Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Wednesday Writing Workout: 30-Day Boost Your Productivity Challenge

In my last post, I discussed three software tools that help me be more productive and focused. In today's Wednesday Writing Workout, I'm going to suggest you take a look at your work habits and see how you can do the same. I'll also invite you to join me in a "30-Day Boost Your Productivity Challenge." And I promise--no special software required!

First, I'd like to share a bit of background information about goal-setting and habit formation. If you're not interested, or don't have time to read that, feel free to scroll down to the Wednesday Writing Workout.

At the start of a New Year, many of us set ambitious goals and resolutions for various aspects of our lives, including our writing. Unfortunately, by the end of January, we've often let those goals fall by the wayside.

When this happens to me, it's usually because:
a. I didn't write down and track my goals,
b. my goals were too ambitious,
c. my goals weren't specific enough,
d. my goals weren't easily measurable and/or
e. I didn't reward myself for sticking to them.

Recently, I read about the importance of creating goals that are SMART, an acronym for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, and Time-bound. For more on SMART goals, see this website, which includes sample worksheets for setting SMART goals. (Note: I haven't downloaded their worksheets or have any relationship with the company.) Below, I share examples of some SMART goals for writers.

For me, though, SMART goals alone don't always provide enough motivation, especially when
I'm working on a long-term project, such as writing or revising an entire novel. I've found I also need some sort of reward.

In The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (Random House), Charles Duhigg explains that habits, both good and bad, consist of a three-part loop: Cue, Routine, and Reward. Some habits are so ingrained, we aren't even conscious of the reward. However, with some thought and experimentation, we can not only break bad habits but also create new, healthy, ones. In this excerpt from his book, Duhigg talks about the habit loop and how we can change it. 

I'd discovered my own need for rewards even before reading Duhigg's book. I'd also found that for big projects, it helps to set mini-rewards along the way, and not just a big reward at the end, as explained in this Huffington Post piece. The mini-rewards may be as small as literally giving myself a gold star on a calendar that I use to track my achievements. And that brings me to today's Wednesday Writing Workout: 

Wednesday Writing Workout:
30-Day Boost Your Productivity Challenge

Today's Wednesday Writing Workout consists of three parts:

1. Identify ONE (and only one) SMART goal that will help boost your writing productivity, and appropriate reward(s) for success. 

Some goal possibilities:
  • Get up 15 minutes earlier than usual, 6 days/week, and use that time only for writing.
  • Write at least 500 (or 250 or 100) words per day on your work-in-progress, 5 days/week.
  • Reduce time spent on social media by 30 (or 20 or 10) minutes per day, and use the saved time for writing.   
(For more examples of SMART goals for writers, see this blog post. )

2. Track your progress on a regular basis.  

Since one of the keys is that your goal be Measurable, it shouldn't be difficult to track your progress. This could be as simple as keeping a handwritten log where you note that day's results. Or maybe a calendar where you give yourself a gold star on every day you're successful. Or, if you like the idea of using software to track your performance and provide statistics and reminders, you can try one of the apps I mentioned in Friday's post. Whatever way you decide to track your results, make sure it's simple and easy, and maybe even fun. Otherwise, you're unlikely to stick with it.

3. Find someone you can be accountable to and report your progress to that person regularly. Better still, announce your commitment in public and get the support of a whole community!

Charles Duhigg says in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (Random House)
"The evidence is clear: If you want to change a habit . . . your odds of success go up dramatically when you commit to changing as part of a group."
I'm lucky to have a terrific writing buddy who I check in with on a weekly basis. However, to encourage all of you to try today's Wednesday Writing Workout, I'm going to participate in this 30-Day Boost Your Productivity Challenge, too, as follows.

1. My goal: spend at least 2 hours/week revising my current work-in-progress.
I've been so busy with teaching and freelance writing assignments that I've let my current work-in-progress (WIP) fall to the wayside. Two hours/week may not seem like much time, but I want to make sure the goal is Achievable given my other responsibilities. Since those 2 hours aren't going to appear out of nowhere, I have a related goal: to get up 15 minutes earlier per day, six days a week, and to spend those 1 1/2 hours on my WIP. I'll get the other 1/2 hour by cutting out 30 minutes of television time per week. For my reward, I'll treat myself to a latte at a coffee shop. J

2To track my progressI'll use the Timesheet app to log my time and note what page I'm revising at the end of each writing session.

3Find someone to be accountable toThat's YOU, our readers! 

To keep things simple, I've set the 30-Day Boost Your Productivity Challenge to run from February 1 through March 1. (February conveniently has 29 days this year.) I'll share my first progress report with you two weeks from today, on Wednesday, Feb. 10, and then the final results on Wednesday, March 2.

I'm hoping some of you will join me in this challenge!  You can tell us your specific goal to boost your writing productivity via a comment to this blog post, or on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page, or in an email to teachingauthors [at] gmail [dot] com. I'd love to know how you plan to reward yourself, too. I hope you'll also return to report on your progress on Feb. 10 and March 2 as well. 

And, if any of you live in the Chicago area, maybe you'd like to join me for that latte some time in early March to celebrate our success!

Meanwhile, happy writing!


JoAnn Early Macken said...

What a good idea, Marti! I tend to set goals but not track my progress. This will help me, I'm sure! I can easily think of a good reward. Now to come up with a SMART goal I can actually track.

April Halprin Wayland said...

Carmela! Fabulous post for January! I think I'm going to imitate you and say that I'll work… No I'll play… With words in my novel for two hours each week.

Like you, this doesn't sound like a lot of time, but I do seem to do a lot of other things which constantly take precedent. In addition, I'd like to set a goal of reading one novel each month. Again, it doesn't sound like a lot, but for me, a slow reader, more inclined toward the visual learning or audio books, this is big. And by the way, I'm including audiobooks. Thanks for the push!

Carmela Martino said...

JA and April, it would be great fun to all do this together.
April, I love that you're planning to "play" rather than work on your novel. :-)
And I totally agree with counting audiobooks as reading a book. Now that I have a smartphone, I realized I can borrow e-audiobooks from the library and listen to them on the phone while I'm doing other chores.

Cynthia Cotten said...

Carmela, this is terrific. I am going to come up with a SMART goal for this.

Teresa Robeson said...

I think I'll try this, too! I was doing Deborah Underwood's 1 Hour of Freedom challenge but stopped. I might combine the two. We'll see how well they work together. :)

Carmela Martino said...

Cynthia and Teresa, I hope you'll share your goals with us and follow-up on Feb. 10 and Mar. 1. Teresa, I hadn't heard of the Hour of Freedom. I tried a Google search but nothing came up. Do you have a link with more info?

Caroline McAlister said...

This is so helpful! I love the ideas for tracking progress. I'm going to give myself a star for getting up early and writing and will give myself a thrift store shopping trip if I make it through the month.

Carmela Martino said...

Sounds terrific, Caroline. Do check back on 2/10 with a progress report.

jan godown annino said...

Can my March latte be a great flavored green Tea, Carmela?

My goal is less time down the rabbit hole of social media.

And it's always invigorating articles/sites/archives/blogs - such as
Teaching Authors. But the fabulous links that I follow
that lead me further & furthers away from words on the page, ya know?

For the last part of the pledge, I'm announcing it today during our annual Georgia writing workshop/retreat of my monthly critique group.

Appreciations & Happy New Year, Carmela! And H.N.Y to all you fabulous Teaching Authors. :) hugs.

lady sparks said...

I try for a poem a day, and I have actually made it on some months. To be realistic, I say that 15 or 16 a month is not failure and so far I have made that. I also have other writing projects that I am poking along with or just don't get to. I am going to try this plan and I'll report on my progress. Rewards? I give myself too many now and no work.

Esther Hershenhorn said...

Thank you, Marti, for this oh, so SMART and insightful post!
As the Beatles sang, "We get by with a little help from our friends."
I'm changing "a little" to "a lot" after reading yours and April's posts!

Carmela Martino said...

Jan, your Tea reward sounds lovely. And I can SO relate to the "rabbit hole of social media." Hope you'll update us on your progress mid-month. Happy New Year to you, too.
Lady Sparks: this made me smile "Rewards? I give myself too many now and no work." Good luck with your goals. I look forward to your progress reports.
Esther, you are a dear friend indeed!

Mirka Breen said...

Some years back I discovered that the key, for me, was setting realistic and do-able tasks. I make a point to reach them. Exceeding is fine, too. But reaching is a daily rewards, and inch by inch...

Carmela Martino said...

I agree, Mirka! Thanks for commenting.

Anonymous said...

Wow, lots of great information here. Best of luck achieving your goals!

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks, Marcia!