Many of you may have been able to make a strategic plan for the summer without difficulty, but it was the development of a support system that may have left you confused. The frustrations seem to all boil down to three questions:
1) What types of support groups exist?
2) How do I figure out which type of support group is right for me?
3) If I were just more motivated and disciplined then I wouldn’t need a group, so how can I change myself?
Because having a support system is critical to actually executing your summer plan, I want to dedicate this Monday’s blog to the many different kinds of groups and what makes them either flounder or flourish as support systems.
You may be wondering, “Why do you need a support group?”, “Can’t you just motivate yourself?”, or “There are so many people who would love to be in your position.” In short, many are advised to shut up & be happy. Because shaming moves people into action, that may actually work for a week or two, but true needs have a way of resurfacing. So instead of taking the tough-guy, ignore-your-needs, shut-up-and-be-happy approach, I want to suggest the opposite. In other words, I believe that embracing your needs will help you to develop a support system that will move you from occasional shame-induced action towards a healthy, consistent, and sustainable routine.
While it should go without saying, it’s OK to have needs. In fact, if you wait until you are perfectly motivated, flawlessly self-disciplined, free from anxiety, utterly fearless, intellectually energized, and emotionally resolved to get stuff done, you may never begin! Instead, release yourself from the idea that having needs means there’s something wrong with you. It’s OK if you need support and accountability. It’s OK if you’re not productive in isolation. It’s OK if you need community, feedback, a safe space to take risks, and a group of people who genuinely celebrate your accomplishments. It’s OK because meeting your needs for community, support and accountability will not only increase your productivity but also your enjoyment.
What do YOU need?
If you can accept the fact that you don’t have to change who you are in order to be productive, then I want you to dig just a little deeper by asking yourself: What do I need to maximize my productivity this summer? Different people have different needs. For example, some people need to physically be around other people while working, while other people need an accountability partner to answer to. Some people need solitude and the kind of support that is silent, while others need regular cheerleading from their peers. Some need quantitative accounting of their progress, while others need substantive feedback from those who are working towards the same goal. Some people need additional coaching. It’s even okay if you need all of these things at different times! The important thing is to identify what you need without judgment or shame. Knowing what you truly need to maximize your productivity is what will allow you to construct a support system that is effective for YOU.
Connect with a group that meets your needs
Once you have identified your basic needs, start to imagine the best way to get them met. I’m going to describe a few different types of groups that illustrate the importance of letting your needs guide your selection of an appropriate group. It’s really quite simple: Support groups flourish when everyone’s needs are being met and flounder when they don’t meet the primary needs of members.
The most common form of a traditional group that comes to mind is a small number of people who commit to a specific period of time to meet face-to-face, once-a-month, for the purpose of reading, critiquing, and providing substantive feedback on each other’s work. This requires a time commitment to show up and engage during the meeting time. Such groups tend to work well if a participant’s primary need is substantive feedback and if members are able to provide that for one another. This structure is less effective when participants have other more pressing needs (support or ongoing accountability) and/or the feedback is the sort that could be obtained, instead, more efficiently from a professional.
If your primary need is to have a committed group of people to answer to each week, then an accountability group may be worth trying. Here is an example: four people can agree to meet once a week during the summer (either face-to-face or by conference call). The groups meet for exactly one hour per week and each person gets 15 minutes to discuss the following items: 1) my goals for last week were _______, 2) I did/did not meet them, 3) if I didn’t meet them, it’s because of _______ and 4) my goals for next week are _______. Developing a daily routine tends to bring up people’s stuff, and the group helps to support one another by identifying the limiting beliefs and behaviors that hold members back from productivity. Instead the focus is on the process and moving projects forward so they can get into the hands of people with subject matter expertise (not group members). This structure works well when the participants’ primary needs are accountability, support, community, and peer mentoring. It is, however, ineffective when individuals cannot sustain the weekly commitment to the group.
Online Writing Groups
There are a variety of online writing groups that are designed to provide support, accountability, and tracking progress over time. Some are free and some cost money, but essentially the structure is the same. Participants commit to a period of productivity, check in each day or each week, track their progress over time and engage in discussion with other participants. This support system works well for people who need daily support and encouragement, feel isolated in some way, and/or find electronic relationships are genuinely satisfying and significant enough to elicit the feeling of accountability. This support structure is less suitable for people who need face-to-face contact and interaction in order to feel a tangible sense of accountability and community.
It may be the case that you have a variety of needs but your schedule disallows you from committing to any kind of group for the summer. Or alternatively, you have no idea what you need, and you would like to work with a professional to figure it out. There are a variety of life coaches out there who will consult with you weekly (for fees ranging from $75-$150 per hour) to increase your awareness of what’s holding you back and help you to develop and implement strategies to move you forward. Coaches work well for people who either aren’t clear what their needs are or need more personalized and intense accountability than a group can provide. Of course, this doesn’t work for everybody, but it may be worth a shot.
Remember, you can use all of these mechanisms at once! I know that if left to my own devices, I will not get certain things done. I’ll be productive in other ways, though. I have come to accept the fact that I need community, support, and accountability, and instead of judging myself negatively for having those needs, I embrace them, create mechanisms to meet them, and find that participating in these types of supportive systems brings me increased productivity and tremendous joy. You may have different (or fewer) needs than I do, but the key to having a productive, fulfilling, and enjoyable summer is to ask yourself: What do I need, and where can I find it?
I hope this week brings you the clarity to identify your needs, the freedom to embrace them, and the creativity to connect with mechanisms of support that will allow you to maximize your productivity this summer and develop a sustainable daily routine.