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by on March 26, 2014
Source: Wiki Media Commons

Source: Wiki Media Commons

I look up at my current goal-board hanging on my wall above my desk at eye level. On it I have 9 post-it notes with various short-hand messages jotted down on them. Each message corresponds to a goal of sorts that I wish to achieve. They are as follows:

  1. Write initial proposal for PhD
  2. Apply to and get accepted to a PhD programme in Ireland
  3. Start my PhD
  4. Write journal article based on my masters degree research
  5. Be actively involved at the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities
  6. Publish journal article
  7. Get funding and/or tuition assistance
  8. Find/maintain ongoing part-time or freelance work
  9. Complete PhD

There are no hard deadlines attached to these goals, and that’s on purpose. First I should say that I’m a lover of deadlines, be they self or socially imposed. I’m also a lover of plans, and the two happen to go together quite well. I use well-mapped out plans with accompanying deadlines to structure my life, and it works for me. Even before I started my PhD I was mad for planning which always entailed making master-lists of the things I wanted to do and sub-lists of the various things that might need to get done to complete something on a master-list. I have a ‘bucket list’. I have a ‘random things to-do in NYC’ list. I have a ‘places I wish to travel to’ list. I have a ‘monthly work-obligations’ list and so on. Assigning deadlines to many list items is necessary but it can also be motivating and empowering. At the same time, I can feel a little hemmed in by my need for such structure which I’m sure this has something to do with the ebb and flow of motivation that naturally occurs in life. So I decided to shake things up. I didn’t abandon my usual way of working but I did want to see if I could make certain things happen without a regimented prescription. My nine goals have been open-ended from the beginning.

As I sit here and write this, it’s probably clear that I’ve completed 1-3 on my list. I’ve since written the journal article based on my masters research and submitted it for publication. Number 4, down. I’ve been involved with the CSMM for the last year as a visiting scholar of sorts. I count this as my ½ since it’s ongoing and set to continue with a variety of projects on the horizon, one of which being a 2015 Men and Masculinities conference of which I’m helping to plan and hoping to present at. While I work away on other things I do what I need to do to tick off 6-9 on my list. I wait to hear back about my article with the assumption that I’ll be instructed to make changes before it’s published. My need for money in some form or fashion never wanes so with that I look for funding, apply, follow-up and wait and I look for part-time work, apply, follow-up and wait. Completing my PhD is a mammoth task that get’s broken down into smaller daily tasks some with deadlines and others without.

As a person whose always used the structure of deadline-bound goals to measure my impact and influence (and in some cases to my own detriment), giving it a go without this structure, even just a little, has been personally and professionally freeing. Besides the benefits to my state of mind It has meant unexpected opportunities that mightn’t have come about had I drawn up a point-by-point map of completion. My, ‘sub-list’, we’ll call it, would have geared me up for a very particular route without exception missing some good opportunities along another way. If like me you’re a planner, a list-maker or a deadline-setter; if you hold tight to this way of doing things because it works and because maybe a little part of you is afraid that it will all go to pot otherwise then I urge you to really try living sans-structure for a little bit. I say ‘really try’ because, if you’re like me, even when a deadline isn’t totally necessary you still assign one. Who knows, you might find that it’s the kind of balance that makes the difference and the kind that can be sustained over the long-term too.

  1. I’m the kind of person that struggles with deadlines. I like the freedom that unstructuredness can offer, the possibility of finding the most interesting route. The problem with this approach is that it can take for ever…considering all the possibilities, all the routes I could take. Sometimes lists and deadlines are good. But better, in my case, would actually being able to stick to self imposed deadlines. I find with the PhD, like you mentioned in another post Tara, things happen soooo slowly and often I don’t leave myself enough time. Then I end up missing my deadline and feeling like a bit of a failure. Where’s the happy medium??

  2. Man do I hear that loud and clear. Honestly, if you asked me next week, being even a little bit unstructured might not be working for what I’m trying to do. How about this, the ‘happy medium’ is in-fact the act of letting the happy medium be where it is when it is? 🙂

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