Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Reality Based Planning

Everyone says you should have goals. Annual, weekly, daily goals. Some even go so far as to say you need an action plan for those goals. For instance, write 700 words a day or spend an hour a day on marketing. Yet, I would say most of the goals people set for themselves are unrealistic and they doom the person to failing to meet those goals. Consequently, they feel guilty. A better approach is reality-based goal setting.

You will recognize parts of this because I've been talking about my own brush with this type of planning. Your implementation of this approach might vary, but I strongly advise that you consider the principles behind this approach as you make plans for the second half of the year.

A Time-Based Approach

Too often people choose goals based on the projects they want to complete without considering the time it will take to complete those projects. No matter how motivated you are, if your project will take four hours a day every day to complete and you work 8 hours a day, sleep 8 hours and spend 5 hours a day on essential chores, you are not going to complete that project in a year. As Scotty would say, "I cinna rewrite the laws of physics Cap'n."

So,  your first step is estimating the time each project will take to complete.

Estimating Times

If you don't know how much time each project or part of your project takes, then you a flying blind trying to set meaningful goals. Before you get into a lather about how you can't make predictions about creative processes, etc., I will affirm that is true for any one project. However, creativity is not a mysterious, fragile, and unpredictable thing. It is a skill developed through years of practice and training. That means it develops a type of regularity over the long run. While I can't say with any precision how long it will take to write one novel, I can be fairly accurate in my estimates of how long it will take to write three novels and be even more accurate with estimates of time to write 10, 20 or 30. 

We are talking about averages here. If I know that on average I write at a rate of 20 words a minute or 1200 words an hour and an average novel for me is 75,000 words, then I know that it will take about 65 hours to write a first draft of my novel. It may be a few hours more or a few hours less, but it will be very close to that. I can figure the same for the other stages of novel development, plotting, developing characters, editing, etc.

Look over your previous projects make an estimate of how much time each took and work out an average. It won't be precise, but it will be good enough for planning purposes.

Make a List of Projects and Activities

Start with a list of things you want to complete within a certain time frame. We are close to the beginning of June. That leaves six months until the end of the year. It is a good time to do some mid-year planning.

So, what do you want to accomplish between now and December 31.

This can be specific like specific novels or nonfiction books. Or they can be specific but less defined like "three novels" instead of three specific novels. 

My goals are to write three new novels, edit two completed novels and edit one of my new novels by the end of the year.

Your goals may be more or less ambitious than mine depending on your circumstances. I'm guessing I can do these things in the time I have available. But my advice is to think big, then you can trim it down later.

Add it Up

Now, take each of those projects and figure out how many hours each will take. This will give you a lump sum for each project.

So, I might have

Write two novels 75 hours each for a total of 150 hours
Edit Three novels 50 hours each for a total of  150 hours

And so on.

Check your Calendar

Now comes the reality part of this. It's great to know how much time your plans will take, now we need to find out what that means on a daily basis.

First, if you want to take weekends off, eliminate them. Then eliminate holidays you will be spending with family. Next consider personal holidays. Birthdays, Anniversaries, is someone having a wedding this year, is someone having a baby? Add in days for Baby showers, wedding showers, rehearsal dinners, etc. Do the same with planned vacations, family reunions, etc. Anything that would eliminate the day.

If it is something that would just eliminate half a day then just add it as .5 day.

When I did this, I ended up with 161 days. So writing two novels is 150 hours. I simply divide the number of hours by the number of days. That is .93 hours or about 55 minutes per available day. About the same for the novel editing. So that's close to 2 hours a day. I might not be able to do that in one setting, but I might be able to do it in two or maybe four 30 minute segments.

When you get all your numbers, take a good hard look at them. Odds are you are going to have more projects than time available to complete them. So, you can cut down on either the number of projects or the number of days you took off. Maybe you took off little league soccer practice. Well, you might just decide your writing is more important than being the third assistant coach mostly in charge of inflating the soccer balls. Or you might decide that book club every thursday night might be something you could drop.

Odds are, you are going to have to do a little of each. But finally you figure out how much time on average you can spend a day and how much that will accomplish. Now, you have reality based goals. If I write 55 minutes a day and edit for the same amount of time, I will complete my goals. That gives me as much predictability as I can have.

1 comment:

  1. Thinking more about this great idea. I think commitment is a key word here.