Goals That Work: Hitting a Moving Target

If you haven’t read them yet, check out the other posts in the series. 

In addition to writing novels, I am always looking for guest writing and speaking opportunities, I have a guaranteed five freelance assignments from one company six months out of every year, and blogs to run. Chances are, I am also going to find short story contests to write for or other sorts of paid writing or editing work that will make demands on my time. I’ve started putting out short story anthologies, which require a TON of time and brain power. And of course there is my nonfiction, academic editing to squeeze in.

These are all different assignments I have to intertwine with my meta goal of completing long-form writing projects. And beyond my personal measures of success, I also have to take into account how these other organizations operate and how I fit into their overarching goals.

Living la vida freelance means I have to be extremely flexible with my time, and by extension, my goals for deadlines. Paid work always has to come before my personal satisfaction in order to stay afloat because I am doing this as a job now rather than a hobby. This means I am constantly moving around and re-assessing my goals and deadlines. My priorities can change from month to month depending on what new assignment or external deadline is placed on me. 

On top of that, there’s always a chance that I was just plain off about how long something will take! Even if I have the same word count goal for every article, it doesn’t mean that each one is equally simple to plan and write. I may sit down to write one sort of short story and find in the course of writing it that I have something completely different taking shape. Often, I find out that I need to do more research before I can actually move forward. 

What I DON’T do is beat myself up over making these changes to my plans. This is one of the most important things I have ever learned: In the face of any decision, we can only do so in light of the information we have at that moment. If new information comes to light, you have to give yourself permission to take it into account and adjust your expectations accordingly. This doesn’t really mean you were “wrong” the first time, it meant that you didn’t have all the data. You wouldn’t expect a computer to correctly figure out a problem if one of the numbers was never fed into the equation. And you can’t expect to make a flawless plan the first (or second, or tenth) time around. Later on, I’m going to share a “case study” or two of my own evolving deadlines and how I dealt with what life had to throw at me.

Assessing and Re-Setting Goals

So what can you do in order to make sure your ever-evolving goals are still getting achieved? Set yourself an assessment schedule.

Assessment can sound kind of scary and brings to mind things like lackluster report cards (Dad’s not mad, he’s just disappointed), those “presidential fitness tests” from elementary school, and meetings with HR. Squirm! However, assessment lets you figure out not only if and to what degree you achieved your goals, but can also be a tool to measure improvement. Let’s go back to word count as a metric, for instance. If I set a goal of  25k words in a month but my log shows I only reached 20k, it is certainly worth noting.

But figuring out what kept me from my goal is more important than chastising myself. It could be that 25k is just too much in a month period, but if I am mindful of this shortfall, I can schedule my time differently in the next month. I can continue to aspire to the same number and reassess my progress again, or make a more reasonable goal for myself based on the experience. The more goals you set and the more you assess them, the better you become at goal-setting, which is an achievement in and of itself. 

Depending on the complexity of your schedule and the size of your projects, you may want to schedule these check-ins weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Remember, your goals can span years, but these check-ins should be more frequent to adjust the scope of your goals. This happens kind of organically for me (I think I have an over-developed inner chronometer, though) so setting yourself an alarm on your calendar is a great method. Even if all you do is look back at your lists and think about the progress you’ve made, it’s a great exercise to do regularly.

If you take nothing else from this post, remember: Goal-setting is not a finite, concrete thing, it is a process that requires assessment. But that doesn’t need to be scary or stressful if you treat it as a learning experience.

In Conclusion

January is the season for goal-setting, and I hope you’re leaving this series with some steps (both abstract and concrete) to help you along the way to achieving your individual goals as you plan your 2020 calendar. But don’t be afraid to set goals, then change them, all year long. The same way a manuscript can feel like a living thing, so is the process for completing it. 

Do you have other strategies for setting goals you’d like to share? Do you have a story about reaching or failing to reach a goal that would provide insight for your fellow writers? We’d love to see your comments!

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