Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Time Management, Goals and Writing

The other day, I spent a couple of hours with one of my classes talking about time management and goal setting. It's a class where they are learning about being a freelancer (either as a writer or editor or any other myriad ways of earning money when you have good skills). So we've covered small business, ABNs, tax, record keeping, networking ... a whole range of things they may well need once they get out into the real world. Mostly what I say to the writers is "Don't give up your day job".

Yes, I am a bit depressing, I guess. If you want to look at it that way. I like to think about it in terms of "the more you know and understand, the more likely you are to make wise decisions and create a foundation for adventure". And when it comes to goal setting, I'm an advocate, whole-heartedly. Why? Because I've been doing this for about 20 years. I started it back when I didn't even really understand what it was. When the workshop leader told us to write down things that we really wanted or dreamed about, that's what I did. I've done it each time the exercise came up in different opportunities.

I'm a hoarder. So over the years, every now and then I have discovered old goal setting notebooks and files that I've tucked away. And each time, I have been astonished at how many things I wrote down years ago, thinking they were impossible dreams, that have come to pass. I'm not talking magic here. I think the key has been that rather than write down one thing and decide it was impossible, I wrote down many things - most of which were connected. I can't remember when I first started writing down "Study MFA". At least ten years ago. Now I'm doing it. Who would've thought? Not me, back then.

But many of the other things I wrote down were like steps. Attend conferences, learn how to plot, write X and Y, send out manuscripts, get an agent, gather information... one way or another, they were all to do with writing and becoming more professional, and to do with learning. So as I stood in front of my class and took them through the goal setting exercise, I could see some skeptical faces. That's fine. I've done goal setting with other groups, so I'm used to it. Because I know that the only people it works for are the ones who commit.

Committing is an individual decision. I can't make anyone do that. I can only provide some tools. It's the same with time management. I've spent years trying to work this one out! I've read some great books, such as Eat That Frog by Brian Tracey. And done the Simpleology course. I've wrestled with procrastination and time wasting until I wanted to take a big stick and simply hit myself on the head with it. In the end, after all this, only two things work for me. A To Do list on which everything is prioritised (that I make myself stick to) and working in half hour focused bursts. Give me a whole day and I can waste it just like that! But those two tools are what work for me.

Maybe it's like giving up smoking or dieting - we all have to find what resonates, what works for us. There are dozens and dozens of books, courses, articles and gurus out there who will show you how to achieve your goals and manage your time. Sometimes you have to give some of them a try (hopefully without paying too much!) if only to realise what works for you. I sent my students off at the end of the class with one wish - that they will persevere and find what creates results for them.


Sally Murphy said...

Well said, Sherryl. I am a big believer in setting goals - ten trying not to stress how I'll achieve them. By setting the intention I believe that my subconcious then seeks out or creates the opportunities whcih sees those goals met. And, like you, I write to-do lists. Then when I find my focus wandering during the day I can looka t the list and what still needs to be done for that day, and just get on with it.

Anonymous said...

So, the Big Stick Method... I think that might work for me. :)

Kaye Baillie said...

Great post, Sherryl. I've been trying to lock in 2-3 hours in my diary each day. Yesterday I had been in my 'office' for one hour and felt hungry so went down the street and got some lunch. Maybe the half hour bursts would work for me too. When making a to do list, if junior novel is on the list then it kind of knocks out any smaller stuff. To do small stuff too or not? That's what gets me.

Sherryl said...

Sally - the subconscious does work for us, I think. Writing things down is the first step.
Big stick, Bren? How about a stick made out of chocolate?!
Kay, the half hour does work. For some people even more so than 2-3 hours. I find there is something about a longer period of time that almost invites messing around! But a focused half hour achieves more than you think it would.

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