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5 Steps for Setting Writing Goals You’ll Actually Keep

by | Feb 1, 2016

We know the weeks right at the top of a new year are prime time for goal-setting. But you can set new goals any time of year.

Why not take some time this week to refresh your mindset and set yourself up for success?

Whether you want to crank out 1,000 words a day or get three great new clients, why not take some time to get on the track to meet those goals?

Setting goals and conducting regular self-reviews are great ways to see how you’re doing. These strategies can help you take concrete steps to attain your goals and help you revise and adapt as needed along the way.

I don’t have time to set goals and review them.”

Have you ever said this? Why would you take time you could be spending to craft pitches and crank out articles to instead set goals and conduct self-review?

Because it’s easy to go too long without thinking about your higher-level goals.

You might spend hour upon hour cranking out $20 articles about pigeons when you really want to be writing $2,000 articles about new, cutting-edge dental procedures.

Taking the time to step back from your immediate deadlines and projects allows you to think about where you’d like to be — and chart a path to get there.

Ready to recharge with a goals check-in? Here’s what to do:

Step 1: Decide the types of goals you’d like to set

The first step in goal setting is to identify what categories of goals you’d like to set. Be as specific as possible.

Instead of setting a goal like“writing,” break your goal categories down into “non-fiction magazine writing,” “corporate clients,” “personal projects,” “career development,” and more.

Step 2: Choose your goals

Now that you know what types of goals you’d like to set, it’s time to come up with the goals themselves. Look at each category and decide what you’d like to achieve.

It’s helpful to set a time frame, since your one-month goals will likely be very different from your 10-year goals. I find setting goals for three to four months at a time works well. You might also consider adding a target income goal for each quarter or the entire year.

When setting goals, it helps to set “SMART” goals: “specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, and time-bound.” By matching your plans with these criteria, you have a better chance of achieving what you set out to do.

For example, if you want to publish articles in women’s magazines, setting a goal of “publishing articles in women’s magazines” isn’t as helpful as planning to send five pitches per week to certain publications (specific, measurable, and realistic) by Wednesday of each week (time-bound). Assign yourself the task (assignable) and write it in your calendar to make sure you remember.

Step 3: Conduct a self-review

After you’ve set your goals, it’s easy to set them aside and forget about them. The antidote to this is to conduct regular self-reviews.

First, decide how often you’d like to perform a self-review. I like to aim for quarterly reviews with some flexibility, but others prefer monthly or bi-annual reviews. Whatever schedule you pick, be sure to write it on your calendar and make your review a priority.

When you sit down with your goals, take a few minutes and write about how you are doing in each category. If you planned to send five pitches each week, see how often you’re actually doing it.

The point isn’t to feel bad if you’re not meeting your goals. Instead, use this knowledge to adapt your goals as necessary.

If you find yourself too busy with client work to send out five pitches a week, consider revising the goal to three pitches a week. It’s much better to send three pitches a week than to feel overwhelmed at falling short of your goal and give up entirely.

Alternately, if you’re not getting much traction and find more time in your schedule, consider upping your goal to a higher number of pitches per week.

Step 4: Review your clients

While you’re doing your self-review, it’s also helpful to do a client review. Take an inventory of your clients to see which relationships you’d like to develop further and which ones it might make sense to put on the back burner.

This review is for your eyes only, so feel free to be brutally honest.

First, go through and make a list of all the clients you’ve worked with over the past month, quarter, or year. If your clients change from month to month, it’s often most helpful to evaluate clients over a broader period of time (such as quarterly or once per year), especially when you have a number of occasional or one-off clients.

Consider each client and calculate how much money you’ve earned from them during that period. Did they pay you on time and in full? Did you like working with them? Were the projects interesting?

Identify the top clients you’re most excited about developing or continuing your relationship with. Keep in mind these “top clients” are not always your best-paying clients. They could be new clients you’re looking to cultivate relationships with, or people you just enjoy working with.

You’ll also likely notice a few clients you’d prefer to avoid in the future. What adjustments can you make so you don’t feel pressured to work with them?

Step 5: Schedule your next self-review and goal-setting session

While you’re finishing up your goal-setting and self-review session, be sure to mark your next session on your calendar. Having a review every two or three months is a good place to start and you can always adjust the timing according to your needs — just don’t forget to keep a date on the calendar!

What tips would you add for setting and reviewing your writing goals?