What I’ve learnt about goal setting

Lightbulb moment

Despite my passionate advocacy of goal setting, I have to admit I’m no master at it. I’m still learning what goals work for me and my writing. The past few weeks I’ve used Write-Track alongside volunteers who’ve been testing whether goal setting and monitoring helps writers improve their writing practice and productivity. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Like most writers I have a mix writing dreams and aspirations. I also want to write more. I used Write-Track to set goals which helped me monitor my writing practice, work on several projects, and voice my dreams.

It’s pretty easy to come up with a list of goals and a damn sight harder to make progress against them. I found it fascinating to reflect why some stormed ahead while others languished.

Set a mix of goals: I knew what I wanted to write, but I didn’t know what I’d actually write. I set several goals, looking at different aspects of writing and covering a range of projects. Taken together there was too much to do – I wasn’t setting myself up to fail but exploring what worked.

Have an overall tracking goal: I set a goal to ‘track my writing’ – this is the simplest goal, where I just tracked each time I wrote, regardless of what I wrote. It helped me value all writing, whether scribbling ideas in a notepad or polishing off a final piece at my desk. Writing’s writing – it all needs to be celebrated. It also helped me make sense of my writing practice.

SMART’s good but not essential: I was taught the best type of goal is a SMART one – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound. Though this is the ideal it’s not the only way to formulate a goal. Over the weeks the goals got smarter as I worked out what they were really about and was able to refine them.

Edit your goals: If it ain’t working – change it. I thought I’d be able to write three blogs a week. I never managed that, so I revised it to two; then revised it down to one a week which was written, edited and posted. It’s now an achievable goal that I’m consistently meeting and occasionally exceeding.

Delete goals: If it really ain’t working – bin it. I set a few goals that just didn’t work for me. There was no point keeping them on my list of live goals as they’d never get started.

Keep a note of what failed: Rather than permanently delete my goals I archived them, so I could see what they were. Badly formulated goals will stay archived so I don’t replicate them in the future. Some projects I just didn’t have the time to work on, so they could be made active again.

Make notes – and be honest: When I tracked against a goal, I made notes, usually what time and for how long I wrote. One day I commented that I’d really struggled with my writing and I got comments from other writers offering support and advice – that gave me a huge boost.

Review your progress: I used my notes and calendar to review my progress. It was pretty obvious I write best first thing in the morning before work and I can keep a regular practice unless I’m away at client meetings. Some days were better than others. I couldn’t always work out why this was the case but I found it heartening that the bad days were pretty isolated – some days you stall, other days you accelerate, overall you make progress.

Don’t judge: It’s tough to admit you haven’t made any progress especially if you miss a deadline. By taking a reflective attitude and exploring why you failed you can stop judging yourself. As I’d set several goals I could celebrate those I’d made progress on and keep positive.

Visualise the end point: Set your goal posts, whether it’s a deadline, frequency, number of words – find out what works for you.

Dream: I set myself a couple of dreams. These are goals that are hard to track against as you don’t necessarily make progress on them every day, but they’re something you work towards. Having them there inspired me – I review my dreams occasionally, making notes when small steps make a contribution and get me closer to achieving them.

Tell people: I set my profile and goals to be public so everyone could see them. This level of accountability spurred me on.

Set reminders: Give yourself a nudge to write or to review your progress. As with goals I kept editing my reminders – less often works best for me – being nagged makes me feel angry and resentful and more likely to feel bad about my progress. I need a reminder if I’ve been inactive for a week on my blog goal, a weekly update of all my goals, and a monthly reminder to check up on my dreams.

My overall goal was to improve my writing practice by writing pretty much every day and through doing this I could make progress on a range of writing projects – blogging, academic articles, short stories and the damn unfinished novel. Here’s what I achieved at the end of the five weeks:

  • I wrote every day apart from three days
  • I tracked 99 times against six goals – an average progress of two to three goals a day
  • My most productive goal was ‘track my writing’ which logged each time I wrote – this might be a couple of times a day
  • My most productive day was Thursday 23 January where I made progress on four goals
  • I wrote and posted six blogs, rewrote and submitted two academic articles, and edited one short story
  • I also wrote five newsletters and crafted five surveys – all of which drew on my writing experience and creativity
  • I didn’t make any progress on my novel!

 

Bec Evans About the author: Co-creator of Write Track, Bec has spent a lifetime reading, writing and working with writers. From her first job in a bookshop, to a career in publishing, and several years managing a writers’ centre, she’s obsessed with working out what helps writers write.