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Forget About Goals; Set a System Instead

Forget About Goals; Set a System Instead

One of my "fun little quirks" as a person and an author is that I'm VERY goal-oriented. I try to be as realistic as possible, but when I set a goal, I feel like it's carved in stone. Come Hell or high water—or a scalding combination of both—I'm going to reach that goal! Then I ran into a fascinating article on Psychology Today that talks about a new way to approach goal-setting. Basically, it says that the GOAL isn't what matters. Instead, it's the system that helps you reach that goal that matters most. The article gives some interesting examples:
  • If you’re a coach,your goal is to win a championship. Your system is what your team does at practice each day.
  • If you’re a writer,your goal is to write a book. Your system is the writing schedule that you follow each week.
  • If you’re a runner,your goal is to run a marathon. Your system is your training schedule for the month.
  • If you’re an entrepreneur,your goal is to build a million dollar business. Your system is your sales and marketing process
I found that writer example really sold the concept to me. I have a general idea of how long it takes me to write a book—about 6-8 weeks, for 120,000 words. However, I've failed to meet that "goal" way more often than I'd like to admit. The objective-oriented part of my brain shrieks in panic every time I pass the self-imposed deadline. In late 2016, I signed a contract with Dragonblade Publishing to publish the three-book Queen of Thieves series—beginning with Child of the Night Guild. But they gave me a tight deadline: Book 1 on Jan 18, 2017, Book 2 on July 18, 2017, and Book 3 on Jan 18, 2017. I usually spent about 6 months working on the book, PLUS all the editing, formatting, and proofreading time. So that was a tight goal, one I immediately worried I wouldn't reach. So before the stress killed me, I sat down and decided to figure out how long I needed per book in order to reach that goal. I figured out I'd need to complete each book in 2 months (Nov-Dec 2016, and Feb-March 2017) to reach it. But instead of focusing on the actual date deadline, I broke it down into a simple system: 2,000 words (1 chapter) per day, 6 days per week. At 50ish chapters per book, that comes out to about 8 weeks per book. Add on a couple of months for beta reading, personal edits, and my final fine-tuning, and I should be able to hit that goal. Well, four months and 200,000 words later, I 100% agree that the SYSTEM is what matters. I'm still fighting off stress as I watch the submission deadline come closer day after day, but I tell myself that the system is working. I'll be finished (fingers crossed) with the first draft of Queen of the Night Guild (Book 3) by this weekend, and I'll get back to work on the second draft of Thief of the Night Guild (Book 2) after the March 31st launch of The Last Bucelarii (Book 3): Gateway to the Past. With the system I have in place, I will be finished with Book 2 just in time to submit it to the publisher. But I'll then have six months to complete Book 3, which means I may be able to put out The Last Bucelarii (Book 4): Anamnesis by December 2017. Goals are important, but the "how" is, in my opinion, far more important than the "what". Focusing on the system (writing 2,000 words/1 chapter per day) is far less stressful than focusing on my goal (120,000 word novel in 8 weeks). As long as I keep working the system, I'll hit my goal. And that is what counts in the long run!