Making the Most of Your Winter Season
‘Tis the season of resolutions, and so often for folks drawn to permaculture or eager to respond to the ecological crises facing the planet right now, this can be the time of year when we’re suddenly ready to just do everything.
A few full thoughts later, we realize that with snow on the ground and snow in the forecast, it doesn’t seem like there’s too much we can do just yet. And that’s what makes winter the perfect time for a deep dive into planning our coming year.
Start With What’s Feasible
If you’re like me, you’ve wanted to be off-grid since you were a teen. You dream of quaintly decorated compost outhouses, wild gardens full of pollinators, abundant herbs, zesty veggies, and enough time leftover from the work day to still finally learn how to play banjo. But reality is more often quite different. I don’t know about you, but I live in a row house with an extra tiny backyard, and not much room for wild gardens or banjo lessons either.
It’s important to dream. It’s also critical to take an accounting of our starting point. Basing our plans in reality doesn’t mean murdering all we dream about. It just means that we’re being honest about where we are right now in relation to them and what pathways feasibly exist to get us where we want to go. Huge lifestyle changes begin with small, simple steps.
Feasibility—or attainability—is only one part of an acronym many coaches use to help their clients optimize their planning periods. When planning, remember to plan S.M.A.R.T.—you want your goals to be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
Let’s go back to my banjo example. I really want to learn to play banjo. That alone isn’t a S.M.A.R.T. goal. First of all, it’s not specific enough. By ‘play’ do I mean knowing how to play a song? How to do rolls? How to improvise? There’s a lot of open space there I need to narrow down (and maybe that’s why I haven’t learned yet!).
I love the sound of banjo rolls, but I also really want to get good enough to play some songs I love too. So, how about we start with a mix of both of those goal posts? Let’s make my banjo playing goal specific by defining it as knowing how to do a basic roll and play one full song.
Now, how do we make this measurable? Well, both of our specific goal posts are fairly objective. I think I could add to that by aiming to post a video of my progress so that other people can hold me accountable to this goal too. As far as attainability, well, I already have some banjo video lessons, the actual banjo, and time I could really be applying to it if I decided to, so we’re good there.
Relevance is a bit of a stretch however, and in my experience this is where a lot of ‘world-changing’ folks get caught up too. When you want to change virtually everything, it’s easy to lose focus and wind up changing virtually nothing. I’m going to claim playing banjo as relevant to me because I’m developing a video channel and playing banjo is a great conversation starter when networking in the Southern Appalachians where I live. But if you’re a business, you might really want to consider this point. In the next section, I have another goal-setting model that might help you too.
Lastly, for our S.M.A.R.T. goal, we need our work to be time-bound. I love setting goals for the equinoxes and solstices because they help me align my work’s growth to the changing of the seasons, and that just helps me work more efficiently. So, to round out this S.M.A.R.T. goal, I’m going to give myself until the summer solstice to achieve my goal posts. That means: learning how to do one banjo roll and play at least one song, and posting a video of my progress all by summer solstice. Guess we’ll so how I do in six months from now!
In the mean time, you can use this model to design S.M.A.R.T. goals for yourself too.
What’s Important Vs. What’s Urgent?
This matrix is another one of those coaching lifehacks that can help you realize some pretty obvious stuff you might be too in your head to notice otherwise. Remember when we were talking about relevance? This can be a serious issue for permaculture inspired businesses trying to take on too much at one time. So one way we can create clarity in the chaos is to consider whether things are important or urgent, neither or both.
If your permaculture project is attempting a market garden, obtaining a yield is going to be a pretty important goal. It’s also equally urgent if you’ve made commitments or investments in participating in something like a local farmers’ market. In the beginning stages especially, dividing up labor and yields can be equally important and urgent so that everyone participating feels like they’re getting something for the work they put in.
But what about expanding into new markets? If you’re trying to grow your business beyond your current project bounds, this idea is definitely important. However, depending on your business or worker needs, expansion may not be as urgent as solidifying what you’re already doing. This balance can become complicated when you’re in permaculture work and suddenly find yourself offered new animals—like a rescued beehive, new plants, or new land. The offer may be extremely time-sensitive, making it seem urgent. But if your project is already struggling with other urgent and important issues, saying yes to these new project features may be more disruptive than focusing on what you are already doing, even if expansion is something your project considers to be important.
As a general set of rules: address urgent and important items first (e.g. accounting for all needed market garden expenses and labor from seed to sale). Next, evaluate non-important but urgent items (e.g. feasibility of accepting a rescued beehive). Third, hold yourself to a schedule for dealing with important but not urgent items (e.g. determining an equitable process for how the business will resolve time-sensitive but non-important items in the future). Lastly, address non-urgent and non-important items as possible—either by delegating or as part of a pool of items to address as a group after all other items in the matrix (e.g. repairing or replacing old farm equipment not presently in use or immediately needed).
Live Your Niche & Love What’s Small
Now, the real trick with using that matrix in group settings is that not everyone is necessarily going to agree on what is urgent and important or what isn’t. And that, dear readers, is the joy of the collaborative process!
It also leads me to the last tip I want to leave you with, which is one I’ve only learned over the last year. My tip is one I’m going to keep encouraging folks to go back to, and that’s to knowingly embrace your why. I talk more about this in this other blog post here, but the gist of it is that it’s really critical that we know why we want to take on these projects, whether we’re talking about collaborative or individual work, permaculture or even something else entirely.
Simply being in the same place at the same time doesn’t necessarily mean that our core values are compatible. It just means our journeys intersected at least for the moment. But this isn’t something to fear or think of as bad. All around us in nature there are different critters and plants taking on an equally diverse set of roles that make larger systems work. Sometimes when we chase big aspirations, we try to take on too much. In times like that, it’s best to remember that just like every animal, we too have an ecological niche. It’s okay to be small, it’s okay to scale back, it’s okay to feel called to do things differently, and it’s only natural to be part of a larger system.
With that in mind, I wish you the best in your goal planning this winter!
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Pat Mosley (NC LMBT #16882) is a licensed massage and bodywork therapist in the Winston-Salem area. His work is rooted in compassionate touch, permaculture, and deep ecology with the resilience of all Earth's children in mind. Connect with him via email to firstname.lastname@example.org