This is it. This is the last article I’m going to write for some time. I’m actually writing it over two years before it’s going to be posted to my blog or read on my podcast. The reason why this one is the last is because this article represents the fulfillment of a major goal I set for myself back in 2017. The goal was to get two years ahead on the Blog. I had originally intended to write a book back in the 2015/2016 time frame. I thought I could do it because I had completed my Master’s degree inclusive of an eighty page long thesis on telephone cables. I thought to myself: If I can do that, imagine what I could write if I had something interesting to say! In starting to prepare for my book I read a ton of info on the topic of being a self-published author. The consensus was that the best practice was to blog and engage other social media so as to build my audience. So I started to blog and it quickly became the all-consuming focus of my writing, and that was a problem, at least if I ever wanted to publish a book.
In an effort to keep up with the blog and to put some time aside for the book I tried different publishing schedules. I started at three small articles a week, as that didn’t work I tried two articles with one being more beefy and one being more short or inspirational. In the end I learned it was simply easier to create and track a single type of article, so I settled on one big column style article per week. When the blog didn’t get traction, I figured I’d expand into a podcast as they were exploding in popularity. The thought was to try and leverage the content I was creating in several different ways. The highlight of every podcast is a reading of the post of the week.
Ultimately what happened is no matter if I was doing multiple articles, or a single large article the total time spent was about the same, and that meant most of my writing time was used up for blogging, not writing my book. On top of this the podcast also sucked up any leftover time and energy I had. Now I’m not one to let a good goal go. I tend to want to complete things I have mentally committed to, so I started looking for a solution. I realized I needed a buffer, so I created a goal to have a two-year buffer, two years posted to the blog. My goal date is May 4th, 2018. I thought this buffer would give me one year to just stop blogging and work on the book without any anxiety relating to keeping up with the blog. Then it gives me a second year if the book process takes longer than I expect, and I need a bit more time. I’ll also use the second year to get back into the swing of article writing.
Now, just to be clear, my goal is posted articles, and even though I’m easily going to finish this article in time, I still may not hit my goal. My process includes writing the article then recording the article for the podcast which helps me edit for content and flow. After that I have to create a graphic and finally post the article with the planned publishing date to multiple outlets. Writing can take a day, and the recording and editing can take a couple of hours. The recording process is more challenging in that I generally have to do it when the noise level in my household is low. That means the only time I can do it Are when my kids and even my dog aren’t around. This limits my ability to get to the editing and posting step. Art is the big question mark in my time needs. I’ve used some photos with zero editing and I’ve spent a couple of days on an image. I really try to make sure I have the right image for the article. I would say that on average I’m looking at two to three hours per image. Finally, there is the actual posting which doesn’t take a ton of time but maybe 10 to 15 minutes per article. All in all It’s a full working day or more per article. This huge exercise, what I refer to as my audacious goal, got me thinking about goals in general. That’s why I thought it was fitting before achieving the goal of a yearlong sabbatical for my last article to focus on the topic of goals themselves. I obviously like meta topics.
As an aside, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention S.M.A.R.T. Goals, the defacto standard since the early 1980’s for goal setting in the professional world. If you live under a rock and you don’t know the S.M.A.R.T. Goals acronym, it goes like this. S = Specific, M = Measurable, A=Attainable and/or Assignable, the R=realistic and the T=Timeframe. All of these attributes are needed for the goal to be something other than a vague notion or desire, for it to be an actual goal. This isn’t an article on smart goals, there are already volumes written on them. They are so pervasive that I believe nearly anyone with just a few years in the professional world is most likely familiar with them. These days I use S.M.A.R.T. goals without even thinking about them, so the attributes of good goal creation are inherent in what I’m discussing. Today’s article is really more of a reflection of other aspects of goals and goal setting and the benefits and pitfalls of goals, at least as I have experienced them.
Goals can be helpful. They provide focus. The focus part is the most important element. A goal is really a target and to hit a target you have to keep your eye on it. We all have things want in life, sometimes we put them on a board, sometimes it’s a list, but the idea of clarification is important. In my case the goal was two years of articles. This made things pretty clear. It allowed me to eschew distractions and allowed me to be pretty clear about what I needed to be spending my free time on.
An addendum to focus, or a process supporting focus is prioritization. If you’re like me and have lots of goals, then they can all crowd themselves out. I think goals are like lists – they have to be prioritized. My favorite example of this comes from Dave Ramsey. One of his most popular teaching tools is a thing he calls the baby steps. It’s really just a prioritized list of financial goals starting with paying off the smallest debts moving all the way through paying off the house and then building wealth and giving. It’s built on the idea of little wins giving you the emotional feedback needed to get to the bigger wins. The exercise of prioritization is a good one in that it helps you figure out what the most important thing is out of the cornucopia of options for the goal driven individual. Prioritizing has the potential to hook into the emotional element of the goal. You are able to remove distractions and it makes success that much more attainable, not just for the goal with the highest priority but all of them.
Modifications and Abandonment
There is a big decision when it comes to goals, it’s the question of if you should Modify or Abandon it if you find that achieving the goal is not possible. This is also something I’ve written about at great length recently. When I first decided to have a goal of being two years ahead it was under the working schedule of publishing an article once per week. Although technically attainable, I realized it was going to be much more difficult than I originally envisioned. This was because not only did I have to have 104 articles to cover the two years, they all had to be evergreen. That last part was rather difficult as much of what most article writers do is topical. Remember, I’m writing this two years before it’s going to be published and I have no idea what is going on in the world at the time it will be read. I have to write something, say like an article on goals, that I know will be as relevant in 2020 as it was in 2018 when I put fingers to keyboard. I also know I still wanted to produce some form of content every week. The compromise I made was to alternate podcasts and articles. This cut my article production needs in half, and still allowed me to keep producing content for my audience on a weekly schedule.
There is always something that feels a bit like failure when you modify a goal to something that is easier to achieve. I guess some people don’t feel bad, but that’s what it feels like that to me. The key to get around this is to understand that quite often in life we bite off more than we can chew. The goal seems so reasonable when we think about it, but doing, well that can be different. No matter the goal life can happen. Work, family, and emergencies that require time and resources all can pull you from a goal. I think accepting the compromise is reasonable if it allows you to meet these life needs and still achieve the goal, or a variant thereof.
There are a few goals I had that I had to abandon. One had to do with my education. I had gotten a 4.0 in my Masters degree and I thought that I could continue on with that success by getting my doctorate at the same pace and with the same quality. The problem was that the PhD program I was in wanted me to follow their cohort schedule, not proceed at a pace that was a good fit for me. I know it would have taken me years longer than everyone else to finish the doctorate but I could have pulled it off in the way I wanted to with zero debt. Unfortunately the combination of the emotional residual after the effort from the Masters coupled with the added pressure of the doctoral program requirements in time and money led me to simply say now is not the time. I abandoned the goal. I still get tired when I think about going back to school as I have yet to find a doctoral program that will work the way I want to. I enjoy learning but the pace of it, the commitment in time and of course financial resources is tough. I still keep this goal in reserve but more on that in a bit.
I had another goal, it was to pay off my house in 6 years to 7 years. I thought that with my extremely modest home, and again with my pattern of paying off debt, I could pull it off. Job transitions, kids, a new and larger home and many other life events have had me just simply just give up on this goal for the foreseeable future. The underlying desire is still there, but I just am so far from realizing it on a financial level and a social level that I decided I might as well give up the ghost on this one.
A final one was animated YouTube videos for my posts of the week. I loved this idea because I know how engaging videos are. After looking into it I realized it simply was not possible. There was too much cost associated with the work unless I did it myself and my time was severely limited as it was. I didn’t have the hundreds of hours it would take to teach myself how to use animation tools and to create engaging video content built around my posts. I still play with this idea every now and again but until some magic happens that allows me to create this type of content or I have enough money to outsource its creation, this option is more dream than goal.
The polar opposite of a modified or abandoned goal is the stretch goal. This phrase has become more popular as sites like patreon want to incentivize people to engage beyond the baseline. I considered a stretch goal of writing an extra 9 articles than I originally planned. This would have allowed me two years and one extra summer of a buffer, i.e. I would have had a full year and a summer of time to completely take a break from even thinking about the blog before I hit my one year buffer of articles. The timing of the primary goal, and the stretch goal coincide with summer as I move to a four day work week in the summers. That gives me three uninterrupted days of writing every week which is very valuable for staying on a specific and complicated task like researching and writing a book. I personally decided to stick with the original goal as I almost feel like it would be a distraction or a procrastination from the whole point of the primary goal, which is to get my head out of the world of blogging and into the world of book completing.
A variant of the stretch goal is scope creep. Scope creep can easily be seen in creative or engineering based projects. The game designer would say, “Hey this feature would be so awesome if we could make it work!”. But the features always take more time and effort than originally thought. The scope creep is different than stretch goals in that it extends the original goals. Stretch goals only work if there is a set of original goals that are met. If you introduce scope extension in the process of completing your primary goal you are absolutely killing your ability to hit the primary goal. This means you need a healthy dose of backbone, possibly for yourself, to be able to say NO! Writing this out makes me think maybe I should have taken my own advice when I came up with the idea of the podcast or even the blog.
Re-engaging the goal
As you can see from my experience it is really easy to lose sight of the bigger goals. If you want to stick to the original plan or achieve the original goal after it has been addled with modifications, distractions and scope creep, a change needs to happen of some sort. This is why re-engaging is one of the three R’s of dealing with failures and frustrations. In my case a goal to allow me to re-engage the original goal was introduced. I needed some way to rekindle the focus, excitement, and energy level from the original idea of writing a book. If you have a goal and you feel like you’re not making progress towards it, it takes something concrete to get back on course. This is admittedly vague but if your goal was something like working out three times a week and you haven’t been to the gym in four months, then the way you reengage will be very different than how a wannabe intellectual gets back to writing the next great piece of pop culture nonfiction. This forces everybody who has a goal they are not achieving to explore different ways to re-engage that goal.
One potential trick here is to use scope creep in reverse. For example, take the baby steps of going to the gym every Saturday morning. After that becomes absolute routine then you can look at Wednesday evenings to add to the weekly workout schedule. Really that’s what this whole article thing is, it’s to get me back on track for the book goal. I had to get the distractions out of the way.
Our world is tremendously complicated and there are barriers everywhere. For some people, the goal oriented, they have this incredible tool to navigate the challenges that life throws at us. This is why most professionals, at least the more successful ones, are goal-oriented. The modern proletariat is not. That’s why they wind up doing things like working at a Waffle House into their 60s. I guess the point is that thinking about your goals, working with them, getting rid of the bad ones and replacing them with good ones, and re-engaging the ones that you haven’t really made progress on are all things we should do regularly, at least if we want to try and better navigate the landmines in life. If you don’t mind wandering around aimlessly and having life blow up in your face regularly then I guess living a laissez-faire life without any goals is a viable option. It’s definitely going to be interesting. I clearly am on the other end of that spectrum. I guess the big question for me is in meeting this goal, will I meet my bigger book writing goal? Well, I guess we’ll know the answer to that if appended to this article is a link to buy a book about the collision points between work and life!
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