(By NCrissie B)
This three-part series invites you to develop your activism plan for the November election. Yesterday we considered the importance of honest self-assessment in setting your goals. Today we look at reverse planning, working from your objectives back to your starting point. Finally, we’ll conclude by discussing burnout and how to minimize it through mutual support.
Setting SMART Goals
Like any campaign plan, your personal activism plan should include goals. The new Dashboard at President Obama’s campaign website offers ideas for activities you can do. Your state and local Democratic Party will also have opportunities for you to help, as will candidates. You can use those opportunities to plan personal goals that are SMART:
- Specific – Vague aspirations and ideals may guide your activism, but your plan needs specific goals. Phone banking, canvassing, voter registration, attending or hosting house parties, supporting candidates at appearances, helping with data entry, poll watching, and driving voters to the polls are all examples of specific tasks that can make up your personal activism plan.
- Measurable – The goals in your activism plan should have target numbers. These can be measured by activities (how many calls made) or by time (how many hours spent on data entry). It’s often worthwhile to track both the number of activities and the time, so you can better estimate how many hours you need to commit to reach your activity goals, and know if your goals will require more hours than you can commit.
- Action-Oriented – Activism is about doing, and your goals should express what you intend to do rather than results you hope will happen. If you focus your efforts on activities you do well, and do them, the results will take care of themselves.
- Realistic – Failure can easily deflate your impulse to try. Set goals you can reach. If you’re unsure about a task, ask for help. Indeed, some of your early goals may be learning skills you’ll need to reach your ultimate goals.
- Timely – Estimate how many hours you’ll need to complete each of your goals, and build time for each goal into your activism plan. Because life tends to toss in unexpected challenges, add some reserve time for each of your goals.
Planning in Reverse
We tend to make plans forward, starting from where we are with a general sense of where we’d like to go. But the best plans are made in reverse, starting from where you want to finish and asking “What do I need to get there?” The answers often reveal intermediate goals you’ll need to meet along the way, and you then ask that question about each of your intermediate goals. Each goal is like a link in a chain, with the first link being an immediate goal you can do right now – with no prerequisites – and the final link being one of your ultimate activism goals.
For example, let’s say you want to personally contact every Democratic voter in your precinct (ultimate goal). To get there, you’ll need to know how many registered Democrats there are (intermediate goal). To get there, you’ll need to get access to and learn how to use VoteBuilder (intermediate goal). If you don’t already have that, you’ll need to contact OFA or your state or local Democratic Party, both for access and training (immediate goal).
Once you get access to VoteBuilder and run your search, you find there are 1200 registered Democrats in your precinct. Wow. That’s a lot. Let’s say you estimate you can make 10 telephone contacts per hour, and you have six hours a week to make calls. That works out to 60 contacts per week, so it would take you 20 weeks to call every registered Democrat in your precinct. But there are only a little more than five weeks left until the election. Oops. “What do I need to get there?”
Obviously you need helpers. You can make 420 calls, and if each of your helpers can also call six hours a week and make 10 contacts per hour, three of you could get it done. It would be better to recruit four or five helpers (intermediate goal). You’ll also need to make sure they have your precinct call list and know how to make calls (intermediate goal). To get there, you’ll need to identify a pool of people who are most likely to volunteer as helpers – like registered Democrats in your precinct who voted in every election since 2006 – and start calling them (immediate goal).
Of course, your immediate and intermediate goals also need deadlines, to make sure you stay on track to reach your ultimate goals. And, again, you should build in some extra time, just in case you hit some potholes along the way.
Bottlenecks and Priorities
Once you have each of your ultimate goals stepped out in intermediate goals back to an immediate goal, look through the list for bottlenecks: steps that stop progress on everything else until they are completed. Highlight those, make them top priority tasks, and begin working on them as soon as you can. You should also prioritize your other goals, and budget your (and your helpers’) time in order of task priority.
You may find you have more goals than you have time and help to complete. If so, you should scale back your targets, but it’s worthwhile to keep those ‘extra’ targets in your plan in case life surprises you in good ways. (It happens, believe it or not.)
You now have your personal activism plan. Tomorrow we’ll discuss how to put it into action … and how to keep it going.