Saturday, December 27, 2014

Setting Effective New Year's Resolutions

Can you believe 2015 is next week?! The future is upon us, people. ;)

For many of us, the start of a new year means it’s time to set some resolutions, so I thought it might be helpful to go over a few things that will help us set goals we can actually achieve. I like the S.M.A.R.T. goal method. If you google S.M.A.R.T. goals, you’ll find many variations on this method, but this is what works for me.

S – Specific: Focus on one or two small things for each goal. Making your goal too broad not only makes it difficult to maintain but it can also make it too daunting to complete.

To give you an example, I recently bought a new house. (Yay!) And when I say new, that’s not just new to me. I mean brand-spanking new. It was kind of miracle it all worked out and seriously the best Christmas present I’ve ever received. We’ve been very blessed this year.

Anyway, so new house means keeping it sparkling and pretty is all on me (and the teenage minions, who are selective about their helpfulness). I can’t blame past owners for something not being maintained correctly or the build-up of dirt and grime. If I want it to look good in ten years, I have to take care of it. The problem is I’m a terrible housekeeper. Really, really terrible.

I’ve set the same goal many times: Be better about keeping the house clean.

This goal has never worked because my focus was too broad, and honestly, the idea of keeping an entire house clean overwhelms me. And when I’m overwhelmed, my brain is very good at ignoring the issue, whatever it may be.

So when we moved in here, I set two very specific goals with the idea that I would add to them as time went on.

  •          Never go to bed with dishes in the sink.
  •          Do one load of laundry per day.
I admit the laundry one has been the harder of the two, and a lot of times I end doing two loads ever other night or 4 or 5 loads on Saturday. In my defense, I really hate laundry. That’s a good excuse, right? ;)

The dishes goal is the one that has made the most difference. We’ve been here a little over a month and there has only been one night I’ve gone to bed with dishes in the sink. This goal has given me something specific to focus on without overwhelming me. It’s been interesting to see the ripple effects. My kitchen is almost always clean and my mornings are much less stressful. It has even affected my budget. It’s much easier to come home from a long day of work and figure out dinner when the kitchen is clean. My desire to just go out and grab some fast food has diminished significantly, which, in time, should also have a positive effect on my waistline. :)

M – Measurable: Are you able to measure your progress over time?

My goal to do my dishes is a daily goal, so it’s very easy to measure. If the dishes are clean before I go to bed, mission accomplished. But not all of our goals are going to be this simple.

Let’s say you want to set a goal to complete two manuscripts this year. First you would need to make it more specific. What do you mean by complete? First draft? Revised and ready to query? And then you would need to set guidelines to make it measureable. How many words/pages do you anticipate in each manuscript? If you plan to have them revised by the end of the year, when would they each need to be completed to make it through your beta readers so you have time to revise? Based on your writing schedule, how many words/pages would you need to complete during each writing session to reach that goal? This not only gives you a final measurement for successfully completing your manuscript, but it gives you some smaller (and less overwhelming) goals to help make sure you’re staying on track to reach that larger goal.

A – Attainable: Is this something you have enough control over to make it happen?

It can be tempting to set a goal for something like getting an agent or getting a publishing contract. These are great things to aspire to, but you have very little control over the outcome. Sure, you can revise and tweak your work to make it better and in the process this will most likely make you a better writer, but no matter what you do, you can’t control the market and you definitely can’t control the tastes of the agents and publishers. Sometimes, I think even they don’t know what they want.

It’s best to stick with goals where you can put in a certain amount of work and know that you can make it happen. Maybe make a goal to query a certain number of agents or small publishers, or make a goal to get your query into the best possible shape. Goals like these could very well lead to an agent or a publishing contract, but they don’t focus all your success on something you can’t control.

R – Realistic: Are you biting off more than you can chew?

This is the one that usually gets me. When I’m setting goals, I am invincible. If I want it, surely I can make it happen. All it takes is the will to do it. Yes, this applies to life in many ways, but some things are just not possible. I know some people can pump out a new draft every one or two months, or write 10,000 words in a day. This is not a possibility for me. I have to schedule time just to get an hour of creative time every day. 500 words per day is more realistic, maybe even 1000 per day to push myself. Setting a goal that’s too high would only overwhelm me and make me avoid it, and as a result, cause me to fail.

T – Time-bound: Did you set a date to complete your goal?

Setting a deadline for completion of your goal helps to keep you focused and on task. Resolutions are often set for the whole year, but setting deadlines for certain aspects of a long-term goal, like a daily writing goal to reach an annual word count, can help you stay on track and keep it from getting pushed aside when other things come up.

And I wish there was a way to add a C in there. Maybe it’s silent—SCMART? ;) C is for Challenge Yourself. Don’t take the easy route. Look for ways to improve and make your life better. Achieving your goals will be so much more satisfying if you do.

So, what about you? Anything to add? Are you a resolution setter? What are your goals for 2015?


Toni Kerr said...

I'm tempted to not set writing-related resolutions this year- I always write whenever I can no matter what anyway.. so.. :-)

But house goals, yes! I've designated ONE room per month to tackle the overwhelming clutter and repairs and cracks in the walls and grime. Some months have more than one room included-- because the dreaded repair/to-do list is bigger than 12 (sigh).

With luck (and dedicated effort) (ugh- I'd rather be writing), maybe the house will be company-ready a year from now. :-)

J Lenni Dorner said...

Ate my comment...
Okay. Shorter version. Yup! And recently I did this on my blog, and linked back to you.

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