Every Thursday, this blog features guest posts from members of our 10 Minute Novelists community. Today we welcome Gail Gauthier.
Kelly McGonigal says in The Willpower Instinct that we tend to be optimistic about the future and what we’ll do then. That is certainly true of how many of us feel on January 1st of any year. All we have to do is resolve to behave differently or to get things done during these future months, and we believe it will happen. Yet New Year’s resolutions are notorious for not producing results and even being forgotten long before winter is over.
Resolutions Are Not Goals
Resolutions don’t provide resolvers with any kind of plan for what they’re going to do. They are also rarely specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time bound or any combination thereof. Goals, on the other hand, are.
Resolving to “write more” next year, for instance, could mean anything because what’s “more?” More than what? How can writers measure their progress with that vague a resolution? How can we tell if what we’re really just hoping to do is attainable or realistic?
Setting a goal of “writing for 90 minutes on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings,” on the other hand, is very specific. It’s also measurable because we can easily keep track of whether or not we’ve written at the stated times. Is writing that many evenings a week an attainable and realistic goal? If not, it’s unlikely we’ll be successful in reaching it. We’re better off adjusting goals to improve our chances of reaching them. One way to do that is to make them time bound, as in “writing for 90 minutes on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings for the month of January.” At the end of that time period, we can determine how satisfied we are with how we did, adjust the goal accordingly, and move on.
Goals provide us with specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time bound targets. But as with resolutions, we still don’t have a plan for how we’re going to reach those targets. For that we need objectives.
Goals Are Not Objectives
Though many people use the terms goals and objectives interchangeably, they are two distinctly different concepts in planning. Goals are what we want to accomplish. Objectives are the steps we need to take to reach the goals. Goals are what we want to do. Objectives are how we are going to do it. Writers may have only a half dozen goals for 2015. But each goal will have a number of objectives, which end up being a plan.
– Goal: “Writing 90 minutes on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings.”
– Objectives for Goal: Avoid volunteer/social commitments for T/W/T evenings
– Plan evening meals for T/W/T that require less work and cleanup
– Plan week’s home maintenance tasks around keeping T/W/T evenings free
– Learn to use the dvr
– Develop a TV/other leisure activity habit for weekends
– Plan how to use writing time during the week: Tuesday review of last week’s work? Thursday mini-outline to get started the next Tuesday?
Depending on the goal, some objectives can seem like very minor efforts. But because there are usually several of them for every goal, taken together they can result in a lot of activity.
Pay Special Attention to the Attainable/Realistic Aspects of Goal Setting
A goal that is dependent upon someone else doing something is going to be very weak in terms of being attainable and realistic, because we can’t control what others do. “Getting published this year” and “getting five-starred reviews” are poor goals because we have no control over editors’ decision making or reviewers’ opinions. A better goal would be “Submit Manuscript A to X number of publications this year” and “Contact X number of bloggers before June with review requests for Book A,” because those goals involve us doing something and we can control what we do.
By the way, the objectives for a submission goal like the one I just mentioned could involve researching publications to find those appropriate for our manuscript and creating a method of tracking submissions. Objectives for the blogger review goal could involve researching bloggers to find those who have an interest in the type of book we’re requesting reviews for and tracking who we’ve contacted.
The Benefit of Goals and Objectives Over New Year’s Resolutions
The benefit of goals and objectives is that they really do spell out for us what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it. Additionally, they also provide a way to measure whether or not we’ve succeeded. They help us to create a very concrete plan.