When we first start writing professionally, we become very focused on deadlines. What’s due this week? What’s due next week?
But eventually you start to think beyond that. You realize that productivity isn’t just about getting things done. It’s about making progress toward big goals that matter to you.
In the thick of daily to-dos, you need to make space for the speculative long term projects — the must-read articles, the books — that will make your career.
So how do you do that?
Turning your goals into reality
It’s an ongoing process, but here’s an approach that works for me.
Every year, I make a list of my annual goals. By January, I write a prospective performance review that I’d like to give myself. What would I like to say, come next December, that I’ve done? Maybe it’s finish the draft of a novel, or come up with a workable idea for my next non-fiction book. I don’t put many hypothetical accomplishments on this list, but the ones that make it on should be big.
And then, this is key: as I’m making my weekly to-do lists, I keep those annual goals in mind. Every week, I need to do something to make progress toward these goals. I need something on my weekly to-do list that will help turn my prospective performance review into a reality. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it.)
The good news is that a year is a lot of time. By starting early, progress can be sustainable and steady.
If you want to write a 70,000 word manuscript, for instance, writing 2,500 words per week will get you there in 28 weeks — mid-way through July. That’s just 500 words per workday. That’s probably doable, no matter what else you’ve got going on.
Big ideas — like a concept for a blog or non-fiction book — are sometimes nebulous things to pin down, but there are still steps you can take to make their capture more likely. Carve out one hour a week for four weeks to peruse the bookstore or library. For the next month, carve out two hours a week to brainstorm. Schedule calls with people who know you well, and who can give you feedback on your ideas.
When the going gets tough
To be sure, you may be tempted to chuck these tiny steps when life gets busy. So whatever your small steps are, find a way to keep yourself accountable.
When I was trying to crank out a draft of a novel this spring, I found an accountability partner. Every Friday, I emailed her to let her know how many words I’d written. She emailed me to let me know that she’d made progress toward her goals. Since I didn’t want to send an email saying I’d failed, usually, I did what I set out to do.
The result? As I’m writing this in August, I’ve finished my novel draft, and have a non-fiction proposal idea in to my publisher. There’s still plenty of work to be done on both fronts, but my fall will be much more relaxed knowing I’ve crossed these big goals off my list. It will give me time to start thinking about next year — and what I’ll be writing then.
What are your big writing goals for this year?