I teach a time management class called Going the Distance, and one of the major things we do after we write out our Master Goals List is to open the calendar and start crossing out all the days that you know you can’t work.
Plan For What You REALLY Can Do
It might seem in December when the new year is looking bright and shiny and empty that you can get everything done you ever imagined! But when you look back over the last year, you may realize that you are often overconfident about what you can do.
Get a Calendar!
Being disappointed in yourself erodes your confidence for the next year, which erodes it for the following year, etc., and I want to help you keep that from happening. So this is what we’re going to do: go get a calendar. Any calendar will do, but one you like and can use easily will be the best one for you.
Cross Off Days You Can’t Work
Starting in January, cross off every day that you know you won’t be able to work on your goals. For instance, if weekends are always for family, cross off all the Saturdays and all the Sundays from the year. Your 365 days just came down to 261 – poof! Just like that!
Do you have a vacation planned? Go find the dates on your calendar and cross them off. Do you have kids in school? Go find their school calendar and cross off days you know you won’t be available, like for sports and music and drama and other events that you’re committed to attending.
Weddings? Bridal showers? Baby showers? If you are just attending one of these, you might only lose a day or half a day. If it’s out of town, you may lose several days due to travel. If you are part of the planning committee, rest assured you will be spending more time than you realize, so try to plan accordingly.
Plan For Sick Days and Mental Health Days
About how many days were you home sick last year? How many days were you taking care of someone else who was sick? Plan a few sick days into your calendar, subtracting them from the total days left but leaving them “available for use.” There is no point in feeling guilty about being sick, and we both know that a good rest will often get you back to work sooner and better than trying to work through it.
I also try to plan one mental health day a month. I don’t always use them (much as I want to!), but they give me a guilt-free opportunity to remember to get out of the house and live life. I come back refreshed to the writing, and I remember things that I want my characters to do or see or feel. Sometimes, I just spend the entire day reading!
So how many days do you have left? I often end up with only about 180. That’s only half a year! But the fact is, you have a life outside of your work and your goals. Now you can adjust your goals to accomplish them in the time you actually have. Planning this way will keep you from over-committing and being disappointed later.
Now look at your list of the 5 to 10 goals you wrote down since last week. You can either plan forward or plan backward. To plan forward, look at each goal and figure out how much you can accomplish per day or per week on that goal. Then plot it out on your calendar to see what date you finish. Put a sticky note on that date with the goal. The sticky note is so that when things come up, you can move the goal without scribbling all over your calendar.
Or if you already have a goal date in mind, you can plan backward. Say you want to finish the first draft of your next book by May 1. How many days do you have left on your calendar, the ones that are not crossed out, between now and May 1? And how many words do you expect your first draft to be – 50,000 words? 100,000 words? Take the word count and divide by the number of days. This is your daily writing goal.
Whether planning forward or backward, it helps to pad your calendar a bit. You never know when you’ll have a flat tire or someone invites you out. If you plan forward, maybe move the sticky note ahead a couple days or a week. If you plan backward, either subtract a few available days before dividing to get your daily word count, or add a few hundred words to your daily word count. Best case scenario, you finish earlier! Worst case, you still finish on time.
Planning this way from the beginning of the year can help you see if you started out with too many goals in the first place. And it will also help you to adjust as you go. (Again, that’s why I use sticky notes!) The fact is you are planning for your own success this way, instead of not truly planning at all. And you know the saying, failing to plan is planning to fail. Let’s not do that.
How Does Your Calendar Look Now?
Continue in this way, planning forward and/or backward for each goal, until you’ve plotted everything out on your calendar. Now look at each of the twelve months. Is it challenging but doable? Does it make you break out in a cold sweat? Do you need to move a few things around? Did you schedule in a little down time, “you” time?
Only you know what will encourage you and make your brain believe that you can do this. And you do need to believe it. If it seems just a bit much, move one of the goals that you plotted out onto your “maybe” list. If you get everything else done, you can come back to this goal later in the year.
Looking at your goals in a big picture like this will encourage you, and that will give you more energy to start now and keep going. Trust me, go do this exercise this week. You are going to feel like you can conquer your world! Good luck!
Remember, if you want to work more personally with me to plan out your year, join me in my class, Going the Distance: Time and Project Management for Writers. The class starts Monday, January 15, 2018, and on Saturday, January 20, we’ll get together in a live online video session doing all of the above together! And once you enroll, you’re in the class forever, so you can use these techniques every year. Excellent!