I have three major projects I’m working on this month — revising my novel, increasing frequency and quality of posts published on this blog, and doing content marketing to improve my freelance writing portfolio.
I’ve been working on these things pretty consistently lately, but I’ve noticed two trends:
- My biggest personal and professional goal is to revise my novel, but when I feel like it gets too hard (which is often), I shift my focus to more fun stuff, like scheming up new writing and money-making projects. I’m not making fast enough progress on my manuscript.
- I’m not spending enough hours per day on my own projects (any of the ones listed above). I averaged only 1.2 hours of “deep work” a day during the month of February.
I need to increase the amount of time I spend furthering my goals, and the time I do spend needs to be more judiciously allocated. Gotta spend my time in proportion to how much these things matter to me.
So today I set two goals for the remainder of March, goals that I hope will help me improve my discipline and stay focused on my true priorities.
Goal #1: Increase my hours of “deep work” in March.
The term “deep work” comes from this incredibly motivating book I read (and blogged about) called Deep Work; Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.
Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship.
So as a writer, I’m trying to increase the number of hours I remain focused, without distraction, on the hard work of writing.
Before I can increase anything, I have to know my baseline.
So I did an inventory on my “deep work hours” in February. Not great. I spent just 36 total hours focused on achieving my long-term writing goals. With 28 days in the month, that averages out to only 1.2 hours a day–though in reality I logged a total of zero hours on 12 of those days, meaning that on the days that I did work, I worked closer to 2.25 hours.
Good that I know I have the capacity/stamina to work deeply. Bad that I didn’t work on personal stuff for TWELVE whole days.
Then I looked at my work output. During the month of February, I:
- wrote 5 blog posts
- created a content marketing plan (but no content)
- reread and made notes on my novel
- solidified my characters and my plot
- line-edited one short story
That’s it. Notice that I only WROTE five things. Blog posts. No short stories to keep me warmed up or content for that content marketing gig.
Increasing the number of hours I spend focused will increase the amount of work I produce. So I’ve set myself a goal to increase my number of deep work hours to three hours every week day and one hour every day of the weekend. With 17 days left in March, that’s 58 hours of deep work for the remainder of this month.
Goal #2: Spend those 58 hours in proportion to my priorities.
First, I had to determine what my priorities are.
For me, that was the easy part. Revise my novel. Improve my blog. Write content for Sound Town Phonics. Build my freelance writing portfolio. In that order.
But what about proportion? How much more important is my novel than my blog? Or my blog versus my freelance writing business?
For now, content marketing and my freelance portfolio are least important to me, but I know that I still want to do them. So I determined the least amount of time I could spend on them per month, which is 5 hours each.
My novel and my blog are most important. But not equal. My ultimate goal is to be a published novelist. Only one of these two activities–creating a well-written, polished novel–gets me closer to that goal. So I decided that I want to spend only a quarter of my time on my blog and three-fourths of it on my novel.
But deciding on these two goals isn’t enough. I have to find a way to hold myself accountable to meeting them.
Tracking My Goals
When I was a teacher, I taught my students to set S.M.A.R.T. goals.
So while my goals are to complete 58 hours of deep work and spend those hours in proportion to each project’s importance, I still felt like I needed to get more specific than that.
Step 1: Divide up the 58 hours of deep work planned for March.
I determined that five hours a month was the minimum I could spend on my two least-important projects and still be successful. Then I divided the remaining 48 hours into 75% novel, 25% blog–as previously determined.
Then I wrote it out on a sticky note.
Step 2: Measure completed hours on a tracker.
Then I needed a place to track (or measure) those hours of deep work.
My awesome planner just so happens to have a super cool project plan section at the front, as if designed specifically for me, and I’d already been tracking my deep hours worked (albeit aimlessly).
So all I had to do was put that pink stick note in my planner, right below this tracker:
This is where I will track my hours of deep work, in tick marks using the appropriate color listed above. With different colored tick marks, I can make sure I’m monitoring my allocation of hours, not just the total sum of hours.
You’ll notice that as of that picture being taken, I’d already spent one and a half hours on blogging. In order to stick with my plan, that means that I have only ten and a half hours of blogging remaining this month. And in theory, if I use up those twelve hours quickly because blogging is the “fun” alternative to revising my novel, then, well, I use them up. And then the only left for me to do is work on my novel.
I think I’m going to love/hate this strategy.