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UPS, FedEx, and You: Goal setting by deliverables

The beginning of a new academic year is a great time to set intentions and think about goals. Goal setting can seem arbitrary or ambiguous, particularly for large projects that take months or years to complete. What if you thought about your goals in terms of the final product of a semester? Deliverables. Deliverables are the concrete items you will deliver to yourself or others at the end of a period.

  1. Make a comprehensive list of current projects. Give the projects names that you can easily identify. Consider a project as anything that is taking time and requires planning – a paper, data collection, teaching a course, conducting reviews for journals.
  2. For each project, designate 1-3 deliverables that are appropriate.
    A draft of a paper, completed round of data collection, or six completed journal reviews. Make deliverables specific and tangible. Have written paper is not something you can hold in your hands. 30-page manuscript draft is concrete and tangible.
  3. Move all of your “deliverables” from each project into one document or column. Take a look at the total and ask “is it reasonable to expect a human working 40+ hours a week to complete this in the semester?” Almost always, the answer is “no.”
  4. Rank order the deliverables from “highest priority” to “lowest priority.” What are the projects you are most excited about or that most directly align with your skills and expertise? What is most valuable to you? Those deliverables need to be ranked highest, indicating they will receive the most time and energy. Have no more than five deliverables as top priority.
  5. Create specific semesterly, monthly, or weekly goals around your top five priority deliverables. Designate your time based on the priority. The top priority should get the most time and energy for the semester. Using a management tool such as your calendar, Trello, or Kanban Flow can help you see incremental progress toward completing the deliverable.
  6. Examine your deliverables and determine if anything can be delegated out. Do you have a student who is looking for a project? Do you have a new collaborator who may enjoy working with you? Note that delegating may mean being in the role of an advisor or mentor so account for this time. This process can be particularly effective for moving lower priority projects forward.
  7. Communicate with co-authors or collaborators. Send out emails or communication to let others you are working with know what time and energy you can commit to the project. Also, communicate that you have a specific project that will be receiving most of your time. Clear communication ensures others know what to expect from you and that you have other commitments already planned.

Use this process throughout the semester as you re-evaluate or create new goals. Remain focused with a limited number of deliverables at a time and design your goals around tasks that lead to those deliverables. Happy Goal Setting!


Tracey S. HodgesTracey Hodges is an Assistant Professor at The University of Alabama where she teaches writing pedagogy to future and current teachers and graduate seminars on writing productivity. She has written more than 40 articles and book chapters focused on literacy instruction and writing. She also writes daily, working toward her deliverables!

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