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.

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Getting Paid

Captain Mal of the oft-lamented, early-cancelled, just about perfect Firefly said “I do the job, and then I get paid.”

Freelancers need to take this attitude, although we should think a little longer than the Captain when it comes to the subject of shooting people who are slow to make good. I mention this today because I’ve come across a small hitch that’s all too common in the freelancing world: the gap between acceptance of work and payment for that work.

My accountability post on Sunday noted that I’m $130 behind — don’t worry, I’ve already caught up. But further troubles have reared their heads.

  • One client asked for revisions on $120 worth of articles, which I’ll need to do without further payment. Revisions are part of the job for a freelance writer.
  • One client received $180 worth of work last week and still hasn’t gotten around to reading for approval. Lags like this are part of the job for a freelance writer.
  • Another client has amassed a $470 bill for my work, but won’t be able to pay until May. This kind of payment cycle is part of the job for a freelance writer.
As another example, two weeks ago I got a check for an article that was originally accepted in 2007. You read that right. Accepted in 2007, paid in 2011.
I don’t post this to complain. The operative phrase from the above list is part of the job for a freelance writer. I post this to share a facet of your worklife if you think you want to take on this as a career. For the most part, money you earn this month should be earmarked for spending next quarter. If it comes in early, great — let it earn some interest until you need it. Budgeting, planning and strict personal discipline are absolute necessities if you’re going to go full time in this field.
That’s not to say I’m an expert at any of those three things, just that they’re important.
This payment lag presents a special problem for people who want to break in as freelance writers. You’re looking at a four to six month gap between the first month that you make your living expenses and the first month you can pay for them — and we’re not even talking yet about how long it will take you to land that much work. There are several different ways to make this work.
The way I did it was I worked a job I disliked, writing for extra money when I could. When I landed a long-term gig with a client who paid promptly and reliably, I pulled the trigger. That client won’t last forever — although they’re still going strong two years later — so I make it a priority to pursue other gigs as aggressively as possible.
Bottom line: expect to get paid late. Expect to get stiffed on occasion. Plan your finances so you’re always living off money already in the bank, not waiting for a payment to come in just so you can cover your mortgage.  Understand that this isn’t a special hardship — businesses face this payment cycle problem every day. It’s part of the price you pay for the privilege of owning your time.
Thanks for listening.