Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.
For years now, I've had a love/hate relationship with goals.
When I was able to write full-time (before I had kids or a house, and when my husband worked forty hours a week plus was getting his masters degree) I loved goals. Because rare was the day that I couldn't meet them. Even with taking an afternoon nap, my days were predictable and I had control over my time.
That's not the case anymore.
I no longer live in a takes-one-hour-to-clean apartment, and the rhythms of my day are built around school drop-off/pick-up, naps, and my husband's work schedule. Connor keeps us on our toes with his epilepsy, and McKenna is at the age where she has her own activities plus friends who stop by to ask if she can play.
While you may not have kids, many of you are in similar situations. School might dominate your time. There's play practice and band and sports. Homework. Youth group. Your siblings and their activities. Other people need to use the family computer or you share a room or both.
I don't know about you, but I've grown weary of time management articles that assume I am the reason that I struggle to get things done. That if I watched a little less TV, spent a little less time on Facebook, prioritized a bit better, I could be living a well-organized, satisfying life. Because the truth is, I feel like I do the best I can with managing my time. Sure, I may occasionally wind up on Pinterest for fifteen minutes when I meant to only be there for five, but by and large I do a good job. And my life is still chaotic and messy.
I realized several years ago that I had grown to hate writing goals. I wasn't even making them anymore because all they did was give me one more way to fail. And who needs that?
Then this winter, in the midst of all the hospital stays, when I was a knot of worry over my son, over how little of me McKenna was getting, and how much I missed the routine of writing, my husband sent me an article. And when I read Forget Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead by James Clear, it felt like what I had been searching for ever since McKenna was born.
If you've struggled with goals (or even if you haven't) I encourage you to read it because makes a very convincing argument for why we shouldn't get hung up on goals. Instead, he suggests, we should focus our attention on building good systems (processes that help us make progress). There's nothing wrong, for example, with saying "My goal is to write a book this year," but my focus should be on the system for getting it done.
One example from his life that he talked about really struck me. He talked about a time when he was working out and felt a twinge in his leg. Not an injury, just fatigue at the end of a hard workout. He says:
For a minute or two, I thought about doing my final set. Then, I reminded myself that I plan to do this for the rest of my life and decided to call it a day.
In a situation like the one above, a goal-based mentality will tell you to finish the workout and reach your goal. After all, if you set a goal and you don't reach it, then you feel like a failure.
But with a systems-based mentality, I had no trouble moving on. Systems-based thinking is never about hitting a particular number, it's about sticking to the process and not missing workouts.
Of course, I know that if I never miss a workout, then I will lift bigger weights in the long-run. And that's why systems are more valuable than goals. Goals are about the short-term result. Systems are about the long-term process. In the end, process always wins.
How many times, I thought when I read that, have I spent a day angry with myself because I worked for an hour but didn't get 1,000 words written? Days that I hit a block around 700 or that I was distracted by a personal issue and just couldn't make the storyworld magic happen?
I plan to write for the rest of my life. And if I do the best I can to write for an hour everyday, that'll add up. Some days it might be just 300 words, and another day 1,300. But if I trust my process and plug away daily, I too will (metaphorically) "lift bigger weights in the long-run."
But what is a good writing process? How do you know if yours will yield results? I'll be covering that in my next few posts.
Do goals work for you? Why or why not? Do you have an idea of what your process is or no? (There are no wrong answers here! It's just a discussion.)