Making it Your Business: Specifying Actions

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All right, folks!  You’ve stuck with me through this series of posts about creating a Strategic Plan for your life as a writer.  We started out by discussing how to create a Mission Statement (a concrete, specific statement about what we want from our writing career, including balancing that career with our personal lives.)  Next, we discussed setting specific goals to achieve that mission.  Then we developed concrete strategies to obtain those goals.

So now we arrive at the last stage of drafting our strategic plan:  reducing our strategies to specific, measurable actions.

We all know what actions are; in fact, most of us started drafting our strategic plan by thinking about actions:  I’ll wake up at 5:00 each morning.  I’ll write 1000 words over my lunch hour each work day.  I’ll read one draft chapter of my novel to my kids every weeknight, so that they share in the writing life with me.

At each step of this exercise, I urged you to think in more abstract ways, to focus on strategies.  Finally, at last, just when you thought I was never going to, I’m urging you to focus on tactics.

In prior months, I’ve used the example goal of losing weight.  To accomplish that goal, I identified multiple strategies.  Now, it’s time to reduce those strategies to actions.  As an example, let’s use the last of my strategies:  “I will exercise more.”

So?  What does “exercise” mean?  What does “more” mean?  What exactly am I going to do each and every day/week/month to achieve my goal?

I might enumerate the following actions:

  1. I will attend the Zumba class at my gym every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 7:30.
  2. I will walk a minimum of three miles on three days of the week that I do not attend Zumba class.
  3. I will walk up all escalators in the subway system, regardless of length, whether they are running, etc.

Note that each action is expressed in concrete details.  Which class will I attend?  Zumba.   When will I attend?  Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Which session?  7:30 a.m.

Actions are expressed with great specificity so that we can judge our performance.  If I attend the Restful Stretching class at the gym, I’m less likely to meet my goal.  If I walk three miles one day and eat bonbons on the couch (how I love bonbons!) all the other days, I’m less likely to meet my goal.  If I only walk the really short elevator, the one between the mezzanine and the platform, but I ride the three story escalator that goes from ground level to the mezzanine, I’m less likely to meet my goal.

Yeah.  It isn’t rocket science.

But it is a checklist for us to use, when we evaluate our progress.  My goal was:  “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.”  If one quarter of the year is gone, and I’ve lost two pounds, then I’m not on track.  I need to re-evaluate my strategies, and I need to fine-tune my actions.

Standard “Strategic Plan” theory wraps up here.  In my personal strategic plan, though, I add one more layer to the analysis.  I call that layer “Super-Actions”; they’re the last action that I list for each strategy.  Super-Actions are the “what will I do if I’ve been unable to follow through on the other actions, either from lack of will-power, illness, lack of interest, or whatever.”

My Super-Action for exercise might be:  “If I have not lost a minimum of ten pounds by April 21, I will hire Personal Trainer Joe Torture, for two sessions a week.”  I don’t want to spend the money on a trainer.  I am terrified of Joe Torture.  But if I can’t follow through on my actions on my own, I need to get some outside help.

So.  There we are.  A professional Strategic Plan, with a mission statement, goals, strategies, and actions.  Does this system work for you?  If so, how are you modifying it, to meet your needs?  What questions do you have that would be useful to hash out here in public?  And are these “business skills” type posts a waste of your time?

(I’ll be on the road (again!) when this posts, but I’ll check in to read your comments as soon as the Computer Gods allow me to do so!)

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4 comments to Making it Your Business: Specifying Actions

  • Yes, I’m now running into a little of the “nice strategic goals; too bad they weren’t more realistic” side of this whole thing. I’ve had ambitious aims for this year, and can still achieve some or all of them. But it turns out my strategy was based upon an underlying assumption that I hadn’t considered carefully enough: namely that each manuscript I completed would be perfect and would require no significant revision. Oops. So, I have sat down with my calendar and am now revising my tactics so that they more closely mirror reality. Again, Mindy, these posts have been terrific for just getting me to think about my work in a more systematic way. Thanks.

  • I’m with David on the “Oopsee.” Real Life got in the way of me carrying out several of my goals, but I’ve figured out that flexibility of action is important in cases like that. Including the goals which were based on other goals — a house of cards I will remember *must* be flexible!

    Rather than get all bent out of shape (my past reactions when things did not go my way) I simply followed your advice and adjusted my goals, pushing some into future months, altering others into more realistic expectations. Though I stil hate it when things go into the toilet or take a sharp left turn into the drink.

    Thank you for this series, Mindy. Because of it, I have a painted office, a new desk, chair, and computer monitor, new external harddrive, and am getting parts of my life straightened out that were previously disordered and out of control. ALso, because of this series of posts, which made me look at my goals as a writer, I applied to Dragon Con (despite feeling unworthy) and was accepted as a guest. Which still has me floored.

    And I’ve gotten better at saying “NO!” 😀

  • These posts are not a waste of time. I have found them useful. I started to fill the form out and realized just how long and probably-not-interesting-to-anyone-else the tiny details are, so I’m going to post my complete answers to my non-public LJ.

    A few challenges in answering: it was not the goals or their sub-points (last month) themselves, but thinking about what those sub-points implied. For example: I will start with writing first when I have any plans to “get some writing/editing done” in a given period of time. That means, if I sit down at the computer, I open the word document first, not the Hotmail or Facebook. The problem gets to a larger issue of *making time* for writing. When I get home from a long day at work or when I wake up on the weekend, the first thing I gravitate to is e-mail and social media. It means I have to completely disengage from these things, which actually turns it into a major habit change and maybe even makes it a goal of its own, even if it still contributes to the larger goal of making writing a priority. And yet other bullet points on that list that I haven’t entirely addressed (such as get enough sleep) may be reasons why I’m not meeting that subgoal.

  • Julia

    Hi Mindy,

    Thank you for this series. I missed the boat on the Mission Statement, but I reading this post last night, I started crafting one for myself. It was helpful and inspiring!

    Then, I layed out goals and strategies. As the academic year comes to a close, I’m getting ready to enter into the creative, wide-open space of summer. It’s really helpful to devote some time to thinking about what I want to do and why, so I can make sure my energy is well-directed.

    Thanks for posting, and for including links to the past posts!