By Olivia Davis
Fellows are often very ambitious, which is a great thing! However, if we don’t keep our time commitments, goals, and basic needs in check, our ambition-and even our fellowship projects-can end up in a lot of half-finishes with very little to show for the hard work that was put into them.
However, this doesn’t have to be the case. With some careful forethought, planning, and intentional execution, fellows can make realistic goals, break them down into weekly plans, and focus on what’s most important so that we can learn as much and do as much as possible during fellowship programs. Here are some practical ways to get started.
1. Get specific about what you want to accomplish.
When you were writing your fellowship application, you likely thought long and hard about what you wanted to do as a fellow, which is an essential part of creating a competitive application. Think of this as a blueprint for the bulk of your time spent as a fellow, and return to it as often as you like.
However, it’s likely that all of the things you wanted to accomplish as a fellow didn’t make it into your application (travel? volunteering? meeting locals?). Dream about what the best possible year might look like for you. What are some experiences you would love to have? What would you most regret not doing? Write down different things that come to mind.
2. Break your goals down.
You should prioritize what you wrote in your application, although it’s a good idea to remember that many fellowship committees expect independent projects to change a bit once fellows get on the ground. As you discover limits (or extensions!) to the feasibility of your project, act accordingly and swiftly so that your funding source stays in the know.
Regardless, once you know what is expected of you, write down what you will need to do to accomplish your fellowship project in detail. How many articles, interviews, experiments, etc. need to be completed by the end of your program? Then, break those down into smaller increments, such as months or weeks, so that you have a clear idea of what you need to do today to be in a good place tomorrow. Doing this will help you realize the potential that each week has to push you forward to your goals, helping you push on if your work ever becomes tedious or difficult.
Once you have broken down the essential components of your time as a fellow, consider the ancillary things you hope to accomplish. Break them down into month-to-month goals as well.
3. Check–and adjust–for feasibility.
With your goals broken down into smaller increments, put everything side by side. See if it’s reasonable for you to accomplish everything that you hope to. Can you really work full time as a fellow and learn a language and travel extensively? Maybe, but you need to be honest with what you are truly willing to do and align your expectations for yourself with what you are most likely to be successful at (although it’s not a bad thing to push yourself, be sure to do it within reason).
If you realize that you are simply going to run out of hours trying to accomplish everything you want to do, think about what is most important to you. Again, prioritize your official grant commitments above everything else, but after that, remember that your time is yours, and you can spend it however you like. Sometimes it’s better to dive deeply into one goal (for example, spending three days a week in language immersion classes) than to do three different things less extensively, but it’s important to think about what you really want and what you would enjoy most and then prioritize accordingly. Once you’ve done this, you will have created a feasible monthly plan.
4. Make a weekly plan.
Fellowship programs are for a finite amount of time. If your program is a year long, then it is made up of twelve months, and each of those twelve months has about four weeks in it! When we look at time from this perspective, we can see the significance of each moment.
Having monthly goals helps us seize the potential of each week. At the beginning of each month, break down your goals further into weekly portions. And, at the beginning of the week, break them down into daily portions. When you do this, each day will carry the significance of your overall goals within it; you can see that you never can have an ordinary day-each moment has the potential to bring you closer to what you want.
When it comes to your weekly plan, it’s a great idea to find a rhythm. If you’re in a teaching or professional fellow, perhaps the rhythm is mostly set for you with school days, meetings, etc. However, if you are doing an independent project, how you schedule your responsibilities might be completely up to you. If that’s the case, think about how you work most effectively, and let your weekly schedule take that into account.
Having a time management plan can enrich your fellowship experience by helping you stay focused on what you really want to get out of your program. Your fellowship goals will probably change a bit over the course of your program, and that’s OK and expected! However, taking some time at the beginning of your fellowship to chart out those goals and revisiting them on a regular basis can help you stay on track and see the potential that each day has to bring you closer to your goals.
Olivia Davis has a BA in English from the University of Mississippi and was a 2017-2018 Fulbright ETA in Athens, Greece. She writes at Looking Upward and works full-time at a Christian ministry in Atlanta. When she’s not writing, she is probably playing the piano, drawing, or eating Greek food.
© ProFellow, LLC 2021, all rights reserved