If you have a hard time motivating yourself to build your career as a writer, artist or other creative professional, keeping a progress log can help you move toward achieving your dreams.
Writing down your goals, the steps you take to accomplish them and the result of each action, not only keeps you accountable, it provides you with an important record for future planning. It also keeps you from having to remember everything.
Start with an inexpensive spiral notebook that you’ll devote exclusively to your career-building efforts.
- Write a Mission Statement.
- Before you even think of jotting down to-do lists, begin by creating a mission statement – a one-sentence summary of your overriding reason for doing what you’re doing. The best mission statements are short, simple, and reflect your core values. Even if it takes you several days to come up with a statement you feel truly reflects your purpose, that’s time well spent. Clarity about why you want a creative career keeps your energy and your actions focused.
- List Your Major Goals Toward Manifesting this Mission.
- Do you want to write and publish a book? Exhibit your paintings in a local gallery? Mount a one-person show? Get a lead role in a movie? Write it down.
- You may have more than one objective. If this is the case, take the time to decide which are the most important to you and which you want to accomplish first. Those are the ones on which you’ll want to focus most of your energy. (Using different colored ink for each goal can help you keep them straight.)
- Break Big Goals Down into Sub Goals.
- If you want to write and publish a book, you’ll need to come up with an idea, you’ll need to research the idea, research the market, write a proposal and find an agent or a publisher. Those are sub goals. Give each sub goal a page in your notebook.
- Break Sub Goals into Baby Steps.
- Working from a list of sub goals is a sure way to overwhelm yourself and stop your progress before it starts. Devote at least one page to each sub goal and take the time to list every step necessary to make it happen. For example, researching the market for a book idea involves checking Books In Print, looking through books at libraries and bookstores, looking at trends in Publishers Weekly and determining what publishers want.
- Be Specific and Quantify Your Baby Steps.
- Instead of setting down the task “browse bookstores,” a step that could theoretically take forever, give yourself instructions to “browse the psychology sections of Borders, Barnes and Nobel and Amazon to make a list of books similar to the one I want to write.” Tell yourself to make a list of five gallery owners to approach about showing your work, rather than “talk to gallery owners.” The more specific you can be, the better your chances are of accomplishing what you want to do.
- Set Deadlines.
- Set target dates for reaching your major goals and the sub goals that lead up to them. Once you’ve done that, set realistic times for accomplishing the baby steps on your to do list.
- Be Flexible.
- At the same time you work to meet these self-imposed deadlines, allow yourself some flexibility. If someone has already written a book so similar to the one you planned to do, you’ll need to begin coming up with ideas again. If none of the five gallery owners will talk with you, you’ll need to backtrack to expand your list. Set new deadlines in your progress log to reflect the changing circumstances.
- Begin Today.
- Even if you’re pressed for time, you can look in the phone book or do a quick Internet search for information you need to put your plan in action. You can sit at the computer for 20 minutes to begin drafting letter to a contact on your list. If baby steps take hours and hours to accomplish, they’re not baby steps. Break them down further.
- Keep a Daily Record of What You Did.
- If you went to the office supply store to get paper, that counts. If you read a professional magazine or painted for an hour or made a marketing related phone call, those count as well. Annotate these records with how each action went and what you learned. (This is also a great time to jot down sudden inspirations and names, phone numbers and addresses of potential contacts or markets.)
- Return to Your Daily Record to Jot Down Results.
- Should you start seeing unexpected patterns emerging, revise your steps or change your emphasis to reflect this new information. The time you invest in planning pays off by helping you move steadily and more efficiently toward making your creative vision a reality.