There’s a lot of information out there on the world wide web about setting goals – how to do it, how big to make them, how often, how many, why you need goals, why you shouldn’t have goals.
There’s research to back up the claims of each of the writers, and I’m sure all the differing sets of advice work for all those people. We’re not saying there’s any one method that’s going to work for everyone, or that one is better than the other.
All we can do is tell you what works for us, and how we’ve managed to use goal setting to help us get ahead in our careers.
Goal setting basics
One of the first things to understand is that there are different levels to goal setting. Firstly there are the big, hairy audacious goals that encompass the big why for you as an author. We call this your Ultimate Aim.
This is the aim or goal that you have for writing. What’s the reason you’re sitting down at your keyboard everyday, trying to get those words out? Is it to make money? Is it to tell your stories? Is it to support your family? Is it because the voices in your head won’t let you stop? All of these are valid reasons (except if your plans involve murdering someone. Then I would suggest it’s a bad goal).
In fact any reason you have is valid, because it’s what’s motivating you, and only you, to keep going.
So sit down, give yourself some space, and write down what motivates you.
If you’re struggling to come up with an answer, there’s a game that we learned from author Patricia McClinn that might help you out.
- On three separate pieces of paper, write down the three most important reasons you write. Don’t overthink this, just pick the ones that come to mind first and write them down.
- Make sure you’re happy with those three reasons.
- Now throw one of them away. Literally screw it up into a ball, and throw it away. Don’t take too long, just let it be a quick decision, based on your intuition.
- Look hard at the two that are left.
- Now throw another one away. Ball it up, and chuck it in the bin.
- What are you left with? Is it the one you thougth it would be?
- Keep this piece of paper and pin it to the wall beside your computer. This is your why.
Now that you have your ultimate goal, you need to get to work on setting the next level of goals. We call these strategies.
Strategies are the slightly smaller goals that tap into your main goal.
If your ultimate goal is to support yourself and your family as a writer, then your strategies will be how you’re going to achieve that.
Your strategies might involve writing more books, learning more about marketing and advertising, or growing your newsletter and your connection with readers.
This next level of goal setting will need you to have some level of knowledge around self publishig, so we would suggest that you learn as much as you can about the process at this point, so you can make informed decisions. Listen to podcasts, read blogs, connect with other authors and talk self publishig.
The next level of goals are the tactics. These are the practical steps you’re going to take to make those wider strategies happen.
This is where you plan the exact methods you plan to use to write more books, start advertising your books and grow your newsletter. They will involve tactics like:
- writing 2,000 words a day
- writing for a least an hour a day
- taking Mark Dawson’s Advertising For Authors course
- Reading up on Amazon ads or joining a Facebook group
- Writing a reader magnet to put in the back of your book to encourage mailing list signups
- Doing a promotion or a giveaway
The very last level of goals is the practical day-to-day tasks that you’re going to do to make these tactics happen. I (Trudi) would give yourself some realistic deadlines for each of these tactics, and then get down to making them happen.
The way I do it is to write down at the beginning of each week what I want to achieve that week. So if I wanted to write 2,000 word each day, I would write down on Sunday that I wanted to write 12,000 words that week (giving myself one day off). Then each day I sit down at my desk and write out the things I want achieve that day, so I’m really clear about what I need to get done. (In fact, I do it the night before, just before I leave my desk for the day, because at that point I have a really clear idea of where I’m up to. I’m always a little befuddled in the morning when I sit down at my desk again).
Other tactics aren’t quite so easily portioned out like this. For example, if I wanted to take Mark Dawson’s course, I would work out what I needed to do to achieve that. For example, if I have the money, then it’s just a matter of signing up for the course, and alotting an hour or two a day to listen to the videos. If you don’t have the money, you might need to work out how long it will take to save up the money.
If you need to put together a promotion, then break it down, write a list of everything you need to do to make it happen, and then start at the first point on the top of the list. You could have a couple of items from this list on your daily task list, and soon enough, you’ll find it’s done and dusted.
Don’t try to do too much
The only problem with goal setting is that some people try to set too many goals, to do everything at once, and end up burning out and not achieving anything at all.
While we firmly believe that it’s vitally important to have goals, we also think you need to set yourself realistic goals based on the time you have available.
Basic Project Management
There’s a basic premise in project management that we really like. It’s the idea that when you’re managing multiple tasks within a project, it’s better to completely finish one task than to try to finish three tasks at the same time and not finish any of them.
For example, say you’ve got three tasks that you’re trying to complete, and each will take fifteen days to finish. You start Task One, do five days on it. Then you get restless and start Task Two, and do five days. Then you think, “I better get started on the Third Task, that’s really important as well,” so you do five days on that one. Then someone rings you about Task One, and you remember that you’ve only done five days on it, and you spend the next few days working on that one. Then you remember Task Two, and work on that one. Then you remember Task Three, panic, and go back to that one for five days.
At the end of that period, 30 days, a month, all you’ve got to show for all your hard work is three unfinished projects.
Alternatively, you start Task One. You work on it for fifteen days, and it is finished. Then you work on Task Two. You work on it for fifteen days. You finish it. Again, you’re at the end of the month, but now you have two completed projects. How much better does that feel?
As authors, we all have multiple projects and tasks that we feel we have to get working on, but a surefire way to get nothing done is to do a little bit on a whole bunch of projects. Pick one, start it, continue working on it, finish it. Then move on to the next project. We promise, you’ll achieve so much more that way.
NOTE: The one caveat to this is that there are certain tasks as an author that you should think of as business-as-usual. These are things that you have to do on an ongoing basis, that you shouldn’t stop doing. What we’re talking about above is for the special projects, the tactics that you’re going to put in place to achieve your ultimate aim.
Our Goal Setting Hacks
Set small goals – Break down your big goals into smaller, more manageable, bite size goals. This takes the pressure off, and you know that as long as you’re achieving your small goals, your bigger goals will take care of themselves.
Focus – if you’re struggling to achieve goals, try making them tighter, smaller. Whittle them down to only 2-5 words, and make them like a mantra.
Write and repeat – Write those 2-5 words down everywhere. In your business plan, on a post it note, and repeat it to yourself out loud every day.
Carrot or stick – Work out what motivates you most – the promise of pleasure or the fear of pain – and use it to help achieve your goals. Tell yourself you can buy a new item of clothing, or a cool gadget once your goal is achieved. Or if you prefer the stick, you can forgo desert the next time you’re out to dinner, or stay home when everyone else goes to the movies. I even saw one blogger talk about how he had a $100 note pinned to his calendar. He either went to the gym every day, or burned the note. According to him, it worked…!