5 Lessons Learned from Goal Setting (First 3 Months)
After reading Michael Hyatt’s Your Best Year Ever and doing some serious self-reflection, I made some goals.
Detailed and specific.
For each quarter.
For the entire year.
Because if you’re going to set goals, you might as well go all in. And with the way things had been going for me (that is, not going well at all), I needed the oomph to my daily efforts that concrete, written goals might provide.
I am my own boss. No one looks over my shoulder to keep me on task. I’m not in an all-day writer’s Teams meeting where publishers monitor output and time breaks (though I wouldn’t be opposed to that kind of arrangement, if it paid well). Two hundred more words and you can pee, Miss Monica Penmagic! That’s my penname for said arrangement. Since I make my own schedule and projects, sometimes, my productivity suffers from the absence of Big Brother and general loosey-goosey-ness.
If that’s not a word, it should be.
I am too flexible. Too often distracted (most often by our cat, Jimothy). And though I make progress, it’s slow. It’s trudging through mud instead of whipping down a water slide. I want to be more of a whipper than a trudger. Yikes, that sounds weird.
Anyway, goals. I had them typed, printed, and color-coded by May 31st. Enacting my goals began June 1st.
How’d I do for my first three months? Though Hyatt’s book recommended 3-4 goals, I made 6. Stupid overachiever! Results are mixed.
This blog marks the completion of one goal: To blog every week from June 1st to August 31st. I wanted to be super-organized, with a scheduled blogging day and a detailed production calendar with what I’d blog about and when. THAT did not happen.
But 14 blogs did.
Sometimes it was messy (I published the first one on why you (I) shouldn't ignore your blog multiple times because I kept making mistakes, and it took three days). Often, I had to scrounge the bottom of my brain for blog topics (thank you, garden). Things popped up (more on my Best Laid Plans), requiring adjustments. I wrote some blogs in advance or doubled up on weekends. But I did it. What once felt like a monumental feat—blogging consistently—comes much easier now and in less time.
I also succeeded at most of my other achievement goals—milestones I wanted to reach by a deadline.
Finish my manuscript, One Thing Better, by June 30th
Publish 14 Blogs by August 31st
Query 31 agents by August 31st
Done, done, and (barely) done. I just sent #31 off a little while ago. Yay. (And, in case you’ve read my previous blogs on the subject of querying… 6 rejections, no requests yet).
I did not succeed at running 2.5 miles on the treadmill without stopping by August 31st. I reached 1.5 miles. This goal got obliterated by my weekend treadmill breaks, an unexpected month-long paid project, and simply my dumb, weak-ass endurance. I’ve never been a runner, so this was too optimistic. I will get there. I just need more time.
I also had two Habit Goals—things I wanted to become my daily routine now and forever. Reading more and starting each day with prayer and a goal review.
I am definitely reading more, and yes, of course, I blogged about it. But I specifically wanted to read 10 books in 3 months—5 nonfiction and 5 fiction. I finished 3 nonfictions and 4 novels. This one was definitely upended by my unexpected paid work, which was reading all day… I couldn’t do it at night, too. So, you could say that I got paid to fail this goal. It’s a trade-off. And really, the habit was established, just not the milestones. That’s what I get for turning my habit goal into an achievement goal, too.
I’m starting my day with prayer and goal reviewing—which is extremely helpful for my focus. But I can’t say I’ve totally succeeded in reestablishing this habit, yet. I miss some days, mostly out of sheer laziness. Too many times hitting the snooze button. And occasionally, I take my coffee with a little Poirot in the morning… because why not start your day with a quirky, OCD detective and murder?
So, the tally stands at 50% completed goals, which includes one completed manuscript, 14 blogs, and 31 agents (yay) and 50% nearly there with 1.5 running miles, 7 books, and most mornings starting out right.
OR… Achievement goals reached = 75%
Habit goals = 0
OR… Professional goals reached = 100%
The rest… eh.
A solid effort, regardless.
What I’ve learned from this…
#1) I need deadlines. Goals. Written down and in my face. Whatever ensures real accomplishments within my control because so much isn’t. I can’t dictate followers, fans, or whether agents will like my work, but I can write chapters, finish books, and send emails. Goals keep me on task.
#2) Establishing my professional goals made me guard them. This was a surprise, actually. So often, I’ve let life or feelings get in my way. I expected I’d let something go (blog) once the going got tough and discouragement set in—it’s happened before. But knowing exactly what I wanted to get done made me a fierce mamma bear gathering up her cubs and protecting those goal-babies, ferociously some days. I refused to let one blog, or a single agent slip through my claws, especially as I got further along. For what I wanted most, I made the time and forced myself through it. Not now, Jimothy! Momma’s got blogging to do!
#3) Realistically, Hyatt was right about 3-4 goals instead of 6. He was also right about making my goals challenging and uncomfortable—not being too easy on myself. Though I only succeeded fully at 3 goals, I was nearly there with 6—and that feels better, I think, than sliding into home plate with zero pressure just to kick up dust and get dirty for pictures. Making myself too comfortable would’ve been a mistake, and not been nearly as satisfying, strangely.
#4) Even loosey-goosey work is “measurable.” That’s one reason why it’s been a challenge for me to set goals before—I never know how long one scene or even one paragraph will take, and it felt important to give my creativity space. Well, that’s bullshit. NOW I see that if I set the rules on what must get done, it will (even if I leave the paragraph out completely), and that’s far better than letting my creative brain spend hours and hours crafting (and playing in my imaginary world). It’s easy getting hung up on tiny details, like if loosey-goosey-ness is word-adjacent enough to use, and not make real progress.
“There’s nothing sacred about your strategy.” – Michael Hyatt, Your Best Year Ever
#5) Be firm with the goal, but flexible with how to get there. I could’ve easily stalled on writing blogs if I’d stuck to a rigid schedule or didn’t give myself wiggle-room with topics. If I established Thursday as my blogging day, and then that day didn’t prove successful, then…(and for the record, this blog will be published on the 1st… but it’s still the same week, so…) Or if I was only going to write about books I read, but I didn’t finish a book a week, then… Even with querying, I tackled the easiest agents first (ones requiring just a letter, for example) to create momentum with marginal successes and saved the ones wanting a myriad of things for later (query, synopsis, sample chapters, books like mine, target audience, bio, blood, sweat, tears, family tree…). That way, I felt successful early, and more inclined to get to #31. The method doesn’t matter, only the result.
With these lessons in mind, I’ll revisit my goals going forward and exercise more flexibility in fine-tuning them.
The Nuts and Bolts of my Goal Setting (if you’re interested)
If you’re goal-serious, I recommend Hyatt’s book, of course. It’s loaded with motivational stories and insights, like how to reflect on the past without feeling like crap about it ( more about that in my article on Black Cats). That helped me analyze my mistakes more objectively. Hyatt also explains different types of goals (habit, achievement) and how to set them effectively using his SMARTER system.
Ugh, 7 rejections now…
Here’s what I did, with some amendments to his plan.
Big Goals. I wrote down what I wanted to accomplish this year based on where I was and what I thought I could reasonably achieve without going crazy or driving everyone in my household crazy. I still might. Looking at what I’d done in the past (what Hyatt calls an After-Action Review) helped me see my capabilities, where I went wrong, and how I could up my game. So, this part required reflection.
Bonus Motivation. Along with my big goals, I wrote my Key Motivators—Why I want these goals in the first place. And what I'll have in one year, if I succeed. They looked like this…
Knowing that I could finish 3 books, my Delilah Duffy series, and over 50 blogs inspired me.
“The days are long, but the years are short.” – Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project
Seeing the outcome of a year’s goals served as great motivation on the long days.
Quarterly Goals. I broke my goals down quarterly for the entire year. This required the most brainwork because I had to create reasonable deadlines. This was before I understood that having the deadline would ensure less playing around and more diligent writing. So, I padded my estimates with the muse in mind. I also had to factor in variables…like how long it would take for Joe to read my manuscript or the artist to create my book cover. I padded these estimates, too, and if they return their efforts early, then bonus.
Here’s what my quarterly goal
Manageable Steps. For each quarterly goal, I listed the steps to achieve it—all the small tasks that add up to the larger accomplishment. Like this…
Some of my strategies went awry, but that's okay as long as I met (am meeting) the goal. Check marks are very satisfying.
Goal Review and the Daily 3. Hyatt recommends a Daily 3. After reviewing goals each day, you write down the three tasks you will accomplish toward those goals. I did this most days, and it helped. Instead of arbitrarily writing a to-do list, I only wrote things that contributed to my overarching goals. And 3 was a good number—neither over nor under-whelming. Rereading my goals, key motivations, and end-of-the-year tallies, especially, solidified my focus. There was no loosey-goosey-ness allowed with so much on the line.
This seems like a lot, but it’s not, really. Like most things, the idea is more overwhelming than the reality and getting started is the hardest part. After that, it was fun, especially when I realized I could gear my goals toward supporting each other. Like reading books that would help my writing. Or blogging about my querying woes. It inspired full-circle-ness. :)
And this blog… I couldn’t write about them without achieving some first. And now, onto the next three months.
So, what’s your strategy? Share your goal setting hits or misses below. Or tips to keep cats busy while you’re working…