Plan of Action (POA)Reading time: 5 mins
A way to set goals for the next academic year
A new academic year is about to start soon, near the end of August. I always try to take a little bit of time to think about the time coming up ahead and what just passed by. It helps me sort out my thoughts, get some measure of how productive I was the last year and I also get a chance to reflect. I’ve been writing grant proposals in this past year and I sat down to think about what makes the grant proposals so effective: These proposals are essentially a timeline of what we are going to accomplish, and how exactly we will do it. More importantly, the grants we propose for our research have very specific objectives and key resources that we will need to complete our goals successfully. If grants work well as a blueprint to organize1 research and the researchers doing that work, why not use a similar format to organize yourself and achieve the same goals?
So I looked at the grant format and created a structure similar to them but for personal means2. This is by no means complete and I’ll be working on improving this frequently. So what follows is a few terms specific to this proposal:
Timescale: One semester. Generally beyond that, the predictability goes out of the window. Of course there will be elements that extend beyond the timescale in the proposal. The timescale further gets broken down into actionable units.
Goals: The most important section, the goals are to be split into four categories.
- A. Actionable: These are the concrete goals that need to be done within a semester. For example, write a research paper, lose x pounds weight, or gain x pounds, or learn in depth about topic X.
- B. Habitual goals: These are the daily habits or daily goals that you want to develop. For example, reading a chapter a day, writing a blog post a day and so on.
- C. Fulfillment goals: Enrichment of the mind or body. These are the most abstract perhaps, the fulfillment goals cover anything like watching TV shows, reading manga and so on. The whole point of writing these down is to get into a habit of expanding your creativity by watching or reading the master pieces created by artists.
- D. Long term: These are the goals that will be accomplished in more than one semester. The percentage to be completed in one timescale will have to be specified. For example, training for a marathon.
Finances: Who is putting the money in my back account? This question will further decide what responsibilities you have and give you a realistic picture of what to put in the upcoming sections.
Timescale: One semester, broken down into smaller segments like weekly or biweekly. I prefer biweekly, but basically this section will decide how to propose a timeline for your goals and how often to check your performance on them.
Goals: The longest and perhaps the most important section of your entire proposal. List 5-6 goals (maximum) that you want to accomplish following the format stated above in the Background section.
Intellectual Merit: In this section, go through each of the 5-6 goals and very succinctly write about why is this goal important, what will you learn from it and how will it benefit you in the long run?
Checkpoints: There is no concrete way to make a timeline for goals that stretch over a few months. But one can try to tackle the problem of checking your performance with the goals by putting in checkpoints. This is going to be based on your segments that you decided in the timescale. These checkpoints are very literally events on your calendar when you will go back to the proposal and check how well you are doing with your goals
Carryovers: Life happens and often we can’t stick to our plans. Which goals absolutely need to be accomplished regardless of mishaps and which ones have wiggle room? It’s hard to make that clear ahead of time but actionable goals should be prioritized over others. Use this section to write about future actions to close the lost time and “disaster recovery” in case your goals get pushed past the timescale.
Partnerships: Who am I going to be networking with over this timescale? Any particular group or a certain type of people?
How to do it?
I want this to be a guide and not something that you have to follow down to the letter. Though in the future, if people ask for it, I may make a structured document to help people out follow a standard but not right now. So how should you do this? I don’t care how you do it as long as you follow the guidelines You can start writing this out on paper in a notebook, but it might be hard to do that because it is going to end up being 3-4 pages long. So typing it out might be the best. Just open up Google Docs or MS Word and start typing.
It would be nice to have something to start with, right? Let me do that for you. Here’s a Google Doc to start, enjoy and happy planning.
It must be noted that a plan of action is not for daily tasks or chores, that’s what Google Calendar is for, these are broad goals applicable to a few months ↩
This proposal may seem like a pain to write but the exercise of writing it all out and the 2-3 days spent on this proposal before the semester starts are very good ways to clear your mind and know exactly what your priorities are. ↩