What if you have a lot of ideas? Too many ideas? Oh, but some of them are so good! Ah…well, here is some of the ideas I’ve personally used to wade through and manage ideas and projects. I am no expert, and perhaps one of the many productivity-focussed blogs could cover this better, but at the very least, here are some of the things I am personally working with. So far, it has been helpful, and so maybe even if it is imperfect, I can give you the reader some useful ideas.
Now, why should one plan and manage things in the first place, when we can just save time and get down to it? Well, I think Michael Gerber said it well when he wrote that one should, “Work on their business, not in their business.” Or at least, do both. We need to step back, gain perspective, and make a good battle plan. Even if, as it were, no plan survives first contact with the enemy, at least now we have something to work with, and that we can easily reposition from later.
The Goal List
One great way to wade through goals is to simply list them all. Getting anything out and onto the page is essential for working with it. And that’s exactly what we’ll do. So, let us use my list as an example.
- Edit the Demo Tapes
- Edit The Solune Prince
- Continue writing TSP
- Learn Programming
- Edit Alice and Finch
See, that’s useful. Of course, I didn’t list all of my goals, just the top five. Now, let’s take this to step 2! Which is, work with it. You should take your list and prioritize it. So again, here’s mine.
- Write The Solune Prince
Edit Alice and Finch
- Learn Programming
- Edit The Solune Prince (book 1)
- Edit The Demo Tapes Anthology
Now, you can see that I cheated a little here, in a way. I put writing TSP and editing Alice and Finch as tied for first. But, you’re allowed to do that at least a little bit. This is your list, and you can do the same. Just be careful that the ordering is still useful. If most of your list is all number 1 or 2, then it isn’t really useful.
So, that’s the goalslist. Yes, I use this single word, goalslist, to make it look cool. I personally save mine in OneNote so that it’s up there in the cloud and accessible at any time on any device. The other thing is that you can and should update the list as needed. For example, every week or every month you can re-organize it based on your current realities, or if you finished something. Once again, try not to abuse the flexibility here. It’s not really a proper goal list if it changes every single day!
And what if you have a huge amount of goals, ideas, or projects? Well, I had a second document saved in OneNote called the “longlist.” There, you can put all the extra, less pressing items. Alternatively, you can just put them on the goalslist, and maybe separate it, or remember that the top 5 or 6 are the really important bits. Okay, next part.
Okay, what I (plan to) do isn’t exactly SMART planning, but it’s similar. You can google it, but essentially, SMART planning is an acronym that means:
Again, you can dig into this yourself, because it’s not exactly what I’m working with. What I want to do more specifically, is move from this goalslist to an actual calendar.
This will take more than one step, but I think it’s worth it; you have to actually set aside time if you want to accomplish things. But I can’t just put “Write The Solune Prince” into a slot on Sunday. First, I’m not finishing the entire novel then. Second, which part? Now to be fair, I think for that goal, I can just shove it in, since I know what to do. Just write the next chapter or two. But for something else, like “Edit The Demo Tapes,” I absolutely need to break it down. So, using one of my examples, let’s do that. How about one of my top goals, “Edit Alice and Finch.”
I think we can once again used the list-then-order approach here too, but instead of ordering by importance alone, we should also order by what needs to get done first. For example, when baking a cake, baking it is perhaps the most important step, but if you haven’t mixed the ingredients, it’s going to come out as mush with fried eggs on top. So, let’s try this out.
Editing Alice and Finch. To do this, I have to…
- Read the work and take notes
- Create a scene-by-scene, chapter-by-chapter outline, so that editing is smoother
- Figure out what’s missing or needs to be added
- Work on the outline first, and then filter it into the manuscript
- Do spelling/line editing
- Likely hire a freelance editor to help with finalizing
That’s a pretty good list. We could stop there, but even these things will take more than one session. I think that breaking each of these goals into smaller hour-long chunks would be well worth it. Let’s take creating the outline. Doing that could take 10 minutes per chapter, and the novel has around 26 chapters. Being rough and not accounting for differing chapter (and therefore time) lengths, this means that, at 6 chapters per hour, I could finish this in 3 hours, or 3 sittings. Wow, I’m getting excited already! I think that this is another benefit of this sort of planning. You see in the distance, instead of vague horizons, an actual ending point out there in the distance. It is exhilarating.
The Calendar (or Agenda)
In university, I used an agenda on and off. Those semesters where I used an agenda, it was a huge hassle, but I also didn’t feel so utterly lost all the time. I had thoughts of using one even after graduating, but at the time I was only working on one thing, The Solune Prince. But now, with all of these new (many old, revived) ideas, I think it’s becoming more and more relevant.
Now, you can use either a calendar, agenda, or perhaps even online calendar or app. The point is, once you’ve made your hour chunks (or any other length, though I would not recommend anything shorter than 15 minutes or more than 90 minutes, since studies show that it’s difficult to focus for longer than an hour and a half), once you’ve made the chunk set a date, and even a time. And then, do it!
One thing you will quickly find is that, unless you are especially earthy or conscientious, you are not going to do every session. In fact, you might even miss most of them! This might seem kind of depressing, but it’s not. Stick with it, and consider the following. If you only get 30% of your goals done in the first week, that’s still way more than you would have done without planning! This is a starting point. This sort of “self discipline” is like a muscle. You can build more and more. The key is to always return and update, maybe every week.
On these update days, which you should also schedule in or at least set a day aside for it (like Sunday), take the tasks you didn’t finish and move them into the next week. Or, if they don’t seem important anymore, just leave them aside. Make sure you have an update day! On the other hand, if you look back and see that you really did accomplish more without a plan, maybe you don’t need one. But, especially if you have many goals, I highly doubt that’s the case. Especially if you’ve read this far down a blog post about planning. Even if you were quite efficient before, and the new start slows you down, once you are used to it you will rocket ahead of where you once were.
Time to Take Your Pen
Well, we have our core principles:
- Goalslist (in order)
- Breaking Goals down into Steps
- Breaking Steps into (60-or-so Minute) Sessions
- Putting Sessions into your Calendar
- Doing those Sessions when they appear
- Repositioning around Once a Week
- Not Worrying about Missing days
Feel free to copy that down somewhere! For me? It’s time to start my own plan.