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No Excuses: 15-Minute Goal Setting for Authors


Photo: tibchris | Flickr

I’m a sucker for time savers.

One of my favorite parts of the magazine Real Simple is the monthly feature “15 Minutes and You’re Done.” It features various household/personal tasks (cleaning a bathroom, organizing an office, upper body workout, etc) and breaks down how to complete the task in 15 minutes. It’s a simple concept, but a trick that goes a long way toward making burdensome or overwhelming tasks manageable (and more difficult to shirk).

All of the great responses to last week’s discussion on goal-setting got me thinking that the 15-minute concept might just be the best way to present the goal-setting process to our time-strapped writer friends, regardless of whether your goal is writing, publishing or marketing-related.

No matter if your goal is long-term or short-term, if it’s to write a novel or design an eBook, give me 15 minutes of your time and I’ll get you on track. No excuses allowed here: grab a timer, a writing utensil and your thinking cap. Let’s get started!

Note: Unless you’re a supremely fast reader, you’ll probably want to scan over what’s in store for each minute before getting started. That way you have more time to spend on planning and take less time trying to figure out what each step is telling you to do.

Minute 1: Write down all possible goal categories and choose one.

If you don’t have a specific goal in mind, make a list of all of the possible categories your goal could be in: writing, marketing, publishing, design, etc. If you have several things you’d like to accomplish, this will help to narrow your focus.

Tip: It’s best to focus on only one goal in a particular category — think of it as containing your attention to a laser beam rather than a shotgun blast.

Minutes 2-3: Write a list of potential goals for that category.

Now that you have your broad category chosen, brainstorm goals within that category. For instance, if your category is writing, your goals could be:

  • Write a 15,000 word novel by the end of the year.
  • Write 5,000 words a week for 20 weeks.
  • Write 100 words a day for 15 weeks.
  • Improve my characterization.
  • Learn 10 new vocabulary words a week.
  • Experiment with different writing styles.

You get the picture. Remember, the best goals include:

  • A specific, measurable outcome (word count, sales, etc)
  • A time frame (1 week, 6 weeks, 5 years)

Minute 4: Choose your goal.

Take a look at the list you created and choose ONE goal to focus on. If you have multiples, that’s fine, but choose ONE to focus on at a time. You can tackle the others once you accomplish this goal!

Minutes 5-7: Ensure your goal is specific and measurable and, if not, amend it.

We discussed this a bit in minute 2-3, but if your goal isn’t specific (meaning that it has a measurable outcome and a time frame), take the time now to make it so. Trust me, it’ll make the following step much easier!

For example, let’s refine this goal from Minute 3:

  • Improve my characterization.

To make it more specific and achievable, we’ll change it to read:

  • Improve my characterization by writing a 5000 word character-centered short story every other week for 3 months.

Minutes 8-11: Write the steps you’ll take to achieve your goal.

Break down your goal into smaller, more managable chunks. This will be easier for some goals than for others. For instance, if your goal is to write 5,000 words a week, your smaller chunks may include:

  • Write 500 words Monday-Friday.
  • Write 1000-2000 words on Saturday and Sunday.

If your goal is a bit more involved, however, as in “Increase book sales 40% by the end of April 2011” there may be more room to break that down, as in:

  • Sign up for Twitter, Facebook and GoodReads accounts.
  • Add 50 followers per week (Twitter) or 15 new fans (Facebook).
  • Spend 60 minutes per week networking with fans and fellow writers.
  • Visit 2 local bookstores each week to gague interest in placing book.
  • Research local book clubs and network to potentially place book.

The more you can break down your goal, the easier it is for you to track your progress and stay on track. Achieving these smaller tasks also keeps you motivated to reach your goal!

Minutes 12-13: Next to each step, write a due date.

For each of the steps you wrote down, decide on a due date. If it’s a weekly task, decide which day of the week it will be due. If it’s a daily task, decide what time of day. Again, this helps keep you organized and accountable for your progress.

Minute 14: Add your due dates to a calendar.

Pull out your calendar of choice (traditional monthly, online, Day Timer, etc) and transfer the due dates you decided upon. Now you can quickly see both what tasks you’ve accomplished and what you have left!

Minute 15: Decide how often to reevaluate your goals and plan.

Even the most well thought-out goals and goal plans will need to be reevaluated from time to time. Life happens, priorities change; you may race to your goal faster than you anticipated or need a bit more time to get everything accomplished. It’s okay — evaluation is a very important part of the goal-setting process. Do make sure, however, that you’re trying your hardest to reach your goal — not just reevaluating/changing your plan every time it drizzles outside or on days ending in -day.

For example, here at Duolit we set and reevaluate our goals on a quarterly basis. Depending on your goal, you might need to do it monthly, weekly or even daily! Just set aside 5-15 minutes every so often to see how you’re progressing.

Tip: Don’t be discouraged if you find you need to adjust your goals or goal plan. The great thing about having a plan like this laid out is that you can see exactly what kind of progress you’re making and adjust your track, as needed.

Time’s Up!

Bing! Your 15 minutes is up and you should now have a concrete goal and a solid plan for getting there. Even if the planning process took you a bit more than the time alotted, I hope that breaking down the process into smaller steps made things easier (just as the goal plan helps you achieve your goal).

While it is best to focus on one goal at a time, you can always repeat the above steps to create multiple goal plans. If you’d like to have both a writing and a marketing goal working simultaneously (and feel that you can put solid effort behind both goals), go for it!

Talk Back

We want to hear from you! Did the 15-minute process motivate you to make your goals official? What’s the first goal you’re going to tackle? Do you have any questions about the goal-setting process? Let us know in the comments!

Additional Resources

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  • Harry

    You may want to check out a cool goal setting tool: GoalsOnTrack

  • Toni,

    Thanks for including Successful Writers in your links — and wow! What a concise, information-packed way to achieve your writing goals.

    I really like the idea of breaking the goal-setting process into minutes like this. Even if it takes people longer than 15 minutes (and I suspect it’d take me 30 minutes to do the whole thing, because I think I’d think longer than I should :-) ), it’s still a valuable exercise.

    Happy writing,

  • Great article…Of course at my age you don’t think much about long term goals. :)

  • Great post! Really great information! I think I’m going to give this a test run very soon. Things are very much in transition for me right now, so this isn’t me avoiding the goal! I like that this breaks it down so well and makes goal-setting a really manageable, less scary thing!
    I had a goal to finish the first draft of my script by mid-July, and that didn’t happen. So I think I’m going to amend that goal and set a new due date for that first draft. Here’s hoping this method of SETTING that goal helps!

  • During the day, I work in marketing as an account manager, and I’m always telling my clients that anything they do needs to be measurable — so I love that you mention that here. I use the acronym SMART (specific, measureable, attainable, relevant and time bound) to try and get them to think in terms of measurable goals and objectives. Rather than squash creativity, it actually enhances it. Structure is good.

  • Tim

    Great goal setting ideas, especially the tip to make goals specific and measurable. Sometimes it’s easy to forget and simply make general statements. I’m glad we connected on Twitter, you ladies have a wonderful site.

  • I love it! I’m going to have to try this…my brain actually came up with a goal and started to figure out steps while I was reading this. It sounds perfect for me becuase I’m so goal oriented, and it can be used short-term or long-term.
    Can’t wait to share this.

  • This is great advice. It is easy, as a writer, to get caught up in the many facets of the job, but if a person can focus attention on just one aspect at a time, the overall goal becomes much more attainable. I intend to use this outline. Thank you :)

  • This has some very good tips. I like the way you broke everything down. I just have to stop my head from saying it’ll never work because I won’t follow through. In reality your sample writing goal of, say,500 words a day is very doable

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  • It is going to take me weeks to just read this entire article and digest it but at least I have put it on my calendar!

  • Excellent post! This is exactly what I need to do: make my goals measurable! Hopefully it will prevent feeling overwhelmed into inaction (a frequent bad habit of mines recently).


  • Cathy Givans

    This is a pretty valuable guideline to follow. The 15 minute goal works for a lot of things. I tend to do my copywriting work in 15 minute intervals. I’ll work on one article, then stop and take a break. It’s a cycle for me, and it helps me avoid complete burnout. If I have the energy to do more, I do, but the important part is having that timeline to keep me structured and moving forward, even when I don’t feel like it. I’ve yet to extend this trick to other aspects of my life, however. I hope to start working on this in the coming months when my copywriting work slows down. I’ll definitely be revisiting this page to help me with novel writing when that time comes! Thanks for taking the time to put this together into a usable exercise. =)

    • You’re so welcome, Cathy. When you get a chance to work on it, let us know how it turns out for you! :-)

  • Perfect timing, since at lunch I scribbled down an overly ambitious list of to-do items for tomorrow. I know I can’t finish all of them, so I’m prioritizing for Friday and will try to finish off the others by the end of the weekend. Reevaluating your goals periodically–but not constantly–is a good idea. Sometimes, plans change and the unexpected happens, so we have to adjust to those surprises. We can also spend so much time planning that we forget to actually act. A map is nice, but it’s no substitute for the journey itself. Nice post! 😉

    • You nailed it, Denise! Knowing how to prioritize goals (and when to reevaluate) is key. But, you hit upon an even bigger point: knowing when to stop the flippin’ planning and take ACTION is vital. It’s easy to let overwhelm take over and prevent you from doing anything — but, doing something, even if it’s the wrong thing will be more productive than inaction could ever be!

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