7 tips for staying motivated by self-created deadlines

The other day I commented about how “It’s so tricky to be your own deadline-maker” on my progress page on my Writer’s Circle site.  One of my lovely group members wrote back and said, “If you have some tips for how to be more motivated by self-set deadlines, I would love to try them.”

So like last week, I’m continuing my theme of answering questions that have come up in my Writer’s Circle that I felt would be useful for everyone to think about. (And before your eyes glaze over if you’re not a writer, don’t worry, you can use these techniques too.)

And here they are:

7 tips for staying motivated by self-created deadlines

As you read through these, see if you notice how I use external forces to keep the internal deadlines moving ahead.

1. Use Jedi mind tricks.

If at all possible, find a reason to believe in the significance, importance, and the power of the deadline. If you create a deadline, but you internally decide that it’s flexible or not important, you won’t stay motivated by it. So find a reason that makes your deadline compelling.

For instance, my current compelling deadline for the ebook project I’m working on is the result of mapping out my launch calendar for 2013 with my business consultant, and it’s pretty clear that unless I stay more or less on track with it, there will be a rather significant snowball effect of Other Things Not Working, which will have a negative ripple effect throughout the entire year.

Of course we built some wiggle room and flexibility into the schedule, but knowing that if I don’t meet my “ship date” for my ebook project, I’m only going to create stress and discomfort for myself. It’s highly motivating to keep me on track. (See also #2, taking care of your tomorrow self, below.)

Similarly, even if you don’t have an editor, agent, producer, audience, or manager (yet) clamoring for your latest project, you can find deadlines for it to help you stay inspired all the way to completion, like signing up for a contest and aiming to get your project submitted by their deadline.

In my case, I know the next ProSeries Producer’s Meeting is coming up this summer, so I have a deadline for finishing my script naturally built into my 2013 plan.

We can call these “self-created” deadlines, because we choose them ourselves — we make them extrinsic deadlines to help us stay motivated internally.

2. Take care of your tomorrow self too.

I have learned — finally, it’s been hard — to take care of my “tomorrow self” as well as my “today self.” In other words, when you’re tempted to slack off on your deadline, take the long view, and have compassion for the future self who’s about to bear the brunt of today’s workload.

When I’m only looking at things from the vantage point of my today self, even though I’d love to THINK that since there’s no big deadline looming on the immediate horizon I can take the day to get caught up on small tasks and admin, when I remember to think of my tomorrow self, I know SHE’LL be the one to pay the price for that kind of thinking.

Pacing myself is good for all the versions of me — it keeps me happy now, today, tomorrow, and beyond.

3. If you can’t find a reason for the deadline, invent one.

Alternatively, if you can’t find any more natural means of making a deadline motivating, create one. My favorite tool here is something we call “social accountability,” and it has to do with promising at least one other human being that you’ll be delivering said project on a specific date, ideally at a specific time.

For instance, you can agree to exchange projects for feedback or notes with a fellow writer on a certain date, or invest in a mentoring relationship where your mentor is waiting to review your work with you. I like to schedule appointments with my mentor in advance of having my next 15 pages written — it’s terrifically motivating to get me to complete them.

I also like to let my audience know when they can expect things. For instance, when you sign up for my mailing list, you’ll receive a welcome message letting you know that you can expect to receive my weekly blog post in an ezine format every Wednesday. To strengthen that deadline for myself, I’ve even set up my mailing list system (Aweber*) to automatically broadcast my blog post at 6 p.m. Eastern Time, which means that unless I have it done before then, it won’t go out on time, which means extra work for me.

An accountability party is another powerful way to create a motivating deadline. I picked up this idea from Barbara Sher’s books. The idea is to host a party — you pick the deadline — where you’ll be celebrating the completion of your project with your friends and family.

4. If you don’t have a deadline, focus on taking consistent action.

Now, all this said, one of the interesting aspects of the Writer’s Circle is that it can help you stay motivated and taking action even when you don’t have a deadline. Writing projects are long-term commitments, and staying motivated with them can be tricky. But if you focus on taking small, consistent, daily action, as we recommend to our Writer’s Circle participants, you WILL eventually reach the end of your project. You actually DON’T HAVE TO HAVE a deadline to get yourself into action.

Personally, I like to use all of the methods I’ve described here in combination. I set myself up for the regular daily action, combined with self-selected externally motivated deadlines and invented interim deadlines. The way I figure it is this: The more the better. I use every trick in the book to keep myself going. And it works.

5. Reverse engineer your project and get super specific about the details.

Once you’ve gotten clear on your deadline, start dividing up your project into manageable chunks, whether it’s chapters, word counts, or time periods. You will likely be able to identify a natural increment you can work with. Then map that out over the time period you have allotted for your project.

For instance, with my ebook project, I have three ebooks that I’m aiming to write approximately 15,000 words for each, for a total of 45,000 words. This means that I can look at the time frame I have, divide it up into reasonable increments, let’s say 1125 words per day, 5 days per week, for 8 weeks. (And also, by telling you about it, I’m creating social accountability for myself. See what I did there?)

What’s motivating about this is seeing exactly what it will take to make my goal. That’s a fair bit of work, right? And if I don’t pace myself, I’ll end up paying for it in a big binge and burnout. Not fun, not pretty. And certainly motivating to avoid, albeit in a somewhat “I don’t want that” kind of way.

6. Set up time to actually fulfill the project.

Once you’ve reverse-engineered your project, then create time in your calendar for fulfillment. You can’t “ship” the thing until you’ve created it, right? So get out your calendar and carve out time, ideally first BEFORE you do all other stuff that normally eats up your day — I know you know what I’m talking about, but just in case: email, Facebook, Twitter, games, futzing around, etc — and be realistic about what you can actually accomplish.

I can write 1000 to 2000 words in an hour, depending on the topic, so I know I’ll want to have at least 5 hours per week carved out to meet my 1125 word deadline, working at a fairly brisk pace. Keeping in mind the big picture helps me get serious about keeping my head down and getting to work when that window of time rolls around on my calendar.

7. Do the work.

Once you’ve got the time on your calendar, be prepared for the resistance to show up. It’ll come in all forms — your mom calling just when you’re supposed to start writing, or an “urgent” email popping into your inbox, or the dirty dishes in the sink suddenly becoming alluring. Recognize that long term projects, even with highly motivating deadlines, are darn difficult beasts to face. There’s always something more we’d rather be doing.

Something that helps me tremendously with this is the Writer’s Circle. As we’re growing, we’re adding more and more group writing sprints, where we come online and write collectively for an hour together. I’ve learned to schedule my project writing time with the group sprints, so not only do I have it on my calendar, I also have accountability to actually show up and do the work.

It’s so motivating and helps keep me focused when I would otherwise be tempted to postpone my writing sessions.

Yep, even me.

So be ready, with every trick at your disposal, to fend off the voices that tell you that other things are more important. They’re not. Remind yourself of your big picture deadline, why you’ve designed it that way, and do the work.

Your turn

What works for you? You know I love to hear from you.

Experiment for yourself

Join the Writer's CircleIf you’re a writer looking for community and support on your writing journey, join our next session of the Writer’s Circle. It’s like a giant sandbox where you get to experiment with your writing habit, see what works, see what doesn’t, and have fun playing alongside other writers committed to showing up and doing the work. Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com







How to make writing a whole lot easier

To celebrate the start of the next session of my Writer’s Circle this coming Monday, I’m sharing a free series on “How to Find the Courage to Tell the Stories You Are Longing To Tell.”

Today’s fourth and final post completes the series with thoughts on “How to Make Writing A Whole Lot Easier.”

  • To read the first post in the series, “Why It Requires Courage to Write”, click here.
  • The second post, How to Spot the Stealthy Smokescreens that Stop You From Writing, is here.
  • Yesterday’s post, “How to Find Your True Stories”, is here.

How to make writing a whole lot easier

It can sound like the easiest thing in the world to write. But when it comes to sitting down and facing the blank page, writing can be downright terrifying. Perhaps surprisingly to some, it takes a lot of courage to overcome all the fear, self-doubt, stories, and resistance to making it happen.

What I’ve seen is that when you take action to do the following things for yourself, writing becomes much much harder NOT to do. And that makes it SO much easier.

  1. Find peer support.

    Connect with other writers. Be part of a community. Live and breathe writing and talk about it with other people who are actively engaged in writing and are firmly committed to their writing, come hell or high water.

    Personally, I’m part of several writing communities, including my online Writer’s Circle, my screenwriting class, and the online Scriptchat community. I make it a priority to hang out with writers who are writing regularly — and not just talking about it.

  2. Create social accountability.

    Give yourself public deadlines and set public goals to use the tool of social accountability. When other people know you are promising and intending to do finish your writing project by a certain date and you know they are watching, it’s a LOT harder not to do it.

  3. Create solid writing habits.

    Make yourself a writing schedule, use a timer to write in sprints, start early in the morning or write late at night — what matters is that you write and that you write regularly. And by the way, regularly means as close to daily as you can muster (my preference is 6 to 7 days per week).

    Writing regularly, and sticking to it, surprisingly makes writing much, much easier. Back in the days when I used to write my newsletter on a monthly basis, it felt like scraping my fingernails over a dry chalkboard just to get myself going. But now that I’m blogging on a weekly basis and screenwriting on a daily basis, I find that I’m always running article ideas and story lines through my mind, which makes it oh-so-much easier to jump into when the writing clock chimes at 6 a.m. (actually it’s 5:45 a.m. these days, but who’s counting?).

  4. Have a willing spirit of adventure.

    Enjoy the ride — have a willing spirit of adventure. Writing is an up and down journey. I LOVE it, AND, there are days when I feel like being run over by a truck might be a little bit easier. Thank goodness I have my writing communities to cheer me up on those days. Ride the highs and surf the lows, knowing you’ll make it to the other side.

  5. Be deeply honest with yourself.

    You want to write, right? Be honest with yourself about that and what it will cost you if you don’t write. Also be honest with yourself about how scared you are to do it and about how you are creating obstacles to your writing. Only then can you face and overcome them.

  6. Make a commitment to write.

    Decide, right now, that you are going to write, no matter what. Then do it.

    Make a “Life Decision” about this, as Dr. Phil calls it, to follow your dream of writing. Once you’ve made that decision, there’s no turning back. Stop dipping your foot in the pond of your dream and start making it a reality. There’s no way to do it but one step at a time, even if it’s two steps forward and one step back for a while.

  7. Have the courage to write regularly.

    Having the courage to write means doing it without fail, even in the face of fear, self-doubt, and those savage attacks by your inner critic telling you that you won’t succeed.

    One day when I came home from dropping off my son at school, I realized that I was terrified to work on the next scene in my script, and I felt like I was frogmarching myself to the guillotine as I approached my computer. I said to myself, “I see you, fear, and you cannot stop me. I can at least write out the scene heading. I can at least chose the characters for the scene. I can at least brainstorm what I’d like to see happen.”

And with a little coaxing and a lot of courage, I was off and writing.

This concludes our series on How to Find the Courage to Tell the Stories You Are Longing To Tell.” If you enjoyed the series, I’d love to hear from you in the comments on my blog. Thanks for reading!

About the Writer’s Circle

I inspire writers to find the courage to share the stories they are secretly longing to tell but are afraid won’t be heard or welcomed. If you’d like company on your writer’s journey, I want to invite you to join the next session of my “Just Do The Writing” Accountability Circle, which starts this coming Monday, February 20th. In the Writer’s Circle, you’ll find all the peer support and accountability you need to have the courage to write regularly.

Registration closes TODAY, February 16th.

Find out more and register here: http://JustDoTheWriting.com.

“I’m now working on a manuscript that has haunted me for 5 years…and there’s nary a chain rattle anymore.”

“This Writer’s Circle is such a wonderful experience, and it’s changed the way I look at writing…in a GOOD way! I’m now working on a manuscript that has haunted me for 5 years…and there’s nary a chain rattle anymore. I’m finally putting myself and my writing on the priority list. I’m also excited and inspired by the sense of community with other writers that was wholly lacking from the rest of my life. If you’re looking for help with your writing, join the Writer’s Circle now!”

~ Terri Fedonczak, Certified Martha Beck Life Coach, www.alifeinbalance.com