How was 2014 for you and your writing? Did you reach your goals? Rolling around in the guilt and regret much?
My answers: mediocre, no, and no.
What? Not regretting that you didn’t do this and didn’t complete that?
Nope, I’m not regretting anything. Here’s why:
Plus, I had a year that just about knocked me out, and regretting that I didn’t reach my writing goals last year is ridiculous.
I’m posting this a week after New Year’s Day because any time is a good time to review your accomplishments and set new goals. Heck, if your birthday or the third full moon after the summer solstice works for you, go for it.
But if you haven’t set any goals—or you’ve already given up—January is a great time to make a plan or start over.
Here’s what to do:
- Examine the previous year.
- Review your accomplishments.
- Acknowledge your shortcomings.
- Identify the distractions.
- Brainstorm a distraction reduction plan.
- Set new goals.
Have you evaluated 2014?
Here’s my year in brief.
I sold most of my possessions, and I sold my house. I moved 1000 miles away with my two dogs. One of my dogs died. My mom died. My iMac’s logic board died. I sold my car and got a bike. I crashed the bike, smashed my knees, gashed my legs, and they got infected. My other dog got fleas and worms, then it was heart disease and seizures. Somewhere in there I threw up a gallon of blood. Meh. Gastric ulcer. Too much ibuprofen, too much stress. It’s better now and so am I.
That’s only the worst of it, but I had good stuff going on, too. I made positive strides and accomplished some of my goals. But the rough stuff, the emotionally gut-wrenching, out-of-my-control-stuff was a big distraction in 2014.
But forget the rough stuff for now. Truth is, I’m easily distracted unless I’m so focused that nothing else exists.
Laundry, grocery shopping, preparing decent meals, bills, dirty dishes—what, huh? Nothing to eat, no clean clothes, bills overdue. Then, when those tasks become crisis management, I’m distracted from my writing, stressed, and unhappy.
There’s got to be a balance.
Create a 2015 writing plan and a distraction reduction plan to reach your goals
Identify distractions, evaluate distractions, reduce distractions. A distraction reduction plan.
I already know what my writing and business goals are. That’s the easy part for me, and I’ve made plans. Implementing those plans—making the goals happen—is the hard part for most of us.
What will distract you from your goals in 2015? What can you control?
Don’t depend on will power or perseverance.
This year, look hard at distractions that blocked your progress last year.
This year, don’t struggle with a flickering flashlight on a dimly lit path.
This year, clear the path and make reaching your goals possible.
Granted, difficult life stuff might mean you’re not as productive as usual. Even with the world’s greatest writing schedule and deeply entrenched good habits, progress can get shredded by a crisis.
The actual time spent on emergencies, family situations, or health care is one challenge. Add emotional elements and, well, you’ve got to feel what you feel. And that might mean you don’t reach your goals.
But let’s look at more typical distractions right now.
What stole your writing time in 2014?
Think back. What are your common distractions?
- Social media
- Recreational shopping
- Phone calls and texting
- Friends who don’t support your goals
- Non-supportive family members who demand your time
- Hobbies and projects unrelated to the goal
- Dining out, parties, trips
- Anything that steals your writing time.
What else? Did I mention TV? Oops. I don’t have one so I almost forgot. Pull the plug. What’s more important here?
What distractions are within your control?
Most distractions I had in 2014 were out of my control. Sure, I could have handled some more efficiently—maybe. Better planning in general would have helped. But I did the best I could with, at times, a heavy heart.
Here’s what I’m doing in 2015, and you can do it too.
1. Create a yearly plan, then divide each goal into specific projects, tasks, stages, and checkpoints.
If you don’t know what to do except write something related to your goal, distractions will appear, ready to serve. So make a plan—research required steps if needed.
Divide annual goals into quarterly, monthly, and weekly mini-goals, projects, and tasks. Experts recommend tackling no more than 5-7 at one time. And make sure they’re SMART: specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound.
Schedule them so you always have tasks waiting. Fine-tune each week, month, or quarter.
2. Create a regular writing schedule.
Although writing is probably your main focus, it’s often more difficult than related tasks like choosing a photo for a blog post. So give it priority. One hour a day, six on the weekend, two sessions twice a week, or full time—choose what serves your goals.
You can also set a word-count goal of, say, 1000 or 5000 words each day or week. But if 1000 words aren’t happening in the time allotted—maybe you need to do some reading—you might get discouraged.
Block the time on your calendar and show up.
3. Organize your personal life.
This is my tough spot, and scheduling stuff like laundry, grocery shopping, apartment clean-up, and food preparation is critical.
Other than my dog, I live alone, so nobody complains about an empty refrigerator or pile of dirty clothes. But if I’m writing and have nothing for lunch or dinner, what then?
Heading out for groceries is a distraction unless it’s planned. And wearing clothes long past their expiration date just isn’t fun.
If you’re like me, schedule home and personal tasks until you have some new habits in place that equal distraction reduction. I’ve got “dishes done and kitchen wiped down before bedtime” almost mastered. Next up: a regular grocery shopping and meal-planning day.
4. Take action to reduce distractions.
If your home is hectic (or you feel isolated), it’s a distraction. Coffee shops are great, but they can be distracting, too. Try writing at a library or a bookstore. At a park. In your car overlooking an inspiring view or facing a brick wall, as needed.
If you don’t have a home office, set one up in a corner, a closet, or even the laundry room. Check out these ideas.
Hide your phone. Hide, unplug, or disconnect anything that distracts you.
Just say no to non-supportive friends, family, or neighbors who want more time than you can spare.
Evaluate activities according to the ROI (return on investment). What need do they satisfy? Are they worth your writing time?
5. Set your intentions.
This might sound hokey to some, but here’s what you do.
Make a final decision on your big, annual goals. But don’t do that until you’ve worked out quarterly, monthly, and weekly goals and tasks. Determine whether your goals are doable.
Then, with a pen and a nice sheet of paper, write your goals by hand as a promise to yourself and the world. Make it a solemn moment, and light a candle, say a prayer, or gaze out over the ocean. Read your goals out loud.
I will set up my blog. I will write 50 blog posts. I will submit 10 queries for 10 articles. I will write one hour each day. I will finish my novel.
Fold your promise to yourself, and hide it in a special place. Or tuck it in a bottle, and toss it out to sea. Or burn it as you make your promise. Your traditions, beliefs, or inspiration will guide you.
Then review your plan or calendar each day. Say it out loud: This is my goal today. This is my goal this week. This is my goal this month. And do it.
Reducing distractions will help you reach your writing goals
Don’t bother with New Year’s resolutions and writing goals if you’re not ready to make some changes. You can’t just say you’re going to do something big without planning for the inevitable times when the going gets rough.
You need a plan, and you need to increase your likelihood of success by reducing distractions.
I had a rough 2014, and maybe you did too. This year will be a breeze by comparison. But even if it’s not, a better plan will make a big difference.
Photo credit: Cambodia4kids.org