Friday, December 12, 2008

Goal Setting Strategies

Everyone has a different method for goal setting - mine pertains to writers and writing projects. Rather than try to cover all the possibilities, I thought I would tell you what works for me, along with some added ideas. The first thing is to look at time frames - do you want to set goals for the year? Is this too much like New Year's resolutions? If so, shorten your time frame to three months, starting on a certain date (the sooner, the better).

Next, write down a list of everything you are working on at the moment, or want to work on in the near future. For some people, this will be one thing, probably a novel. For others like me, this may be five or six things. I probably won't work on them all, but this is my starting point. Then I look at my list and prioritise. What has a deadline? What am I most passionate about? For a three-month period, I then list my top four. For twelve months, I list the top four, and then if there are others, I number them in order of current importance to me.

Then I add other things that will be important for me to achieve in the time frame. This might be editing or proofreading that will be due on a new book. It might be a conference or two, a trip overseas, or perhaps I will decide I want to focus more on poetry writing and I decide to aim to write a poem a week. For everyone, this list will be different. If you begin by writing everything down, even more personal goals, you will at least then be able to make decisions about how you will spend your time. There's nothing worse than constantly feeling there are so many things that you want to achieve, that you have no idea how to organise yourself or where to start.

As I have said in my last post, there is also something about making this list that helps your goals to become more concrete and real, rather than hopes or dreams. (I often have a dream goal, by the way, something that is probably out of my reach in the near future but it's nice to hold out as special.) When you have decided on your top four, or perhaps decided that there is one major project you want to focus on, you can move to the next step.

For each goal, what do you need to do in the next four weeks to start working towards it? A long time ago, I attended a session where the person running it said: "If you are not prepared to spend five minutes per day on something to do with working towards that goal, then take the goal off your list". That sounds harsh, but it is valuable advice. If you are writing a novel, then maybe you can't write every day, but how about spending five or ten minutes on non-writing days either editing a page, or doing some research, or reading a writing book about an aspect you are struggling with?

Last year was the first time I had broken my yearly goals down into four-week blocks. It was useful for several reasons. One was it made larger goals (like writing a novel) not so huge and unattainable. Instead of write my novel, the small goal became write two chapters. It allowed me to take into account smaller jobs, such as submitting a picture book text, and make sure they got done. It also allowed me to vary my writing work during the four weeks - as well as two chapters, I might also have writing some poems on the list, or developing an idea I'd had for a short story.

One of my current goals for the next four weeks is a huge clean-out of my office (it's supposed to be a writing space but it looks like a monster has been in there and thrown every single thing up in the air). By giving myself four weeks, I've also given myself a deadline. A very necessary thing because I've been planning to do this clean-out all year! By including it in my four-week goal list, I also know that I will now devote regular small blocks of time to this goal, which makes it less like something that will give me nightmares. I can intersperse it with writing (a good way to stretch and get off the computer - lift and carry boxes and books!), as well as other small things on my To Do list. And every time I achieve another square metre of tidiness, I'll feel good.

My method may not work for you. Some writers need to set weekly goals of so many thousand words, or so many hours of writing. If you only have one project you want to focus on, another method may work better. I tend to have several things on the go, so my problem is focus and time management. If you have a method that works great for you, why not share it with us?


Anonymous said...


I had made an airy fairy (not written down goal) for December that I just haven't gotten around to for various reasons and it was frankly too broad. It was improve my Italian, and I've done nothing because that's too big. So I'll use the four week goal post and give it a go and let you know. At the moment, I don't have any concrete writing goals, mainly due to the fact I haven't decided what to write first. I have various ideas. I had given some thought to the poem a week idea due to the Poem a Week blog that I found. So maybe that can be a start.

Sherryl said...

Cathy - that is probably another benefit of goal setting - it means whatever you write down, you have to take seriously!
You are right about a smaller focus. Good luck with a four week frame.