Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Setting Achievable Goals

I have two challenges this week: Neither one allows me to achieve great numbers in the other if I try to do both well. The first challenge is the BIAW (Book in a Week) that several of us are participating in. My second challenge comes through work – a three-week Pedometer Team Challenge where our goal for each person is to walk at least 10,000 steps per day. I’m trying to do both this week, knowing that my goals for each will suffer .

I’d gone for a walk the other day to tally some steps and to think about the blog I had planned to write – How and Where Do Writers Get Their Ideas? However, as I walked, another idea came to mind that tied together my two challenges – writing and walking. So the “ideas” blog will probably appear next week, UNLESS something sparks a different blog subject.

I have had several years experience using pedometers, so I had an idea what I needed to do to obtain at least 10,000 steps per day. My two teammates did not. We only have to record one of our steps per day for the challenge, so obviously we will take the team member who has the highest step count for the day, unless that person had the high score the previous day (Pedometer Team Challenge rules). Many of the challenge participants didn’t seem to understand that they should try to obtain their goal every day whether their scores were going to be recorded or not. The pedometer challenge is to encourage people to get moving and to keep moving to improve their health, and to continue this pattern after the three weeks are up. One day every once in awhile will not achieve this.

The same applies to our writing. If we achieve our writing goal for one day, do we not also try to achieve the next day’s goal? Of course we do. It would take a very long time to write a novel or short story if we only aimed for a certain number of words or pages per day just whenever the muse was in residence or when we’d feel guilty we hadn’t written for awhile. Perhaps, BIAW's goal is to show us we can set a goal to write something everyday, and that we could actually achieve this goal.

As the 10,000 steps is the minimum goal for the pedometer challenge, so is the word or page count goal important to our writing. When I know that I need to walk 10,000 steps per day to maintain my level of fitness, I will do the extra walking to get those steps in. I might walk an extra ten minutes on the treadmill, or maybe I’ll take the stairs whenever I need to go to a different floor at work, or I’ll walk the long way back to my office after being somewhere else.

The same would be true if I or any other writer had a word count goal of 1000 words per day. Whether we were close to that word count or not, would we not try to write those extra words to achieve our writing goal? Maybe we could fit 10 minutes of writing in during our lunch break, or get up a half hour ealier or stay up a half hour later to get those 1000 words in. Or if it’s not 1000 words, maybe it’s one page per day or some other writing goal we’ve set. Wouldn’t we also make that extra effort to achieve our writing goal?

Of course, there will be times when the 10,000 steps per day or the 1000 words per day won’t be achievable for various reasons. Does this mean we won’t try again the next day? I hope we will. The main thing to remember is to make the goals achievable and reasonable. Maybe for many of the pedometer challenge participants, 10,000 steps will not be achievable until they learn to add extra walking to their days.

Maybe 10,000 steps per day is too much for me to hope for this week while I also work on BIAW. It isn’t easy to accumulate steps while sitting at a laptop trying to finish my 5000 word short story (my goal for BIAW).

When you set specific goals for the day (writing or otherwise), do you try to meet them? What extra steps have you taken to meet your goals? What do you do if you consistently miss obtaining them? Do you reassess to determine if the goal is not achievable or do you try harder to meet your goal? Do you start with small goals and work your way up to higher goals?

“Know what you want to do, hold the thought firmly, and do every day what should be done, and every sunset will see you that much nearer to your goal.” - Elbert Hubbard


Karen said...

Hi Suse, great post. Its important to set goals especially when you are struggling with your writing. My problem is with the reasonable and achievable part and knowing when to re-evaluate. I think you're right, BIAW and NaNoWriMo are successful because it encourages people to set goals and take them seriously.

Good luck with BIAW and the steps challenge.


Suse said...

Hi Karen,

Thanks for your comments. Trying to succeed in both my challenges this week has made me realize that surely I can set aside 30 minutes per week day to write. That doesn't seem too unreasonable. I think once BIAW is over, that will be my goal, even knowing that some evenings it won't happen because of other commitments - I have quilt meetings on some Tuesdays. But I am going to give it a try. Surely if I can make myself walk an extra 10 minutes on the treadmill, I can set aside 30 measly minutes to write as well.

Good luck with your writing and any goals you have set. I hope they are achievable.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Suse,
So far my 2009 goal has been to write something everyday. Included in that goal is kind of an overall goal of finishing revisions on at least two stories I'm currently working on.

However, these are kind of wishy-washy goals so far. I haven't said I'm going to write xxx words or pages a day. The only measurement I have is if I actually finish my manuscripts.

So another of my goals is to actually set a writing goal. Like you said, it has to be something realistic, something I can actually achieve, but is still a challenge. Good luck with your 30 minutes a day.


Janet said...

Super Post, Suse! Especially in January when everyone seems to set goals and dream of achievements they want to reach. I set goals on New Year's Day - very specific/defined ones (and not too many). I tried to model my goal setting after the buzz word goal setting in schools - and I'm surprised at how many other bloggers/writers/runners (see my goals?) are talking about the same acronym. SMART.

Any one interested can google that word and you'll find a ton of information on setting goals that are specific, measureable, achievable, relistic, and timely. It's a good system.

And within that philosophy there is opportunity to re-assess and re-work your goals so that success will be met.

Good luck with BIAW and your Pedometer Challenge. Isn't it great to be productive?


Suse said...

Hi Jana,

Thanks for your good luck wishes.

We all have probably set goals such as finishing the current novel or short story, but if we don't also make the goal measurable in some way, we can't know how or if we are advancing to that goal. Maybe that's why a lot of us give up on our goals, because we don't see any progress or at least progress that we can measure. I used to feel the same about paying off our mortgage. I knew how much the mortgage was for, I knew how much we were paying each time, but until I created a spreadsheet, I didn't really see how the principal was decreasing. (I know this is kind of anal of me, but it helped to see that not all of my mortgage payment was going to the interest and that the principal was decreasing.) I think we need to make our goals measureable and maybe in several stages so that we aren't overcome by the larger goal, of say completing a manuscript. If we broke it down instead to words per day, or time per day, etc., we should advance to the larger goal. You know the joke, "How do you eat an elephant? Just one bite at a time."

And if our goals are smaller, we will be able to celebrate more often - maybe reward ourselves with some chocolate, preferably dark.

Good luck with setting your writing goals.

Suse said...

Hi Janet,

You are definitely correct about the SMART system for setting goals: Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. If each of our goals followed this pattern, I imagine we would see a lot more successes and a lot less frustration.

Maybe we all need to set a goal to make our goals SMART, but that goal would have to follow the SMART pattern. There certainly were a lot of websites that came up when I did a google search for SMART goal setting.

I'm not sure how productive I have been with the writing this week. Walking is definitely more achievable, but that might be because I'm wearing a pedometer. I didn't create a measureable goal for BIAW other than to finish my Saskatoon story. I think it will be attainable, but only because I had written part of it before this week. I should have given a time amount or word count per day instead, so that I can feel good about the progress I make each day. Because I know I've got a few more days to finish, I didn't put a lot of effort into writing yesterday. The results show for themselves and it ain't pretty.

Good luck with your BIAW goals.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Karen, I need goals to accomplish anything. From writing to the dishes. If I don't see a reason for doing it, it doesn't get done. The dishes goal is simple - if I don't wash the dishes, I don't eat. I like to eat...so, I do the dishes.

Saying my goal of writing is to become published doesn't work either. That's a dream. I need a worthy goal. Last year, most of my writing goals fell in 2 files:
1. Contest ready status
2. Submission ready status

By keeping a spreadsheet on the status of my contest entries, I was able to enter 9 contests. I missed two contest deadlines because of procrastination. I can't get that loss of time back. But through the contests I saw a gradual improvement in my writing as my entries rec'd higher scores.

My submission status goals are harder and I know exactly why. I don't like revisions.

My 2007 NaNo project last year took 2 Honorable Mentions in the aforementioned contests.

My 2008 BIAW project was requested by 1 editor and 1 agent at the ACFW conf.

But NaNo and BIAW are where I thrive - in writing original works. It's just too bad that once they're finished, I'm left with...yup, you guessed it...revisions. sigh

Anita Mae Draper said...

Suse - you got me so excited about my goals that I forgot to say thank you for your post. I'm glad it's there where I can access it in the future.

Good luck to everyone attempting BIAW. I'm really enjoying it for 2 reasons:
1. Writing is my 1st priority this week (ie family cooks and does dishes)
2. I get to check in with other writers every night (accountability)

Thank you, Suse.

Suse said...

Hey Anita Mae,

I like your idea of creating a spreadsheet with your contest entries and deadlines, etc. I use spreadsheets a lot at work, but I haven't really done that for my writing. Don't know why I haven't thought of that.

I'm glad your spreadsheet helped you meet most of your deadlines for contests. It has obviously gotten you writing consistently and improving as you write more.

Good luck with your writing, and yes, your revising too.