April 28, 2023
Goals and the Absolute Shitshow Created by Their Absence
By Jeb Bohn
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my writing career—assuming I’ve learned anything—it’s that not having clearly defined milestones is an absolute killer. Thankfully, it’s an easy problem to remedy, though we sometimes shoot ourselves in the foot anyway.
No matter what you do for a living, you can undoubtedly think of a half-dozen tasks in need of attention. Yes, I’m probably selling that short, but you get the idea. The world doesn’t stop when we do, and the chores in need of your attention aren’t going to complete themselves while you space out.
I mean, that would be sort of wonderful, wouldn’t it?
Sadly, that’s not the reality we live in. Boo.
You might be a banker. You might work in advertising. Maybe you’re a writer, like me (hello, fellow scribe!). Regardless of what you do or who you work for, you have a set number of hours on any given day to get things done. Your boss might be a relentless shadow demon, but they can’t add hours to the day…
So, what’s a mere mortal to do?
Set Daily Goals
Seems obvious, right? Just look at your objective and set achievable (that part is important!) goals to get there.
Now, “achievable” is wholly relative. Personally, I’d love to crank out 10,000 words every single day. Could I? Yes, I could. Would they make up anything coherent? Possibly, but I wouldn’t bank on it.
Of course, if you aren’t a writer, this might not click for you. The bottom line is I write books, scripts, blogs, and birth announcements(?). Those are my goals. Without words, those things don’t exist. Words are how I get there. No matter your profession, find your words, the thing(s) that move you toward your goal.
I’ve been working on a MASSIVE project. Before I typed a single word of content, I did research. I found tips and insights related to the project, and I made a spreadsheet to lay out everything that needs to be done.
Then, I took all of that and made goals. Over the past 2 weeks, I’ve relentlessly attacked these goals and ticked off every one of them.
Sounds good, right?
Well, it was good, right up until I realized the work wasn’t done.
Everything I set out to do, I completed, but there’s a final step to bring it all together into some irresistible package. In my fervor and, dare I say, hubris, I completely overlooked this.
When the realization struck me, I felt like a fish flopping around an empty beach. I had two options: I could push through and go off the cuff, or I could step back and set a plan.
To most of you, the latter probably seems to be the smarter choice.
Naturally, I did the former.
It didn’t work.
I’d come up with something, spend time on it, and deem it inferior. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
I came to my senses—eventually—and planned it out. Much to my surprise, it worked.
If only I’d done that in the first place…
Finding What Works
I’ll stop short of telling you how to go about setting your own plan.
For one, I have no clue what it is that you do. For another, we’re all different. We have different strengths, different work habits, and different schedules. It’s a good thing you know yourself, so you’ve got a solid resource to draw from.
Granted, there can be a trial and error phase but, in the long run, it’s worth it to build up a system that works for you. This is especially true considering you’ll have a system that works for you and was created by you as opposed to some cookie-cutter plan that may or may not suit you.
Also, don’t overthink it. I’m the king of overthinking (my crown’s out being polished), and it can be like pulling teeth for me to focus on one thing at a time and not catastrophize any hiccup. Follow your instincts and work through the plan. Adjust on the fly if need be, because you may be working and find something that works even better.
This may well be the biggest takeaway. Whether you answer to someone else or act as your own boss, hold yourself accountable.
I’m not saying to bring the hammer down anytime you hit a snag. Instead, hold yourself to a set standard. You can lick your wounds if you fall short one day, just don’t coddle yourself or obsess over it.
For me, my goal when writing a book is to hit 2000 words per day, minimum. Is that a completely arbitrary number? Probably. Do I hit it every day? Nope, nor do I make excuses for why I didn’t. I move on and work to erase that deficit the next day.
In all honesty, that’s a trait I’ve noticed with many friends and acquaintances who work for themselves: a lack of personal accountability. Don’t get me wrong, they’re genuinely good people and they’re good at what they do.
Coming up short happens. That’s life. The problem comes in when those days add up until you find out you’re way behind schedule. That all comes back to setting achievable goals and developing a plan on how to reach them.
It comes down to being realistic.
You have to have a realistic view of your schedule, your goals, and your ability to hit them.
Most of all, you HAVE to have a realistic view of yourself. Some people have a grossly inflated self-image. For others, it’s so low it borders on loathing.
Look at your track record and assess mistakes and areas that need work. Take stock of your strengths and successes. Get a well-balanced overview.
Despite the heading and the implications of some long-winded diatribe, this section is short and boils down to one idea:
It’s much easier to be productive when you have a clear outcome in mind. When you don’t, every task can feel wholly aimless.
You’ve probably experienced this yourself, God knows I have. There is nothing that kills motivation more than feeling that what you’re doing is meaningless.
Put the pieces together so you can see them as parts of a mosaic, a representation of what you’re striving for.
To be honest, I didn’t write this to be an advice piece. I was going to simply write some stream of consciousness about how I’ve been feeling about the past few weeks.
That said, if there’s any nugget in this pile of dung, I hope it helps you. No one wants to struggle through a fog of aimlessness. Whatever you’re working on, I wish you the best and I thank you for reading.