New Year’s resolutions are so last century!
Every year millions of people make that New Year’s resolution to lose weight. They join a gym, fired up with enthusiasm for their new weight loss regimen. But, by the end of January, gym visits have dwindled down to a precious few.
Resolutions don’t work because resolutions are weak and general. Research says that they work.
Goals Are Good
In 2002, Edwin Locke and Gary Latham published a paper in American Psychologist about goals. They identified four ways that goals will help you improve performance.
* Goals help you choose how to spend your time and energy.
* Goals give you a purpose and working with a purpose gives us energy.
* Goals remind you that you do some stuff that’s not fun today to make things better tomorrow.
* Goals help you develop other skills and abilities while you work to achieve the goal.
Goals are better than resolutions. So, writers set goals like “write 500 words a day” or “write a book this year.” Those are better than resolutions, but you can make your goals stronger and more specific. Marjorie Blanchard said that “Goals are dreams with deadlines.” Let’s start with the “dream” part.
Why Are You Working So Hard?
Start by defining your “Why.” Your why is the reason that you’re doing whatever you’re doing. It better be important, or it won’t have much power. Most of my clients have one of two whys. Some want to write a book that will help boost their business and career. Others want to write a book to check that off their bucket list.
The thing about those whys is that they’re about how your life will be different after you achieve them. They give you an emotional reason to dig down and put in the time and do the hard work. To have effective goals, you should start with a why so that when the going gets tough, you can refer to your why and keep working. But a why is not a goal.
The Goals Most Writers Have
Writers have two kinds of goals. One common goal is: “write a book this year.” Other goals are expressed in word count, something like: “write 10,000 words per week.”
Those are good goals, but what they measure is the outcome of activity. They describe what you should achieve. But, when you get up early and you’re tired and your plan is to write, those goals don’t help you much. They only measure activity after the fact.
They’ll help you look back at the day or the week and tell whether you made progress. We call these “lag measures” because you only know how you’re doing after the time for action has passed. You need that but you also need another kind of goal
Behavioral goals describe what you need to do. We call them “lead measures” because they measure the behavior that drives the results we call lag measures. For most writers understanding the difference is the key to improving productivity.
Behavioral Goals Lead the Way
The best behavioral goals specify what you will do and when you will do it and how you will do it. When my clients are working on a book, I encourage them to set a regular routine for their work. If you can work at the same time at the same place, you will develop a habit that helps you get over those motivational humps.
Most of the writers I’ve worked with find that time working is a great lead measure. Of course, you have to use that time productively, so you need some rules.
One of them is what I call the Raymond Chandler Rule. It comes from the great mystery writer who suggested to a friend that if he wanted to write, he should set aside a specific writing time. Chandler told the friend that he didn’t have to write during that time, but there was a catch: he couldn’t do anything else.
That may work for you. Set aside your writing time, maybe three hours on a Saturday morning or an hour at night every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. When it’s time to write, go to your writing place with your writing tools and close the door. Then write. Or not. But if it’s “not” you can’t do anything else, you just sit there or pace the room. No “research” or surfing the web for inspiration. It’s write or nothing.
Prepare ahead of time so you can produce when it’s time to write. You should start your writing session with writing, not with getting ready or doing research or anything else.
To make that happen, follow the Firefighter Rule. That rule says that when you finish a writing session, you should prepare everything so you’re ready to start writing the next time. Make sure you have the supplies. Know where you’re going to start.
You’ll be more productive if you do this.
Understand why you write so you can remind yourself why writing is important on those days when it’s hard and you’d rather be doing something else.
Define your lag measures in terms of output. Tracking your word count can tell you how you’re making progress toward a larger goal, like a book.
Decide how you will measure activity so you know what you must do to make your output goals. Decide what you will do and where and when.