Lowering the Goal Posts

- 6 comments - writing

Thirteen years ago, I was a PhD student at the University of Leeds, and I was really, really stressed – to the point where I finally went in for counselling at the university counselling centre so that I could stop having physical panic attacks. Luckily, I got a wonderful counsellor. She was a perfect combination of warmth and brisk practicality, and as we talked one day about how stressed I was about constantly feeling so behind, she asked me how I set my work-goals each month.

I said, “Well, I figure out how long I have until my next supervision meeting, then I figure out exactly how much I could get done if I work REALLY REALLY hard every day until then – and then I set that as my goal.”

…Then, of course, I got incredibly stressed as I neared the date of my next supervision session, realized how unforgivably, shockingly behind I was, and drove myself to the edge of burn-out (or beyond) desperately trying to hit that goal, every time.

This was something that, by now, my counsellor knew about me. So:

“Hmm,” she said. “Interesting. But…have you ever considered, instead, figuring out exactly how much you could get accomplished if you worked moderately hard on most days and didn’t get anything done on a few other days along the way – and set that as your goal?”

I stared at her, genuinely shocked. “I could do that?”

It was one of the most counter-intuitive – and revelatory – suggestions I’d ever heard in my life.

(And yes, I know that that fact reveals soooooooo embarrassingly much about my psyche. But you guys all knew I was a perfectionist overachiever long before this blog entry, right?)

That meeting took place almost 13 years ago, but I’ve never forgotten it – and it’s resonating all over again for me now because we’ve just entered the kids’ 2-1/2-week school holidays, directly after a long stretch of kid-illnesses when a horrible stomach bug went around the family (and larger town), keeping one or another of the kids home for 5 out of the last 10 days of school. Those kid-illnesses meant I didn’t get nearly as much as I wanted done before the holidays began; the holidays now mean that most of my energy is going toward child-care (and that energy is even more limited than usual right now, anyway, because looking after sick kids took a lot out of me, and the M.E./CFS is demanding its payment now).


I did have really high goals for what I would ideally get done by the end of April. But today, I’m remembering that long-ago counsellor’s face, kind and ever-so-slightly amused, as she said, “Have you ever considered…”

…and I’m re-considering.


Doable goals.

Today, my writing goal is to print out the critiques I’ve gotten for my adult novella and read through them…and that’s it. If I get started, that’s great. But if all of my other energy is used up when I take the kids out this afternoon for today’s mini-trip…well, then, so be it.


What about you guys? If you have any small, do-able goals of your own right now, I would love to hear them.



  1. I needed to read this this morning! I didn’t get as much done over the weekend as I was hoping…but also I spent a lot of one-on-one time with my 4yo while my 10 yo and husband were away on a camping trip, so maybe my expectations were a little unrealistic. I hope you have a great time over the school holidays and take satisfaction from do-able goals.

    • If you were spending a lot of one-on-one time with your 4-year-old, then I think getting ANYTHING else done counts as a major victory! Hooray for do-able goals.

  2. My father broke his pelvis four weeks ago. He is recovering quickly, but his care is all on my and so there is a lot of stuff that I have had to shelve to manage his and my mother’s needs. To keep the anxiety attacks at a minimum, I keep telling myself that I am not procrastinating, I am prioritizing and I will get everything done. Made a lot of important phone calls this morning and got started on some insurance stuff for my son, so feeling like I made a dent into stuff.

    • Those sound like really important accomplishments in an incredibly stressful and overwhelming time. *hugs* Cheering you on every step of the way!

  3. “I will write 3000 words a day” changes to 1000 if I start to get stressed… finishing the 3rd Black Dog book has shifted from “by Jan 1 for sure” to “by May 1 probably” as the months slide past.

    • 1000 words a day still adds up to an awful lot in not a very long time! And I know I’ll be thrilled to read Black Dog 3 whenever it’s ready.

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