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Goals, Dreams and To-do Lists

All three of the above things are a big part of being successful in any creative or business field so I thought I’d talk about all three, what they are, how they fit together and how to make the most of them, especially from a creative perspective.

Dreams are the things that make us get excited and buzzed, they’re a big part of living life and pretty much everyone has them. Often they consist of things like getting married and having kids but they also include things like writing novels, making movies and starting a business.

From that point dreams can get even more specific. You can dream of starting a business that eventually makes millions a year, or owning a bookshop chain across the country, or making the NYT bestseller list with a novel. They’re still dreams though as a lot of different factors need to come together to make them happen and not all of them are in your control.

Goals are milestone markers on the way to getting your dreams, but controllable by you. So if you were starting a business, the first goal might be to get your product and unique selling point defined, your next goal might be have your product in a shop of some kind, the next might be obtain an advertising plan so people can hear about you.

If you were doing something creative, it might be get a gallery worth of finished paintings, or write a series of novels. Either way, goals should be achievements that get you closer to those dreams, but something you can control and see yourself getting towards. It should be something relatively measureable, but it can still be a long-term thing and take years of effort to get to.

That’s where to-do lists come in. Sometimes each goal is huge and breaking it down into a list of tasks to tackle one by one can make the dreams and goals come closer inch by inch. It gives you something to focus on today in the here and now that isn’t as scary and overwhelming as dreaming of the NYT bestseller list or a million pound company.

Say that you’ve got your product and know why it’s good but you aren’t sure how to get the shop side of things going. The to-do list would make that easier. You can break down your goal into tasks, like:

  • Approach ‘this relevant’ shop chain about stocking your product.
  • Research the cost of getting a website set up to sell through.
  • Get website set up/Raise funds to pay someone else
  • Set up a facebook page that takes orders (or other useful social media)
  • Set up an Ebay account to sell through
  • Promote a launch event either physically or digitally (dependent on product)

Some of those can be broken down into smaller tasks again, but it gives the general idea, and each day when you get up you’ll have something you can work towards without worrying about how far you are from the dream. Before you know it you’ll have some of those goals passed (I fully believe in rewarding yourself at each milestone), and be well on your way to seeing your dream become a reality.

There will be tough days, there always are when you’re chasing dreams, but on those days I try to make sure a little something is done towards the goals and to-do list, even if it’s just to write a few more words of a story. Every day chipping away adds up until, step by step, you’ve reached the end. I personally don’t like making to-do lists, but time and time again, making one has helped my brain get through the fog of having a goal and feeling like I can’t get there. And there’s something amazingly satisfying about ticking things off to-do lists.

So if you have something that you’ve always dreamt of, work out what the exact dream is, break it down into milestones along the way and start making a to-do list of tasks to get you to that first goal. Then every day until you reach that goal, do something towards those tasks. And most importantly, keep dreaming.

Being organised

Organisation is not really the strong point for many creatives and I am no exception. I have a messy desk, I dislike feeling like I have a schedule to stick to, I find to-do lists constrictive and I get bored if there is too much routine in my life. I love the unexpected for many reasons.

I have found, however, that being a full time writer requires some discipline. It requires promoting, time management and all sorts of organisationally related things. Running two companies makes this all the worse.

As I started getting more to do I would sit and think for at least ten minutes each day trying to figure out what I should be doing. As I found I had more to do this length of time got worse until I succumbed to writing at the very least the title of each project on a piece of paper. While I only had 5 projects I was working on at once this worked quite well. It was enough to remind me of all the different aspects and my brain could do the rest.

Then I created a second company and agreed to a whole bunch of other things. I also found all my admin related stuff began to build up and being a creative I didn’t like doing it.  As only projects were on my list the emails and non creative things weren’t always remembered. On top of that I then actually published my book and had promoting, social networking and all that to fuss with. I suddenly had a list of things to do daily.

This is where evernote came to my rescue. It’s basically a note system that can be used on any computer smart phone etc no matter where you are. What had become three pieces of paper of current project, ideas for future projects and admin tasks, became a bunch of loose notes on some program I could close if I wanted to ignore it and go do something unexpected.

My first created note listed all my ideas for books that I think are likely to be worth writing, some might be more film based but they were the best of the bunch. It’s nice to know its there rather than just a list of character names somewhere in the back of my head. I also created a note for all Flight’s projects and the next stages and things I needed to think about. I don’t use that note as often as my business partner and I frequently discuss that stuff but it’s still useful for not forgettin anything.

The best note I created though was the daily task list. The things that I struggled with the most in my bleary eyed morning state while I was waiting for the caffiene to kick in. Now when I first get up I just open up evernote and that particular note, go through the list doing what it says and usually by the time I’m on the last item I’m actually awake. I found this alone saved me at least an hour in the mornings. Rather than sitting scratching my head about what I should be doing I could just get on and do it and get back to the fun writing stuff when it was done.

My next set of notes was the dreaded to-do-list notes and I have to admit I thought about how I wanted to do these for a while. I didn’t want them to feel pressured. As a result I decided to break them down by month. I also decided not to name them to-do-list but each month they were created in. So in May I created the first one. I put on it everything I knew I needed to do. Things like write letter to so and so, work on this t-shirt design, finish book 2 etc. Fairly loose instructions. Anything I had to have done by the end of the month I bolded.

Then when it got to June I created another one for June and if something new came up I added it to June’s note. For the first time ever I could glance at these lists and just pick something. If I feel behind I pick something older, if I’m bored of that I pick something else. Everything that needs to be done for a deadline is being done and at any one time I have an idea of how busy I am but I don’t have a to-do-list. Nothing but the few bolded things require me to worry about them particularly. And because I just put stuff I ‘want’ to do on the list I can change my mind and take it off again if I decide it’s not that important later.

It reminds me of the quote that a canvas needs edges to make a good painting. I think I found my edges. Evernote.