Some creative types (including myself) tend to get lost thinking about their dreams without ever actually moving forward in their careers and finishing their projects. Other creative types (again, including myself) get all wrapped up in their projects, without stepping back and taking a look at the big picture. It’s not that they don’t spend time with their craft, but they don’t take time to focus their efforts and make sure that they are as effective as possible.
To break out of these mindsets, you need a plan, and you need to make it easy enough for yourself that it’s almost impossible not to follow through.
Are you a writer?
Unpublished writers can have this fear of owning their craft and calling themselves writers. The truth is that you are a writer, as long as you actually write. That is the only qualifier.
But it can be really easy to not write. Life can get in the way, you can be waiting for NaNoWriMo, you need to study or work, you’re just so tired, just one more episode of Jane the Virgin… There are plenty of excuses that are far too easy to make. However, until you fight through those excuses, you won’t get anywhere.
Set a time-based goal that you can definitely manage—and start today. Promise yourself that you will spend at least 20 minutes of your day, at least five days a week, actually writing.
Relevant Tools: Any writing tool will do! Scrivener is my program of choice, but I’ve heard great things about Ulysses and Novelise. Free options include ywriter and LibreOffice, and there’s nothing wrong with using pen and paper.
Where do you want to be?
In five years time, what would your ideal writing self look like? Would you have a book published, or articles in a popular magazine? A popular blog with lots of traffic? A writing residency at a dreamy cottage in the countryside? What would your income streams be? How much time would you be spending writing? What kind of lifestyle would you have? You can’t set a goal if you can’t articulate it, and you can’t work towards that goal if you haven’t set it.
Take some time to sketch an ideal picture, and let yourself dream big. Find images that represent each part of it and stick them up somewhere; create a vision board (or, for the less DIY-y, a Pinterest board) of your dreams. Be careful not to drown in distractions in this step—the point is to articulate who you want to be, and to get excited about it.
Relevant Tools: Pinterest or Tumblr are great for searching for dream-vision images and following other people with similar goals. Evernote can also be useful for web clippings and keeping everything together.
Break it Down
Take one of the things you’ve outlined above that excites you the most, and create a To-Do List. What are the first three things you can do towards this dream?
Try to make each task will take less than 15 minutes. For example, if your dream is to have a book published, the first thing you can do is take 10 minutes to brainstorm plot ideas or topics. If you hope to have a popular blog, spend 15 minutes researching the best online blogging platforms. Or, if you hope to be a freelancer, look at your 3 favourite magazines’ websites and see if they accept unsolicited pitches or submissions.
By keeping the tasks short and immediately actionable, it will be easy to tick them off, and you’ll know you’re moving towards those dreams quickly. Do this for three of the things you’ve outlined above, and once you’ve completed the first three things, set three more.
Relevant Tools: Great online tools for building to-do lists include Todoist and Wunderlist. Omnifocus is a little more heavy-duty (and Mac only), but it’s a great option too. Evernote can also be used to keep track of goals and to-dos.
Time to Focus
Now it’s time to actually do the stuff you need to so you can get closer to your goals. Try to get at least one thing on your list done each day. Do what works for you—schedule time in your calendar, set minimum amounts of time to work on each thing, or try time blocking methods.
I use a habit tracking app to spend at least 30 minutes a day each on reading, writing and studying (which are the three things I know I need to do to move forward), and have an alarm set on my phone for 8pm so that I know when I hear it that there’s still time to get it all done. Even when I feel gross and unproductive, getting those three things checked off makes me feel like I’m moving towards my goals.
Another popular strategy is to have no more ‘zero days’. A zero day is a day when you don’t get anything done at all towards your goals. Even if you’re ten minutes away from bed, write one paragraph, and you’ll be one paragraph closer to your goals. The most important thing is to keep the momentum going, because momentum is the thing that will give you confidence in your ability to meet your goals.
Relevant Tools: Great habit-tracking apps include Way of Life, Streaks and Habitica. To keep focused on a task, you can try a Pomodoro timer (like My Tomatoes) or the Forest app, in which you grow a tree each time you stay focused for the full length of time (and the tree dies if you get distracted).