Goal Setting - Killjoy or Rocket Booster?

Writing is a creative act that requires letting your mind roam free in imagination. Goal setting, in contrast, seems a mundane task that makes me feel like I’m wearing concrete boots.

But in January of this year, I joined an Accountability group. Yes, it sounds a little dull, but it’s a way for a group of writers to band together and encourage each other to find the initiative and self-discipline to work at what is, by definition, a solitary pursuit. We each hope not only to hone our craft, but also to keep our noses to the grindstone with the ultimate taskmaster – ourselves.

How does it work? Each week, we set daily and weekly goals. We also have long term goals and quarterly goals, which are essential in thinking about what we want to accomplish overall. But I find it is the daily and weekly goals that motivate me best. Every day, when I look at my goals, I know what I’ve decided I want to accomplish that day. There is no pushing it off to tomorrow. If I want to get my smiley face for the day, I might as well do it now. (Okay, I would rather say I’ll work for champagne or chocolate, but hey, I work for smiley faces.)

There’s a tremendous amount of self-discipline required. After all, I could tell the group I accomplished my goals every day. They won’t know the difference. But then, why bother being in the group? The only one I’m cheating is myself. It feels much better to be honest and to gain the self-satisfaction of checking things off my list. The group is there for support, not judgment. But I have been nudged a couple times, very gently, and it works.

We’re still new to each other, and we have a tendency so far to not call each other out on our goals. I think that’s good. We don’t know what’s going on in the other person’s life. In time, we may get more assertive. I don’t know. There’s a fine balance between setting goals that are so aggressive that one gives up in defeat, and goals that are so easy to meet that they don’t challenge us to be as productive as possible.

This system works for me. I’ve increased my word count substantially. Equally as important, I’ve become much better about doing the writing-related goals that I personally like to procrastinate on. These include all the business related aspects of being an author – website updating, reading craft books, participating in workshops, etc.

I think of goal setting as a way to tether my feet to the ground so my mind can roam free, but return to earth with something solid in hand. If you want your writing to provide a livelihood, then prosaic things like effective websites, meeting deadlines and paying attention to the realities of commercializing your product are all things you need to pursue with a focus more practical than fanciful.

Being in an accountability group has definitely boosted my productivity. Do any of you have other methods you use to get yourself to be as productive as possible?


Jennifer August said...

I am all about goals and trying to reach them! I belong to tons of different email groups, each of which feeds a different need. I find though, the one that works best is the random daily word count group: one email with a set of numbers to reach by the end of the day. And, like you, I adore it when I get to put a sticker on my calendar and say I did it.
Recently, though, I've discovered a secondary method of productivity - a timer. I set it for a set amount of time and write away. Knowing I'm under the gun really gets my muse going and she always cooperates (took some training, though).

Carly Carson said...

Thanks for the tips, Jennifer. I forgot all about the timer and it's sitting right here, reproaching me! I use it for non-writing tasks like paperwork. I set it for 15 minutes and say I only have to work on this paperwork for that amount of time and then I'm done with that chore for the day. It does motivate me. Then another 15...it works!

Nicole North said...

Sounds like a fantastic group (and method) Carly! Maybe I need something like that. But I've been more productive this year. Having goals written down definitely helps.

lisekimhorton said...

Carly, your new group sounds awesome and it surely seems as though it is working great for you. Many congrats! I have had difficulty in setting goals for myself in the past (they tended to be waaaaaay too optimistic and when you can't meet them the "down" is even more depressing than ever!). However in 2009 I set myself the goal - 1 simple goal: finish my novel (once and for all). And despite all manner of work chaos and catastrophe (some of which was fiercely demoralizing), despite home pressures and family responsibilities that seemed to have ramped up this year, on December 30th at 6:19 PM, I typed "THE END" on the first draft of my urban fantasy. And I set myself the goal of revising and submitting my very first query by March 31, 2010. Fueled by the 2009 success, I did just that. So indeed, whether you decide on a catalogue of daily through annual goals, or one simple weekly one, or some other version, it can - and in my case did - help me fight to the finish line. Good luck to you Carly on all your endeavors and, to everyone else, likewise.

Carly Carson said...

Hey Nicole, come on over and join us! We're very nice people. lol

Lise, congrats on 2 big achievements, finishing your story and sending out a query!!!! Can't wait to hear what happens.