TPS Report

Accountability went well this week on paper, but was primarily the result of a hard push this weekend. I seem to be falling into the habit of waiting until last minute, treating this weekly blog post like a college term paper deadline.  I may need to address the system and find a solution to that. Or get more aggressive about making sure I schedule my week appropriately.

At any rate, weekly progress report.

  • 6 of 6 “chunks” of money-earning content written
  • 5 of 5 acts of marketing: arranging link exchanges, applying for work, blog comments
  • 2 of 4 units of work on blogs. This has been a problem, but it’s not work load based. I’m stalling myself.
  • 3 of 3 units of work on book and article proposals.
  • 2 of 2 sessions of administrative work.
  • 1 piece of education action: expanded my understanding of SEO
Thanks for listening.
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Writing to Goal

I’ve written before about the writer as entrepreneur, and recently reviewed Penn’s Author 2.0, which also describes the entrepreneurial opportunities for folks in our profession. As publication changes, more and more of us will be writing our books as individual ventures, rather than as bait for large houses who will share only a small percentage of the profits.

This weekend, I had a chance to sit with an old friend and his wife, who had just been struck by an entrepreneurial brainstorm with real merit. We’ve spent four long conversations playing with the idea, and oddly enough they seemed to value my counsel.

On second thought, this makes sense. As a writer-entrepreneur I’ve conceived and launched more than a hundred ventures. Some have even been successful. I’ll be posting regularly on this topic, since it seems important to new authors — and seems there’s much less out there than on other writing concepts.

Today, let’s talk about the end game. Every idea you have — and here I’m talking about writing as a business, not only for pleasure — should be paired with an end. You can write to sell to publishers — they offer some strong value for the cut they take. You can write to bring in web traffic. You can write to woo your One True Love. Whatever it is, start every writing project with a clear idea of what you want it to do and be once you’re finished.

Take this blog, for example. I started it with no clear idea of its purpose, other than learning about blogging and creating an online portfolio. The early posts are all over the place in terms of tone and subject. As things progressed, it’s narrowed in focus.

What I want, primarily, from this blog is to impress potential customers. I hope these posts amuse and educate my fellow writers, but you’ll also notice that most of these posts are about…

  • How to behave professionally as a self-employed person.
  • How to turn out quality writing.
  • Dropping knowledge about the industry and about writing.
  • How important it is to treat clients well.
  • How much I care about what editors and other customers want.

I step out from time to time — for example, the Friday Fun posts — but my real goal is part of how I choose what to write. It’s also a part of how I write. You’ll notice I don’t swear as much in these later entries.

It’s easy to get caught up in the task of writing and lose track of where you want it to take you. Business guru Michael Gerber puts it beautifully by reminding clients to work on the business, not in the business. Write well. Write often. But keep your eye on the ball.

Thanks for listening.

Other Tracking Ideas

Setting structured goals with set timelines is my favored method for accomplishing the things I want to, and it’s one of the most commonly accepted approaches in business, government and military planning. It is not, however, the only one out there. Some other ways to reach the same destination include…

Tickler Files

A tickler file is the organizational version of a nagging mom or accountability coach. You set up physical files, or a calendar program, or one of several apps, to “poke” you when it’s time to get something done. This works for set tasks and for ongoing projects. You can get a reminder a month ahead to buy a birthday present, or set up for daily reminders to write your three pages of manuscript.

To-Do List

You know this one. It’s a list of the tasks you want to accomplish. This method is so common you can buy notepads with check boxes specifically to make one. Google calendar and similar programs include this option. What you might not know is that to-do lists scale up. You can make a to-do list for the year, then break it up by month, week and day.

Inspired Seizure

For some folks, all the goal setting they need is passion for the current project. They work on what they want, when they want to, and come out the other end with a finished product. I know very few people for whom this works on a reliable basis, and even they generally have the luxury of somebody else taking responsibility for their daily upkeep and bills. Still, it is a method and it does work for some people.

I’d love to hear from you. What are your methods for goal setting? Do you use a structured approach, or are you more organic? What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to setting and reaching your goals? How do you celebrate when you cross a big item off your list?

Thanks for listening.

Goal Setting: Ongoing Projects

An area where goal setting gets tricky is the ongoing projects and efforts in your life. It’s easy to say “My goal is to write 10 pages a week for the next month.” Your end is clearly defined and easily measurable. But how do you define your goals for physical fitness, for time with your family, for reading? With no set end to the task, it’s harder to set specific goals.

One approach, and the one I like best, is to make the process itself a goal. Don’t phrase your victory conditions in terms of work accomplished, but in terms of effort made. For example, pursuing new assignments is a big part of my job. Without new work coming in, I have to go work in an office or something — a fate I’d rather avoid if I can. This is a sisyphean task: unending and often difficult. Each week, I promise myself I’ll apply for x gigs, send in y article pitches, and spend z hours on my book proposal.

I came across an interesting structure for this kind of goal-setting in a book by Drs. Roizen & Oz, the “YOU: The Owner’s Manual” guys. It’s not theirs originally, but they’re who introduced me to the 5 to 1 goal pyramid. Their example used this concept as a guide for helping your kids understand nutrition and fitness:

  • 5 servings of veggies every day
  • 4 servings of fat-free dairy
  • 3  compliments to create a positive atmosphere
  • 2 hours or less of screen time
  • 1 hour of active play or exercise
If a mnemonic like that is easy enough for an elementary school student, I’m reasonably confident I could use it without too much trouble. Maybe I could structure it thusly:
  • 5 daily blocks of writing on current, paying projects
  • 4 acts of marketing and promotion daily
  • 3  hours of work on book proposals each week
  • 2 days off weekly to spend with my family and recharge the motor
  • 1 magazine article proposal every day
That might be too simplistic for the reality, but you get the general idea. Ultimately, how you structure these things is less important than being committed about following it. For my wife, a sticker on the calendar for every day she hits the gym is all the formal planning she needs.
Thanks for listening.

Goal Setting: Volume

This is what I used for my most recent productivity cycle. You figure out how much you want to do, then divide it by the number of days you want to do it in. The result is how much you have to do, on average, each day to meet your goals. I arrived at my weekly goal by dividing my financial needs by nine weeks…resulting in the benchmarks I used for my accountability posts these past two months.

That part isn’t exactly rocket science, but there are some fine points a lot of people miss.

Set small short-term goals. It’s natural to dream big, but many of us set our goals when we’re in a gung-ho state of mind. We decide to get it all done, plus fix that riser on the stairs, this week. Reality intrudes and we fall short, discouraged. It makes it hard to want to set goals the next time around.

Set big long-term goals. So many of us get caught in the short-term goal trap that we forget what we’re capable with small contributions over the long haul. Tom Callos taught me this by asking me to run 1,000 miles and do over 50,000 pushups in one year. That’s just three miles of running each week, and 75 pushups per day. The point here isn’t that I’m a badass…it’s that you can do incredible things if you give yourself time and make yourself keep at it even after the new wears off.

Set benchmarks. Business managers know about this, and so should you if you want to manage your own writing business. Don’t say “I want to write a 365 page book this year, at one page a day.” Unless your Mr. Spock, or maybe Data, this will inevitably lead to you taking January through September off and scrambling during the fall. Instead, say “I will write 30 pages per month for one year.” This keeps you on track for success from day one…and gives you something to gauge your progress against in real time.

Remain flexible. Alert readers might have spotted some of this during my last productivity binge. My surgery took more out of me than I expected, and for longer than I’d planned for. I didn’t abandon my goals…I just shifted some numbers around and worked harder when I felt better. You can always change your plan to suit reality, and a changed plan is always better than no plan.

You can set volume goals according to work completed, money made or both. When setting money-based goals, choose between money earned and income paid to your accounts. These are sadly very different numbers. In my current cycle, I’m going to do both work and money: money for immediate income, and work for speculative projects.

Thanks for listening.

Goal Setting: HOKBIC

For some writers, the hardest part of establishing productivity is making yourself sit down and actually write. You have chores to do, kids to play with, email to check, books to read. It feels like every time you have a great idea for a story or project, you never get around to actually putting it on paper — or entering into the word processor.

If you’re this kind of writer, you might get good mileage out of setting your goals according to HOKBIC time:

  • Hands
  • On
  • Keyboard
  • Butt
  • In
  • Chair
More than one successful author wrote a breakout novel by getting up one hour early or going to bed one hour late. They didn’t worry about how much they wrote or how much money they made — just on setting aside time to write, and writing during that time. If you write for one hour every day for a year, you will have produced a sizable book by the end of that time.
How much HOKBIC time you need depends on your situation as a writer. If you write as a hobby, you probably won’t need an aggressive goal. If you write part-time as an adjunct to a full-time job, you don’t need HOKBIC time…but you should give yourself several hours each week if you want to ever transition to writing as your full time living. Professional writers should set their HOKBIC goals based on how rapidly they work, and how much they need to get done to make their deadlines and financial goals.
You can also apply this kind of dedicated work time to the other tasks surrounding writing. For example, a 10-hour work day might consist of 4 hours of writing, 2 of promotion and marketing, 2 of rewriting, 1 of bookkeeping and 1 of “pencil tapping” to sketch new projects.
Like any other goal, it’s usually better to set your HOKBIC time goals by the week. “Five hours each week” is better than “One hour every work day.” Although it’s the same amount of time, the weekly goal is less likely to fail. Every week will have at least one day that conspires to keep you from meeting your goal…but if you phrase it weekly, you have a chance to catch up by week’s end.
Thanks for listening.