From To-Do to Ta-Da!

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By Sarah Sundin

We work hard to craft excellent novels. We nurture relationships with editors, agents, and fellow writers. But one common way writers undo years of reputation building is by missing deadlines.

We don’t want to do that! So how can we avoid missing deadlines, little and big? How can we wrestle that overwhelming, overflowing to-do list into submission?

Write Down Goals

Whether you write down goals and assignments with pen and paper or record them in an online program, get them down! I don’t know about you, but if it isn’t recorded, it’s forgotten.

This can be as simple as a handwritten list on an index card, which worked well for me before I was published.

After I became published, my to-do list expanded in frightening dimensions. So I started using a goal chart. This is a simple table in Word—Excel would work too. I use a row for each month and a column for each category of activity. My goal chart extends several years ahead, and I have columns for writing, assignments from my publisher, articles & interviews, my blog, publicity, and conferences, since I co-direct a writers conference. You might want columns for learning, submissions, or organization. Make the chart fit your needs.

I post my goal chart above my desk to keep me motivated, and I highlight tasks when completed.

You can go high-tech and use project management software to make Gantt charts and other amazing things. I use Trello for my writers conference and really like it, especially when multiple people are involved with a project.

Goal-Setting Principles

Log immediately. When you get a new assignment or start a new project, record it immediately. Do NOT assume you’ll remember. You won’t. Especially as you get older.

Work backward. Another important concept is to work backward from deadlines.

Break down big tasks into smaller chunks. How many months would you like for outlining (if you outline), rough drafting, and editing? Assign each task to a month or several months, complete with a word count quota or number of chapters to write.

Spread tasks out. The three months around a book release usually have a whirlwind of assignments, so I plug some tasks into my goal chart months in advance to avoid a mental breakdown in the release month.

Schedule in big events like vacations, conferences, and weddings. You won’t get as much work done in those months, so plan accordingly.

Leave wiggle room. Life happens. Family members get sick. People die. You break your wrist ice-skating. If you’ve jam-packed your schedule, you’ll be miserable—and you might miss a deadline.

Staying on Track

It doesn’t do any good to set goals if we don’t track them. I like to reassess my goals every month, every week, and every day.

Monthly goals and review. On the first of each month, I sit down with my goal chart and make sure it’s up-to-date. Any remaining tasks get scooted down to the next month.

Weekly goals and review. Once a week I check my goal chart, decide which specific projects to work on, and assign tasks to specific days. I like to print out my Google calendar for each day and jot down my to-do list on it. This helps me work around things like doctor’s appointments and family visits.

Daily goals and review. Every morning I review my calendar. Anything I didn’t complete the day before needs to be reassigned to another day—and I plan out my day.

With a little thought and work, you can turn your to-do list to “Ta-da! I did it!”

Do deadlines whiz past you? Overwhelmed by your writing to-do list? Author @sarahsundin shares tips to turn your to-do list to “Ta-da!” Click To Tweet

Sarah Sundin is an ECPA-bestselling author of World War II novels, including The Sound of Light. Her novels have received the Christy Award and the Carol Award. Sarah lives in Southern California and serves as co-director of the West Coast Christian Writers Conference.


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