Goals That Work: Build in Breathing Room

There’s always a chance that life will happen and something will put you off your mark. However, there is also an important step you can take to make it easier to cope with the unforeseen as well. (If you missed the previous posts in this series, you can find them here.)

On my best, most focused writing days, I’ve gotten around 5k words on the page. (That’s about 18 printed pages.) Now, I could set a goal to write that much every day and I would certainly get a manuscript finished quickly if it I did. But that is just setting myself up for failure. My average is closer to about 2000-2500 words in four hour period. More than four hours at a time and I either need to do some more pre-writing for what is to come or my brain is simply jellified.

I had the opportunity to see Gail Carriger speak about writing at a Steampunk conference, and she says she aims for 12k words per week. She knows 2000 words in a day is comfortable for her, but she also know she can’t fully commit to writing that much 7 days a week. So she builds herself in a buffer of 2000 words/one day to help her stay on track.

Don’t Schedule Every Moment

I touched on buffers a little in the post about breaking everything down into small pieces, but it is important enough to setting good goals that I wanted to give it its own post.

No matter how good you are at predicting, tracking, assessing, and re-adjusting your expectations and goals, you can’t account for everything. Fatigue, for instance, can’t always be quantified or known in advance. Sure, you can be flexible and shift your deadlines around. But you can also build in rest time on purpose so you don’t have to do it in a panic. Ultimately, this will likely lead to more quality work because your brain won’t be overtaxed.

Adjust Your Estimates

One reason I have given so much concrete though to goal setting and time budgeting is that I have long been the project manager of my husband’s work life. In some ways, he is the “absent-minded professor” archetype who gets sucked down rabbit holes on the regular and loses control of his time. This of course leads to stress over finishing things.

When we sit down for our occasional meetings to make his “All the things” list and set a schedule, I always ask him how long he thinks each step will take. Then, I add 10-20% to his estimate. If there isn’t much else going on, 10% is usually fine. If there are other deadlines or it is something like research time we are scheduling (and given his propensity for rabbit holes), 20% is safer. If things take less time, awesome. But if my adjusted estimate is closer to reality, then it is on the books and accounted for.

Hard and Soft Deadlines

Another way to think about building in time has to do with the deadlines themselves. Obviously, if your boss gives you a task and a due date, there isn’t going to be much wiggle room. You can’t control that deadline, but you can control your behavior.

Take editing a book, for instance. I have to turn my newest manuscript in to the publisher Feb 1. That is a hard, unwavering deadline. If I don’t do it, my contract could be in jeopardy. So when I sat down to make my schedule, I set myself a deadline a full week earlier. As it happens, I decided to add a few new chapters to the story, but I still had plenty of time to do it and make the hard Feb. 1 deadline no problem. Building in extra time made it easier to cope with the unexpected and I have enough time to ensure I am creating a quality product.

Tune in for my next post where we dive even deeper into strategies for hitting a moving target, or check out my “case study” of my own goal-setting journey. (Spoiler alert – I failed miserably!) If you haven’t read the rest of the series, check it out for more tips and strategies for setting and reaching your project goals.

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