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12 Steps to (Feel-Good) Strategy Planning


Picking up on a common thread lately, I want to talk a bit about planning. Lately, for me, things have been feeling slow and my motivation has been waning.

In any profession, sometimes you just feel like this.

That’s when I sat down with myself and had a strategy planning session and devised the following 12-step motivational program.

Step 1: Treat yourself. Planning is hard, so conduct your strategy session in a place that motivates you, or take yourself out for a treat. I took myself out for a latte.

Or maybe you treat yourself to a waffle.

Step 2: Make a list of everything on the horizon. Write down every deadline or project that needs to get done.

Step 3: Make a calendar. Break it down with monthly columns. Include as many months as necessary to meet all your deadlines. Be liberal with your estimations of how long things will take – I’ve learned that everything in research takes longer than you think it will. Budget your time accordingly.

Step 4: Write down your goals, even if it’s something as simple as, “graduate by next summer”. Your goal should energize and motivate you; remember why you are here. Make sure to be specific as possible and include a hard deadline.

Step 5: Plan each project separately in its own row. Working backwards (as Atif mentioned), figure out what needs to get done every month in order to complete your project. Repeat for all projects.

This is a rough draft of my calendar.

This is a rough draft of my calendar.

Step 6: Look down your columns. Is your workload realistic? Make sure that months are evenly balanced and that the workload is attainable. If not, go back to Step 4 and tweak as necessary. If you can’t balance your calendar, it is possible that you’ve taken on too many commitments – this happened to me, and I had to drop a couple of commitments consequently.

It can be tempting to say yes to every new commitment that comes along. Don’t be afraid to say no.

Step 7: At the beginning of each month, look down the appropriate monthly column and take note of all of your deadlines.

Step 8: Break your month down by week. Make a list of what needs to get done every week, and if you desire, make a list of what needs to be accomplished each day.


Maybe your end result looks something like this? Thanks to the well-organized Amanda for her generous contribution.

Step 9: Is your week-by-week or day-by-day itinerary realistic (especially once you include meetings and the like)? If not, go back to Step 5 and recalibrate.

Always leave (mental) room for revision. Flexibility is important.

Step 10: Keep your list of goals + itinerary somewhere where you will see it everyday. At the beginning of every workday, consult your weekly or daily itinerary. I keep a sticky note at my desk. This is the most valuable step for me, as I find this helps to keep me on track. If I find myself procrastinating or unsure of how to spend my time, I look at my note and I ask myself “what is the best use of my time right now”?

Consistency is difficult. Stay strong.

Step 11: Evaluate your progress at the end of everyday or week. Reward yourself at the end of every day or week for meeting your goals. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated – maybe a tv show or coffee with a friend. Positive reinforcement is a powerful thing and it makes you more likely to continue a particular behaviour. If necessary, use a friend or monetary incentive to hold yourself accountable. If you didn’t meet all of your deadlines, then troubleshoot. Did you use your time effectively? Did you underestimate how much time your meetings take up? Did you run into some hiccups? If so, don’t stress, re-evaluate and plan as necessary.

Step 12: Be kind to yourself. Research can be a long process and you’re going to run into obstacles. Anticipate them. Forgive yourself for being human when you have an off day. Give yourself breaks or days off. It’s not possible to be 100% efficient without downtime. The process isn’t perfect or linear. Treat yourself every once in a while.


And of course….


Planning complete. Follow up with a happy dance.

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2 comments on “12 Steps to (Feel-Good) Strategy Planning
  1. Amanda says:

    Hey Rachel,

    Love this post!! So witty and helpful. I love the idea about making monetary incentives!

  2. Colette Steer says:

    HI Rachel, I agree with Amanda, but don’t forget some incentives or rewards could be the opportunity to present your research at a conference, 3 minute thesis event, TedTalks etc. And if you want help to keep on track, Expanding Horizons workshop series has many sessions to help you deal with time management and avoiding procrastination. In June we have the Dissertation Boot Camp too.

    I always find catching up with mates is a great way to not only give yourself some down time, but it can also give you the opportunity to think out loud of how you are progressing, with someone who is there to encourage you.

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