Goal Setting Backwards!

goal settingEvery year I like to start thinking about my goals on the 1st of January. Call me silly! But it’s psychological, and it works for me. However, notice that I only said “thinking”. I don’t rush in and make a whole huge list of new goals and expect them to be half-completed by the end of January, because that’s not reasonable. A big factor is something called rest. After working hard all year, I’ve decided that the first half of January needs to involve lots of rest, recreational reading and relaxation (and obviously, alliteration). So I think about goals, and what I might hope to achieve in the next year.

There are two big parts to this thinking. A key part is to look back. I take a good hard look at what my goals were for the year just gone, which ones I achieved, which ones I didn’t, and most importantly – WHY. This year, I pulled up my 2012 goals on the computer and went through them, noting things I had achieved. One was to create a monthly newsletter and sign-up form for this website. Tick. Another was to complete two more semesters of work on my MFA at Hamline. Tick. But … about half of the things on my goals list were things I didn’t get to. Sheesh, I thought. Did I have some kind of lazy year and not notice?

I don’t remember being lazy. In fact, 2012 felt like one of the busiest years I’ve ever had. So I realized I needed to make a different kind of list, of all the things I did last year that weren’t in my goals. When I did this I could see what happened. Among other things, I wrote a six-book chapter book series! I also did a mountain of research for a new historical novel, and as well as my critical thesis for Hamline (which was a mountain in itself), I wrote around 40 poems for a new verse novel. Yes, and completed a couple of other projects that came up as opportunities.

Opportunities. Goals are great, but opportunities are better, if you are well-placed to take advantage of them. If they’re adding stress and pressure to an already jam-packed or chaotic life, maybe not. But this is where looking back can be a huge asset to any future planning. If you can analyze your past year and see where your time and energy went, this puts you in the best possible place for 2013. Here are some questions to ask about 2012:

1. How much writing did you get done? Honestly. If you were working on a novel, did you finish it? How many words did you write? If you have no idea, why not? Why are you not tracking your word count? What else did you write? How much revision did you do?

2. Did you set goals last year? What did you do with them? Can you find them easily and evaluate them? If you didn’t set goals, why not? Think about your attitude and approach to goal setting generally. If you think goal setting is pointless, why? (And then why are you reading this?)

3. Can you track what you did achieve last year? It might be very useful for you to sit down and brainstorm everything you did in 2012 – check your diary, or mentally work through the months. Look at the expenses list in your tax! Look through your writing notebooks. Check your submissions list. If you didn’t send anything out, maybe that tells you something?

4. If you work a paying day job or work at home, how well did you contain your working hours? Some people work jobs that they leave in the workplace. A lot of us these days take our jobs home. We spend a lot of uncharted time doing unpaid stuff, like work emails and texts, extra paperwork, phone calls etc. Did this happen to you? How much time and energy did it suck out of your writing hours?

5. How was your health in 2012? Did you eat properly and get some exercise? This might seem unrelated, but very often, when we are not healthy, we are not sleeping well, we are self-medicating – that affects our writing more than we realize. Writing needs focus and concentration and imagination and dedication. If you’re tired, unwell, hungover, over-caffeinated or all of these, you won’t write at your best level. Often, you won’t write at all.

So there you have it. Look backwards first. Spend some time on this. Don’t berate yourself! Simply use this as a great way to create the first stage of goal setting for 2013. I’ll post on the next stage soon.

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  1. Hi Sherryl,

    This is a good idea. I have found it helpful ofttimes to write down what I do in a day instead of starting out with a To-Do list. That said, I have a terrible time with setting goals. I struggle with depression and negativity and it seems that, more often than not, the goals become “monuments” to failures. Standing there, bold and belittling, reminding me of things I set out to do and don’t get done.

    I do best with goals (assignments, requirements, schedules – what-have-you) that are set from outside myself from someone who isn’t family or a close friend. I usually will get such things done, and done on time.

    • Sandra, this seems so simple and yet it works. I think because 30 minutes of writing feels like nothing, feels very achievable, and yet the pages slowly build up. The accountability is a big part of it – if you can find just one person to “report in” to, it will increase your motivation tenfold. Good luck!

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