so. We do these things (underestimate and overcommit) because we feel optimistic and are biased that we ourselves can complete a big task in a short time frame. This could be because we forget to factor in how long it will take us to complete non-project related tasks (cooking, commuting, cleaning, resting, etc.) and because we are so optimistic that we forget that history proves we need longer time to complete similar tasks.
This is where “nice to haves” come in! They are exactly what they sound like: things that would be nice to have, but that are not necessary to complete a goal. Here’s an example in action: If someone asks you to assist with something but does not give you a timeline, it is perfect okay to ask them for both a “hard” deadline and a “nice to have” deadline. Check in with yourself about what you can realistically provide by the nice to have and the hard deadlines before you commit. Don’t get tricked by the planning fallacy!
Remember, stretch goals and nice to haves are for when you have extra energy, time, and focus. You can still do a perfectly good job and impress people without doing either of them.
Adjust Your Perspective
I wrote a whole post about redefining what “good enough” means and feels like. One of my favorite methods was getting an outside perspective from someone who knows me extremely well. I’d like to revisit that method here, but with a twist.
What Would Your Square Squad Say?
To get clear about who belongs on your square squad, use a one-inch by one-inch piece of paper, write down the names of the people in your life whose opinions really matter. The paper is small because it forces you to narrow the list to only those people who have earned the right to an opinion.
Not sure who would go on your square squad? Use Brown’s guidelines for motivation:
These are the people who care enough about you to be honest, rather than telling you what you want to hear. They should not be people who just blindly agree with you no matter what…People on your list love you not despite your vulnerability and imperfections, but because of them. They will point out when you are out of your integrity or when you have messed up, and they will support you to fix things.
I created my own square squad list last week. At first I wondered if it would be difficult to write so tiny, but I ended up only including six people on it: my Sweetie, my east coast best friend, my west coast best friend, two of my other close friends, and Lisa Ben. Once I had my list, I challenged myself to identify “Why them?” My answers follow:
People who genuinely want me to succeed on my path of healing, who would stand by me and support me if I showed up one day and said “I need help” or “Trust me in this.” Who would offer critique out of love and presence. Who love me outside my work or productivity. Who don’t make my chronic pain or Complex PTSD a shameful thing. Who saw me through the worst of my alcoholism and clinical depression and who don’t try to fill the silence that happens when I’m just fucking down. Who don’t try to fix me, don’t think I’m broken, but will celebrate me when and if I choose to improve myself. Who trust and love me. Whom I trust and love.
Having only six people on my list doesn’t mean there aren’t other important people in my life, or people I care about or respect. My therapist and dissertation chair and didn’t make the list, not because I don’t respect their opinions, but because if they butted heads with me, it wouldn’t shake my sense of self. I value their guidance and support, but they aren’t my one-inch square squad.
When you are struggling to feel good enough, or worried that your creations won’t be good enough, think about what your square squad would say. Or better yet, call them and talk it out with them, bouncing ideas, and directly asking for reassurance that your good job is actually a good job. I bet they’ll help you see that your “good” job is actually pretty damn great.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
You probably love kicking ass at what you do and are titillated when you discover new ways to do so. Why not make things easier on yourself and use your go-to ass kicking maneuvers as good job models?
Here’s an example: I surpassed my 10,000 word stretch goal for my raccoon report of my dissertation chapter with a week to spare. Although I was on track to finish anyways based in my output average, I was able to hit my goal early because I repurposed the already good job analysis I’d written in my published journal article for the Journal of Lesbian Studies (email me if you want a PDF of the article!).
The analysis I used in my article is the same analysis I need for my chapter. Redrafting the analysis from scratch would be a big waste of time, and instead I chose to repurpose and edit my previous analysis to fit this new genre.
I hit my goal like a total boss, and yet, I felt…guilty? And then I felt mad for feeling guilty, because I know this is literally a move that other scholars do when they’re writing a dissertation or chapter or book! Instead of mulling in the icky feels that I was somehow “cheating” at writing my first draft, I texted one of my square squad friends, a fellow PhD student who recently finished her dissertation. Here’s what we said:
Needless to say, I felt a ton better after my quick chat with her, because she mirrored to me that I was still hitting my goal. The process felt “too easy,” but realistically I was just working smarter, not harder.
How to Reverse Engineer Your Good Job
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
Applying for a fellowship? Ask your pals who have done it before to share their drafts with you so you can peep a model. Writing a raccoon report first draft of your dissertation chapter and have a perfectly good article where you already analyze the material? CTRL-C and CTRL-V, breathe a sigh of relief, and prepare to revise.
Questions to ask yourself:
- Is it possible to reuse/repurpose/revise something you already know is good?
- Are there any ways to cut corners or ask for help/support/bounce ideas off a pal?
- Is it possible to delay or delegate or reschedule things to make it easier for you to do a good job?
Create a Mad Libs
This is one really fun, and it works. I literally have taken successful pieces of writing I’ve done and reverse engineered them into Mad Libs. I’ve done this for term papers, abstracts, fellowship applications, and other high stakes documents, and I am currently using Dr. Wendy Belcher’s outline for writing a Humanities article to structure my dissertation chapter.
Here’s an example of what a reverse engineered Mad Libs might look like:
“Although the field of my department is interested in my broad topic, scholars have yet to verb my contribution. My genre I’m writing about specific topic contributes to field/study in number ways: 1, 2, 3.“
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
I’ve included below a short journaling prompt that will help you identify your immediate goals, stretch goals, nice to haves, and deadlines before you confidently and mindfully do a good job. You can hang your answers up above your desk and use it for guidance if you start to feel overwhelmed!
Step 1: Choose a task that’s on your plate.
Step 2: Write down what a good job looks like for that task. NOTE: A “good job” for a task may include process actions like “staying calm” and “making sure I take breaks” as well as a description of what the final product will look like.
Step 3: Now, write down your stretch goals and nice to haves for that task. Be critical and differentiate them from the original goal. If someone asked for a wonderful molehill, do not give them a stress-generated mountain.
Step 4: When are your deadlines? Write down the final, hard deadline. Write down the nice to have deadline.
Step 5: Break down the larger goal into its parts (i.e., drafts, revisions, presentations). Respect your behind the scenes labor!
Step 6: Write down what a good job looks like for each smaller task. Write down the stretch goals and nice to haves for them, too. Hold yourself accountable, pal! Are you seeing a lot of things on the plate? Put the stretch goals and nice to haves aside and focus on doing a good job at the actual goal.
Step 7: When you feel overwhelmed, return to your answers to these six steps and use it to help you achieve your goals—which, honestly, is the nicest thing to have!