Wednesday, March 24, 2010

On Goal Setting

I know most people try to make goals around New Years Day, but as we all know, most of the time we completely forget what those goals were. I honestly think that is why we have Spring. It is our "second chance" at making things better. The weather gets better, the flowers start to come out, you might even start making home improvements (I know we did with a complete makeover of the master suite this weekend). And with all of this, we start thinking of things we want to do better.

As I listen to people making goals, however, I realize that the simple reason many people make goals is "they haven't made any." They have dreams but not goals. So, let's talk about goal setting today.

First of all goals are things that we can achieve. These are not things that we hope might happen or things that are beyond our control. For example:

  • Good - I want to finish my book by the end of Spring Break
  • Bad - Want to be on the New York Times Best Seller List

Why is this second one bad? Because it is something too many other people have control over. You can control the first one.

Secondly, goals are measurable. You have to be able to monitor how you are doing and when you have actually achieved your goal. For example:

  • Good - When I sit down and write for a 2 hour period of time, I want to be able to write 15 pages.
  • Bad - I want to feel good about my writing.

Simply put, how can we measure the second one?

Finally, goals have to be achievable. Too often, writers set goals for themselves that can never be achieved due to a lot of other variables. Sometimes life is going to get in the way. Sometimes it is just an impossibility. For example a writer may say they want to write 10 full length stories in one year while working full time and with kids still in the house. Probably not going to happen.

Now that we have got that into your head, I want to leave you with 4 questions that a friend of the family learned while working in a juvenile detention center. While these dealt with problem solving, I think in many ways these also work for goal setting.

  1. What do you want?
  2. What are you doing right now to achieve it?
  3. How is that helping?
  4. What should you be doing?

If you are struggling with "goals" you may have set for yourself, go back to these 4 questions. In our house we call them the Magic Questions. My bet is you will find the answer really quickly.

Oh, and one last thing. Goal setting is not a passive activity. You have to get off your behind and do something about those goals.

Now, get out there and get to work.



  1. Good reminders, just when I needed them. Thanks.

  2. Shaking my behind and gettin' it done!!

    This is a fabulous post applicable to far more than writing. I sense you are a multi-dimensional, full service agent. Power combo!

    Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. Excellent post. I work for Dave Ramsey, and every January, he discusses the importance of having clear, concise, measurable goals. And then again in February, he discusses how many people have fallen off the wagon and whether or not you want to be one of those people.

    Writing is such a difficult thing to measure, but you can still set concrete goals. For instance, one author I know recommends writing three pages a night if you want to finish a book in a year. That's a great place to start.

  4. New Year: I decided to remove goals as I found them restricting.

    Spring: I have set myself a goal. To complete WIP edits by end of May.

    We will see if I get this done. Now I have your magic 4 list, I will put it on the fridge door to keep me motivated. I go there quite a bit when writing. ;0 LOL

    Thanks Scott.

  5. Not sure you'll see this question, but one problem I've had with delving out time with my goals is finding a balance between "rewriting and new writing" or "present project versus future project". I've not a problem writing everyday, but its hard for me to leave a book that's in "rewrite" to freshly attack "the new project".

    Here's the question, if you're trying to get your present project pristine (or as good as you can), is it okay to put the new project on the back burner until done? I get pretty focused once the new project flows and then the rewrite suffers on the old project.

    Oh boy, this is a convoluted question.

  6. Barbara,

    Putting a project on the backburner is always fine. There is no perfect way of achieving goals. The secret is to find what method is the best for you.