Last week, I talked about setting goals. We discussed rather large, longer-term goals and how to be effective when setting them. However, one of the key components to achievable “big” goals is a clear understanding of the many “small” goals that comprise them.
What does this mean?
Well, for example, I’m currently revising my very first NaNoWriMo manuscript by using Holly Lisle‘s How to Revise Your Novel course. This is a massive undertaking, one which I’ve been working on for the better part of a year, and a project on which I have a long way to go. So the question is: How do you manage to keep moving along when faced with such a huge prospect?
The answer lies in taking one small step at a time and rewarding yourself when you do. A couple years ago, I learned this technique from Holly (she is a wealth of information for writers; if you haven’t checked out her site yet, go do it now!). In her article on how to maintain your writing discipline, as well as every other bit of chaos that intrudes on your life, she suggests making a sort of “to-do” list. But this isn’t your ordinary, fridge to-do list; this is the mother of all to-do lists.
Don’t worry, it’s not as frightening as it sounds, and it actually works a lot better than just scribbling some notes to yourself on a scrap of paper.
First of all, you’ll need a corkboard, or some other board to which you can attach index cards. Obviously, you’re also gonna need some index cards. The amount doesn’t matter, as you’ll just replace them when you need new ones, and anyway, they’re cheap. In her lesson, Holly advocates using different colors for different tasks, but I don’t usually bother with that unless I feel a real need to prioritise.
So, make three cards: one that says “Do,” one that says “Doing,” and a third that says “Done.” Pin them (or use a magnet or whatever) across the top of the board to form three columns.
Now, take any index card and write today’s date in the top left corner. In the top right corner of the card, write the date by which you wish to complete this particular task. Then, on the index card itself, write something you need to do. The trick is to make it measurable and to make it manageable. For instance, “Finish revision” is not a good one for the reasons we discussed last week. However, “Finish revising Chapter 13” is. Lastly, write a line near the bottom of the card where you will eventually write the date of actual completion.
(My cards happen to be red only because they were left over from something else; the color doesn’t mean anything here, although you could assign writing-related projects to green, real-life chores to red, etc.)
You should only make enough cards for the next week or so. Then, once you have them made, pin them up in the first column under “Do.” As you work on your projects, move them across the board to the other columns. Be sure to put it under the “Done” card when you are actually done! This visual signal is more rewarding than you might think, and it gives you a real sense of accomplishment to see them pile up on the right side of the board.
Once you have started some more cards under the “Do” column, discard the old done cards as you need space, or if you have recurring things such as “Grocery shopping by Saturday,” you could start its march across the board once more.
Here is a picture of my current to-do board (sorry the quality isn’t very good at all):
It’s been too long since I’ve used this handy tool for, but every time I keep it up, I feel much more productive and I can stop stressing about what I need to do since it is all right there to look at. Also, by assigning the dates by which I need to finish certain tasks, I am assured that I can be free to write since I know I will have to do other things by X date.
I hope this technique helps you stay organised and efficient! What methods do you use to stay on track? How would you modify this board for your particular needs?