Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Five Reasons Academics Should Set Writing Goals

Some writers may see the setting of goals as the purview of corporate types and far too unromantic for creative tasks. I, however, have found setting writing goals to enhance, not stifle, my productivity and creativity. Setting goals allows me to prioritize my time and tasks and to make sure that my most important tasks are accomplished.

I set goals both for tasks I will accomplish over the course of the semester, month, and week as well as goals for how much time I will dedicate each day to writing. For example, my goals for the Fall Semester include: 1) Drafting two chapters of my book on deportees; 2) Checking and coding my interviews from the Dominican Republic and Brazil; and 3) Making the final revisions to my book on immigration policy. My goals for next week include: 1) Putting the final touches on a conference presentation and 2) Submitting the final draft of a co-authored book chapter. During the Fall Semester, I plan to write for at least one hour a day and code interviews for at least 30 minutes a day.

I learned about goal-setting from Kerry Ann Rockquemore, and have found setting goals to be enormously helpful in terms of my productivity. In this blog, I give five reasons why I find setting goals to be useful.

Reason #1: Setting goals allows you to track your progress, and to feel more productive.
For example, when I set goals for the semester, at the end of the semester, I can see how much I have accomplished. In academia, often, no matter how productive you are, it never seems to be enough. When you learn to set reasonable goals, however, you can feel good about having accomplished them. Often, I might feel as if I have not done very much in a semester. However, once I look over my goals and look at all I have accomplished, I feel more productive.

Reason #2: Setting goals on a regular basis allows you to figure out how much work you can accomplish and helps you to avoid becoming overburdened.
Many academics find themselves unable to meet deadlines and running breathlessly to the finish line. Some people enjoy these marathon sprints. I, however, prefer to move slowly and steadily. Having set goals for the past three years, I have a very good idea as to what I can accomplish in a month, a semester, or a year. Thus, when I am at my limit, I know when to say “no” to additional obligations.

Reason #3: Setting goals helps you to stay on task.
If, at the beginning of the semester, you have an R&R, copy-edits on a manuscript, two article reviews, and a new chapter to draft, you can prioritize those tasks by setting goals. I set my goals and make plans for what will get done when on the basis of deadlines and the time tasks will take. If you start the semester working on the new chapter, you may never get to the R&R or article reviews – which are likely time-sensitive tasks. You will probably feel better about your progress if you get the smaller tasks done first and then move on to the larger, more daunting task of drafting a new chapter. Setting goals helps you to plan and organize your time effectively.

Reason #4: Setting goals helps you to move along at a steady pace.
For example, I usually set a goal of writing at least one hour each day. On days when I have fewer other obligations, I set a goal of writing for two hours. As I know I have a goal of writing at least 60 minutes each day, I make sure to find that time each day, Monday to Friday, to write. This helps to keep my projects fresh in my mind and make it easier to pick up where I left off whenever I need to.

Reason #5: Setting goals helps you know when to stop.
As I mentioned above, I have a good sense of how much time I can dedicate each day to writing, and how much I can accomplish in a semester. When I reach my writing goals – in terms of time or tasks – I stop. Stopping when I know I have done enough allows me to enjoy the time I spend doing non-work related or non-writing related tasks. Having set goals and met them allows me to enjoy the rest of my life guilt-free.

Setting goals is not necessarily about being more productive. It is about learning how to find the time in your life to do the things you want and need to do. In my life, writing is important, but so are teaching, parenting, my friends, my family, and my community. Setting goals allows me to make time for each of those.

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