What the new year holds: goals and resolutions
I always begin my new year with goals, not resolutions. New year’s resolutions can be a huge thing but I find they don’t work unless they’re structured like SMART goals. Even if you think your resolution is quite specific, eg giving up smoking or losing 5kg, unless there’s something measurable and reviewable in there with definite timelines, I don’t think you’ll succeed.
Let’s review how SMART goals work.
S = specific. Make the goal as specific as possible. Something huge like finish a book, is too big, too overwhelming. Instead, bring the goal down to something like write 5000 words a week. This type of goal also meets several other parts of SMART.
M = measurable. You have to be able to measure where you’re at with your goal. If you can’t, or it takes too long to be measurable (how can you measure a finished book before it’s done?), you’ll feel overwhelmed, like it’s never going to end, like you won’t be able to make it, and continuing will be that much more difficult.
A = achievable. You might say you can easily write 5000 words a day, but what happens on those days that wash all your expectations down the toilet and you don’t get any words written, or only 500 words? What happens to your belief that you can achieve this goal if it then takes you a day, or two or three, to get things running smoothly again. Your 5000 words a day suddenly becomes I have to write 20000 words now to catch up. And that’s likely not achievable. I find a target 5000 words a week allows me to write 5000 words a day, or 500 words in a day, or none at all for three days, if that’s the way my life runs that week. Whichever way it works, I’m still achieving, and I’m not beating myself up for not reaching my hard goal. I’m not giving up because I can’t do it.
R = relevant. I find this is the easiest aspect to note. You’re not going to create goals that aren’t relevant to you, your life, your wishes and dreams. Relevance becomes much more important if you’re formulating work goals, rather than life goals.
R = realistic. This is an alternative interpretation of the SMART goals. It applies best to life goals. I could say I want to follow the footsteps of Roald Amundsen in his trek across Antarctica to the south pole, but I know that’s not realistic. As much as I’d love to go to Antarctica, I know I wouldn’t survive the hardships for even a week.
T = Timely or Timed. Goals have to have an end date so they can be measured and judged successful or not. They also have to be completed within a time period that retains their relevance. If you’re not willing to check progress or final achievement, your goal isn’t important enough for you to begin.
Another thing about new year goals is that I don’t force myself to have them ready to run on 1 January. I allow myself time to get through the holiday period, relax, and think about exactly what it is I want to achieve during the year. I try to factor in contingencies so that all the curve balls life throws out don’t completely derail my goals. It takes time. I usually have three to four SMART goals ready to go by the end of January, and most times I’ve already begun working on one or two of them.
What happens if I don’t achieve my goals?
There’s nearly always one (or more) I don’t completely finish in the year. This is the reason I factor in progress checks along the way. Progress checks not only keep me focused on my goal, they allow me to see how far I’ve come. They allow me to recognise that I’ve been working, doing my best, and have still achieved. I schedule progress checks once every three months. That gives me enough time to work on something and I have something real that I can look at when the time’s done. I can do a before-and-after comparison. All these things serve to help me feel like I’m moving forward, not stagnating. I don’t lose hope and the disappointment in not completely finishing is tempered with the knowledge (and proof) that I’ve still made a lot of progress.
Everybody I know knows how much I love spreadsheets. I love their order and flexibility. I love the clean-ness of presenting the data in neat little boxes (cells). I love that I can play with formulae and hide complex formulae so that the surface items still visible look like they work by magic.
So, naturally, I use spreadsheets to track my goals. The one shown here is one I began when my goal was to write 10000 in 30 days. I’ve written much more than that in the past but life has become more complex in recent years and my writing has suffered. This was my attempt to get back to writing regularly. I didn’t even make that the 30 days had to be in the same month because I knew that wouldn’t happen at that point in my life. This is the first time I attempted this method of target writing outside NaNoWriMo. You can see I reached the 10000 target by day 28.
The next time I did this, I upped the target to 15000 and reduced the timeline. That too was achieved. The third month at 20000 wasn’t as successful. I reached 17500 only, but I did the 30 days over six weeks, so that was a major accomplishment. I haven’t done one of these targeted writings at all this year because I’ve been focused on editing. I’ll need to adapt this process for timing editing because it’s become a bit hit-and-miss lately.
I’d love to hear how others set and reach their goals for writing.