The benefits of Lists

Everyone knows that lists are great for ensuring you don’t forget something. Lists are used for this purpose when shopping or packing for holidays. Too think this is all that lists are good for would be a grave mistake. Did you know that lists can also serve as a great motivational tool?

When it comes to being a handy-man, my skill levels are somewhere south of average. Partly as a result of this, the number of tasks requiring attention in our house is often large. My patient and long-suffering wife recently commented on the number of outstanding items: locks to be put on cupboards, shelves to be erected, weeds to be sprayed, and on and on.

As she counted the tasks on the fingers of her left hand, then moved to the right, and back to the left, my heart sunk. It was all I could do to maintain an interested expression. And then, inspiration struck.

“Write them on a list,” I said. “I’ll look at the list every weekend and knock a couple off on Saturday and a couple on Sunday.”

She looked dubious. “If you say so,” she said. Taking pen and pencil, she wrote the list.

The next Saturday, as we ate lunch I asked her for the list. She passed it across. I scanned it quickly and pointed to a couple of jobs. “I’ll do these two this afternoon,” I said. And I did.

The tasks didn’t take too long – an hour or so – but the results were very pleasing. I have a sense of accomplishment and my wife has a smile on her face. With the list in place, I’m confident I’ll continue to make inroads over the coming weeks. Hopefully I’ll be able to cross things off faster than they’re added.

When I have a large challenge in front of me – whether it’s on the writing front, the domestic scene or at work – I find lists are a great way to get started, and the thrill of crossing out completed items provides the ongoing motivation to keep me forging ahead.

Do lists work for you?

Is there such a thing as Post-Goal Letdown?

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I place some importance on goal setting. (For example, see The Daily Habit, 700 Words a Day and Which Goals to Chase). However, it would be a mistake to think that I believe achieving goals is the only important thing in life.

In my experience, whenever I have put too much emphasis on any individual goal, I’ll inevitably feel a sense of post-goal let-down once I have achieved it. I don’t know if this is because chasing it has consumed so much of my time and energy that its absence leaves a gaping hole in my life when it is no longer there to pursue, or if it is simply because I can tend to build things up in my mind to be bigger than they are, or maybe because there is always something else to be done even after the loftiest of goals have been achieved. The sense of letdown may come hours, days or weeks after achieving the sought after goal, but it will surely occur.

In my mind, I think that expecting the achievement of some major goal to bring about deep satisfaction is similar to thinking that money will buy happiness. However, I’ve always found that a pay-rise, new car or new furniture has a lack of impact on my overall sense of happiness or well-being.

The bottom line? My view is that the journey is more important than the destination. If goals are the be-all and the end-all, you can miss much of the fun and interest along the way, and when you do complete a task, you’ll find it was never quite as satisfying as you envisaged it might be. But if you focus on enjoying the journey, and make sure you have a range of interests and activities in train at all times, then a life of satisfaction and achievement beckons.

Which goals to chase?

Life is busy and our time is limited. How do you work out which goals to go after and which to ignore?

I try to make these major decisions in a holistic way by looking at my entire life and lifestyle so that I can prioritise between my many competing demands.

Unless you’re a professional tennis player, it’s not as simple as just choosing one goal and following it blindly. Most of us need to make our goals work in the context of a balanced life. For that reason, we need to think about goals as they relate to:

- Our family, relationships and personal life;

- Our career and study;

- Our friends;

- Our community interests; and

- Our personal pursuits such as hobbies or exercise or sport;

Every extra bit of effort we put into one of those dimensions can take focus away from another. Of course, we can often satisfy two dimensions at once. If we enjoy playing sport with our friends, that will satisfy the friendship dimension and our personal pursuit dimension.

One technique I have used is to list down each of those five dimensions in a spreadsheet, one on each row. In the first column I write down my current level of satisfaction with each dimension; in the second, I write down where I’d like it to be in the future (eg what I’d like to achieve or contribute in 1 year or 3 years time).

By considering all of the dimensions on the same sheet of paper, it means I am less likely to set unrealistic goals in any single dimension. If I want to chase one goal particularly hard, I will at least do so knowingly and can consciously choose to sacrifice one of the other dimensions.

I have found that using this technique to get the big picture right helps me plan my day to day and week to week activities, the achievement of which gradually contributes to the achievement of long term goals.

Reference: I have adapted this technique using some of the principles of “Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind,” which is explained in Stephen R. Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Follow the link for more information on the 7 Habits.

700 words a day

An old joke asks, “How do you eat an elephant?”. The answer is “one mouthful at a time.”

If someone asked me, “How do you write a novel?” I’d give them a similar response. My answer would be, “700 words at a time.”

One of the most important aspects to being a writer is to write. In my case, once I have worked out the outline of my novel, I aim to contribute 700 words each and every day. Maintaining this rate over a period of a week will see around 5,000 words generated. Maintain this for ten weeks and 50,000 words will have been created. If the average novel is 50,000 to 100,000 words, this means you can have a first draft ready anywhere between ten and twenty weeks after completing a detailed plan.

Of course, writing seven days a week is not easy. Even by maintaining this rate for 5 days a week, a first draft could be completed in fifteen to thirty weeks.

700 words a day is not an impossible task, even for someone with a full time job and family responsibilities. To achieve this may require anywhere between thirty and ninety minutes a day. This could be achieved by waking up early, using your lunch break or foregoing a television show.

Of course, this approach assumes you’ve been able to develop a detailed plan and you maintain consistency in your writing. More about both of these topics later.

The other really important message is that completion of a first draft does not equate to having a novel of publishable standard. That too is a topic for another day.

For now, and assuming you do want to write a novel, think about whether you could achieve a production rate of 700 words per day.