I’ll admit that this post is probably a little off-center for the message of this blog, but learning how to set reasonable goals is one of the few ways I’m able to stay on top of my work. If you’ve never worked on goal setting before, this will be a very basic primer for you. If you’re more familiar with setting goals, treat this as a refresher.
It’s actually fairly easy to set goals, but if you want to be successful with it, you need to keep a couple things in mind.
When you’re setting your goal, you want to be as specific as possible. Saying “write every day” may be all well and good, but what does success look like? If you only write ten words, does that count? And if it does, what utility are you actually getting out of that? One of the reasons that so many people participate in NaNoWriMo is that it forces you to write 2,000 words a day. By setting specific goals, like “write 1,200 words a day” or “write a chapter a day,” you have clear qualifiers for success. And when your goal is something that you can see yourself attaining, you’re more likely to keep working toward it.
If you’re working toward a larger goal, say writing a novel, you’ll have an easier time reaching it by breaking up the project into smaller pieces. It’s daunting to look at what appears to be a mountain of work. By breaking it up into smaller chunks, it makes each part of the process more achievable. It also clarifies the process of reaching that final goal. You don’t just run a marathon, you train for it. Think of setting small goals as your training for that final marathon.
Another thing about goal setting is recognizing your limitations and setting reasonable goals. If you know you only have an hour to write a day, then don’t set a goal that will take longer than an hour. Maybe your goal is “write for one hour without interruptions” or maybe it’s “write from 5 pm til 6 pm.” Whatever you decide, you want to make sure it’s something that will push you, but still be achievable. Don’t set your goal to be “write fifteen pages a day” if you know that will not happen most of the time. It’s great to stretch your limits, but if you set goals you can’t reach, you’re just going to get discouraged and give up.
One of the tricks to writing is doing it every day. That’s why every example of a goal I’ve provided has to do with daily activities. Now, if writing daily doesn’t fit into your schedule (it barely fits into mine most days), then setting a daily writing goal may not be reasonable. But your goal should be recurring, especially when it comes to writing. Maybe you decide to write Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. As long as you are consistent with it, and you continue to reach those goals, you’re going to be successful.
I tend to set multiple goals at the same time. For example, I try to write a blog post three times a week, with Sunday updates on the publication process. I also try to write at least 500 words a day, which is a new goal that I just set recently. Previously, I’d set a goal to write 1,000 words a day. However, between work and real life, that wasn’t a realistic goal for me. I lowered the limit to something more reasonable, and I’ve been able to keep up with my daily writing. Again, it’s all about being specific, realistic, and consistent when it comes to setting – and achieving – goals.
Another common piece of advice that you’ll find when looking at goal setting is to tell people about your goals. I would actually recommend not doing this. Derek Silvers, a writer and entrepreneur, has a very good TED talk where he discusses why it’s a bad idea to share your goals. There’s a lot of psychology behind it, but the long and the short is that when you share your goal with someone, it tricks your brain into thinking that you’ve already accomplished it. For me, when I want to share what my goals are, I shift the focus to what I’m actually doing. So it’s not that I’m trying to write 500 words a day, it’s that I am writing 500 or more words a day. By keeping it concrete and staying with what you’ve already accomplished, it shifts the focus from the goal to the outcome.
The best thing about setting a goal is reaching it. That rush of success is very heady, especially if you’ve been working piece by piece on a larger project. Remember, all of that hard work is well worth the effort in the end.
I’ll see you guys again on Wednesday. In the meantime, work on setting some goals for yourself. Maybe it’s something small, like not hitting the snooze alarm in the morning, or something more adventurous like learning a new skill. Whatever it is, remember to be specific, be realistic, and be consistent. See you guys soon.