to do list

How to Organize Your Writing Life: Setting Daily Goals

Espresso Shot (3)When you're a writer, the struggle to stay organized is real. Different drafts. Different books. Different projects. Release days. Blog posts. Facebook parties. No matter the stage of your career, you all have responsibilities pulling you in different directions. Organization is key to making sure that everything gets done when it should without leaving you feeling completely overwhelmed.

Every Wednesday throughout the month of May, I'm sharing some of the tips and tricks that I used to keep my writing life in order. Last week we talked about keeping your calendar straight. Today I'm going to talk about how setting attainable, realistic daily goals can transform your writing life.
The To Do List
My to do list drives the day-to-day of my writing career. I use it to keep myself on track and organize my long-term and short-term goals. It's also the place I turn to first when I'm feeling overwhelmed. If you use it well, I promise that it will help you take back control of your crazy writing hours.
I go over my to do list every day and update it. I write down everything that feels like a task to me, even if it's as simple as "pack lunch" or "write 1,500 words." Facing down more than one deadline, I've absolutely written down "take shower." Your to do list isn't going to judge you. It's a tool that lets you write down all of the random things zipping through your head, demanding attention. It also lets you let go of those things and say, "I'm going to take care of you, but you aren't my top priority right now." Once you do finish whatever task is bothering you, you can cross it out. You get a sense of completion, plus you can see physical evidence of all of your hard work. Non-to do list believers, trust me when I say it's an incredibly satisfying feeling.
Once I run out of things to add to my list, I look it over. I mark anything that must be handled that day as high priority.* I group similar tasks together so that I can complete them all at the same time. I usually look for tasks that have been on my list for a few days and try to figure out whether those are really necessary or whether I'm just avoiding them. If I'm avoiding, that's usually a pretty good sign that it's time to get that task crossed off the list.
 Three Daily Goals
I'm guessing that most of you already use a to do list to keep you organized. Now I'm going to show you how I take that information and move it off my list faster. I use a technique I think of as my three daily goals. Every day I write down three things:
  • Three Goals
  • Red Flags
  • Successes
The three goals are the the three things that I'm going to do today that will help me move my writing career forward. These could be massive things (finish novella draft) or small tasks (post to Facebook). I recommend a mix. On March 12th, my list read like this:
  • Set One Week in Hawaii cover reveal date
  • Call with Alyssa Cole, 8 PM
  • Finish new hockey scene for sports romance
Each of these things were pulled from my to do list and prioritized. They were also tasks that I knew that I could finish that day. That is one of the key elements of this three daily goals exercise. You're getting things done by breaking your larger deadlines into small, manageable tasks.
The next step is to identify any red flags you might have on that day. These are any activities that are potentially going to eat into your time and keep you from completing your three goals. For me, things like RWA meetings, friends visiting NYC, and unusual deadlines at my day job are the most common red flags. Identifying them can help you plan a strategy to not only comfort those red flags but also complete your writing goals.
And finally, I believe in celebrating little successes, so at the end of the day I write down the things that I did that day that helped further my writing career. I'm not always perfect with completing my three daily goals, so sometimes my list is as simple as, "Posted a release day promo to Facebook." Other days, I hit a good stride and overachieved. Wherever you fall on the spectrum of work success, find something out of your day that is a positive and celebrate that. We're writing big long books. We deserve a little bit of a boost throughout the process.
*I use my Mac's Reminders app since it syncs with my phone. This lets you mark anything high priority with !!!, something I find really helpful when scanning my list.