“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao-tzu
Have you read David Allen’s Getting Things Done? This book is an amazing guide to doing more. I’ve even picked up the OmniFocus application for both my computer and my iPhone to help manage my to-do list.
Too bad I’m not so disciplined about using the system.
One of the key principles that Allen writes about is the need to break huge projects into small, actionable steps. It’s the same concept used by that super-achieving minority who set goals and make them happen.
Identify specific, time-sensitive outcomes and create a specific plan of execution.
Yet, what do I have under my goal of “Complete my novel by year end”?
Nada. Zip. Just a daily reminder in my calendar to write 500 words every morning, which I usually ignore.
Step by step
Most of us have at least one big project on our to-do list. Maybe it’s something in the Someday/Maybe category, like writing the Great American Novel, or perhaps it’s something more pressing and practical, such as launching a monthly email campaign or creating a sales system.
Identify the specific outcome. To get there, we need to figure out where, exactly, “there” is. What does the end result look like? In the case of my novel, I want a draft I can shop around to agents.
Set a deadline. Without a deadline, we have no sense of urgency, and something more pressing always comes up. If you really want to get something done, you need to commit to doing it by a specific point in time.
Take a reality check. Outcomes and deadlines need to be tempered with reality. While I’d love to knock out that novel by June 30, that probably won’t happen in light of other commitments. However, I do write quickly, and this goal is important. With some sacrifices and persistence, a good draft by December 31 can happen.
Create an action plan. As a two-time NaNoWriMo “winner,” I’ve proven that I can write much garbage in a short period of time. Free-writing for long stretches is a legitimate way of writing a novel, but it involves much, much rewriting.
Given that I have a few distractions – like a growing business and a new husband – I’m going to spend more time planning in hopes of saving myself some time writing. So here are my next steps:
- Draft an outline of the overall story arc (10-20 scenes).
- Write a summary of each individual scene.
- Create backgrounds on main characters (protagonist and antagonist).
- Create backgrounds on supporting characters.
- Track subplots in a separate document.
- Track necessary research in a separate document.
As I work through the above steps, which I’ll chart on a calendar, I’ll start the daily writing process. (Unfortunately, there’s no getting around the grunt work of sitting down and actually writing.) Reaching my December 31 goal for a polished draft means I’ll need an aggressive schedule: 750-800 words a day. I should have a rough draft in four months, which leaves eight months for rewriting.
Track your progress. Follow the plan as best you can. Adjust the timeline as necessary, but keep moving ahead. Accept the fact that everything takes longer than we think it will, and celebrate your successes along the way.
What big project have you been putting off? Why not commit to it here and now and create an action plan for marking it off your to-do list?
If you have any suggestions to help others tackle big goals, we’d love to hear them.