|Photo by Emma Matthews
Many moons ago, if you'd told me that I'd ever be the kind of person who makes a to-do list every single morning or who plans out each quarter of the year like it's her job, I would've laughed you out of the room. I was a newbie writer finding my way, writing whenever I wanted or could find a spare hour. To be honest, writing was a hobby, not something I treated like the career I wanted to have. And that stunted my growth, in my opinion. If you don't aim yourself in the direction of your dreams, then how will you ever get there?
Slowly, most likely.
For a long time, I couldn't finish anything. I might have drafted a novel (sad, awful drafts) but going through revisions and seeing a work through to the very end was super tough for me. Granted, my life has been one big roller coaster over the last decade as I took care of my ailing parents and raised teenagers. But hindsight is 20/20, and if I'd known then what I know now, I have to wonder where I'd be in my writing career currently.
That said, our journey is our journey. Maybe you believe we go through things for a reason, maybe you don't. All I know is that over the last decade, I've tried so many different planning systems and methods that if I had the money I've spent on all of those little planners and apps and binders and stickers and Washi tape that I would never use, I could've paid for this new laptop I'm typing on tonight.
BUT, back to going through what we go through for a reason. All of my early efforts to get organized might not have helped me then, but I went through enough try/fail sequences over the years that I finally, blessedly, figured out what works for me:
1) A quarterly plan. I highly suggest following Sarra Cannon at Heartbreathings blog and maybe try watching her YouTube videos. She has a free 90-day goal sheet and several other free planning sheets for writers that are so helpful. You choose your top three goals for the year, then break those goals down into bite-size tasks that you can actually achieve. Gone are the days of telling myself that I can write and edit a book in 3 months. I know that I don't work that way, and I'm honest with myself. It takes the time it takes, and I've had enough years at this to know what that amount of time is for me, so I plan accordingly. Anything that I don't complete at the end of the quarter rolls over to the next quarter. Like my friend Alexia said in her post this week: It's so good to give yourself credit for what you achieve, no matter how small. Quarterly planning facilitates this, because you don't have to wipe the board clean to feel successful (though YAY if you do!). I always end up feeling proud of myself for what tasks I DID complete, even when I have items left that must roll over. This method was a mental game changer for me. Plus, now that I have 99648895 deadlines, I need the organization to stay on top of things.
2) A simple To-Do List. You can find to-do lists literally anywhere or even print or write your own. I'm highly partial (slightly addicted) to my Rifle Paper Co. to-do lists, and y'all will have to pry them from my cold, dead hands to make me give them up. These lists have saved my life. There's no way I can remember all of my day job, life/mom, writer, and editor duties without lists. I have one for work, one for writing, and one for life. My work and life lists/pads stay at my day job desk. My writer list/pad goes everywhere with me.
3) A Kan Ban board. Sarra Cannon talks a lot about using a Kan Ban board for tracking quarterly goals. Basically, you take a dry erase board, create a 9-box grid, and transfer the info from your 90-day goal sheet onto sticky notes that then go onto the board. Column 1 is Goal 1, Column 2 is Goal 2, Column 3 is Goal 3. The top row is then filled with the tasks needed to get you closer to achieving each goal, and you simply move those stickies from Row 1: To Do, to Row 2: In Progress, and finally, to Row 3: DONE. Sarah has great YouTube videos if you want to learn more. This method works so well, because unlike a planner that you might never open, a board is IN YOUR FACE, a daily reminder, (as long as you don't hang it in a room you never enter). The more you are forced to look at the board, the more likely you are to actually try to tackle the tasks that await you there.
Now, sadly, these methods won't work for everyone, I know, but sometimes, understanding what WILL work takes trial and error. Maybe this will help someone out there find the right path to success, however they define that word. It can literally mean just getting to a point of actually knowing what you need to do to get where you want to go.
Best of luck! Now go make a list!!