My initial thought was to do this every 3-6 months, but then I thought this could easily work every month. It depends on what works best for you. If you’re in a familiar routine already, you probably don’t need to consistently evaluate your progress. But if you’re trying something new, you probably should check to see how things are going more often. I’m going to assume that this is new and treat it as something that needs frequent checks.
1. Write your goals and routine down.
The good news is, you can change your goals and routine whenever you need to, but it helps to write them down so you can see them. I bought a binder and three-hole puncher for this. I like to type out my goals and daily routine (making a routine for each day). Then I put them in the binder so I can look at it. Another way to do this is to buy a monthly or weekly planner and write these things in there. But either way, writing them down will help you track your progress.
2. Write down what actually happened.
At the end of each day, mark down what you actually did. If you have a better memory than me, then you can write this down every couple days to a week. What might help is if you have a column for expected goals and your expected routines and then have another column next to it with what you actually did.
3. After a month, look over your papers.
How did the month go? Are you happy or disappointed? Why? What worked? What didn’t? Does something need to be rearranged in your routine? Are there any goals that need tweaking?
Were there any unplanned interruptions? If so and these interruptions stopped you from reaching your goals, then are these interruptions something that might happen more often or aren’t likely to happen again? If they are going to be regular, then try adjusting them into your routine. If they aren’t likely to happen again, then I wouldn’t adjust my routine for it.
Real life is going to happen (and it seems to happen after getting into a routine). Try not to get discouraged.
4. Three months later, track your overall progress.
Are you forming good daily habits that are sticking? Are any old (bad) habits creeping in? What can you do to reinforce the good habits and get back on track from doing the old ones? (Maybe you get to watch a movie you’ve been wanting to see as a reward.) Do you need to change your goals? Are you completing your goals faster than you thought? Great. Are there new ones you want to add? Are you behind on your goals? What do you need to cut back or adjust? (As a side note: it’s okay to cut back on your goals if you need to. We aren’t robots. Sometimes we lose momentum as we’re going along in a story. While you can sometimes push through a rough spot, at others, you might need to trim back the workload and let your mind relax. Just because someone can write X number of books in a year, it doesn’t mean you have to.)
What are things beyond your control that are hindering you from reaching your goals? While you can’t always remove those things, it might be possible to make decisions that can make them less of a nuisance in your life. For example, my husband makes it a habit of talking to me while I write. I can’t control what he does. Though I’ve moved to other rooms in the house, he still finds me. I wouldn’t say he’s a nuisance, but the interruptions do break the flow of writing. During 2014, I’ll be looking for ways I can change things to help in this area. This might require me to go outside the house, set up a “man cave” for him, get a lock on my door, or something else. That is what I’ll have to look for in the upcoming months.
5. After making adjustments, track your progress a couple months later. Then repeat as often as necessary.
Has anything improved? Has anything remained the same? Has anything gotten worse? Are you satisfied with things the way they are? If something worked, what was it? Can you do something to repeat your success? Say you completed a full-length novel a month sooner than you expected. Was there anything you changed in your routine or goal setting that helped achieve this end? If so, see if you can replicate it.
There might come a time when you no longer need to track your progress. Or maybe you’ll want to keep tracking things. This is a call only you can make.
6. Hopefully, you’ll discover the best way to make most of your writing time.
Keep in mind that what works for one author might not work for you. A morning person who thrives best from writing before everyone in the house is up should write in the early morning hours. A night person, however, should write when it’s best for them, not in the morning. The same is true for whether you work on one book at a time or multiple books at a time. And just because someone outlines a book, it doesn’t mean you have to. Also, just because one author wants to write seven books in a year, it doesn’t mean you have to. Everyone’s situation is different.
There’s a lot of advice out there on how to effectively write a book and while it might be great advice for someone else, it doesn’t mean it’s great for you. That’s why keeping track of your progress is important. The goal of doing this is to help you find the method that works best for you. And if you can find the method that works best for you, you will make the most of your writing time.
Next time, I’ll discuss rewarding yourself for small victories and why it’s important to keep learning.