I’m in a curious space at the moment. I have been working on project with external deadlines (like my Community Spirit and Criminal Quilts projects) for years, and finally, by the end of October, all of them come to an end. I had applied to do another big project this winter but that didn’t happen, so here I am contemplating the autumn and winter with no ongoing things with external partners. I still have my ‘own’ projects like my Maker Membership which will keep me busy and inspired, but I won’t be working with anyone else, project-managing, delivering workshops, designing print or moving exhibitions around. It’s both WONDERFUL to have a break and quite disconcerting to have the space.
I’ve been on this project-to-project rollercoaster for so many years I can’t even think about adding them up. There was a bit of a pause at the start of the pandemic when my exhibitions got cancelled and I stopped doing anything external, but I soon got stuck into Textiles in Lockdown and then other projects happened and have continued, until now.
I usually do my planning and goal setting in January but there’s no point in waiting, so here I am heading into autumn, the new academic year, thinking about my annual reflection and figuring out what I want to be doing at least for the next 6-12 months.
I’m starting this process with a week-long artist retreat with the wonderful Gillian McFarland so I can really think about my creative goals for the next while, separate from my more business-focussed plans. Because of the way I work, I find it easier to separate the two, although my long-term intention is to bring the two more closely together.
During this break I will be working on my own Gentle Goal Setting workbook, really digging into what matters to me, why I do the work I do, what my goals, hopes & dreams are and how I can be working towards them, steadily but crucially – gently – over the next year or so.
My Gentle Goal Setting process is designed to be responsive to your needs, energy, creativity and working life. I believe that goals should be more like guiding lights, directions to follow not a time-restricted set of things you must do or you have failed. I create goals which take me towards they kind of life I want to live, not goals that make me feel pressured, exhausted and risk falling behind before I’ve really got started. The self-study workbook is available here for £20
Over the next few weeks I’ll share some of my goals that I’ve been working on this year and how I’ve made progress. You can also, if you wish, look at my 2021 goals in two blog posts here and here.
If you are looking for a creative community with ongoing support and resources to challenge your thinking and take your creative practice further, have a look at my Maker Membership. It’s a monthly rolling membership that you can join any time. I create workbooks, blog posts and videos about all kinds of things including research, creative development and reflection. There’s also a lively community who share their work and their thoughts via the members chat and we meet monthly on Zoom for a group mentoring session which is always really inspiring and encouraging. It’s £25 per month to join with no minimum term. Find out more here.
Last week I shared my process of reviewing my year and then developing the Gentle Goal Setting Workshop alongside it. This week I’m sharing the goals I have come up with following my review, and a little more about how I got there. Leading up to writing the workbook, I had done quite a a lot of thinking and planning and reviewing and contemplating, partly so I could use my own examples in the workbook. Feedback from the participants in that programme included some clear examples of how I got from review to goals, so I am going to try and share that here. Welcome to the inside of my head!
My approach is to create goals that don’t have a fixed completion, necessarily. This is counter to most goal-setting advice which recommends giving yourself a schedule, a reward, a stick to beat yourself with if you fail. I think this approach of targets just sets us up to fail. I had lots of plans for 2020 and almost all of them didn’t or couldn’t happen, not through any fault of my own. Stuff happens. Even in a more normal year. So I now set goals that I can work on even if the world isn’t back to normal, that I have some element of control over.
Step 1. Reviewing the past year.
I created a number of different ways to frame my view of the previous 12 months. I did a calendar-based review of what I had done in each month / quarter of the year including work achievements, failures, visiting friends then pandemic starting, getting my cat, having a weekend away (amazing!) and employing a virtual assistant. This covers the stuff that had an impact on my life, things I got done and things that happened, as well as the things that didn’t quite happen such as interviews for things I didn’t get, funding applications turned down and work I started but didn’t get finished. I try to do this with no judgement. The point of gentle goal setting is to be kind to oneself and just see what happened in my life and work over the last year.
My Gentle Goal Setting Workbook includes exercises and journalling questions for personal and business reflection, asking questions about confidence and skills, about what you missed and what went better than expected. When working through these reflections I could see patterns emerging showing what I felt was important, what was having a big impact on me and what I needed to build in for 2021.
Step 2. Creating your own version of success.
We all come up against the feeling that there’s something we should be doing in our business. That person over there is doing public art! That person over there is curating exhibitions! That person over there is writing a book! Should I be doing all of these things too? We can too easily get stuck in what we think we ought to be doing rather than what we want to be doing. I worked out that my own criteria for success in my working life is: not getting ill, connecting with people, making work with meaning and making conscious, proactive choices not reactive to what others’ want.
Step 3. Turning all this into goals.
From these I was able to make a series of goals, most of which are open and expansive, rather than tight time-bound, achievement-focussed. My goals are feelings and ways of working that I want to achieve, things I want to build more of into my life. I have a couple which are more specific such as finishing my book, but that is actually a stepping stone or building block towards some of my broader goals about getting my work out in the world and connecting with people. I would also class “Do more funding applications” as a gentler goal, as I’ve not set myself a number, a deadline nor am I assuming success. I just have to keep trying. As long as I am working towards these things, I am making progress, and that’s what it’s all about.
I’ve created the diagram showing how I’ve made goals from the Things That Are Important To Me list.
Step 4. Building blocks towards your goals.
I am dead-set against the timetabling of tasks weeks and months ahead, setting ourselves unrealistic To Do lists and constantly feeling behind in what we are trying to get done. In working towards these broad and expansive goals, I have created a set of building blocks or steps towards the goals and do one, some or a bit of each every week or month when I can and pick up later if I can’t. There’s no judgement or self-flagellation if I don’t ‘achieve’ my goals when something else happens or I just don’t feel like working on that thing this week. Of course there are deadlines and dates when things have to be done because other people are waiting for them but my goals are things to be working on, steadily all year.
Some examples of building blocks towards my goals:
Goal: Decluttering and selling more of my work. Building blocks for this include creating a photo area in my house, setting myself a reminder to take photos when the weather is suitable and upgrading my online shop. Some of those are short-term goals such as setting up a photo space and some are ongoing like taking photos. I have a lot of lists of all the things I want to deal with, photograph, share and sell. I might set myself a challenge or focus for each month, but whatever I do, every small step is progress.
Goal: Connecting with others. This covers so much of my work and what I want to do more of. It links to many of my other goals. The overall purpose of this goal is to feel more connected at the end of the year than I did at the start. There’s no assessment or criteria for this, it is a feeling and I’ll know if I am making progress. Some of the building blocks for this are to create more workshops for other creative people, to launch a podcast where I talk to other artists who I admire, to do some more Instagram live chats, to revamp and develop my Patreon membership group… there are so many ways I will build connection into my working and personal life. Within each of these broader building blocks are smaller steps and specific tasks which I build into my work plan every week. My other goal of mentoring programmes is very closely linked in with this, as is my creativity goal as talking to others inspires me.
Goal: Integrating social justice into my work. I have struggled to know how to do this for the last year or so, but volunteering for the foodbank and working right in the midst of community activism has helped clarify things for me. My building blocks are : talking more about this in everything I do (such as mentioning it here!), look for funding sources, continue to make work based on the foodbank, work with others to create projects, talk and write more. Again, many of these overlap with my other goals, which is why I think this approach will work for me this year.
Step 5. Motivation and keeping moving towards your goals.
This one can be hard. It is all too easy to write a load of challenging and exciting goals in January and then close the notebook and never look at it again. This year I am trying the Goals Planner diary to help me keep track. This has a section at the front with short and long term goals and then space to review and plan each month referring back to the bigger goals. A visual and practical reminder which seems to work for me. The goal-setting advice in the planner is not my approach (obviously!) and I don’t use the milestones and targets bit, I just make lists. Then each month I review and plan what I am going to do next month. If I don’t get all the things done that’s ok. As long as I am making a little progress I am happy. That’s why my goal setting is gentle.
Would you like to try Gentle Goal Setting yourself?
If you would like to try out my review and goal setting journey, the workbook is now available as a stand alone download. It also includes a bonus section on exploring your values and purpose, using my own template around creative business. This will help guide you through everything you do in work and life, hopefully! I’m also working on some new plans including a monthly creative business reflection and journalling ‘club’, group mentoring programmes and more workshops on specific creative business topics like project planning and refining your practice, all part of my connecting and mentoring goals! Please do feel free to share your thoughts about this and your gentle goals for 2021 in the comments.