I’ve been re-reading Wishcraft by Barbara Scher, which should be required reading for anyone trying to construct a new life after academia. A friend of mine gifted it to me years ago and I’ve gifted it to friends since. First published in 1979, I still think it’s the best of the “set some goals and achieve them” genre. Parts of it seem dated now (writing things on index cards! Calling people on the phone! Going to the library!), but its timeless advice and wisdom helps people rediscover their deepest dreams and make a plan to achieve any goal. Most dangerously, Wishcraft has resurrected some of the goals I’d discarded years ago as impractical and unrealistic.
My biggest dream is to be a published, professional writer. Like, the kind of writer who gets paid for writing. I’ve wanted to be a professional writer since I was five, which should have been my first clue that it was a serious and important goal. I nevertheless spent many years assuming that being a writer in life was as impossible as it was impractical. Wishcraft reminded me that what I want still matters in life. I started taking my goal of being a writer seriously again a few weeks ago. So seriously, in fact, that I’ve decided to just start acting like a professional writer, despite not actually being paid for writing (yet). This week, I got my writing practice started again and wrote daily, just like I imagined Serious Writers doing.
But “being a writer” is still a vague goal without any endpoint.
In the past, I’ve been guilty of creating exciting and interesting goals and doing absolutely no work to reach them. I just expect to someday reach my goal with little or no effort on my part, as if the act of setting goals sets some kind of process in motion. (Plot spoiler: it doesn’t.) One of my big goals (from my last post) is writing a novel. I have quite literally wanted to write a novel my entire life, so its a serious goal, not just a passing fancy. Writing a novel is a nice goal because it gets to the dream of being a writer and has a clearly defined, tangible marker of success (finishing writing the novel). However, it is also a giant goal and I have no idea how I will possibly accomplish this. But here’s what I know: it will not happen without some serious planning and action on my part.
Planning steps to reach my goals and scheduling them on the calendar is the only way I’m going to get anything done in life. I’ve now got time scheduled into my monthly and weekly planner for what I’ve come to call “goal and happiness work.” Right now, I’m scheduling two evenings a week and a weekend afternoon for specific goal and happiness work. (Writing practice is still daily, but I’ve got some other goals that I’m working on too. I want to host writing retreats and give walking tours, which are also now on the calendar.) Every week, I make a weekly list of things that I need to do then (here’s the magic part) put them on the calendar and do them.
Here’s how I’m going about planning to reach goals, using the goal of writing novel as an example.
If my goal is to write a 250 page novel in a year, say, I need to break it down into smaller milestones that I can reach. I’d want to figure out how much I’d need to write monthly. Doing some math, I’d have to write a little more than 20 pages a month I might decided that 20 pages makes for a nice chapter length, so maybe my monthly goal is one 20 page chapter a month.
On my master calendar, I’ve got specific monthly goals plotted for the next 18 months. In my last post, I talked about making deadlines (in pen!) for goals and then planning backwards from the big goals and scheduling this all on a multi-month or year calendar. With the novel, I’d schedule a chapter per month. I love having the wall calendar, because I see it every day. Big goals sometimes get hidden in planners or worse, never written down at all and then we wonder why we can’t figure out how to get there. Whenever I get anxious and freaked out and start wondering what the hell I’m doing with my life, I look at my wall calendar.
If I’m going to get the novel written in a year, June of 2018 would be my target date. I’d want to schedule one chapter per month, which would also tell me when to start. Since I’m estimating a year from start to finish, I’d need to start now. On my monthly goal list for each month, I’d write chapter a month as a goal.
I was using a Bullet Journal until a few weeks ago. I like the Bullet Journal model of keeping a daily log of activities and I don’t mind having to number the pages. I also like the sense of mindfulness that I got out of using the bullet journal. Lamentably what wasn’t working for me about it was the lack of a weekly calendar and some difficulty planning for future events. [I think the creator of the Bullet Journal himself notes the problems with future planning, as do users.] So I switched to this planner instead and love it. I still do a lot of the things that I used to do with the Bullet Journal (check boxes for to dos, log of daily activities, jotting down ideas), but the weekly calendar structure works better for me.
So assuming that I’m going to write a 250 page novel in a year, I’d need to write four or five pages a week. Let’s say five. I’d schedule this in to my weekly calendar as a goal (write five pages this week). Turns out, five pages a day is like, one page a day of writing. So there’s my daily goal (write one page today). Weekly and daily goals are scheduled in my planner.
Daily Actions journal:
I’m keeping track of the little steps that I take every day on an Excel spreadsheet. I note what I’ve done each day and figure out any next steps. I find it helpful to keep track of what I’ve done weekly. It helps me see that even when I don’t think I’ve accomplished anything, I’ve actually done more than I think. The daily actions list tracks my list of next steps, so I know what I need to do next.
On Sunday evenings, I hold planning meetings with myself. I assess what I’ve accomplished over the week and what I still need to do. I look at my monthly goals, which are broken down into smaller steps. I review my progress for the week and see if I’m on target to meet my weekly and monthly goals. If I’m not, I figure out what I need to do to catch up or I adjust the dates I’ve set for smaller milestones. I figure out exactly what I need to do when. And then (the magic again) I put the things I need to do on a calendar and do them.
Planning goals and putting them on a calendar, by the way, doesn’t set anything in stone. Dates are flexible because I can’t predict the future. In the next year, I might move, get offered a job, or start a public speaking circuit. Ain’t no thing. Just adjust the calendar.
The result of doing all of this planning is that there’s a specific STRUCTURE that keeps me moving forward and on track. Since I’ve been doing this, I literally never leave my house without a very clear idea about what I need to accomplish that day. Even more amazing might be the fact that I’m actually accomplishing those things.
Off to plan some more goals and reach them. :)