Making It Your Business: Setting Goals

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Last month, I wrote about creating a Strategic Plan for your writing career, focusing on drafting a Mission Statement.  Many of you shared your thoughts in comments – some people even provided draft Mission Statements for the rest of us to consider.  This month, we’ll take the concept one step further, looking at drafting Goals.

Goals are concrete statements about specific things you intend to accomplish in order to fulfill your Mission Statement.  Goals bear a passing resemblance to “resolutions” — you know, those promises that you made to yourself about six weeks ago, the ones that have likely fallen by the wayside.

Strategic Plan Goals, though, function in a solid framework (unlike most vague resolutions), so that you are much more likely to achieve them.  Solidly written Goals read almost like journalistic headlines – they include the who, what, and when of your personal story.  (They don’t include the “why” – that’s in your Mission Statement.  They also don’t include the “how” – that will be in your Strategies and Activities.)

WHO:  Your Strategic Plan Goals should be about you, about what you’re going to accomplish.  You can’t control other people; you can’t dictate what your agent, your editor, or your readers will do.  Therefore, don’t waste your time creating Goals for your agent, your editor, your readers, or anyone else.  Concentrate on the aspects of your writing career that you can control.  For example, one aspect of my career involves staying physically healthy enough to write.  While I could phrase this goal in terms of other people (“keep my doctor from … [prescribing statins for high cholesterol]”), my Strategic Plan will be much more effective if it’s phrased in terms of what I can do:  “I will …”

WHAT:  This is the meat of your Goal.  The more specific that you can be, the stronger the Strategies you can create in future stages of this project.  I can write “I will be healthy”, but that doesn’t give me any way of measuring when I have achieved healthfulness or give me any guidance with regard to specific steps toward healthfulness.  Instead, I must enumerate what “healthfulness” means:  “lose thirty-seven pounds, thereby lowering my blood pressure to at least 120/80 and my total cholesterol to less than 200…”

WHEN:  Setting specific deadlines allows you to calculate progress (and to correct lack of progress) as you fulfill your strategic plan.  Many businesses draft “three-year” Strategic Plans — three years sets a reasonable horizon, where workers can plan reasonably and are still able to predict conditions.  Three years also limits the “overhead” — the amount of time that companies invest in planning, compared to the actual progress they make in their corporate business.  Even if I create a three-year Strategic Plan, I might set a one-year deadline on a specific Goal.  (Presumably, accomplishing that Goal will permit me to achieve other Goals down the line, within the time period of my Strategic Plan.)  For my healthy-writer example, I would include the time limitation “within one year.”

Thus, one Goal in my professional Strategic Plan might be:  “I will lose thirty-seven pounds, thereby lowering my blood pressure to at least 120/80 and my total cholesterol to less than 200 within one year.”

Other Goals in my Strategic Plan might include successive “healthfulness” goals (e.g., now that I’ve lost the weight, I’m going to craft a second-year Goal of building endurance.)  In the alternative, I might complete all of my healthfulness Goals before I complete the rest of my Strategic Plan.

While there is no absolute number for the “correct” number of Goals, most planners find that they cannot adequately address more than a half-dozen Goals — at most! — in any given Plan period.  If you find that you have a dozen Goals to achieve, you might consider shortening the time period of your Strategic Plan, so that you can stage successive Goals.

So?  How about you?  Take a look at your Mission Statements from last month, and consider the specific, individually-motivated, concretely-defined, time-limited goals that will help you to achieve your Mission.  Anyone feel like sharing?  Or challenging the assumptions that I’ve laid out here?

Mindy, looking forward to the conversation

ETA:  My next post will be about “Strategies” – a break down of each Goal, setting specifics to accomplish the who-what-whens.

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17 comments to Making It Your Business: Setting Goals

  • Mindy, I love this. It’s the sort of thing that grabs the daughter-of-an-engineer part of my soul concisely. The mission statement concept was something I did instinctively already. But this is not and feels squeaky new! (rubs hands together) I am going for the short term goals, as I know what my life (barring accident/illness/loki)is supposed to look like for that long.

    I will lose 15 pounds by May 1. I will cut all artificial sweetners out of my diet and I will exercise 3 times a week, even if it’s for only 30 minutes a day, through May 1. I will follow the recommendations of my new PR company and work to increase my web presence wisely, thereby increasing my online FB fanbase to 2500 by May 1. I will finish 4 short stories and outline one book by May 1.

    Hmmmm. I can do this. Taking the short term keeps it from hanging over my head. I like!

  • Yedra

    My day job is as a project manager, so I often help clients set goals at the beginning of their projects. There’s a technique called SMART that we use to set good goals, and it resembles what you describe in your Who/What/When.

    To be useful, a goal should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely.

    When you set your goal, go back and check to see if it meets the SMART criteria. It can really help you determine exactly what you want to accomplish.

    And thanks for the reminder, Mindy – I haven’t done personal goals in a while, and I can tell. My focus is shot these days. Guess I know what I’ll be doing this weekend!

  • Quick question – no more than half a dozen goals, but what about sub-goals?

    I’ve been participating in the Compuserve Books and Writers Forum’s monthly Goals thread for awhile, so I’ve been breaking it down there.

    My mission statement was: “To make a successful living as an author, published by a traditional publisher in the young adult fantasy genre within the next five years.”

    Elsewhere, I’ve said that “If I’m going to get an agent, I need to finish my WIP (etc etc).

    So with that in mind, here are my goals:

    1. I will make writing a priority in my daily schedule.

    I will do this by:
    a. I will limit my Internet Time Wastage (specifically, not wasting time on Livejournal, Twitter, and Facebook).
    b. I will say no to some social gatherings (specifically, hitting the coffee shop or holing up in the computer room when my friends are over to play poker and video games – my husband can entertain them; not attending every event I’ve been invited to on Facebook or elsewhere;
    c. I will start with writing when I have any plans to “get some writing/editing done”. That means, if I sit down at the computer, I open the word document first, not the Hotmail or Facebook. If I have plans for chores, I spend some time writing first. If dinner needs to be cooked … well, okay, that one’s a bit more complicated. Some tasks cannot be completely avoided.

    2. I will make my health a priority so that I can a) stay strong and avoid another MS episode, b) gain muscle strength in case I *do* have another MS episode, and c) be able to feel “on” (ala Faith’s post several weeks back) more of the time.

    I will do this by:
    a. I will stay aware of and in touch with my body so that I know when I’m pushing myself too much and so that I don’t push myself to the point of triggering an episode.
    b. I will go to the gym or engage in reasonably-strenuous physical exercise at least three times a week, focusing more on building muscle rather than a specific pounds-lost goal because the muscle helps me lose anyway, and I feel stronger for it.
    c. I will get more sleep by starting the get-ready-for-sleep routine (brush teeth, wash face, don PJs) at least an hour earlier than the time I’d like to go to bed, and allowing for 7 solid hours of sleep in addition to said routine.

    3. I will keep up my writing self-education.

    I will do this by:
    a. I will attend class at Magical Words. 😉
    b. I will read regularly, because there is something to be learned from every book or short story read.

    So is that too much, or is breaking it down into sub-goals a good thing?

  • Faith – I was surprised by how much the Strategic Plan system appealed to my decided *not* the daughter-of-an-engineer mind :-) As for keeping things short-term, that works well for some people and not as well for others ::wry grin:: (Some folks get too overwhelmed by short-term pressure!)

    Yedra – Yep; I’ve worked with SMART criteria before, too. I like the acronym; it helps to put specifics on the tasks.

    Laura – Your goals are very clearly stated; you’ve clearly put a lot of thought into them! (I edited my original post – we’ll be focusing on specific strategies *next* month ::grin::) You’ll be leading the pack then!

  • Loving this series of posts, Mindy.

    My goals: By the end of the calendar year, I will have five books and/or book concepts to market to publishers. Three of these will completed novels — a middle reader book and two contemporary urban fantasies. The other two will be synopses of the next two installments in the Thieftaker series.

  • mudepoz

    My immediate goal: Be able to walk without the addition of Alice in Wonderland type drugs. I would like to be able to outrace the zombies shambling down the university halls. Or at least guide them to eat our governor. Never mind, he doesn’t have enough brain to interest them.
    Long term, see if I actually have a YA book in the mess, erm, mass of words on my computer.
    Longer term. Takes something seriously:)

  • Here are my goals for the next three months. A bit ambitious, but hopefully still achievable…

    1. Develop and design a basic personal website by March 6. Increase average monthly visits to blog to more than 150 by June 1.

    2. Have a complete manuscript of ‘Pack’ for beta readers by April 3. Incorporate beta reader comments and feedback into final manuscript of ‘Pack’ by May 29.

    3. Complete two short stories, ready to submit, by May 1.

    4. Complete outline and planning of second novel by May 29.

    *I like to have the goals dates on a Sunday so that I have the weekend, my primary writing time, to get things finished.*

  • Great series, Mindy. As for my goals —

    1. Get a new agent.
    2. Put together the synopsis for the sequel to the novel I’m trying to get an agent for.
    3. Finish the outline for a different novel and then write the thing.
    4. Try not to get too fat and maybe even exercise a little!

  • Yay!

    Honestly, I’ve had a lot of time to think about this stuff. But thank you for helping me to organize my thoughts further, Mindy. :)

  • Sarah

    In the past I’ve lumped activities like this in with meditation and affirmations as self-indulgent/magical thinking. But in the last couple of years I’ve been prodded/strong-armed into doing both by certain medical professionals and *SIGH* they were right. These things can actually be incredibly useful. So, forthwith, my goals:

    1. I will pursue medical and lifestyle solutions to my chronic headaches/sinusitis by making appointments with my doctor and, if necessary, specialists, identifying and reducing headache triggers in my life, and getting to bed before 2am. (I strongly suspect this means coffee is going to leave my life.) I will pursue this goal until I am headache free or have found a pain management strategy that allows me to remain productive.

    3. I will finish my WIP Winter’s Dawn before ConCarolinas.

    4. I and my co-author will write a synopsis for KnychtSpelle and begin sending it to agents by the end of April. (Have to check this one with co-author, but I think this deadline works for her.)

    5. I will make time during Spring break for a personal writer’s retreat. During this retreat I will do one of the following: research and outline new scholarly article or finish at least one short story. Either way I will write every day of the break.

    I’m going to stop there because I think these goals are reasonable and doable. I could write another six more, but then I would be moving into over commitment land which usually results in nothing getting done.

  • Goals>

    1). I’ll have Hell Mary done in time for the suvudu contest (March 18, I think–sometime in mid-march).

    2). I’ll have Hell Mary for beta readers at the same time.

    3). I’ll go ahead and take Sarah’s (since I’m the co-author) goal of having the synopsis and queries for KnychtSpelle by the end of April.

    4.) I’ll have query letters and synopsis of Hell Mary out by the end of May at the latest.

    Those are the writing goals. The other stuff I’ll leave off for now. “Getting grading done” isn’t so much a goal as a job requirement. :)

  • Young_Writer

    Mindy, good luck with your goals. Mine are:
    1. Finish trilogy.
    2. Major rewrites on all three books.
    3. Give it beta readers.
    4. Publish more articles in my local newspaper.
    5. Start school newspaper.
    6. Get poems and short stories published in magazines and poetry books.
    I have started goal three, but I really need all the feedback I can right now.

  • We do this, using SMART where I work, too.

    My (non-work) goals:

    Short (SF/F) version:
    1) Clone myself

    Real life version:
    1) Get me to a doctor for a checkup (since it has been over 10 years) and then pay attention to what he/she recommends/orders;
    2) Write at least one poem a month using a ‘style’ format;
    3) Maintain average of 500 words (or better) per day on WIP until finished.
    4) Clone myself.

  • Sorry, all, for my delay in replying! I knew that I’d be away from my computer at the end of the day – and so many of you posted in the evening!

    David – Thanks! Your list of goals looks a lot like mine. I’m not quite as ambitious with the novels (three are on my list), but I’m pushing freelance work in the legal field instead. Of course, if I over-achieve on the novels and land the contract of my lifetime, I’ll drop the legal freelancing in no time flat!

    Mudepoz: It’s amazing, isn’t it, how the physical ends up intertwined with the abstract writing stuff! And really – *anything* seriously? Anything at all? :-)

    Megan: Admirable goals! For my personal peace of mind, I need to plan at greater intervals (i.e., one year.) I look forward to hearing how you fare, as we continue refining this project!

    Stuart – Thanks! It’s intriguing to me, the commonality between so many of our lists. Good luck!

  • Sarah – I’ve never been a big fan of business-speak, and I thought of Strategic Plans as the worst of business-speak. Then, in my last office job, I found myself using the Plan that I wrote (for a library) as an offense-ive (written that way to avoid the “offending others” reading my mind wanted to make) tool, repeatedly. That was when I realized that a personal Plan made sense, despite the whoo-whoo factors that I’d always disdained. Thanks for playing with us :-)

    pea_faerie: I think your goals are great – very concise, very specific. Good luck! (And I laughed at your “job requirement”…)

    Young_Writer: Your goals seem aggressive (and that can be a very good thing! What sort of time frame are you thinking of? Are the time spans the same for each of your goals?

    Lyn Nichols: Only SMART people understand the value of cloning :-) Good luck!

  • Unicorn

    Mindy – thanks for the post. I’ve been thinking of goals a lot lately. The SMART system sounds very effective though I’m usually more SMRT – if it’s achievable I find it too boring to achieve. 😉 Seriously, though, here’s what I think of currently as my writing goals.
    1. Finish the second draft of “Sparrowhawk” (finally found a title that I currently like, “Voice of the Silver Mustang”), my YA fantasy, by about June, including lopping off a good deal of that 160 000 words.
    2. Finish the first draft of the first novel in my new series-in-progress also by about June.
    3. Send two short stories to magazines/competitions by the end of the year.
    4. Finish the third draft of “Sparrowhawk” by the end of the year.
    I’m a slow writer – have trouble turning my internal editor off – which is why the time limits are rather relaxed. Also, I’ve got a slightly off-topic question. If you’re writing a series of novels, as I’m planning on doing, but without a deadline or even any interest from a publisher/agent, is it best to treat the books in the series as individual novels or treat the whole series as one massive novel? What I’m trying to say is, once I’ve finished the first story in the series-to-be, do I then revise and revise that story until I’m happy with it, or do I jump straight into the first draft of the next story? Or do I keep revising Story One and start working on Story Two? I hope I’m making any sense at all, it’s pretty late where I come from.
    Lyn Nichols – I like the cloning idea, too… 😀
    Good luck with your goals everyone.
    Unicorn