6.9.16 - On Planning, Tracking, and Rewards (Perfection Series, Part IV)

On Planning, Tracking, and Rewards

I’m wrapping up the series on perfection today. We’ve discussed how perfection can be paralyzing, and also how it can push you to great success. I think it’s also important to talk about HOW we beat this pernicious beast. Because in the end, the only thing that matters is finishing your manuscript.

All creatives experience fear and resistance. The professionals are the one who conquer them.


There are many ways up this particular mountain, all of them worthy. But I think there is an overarching functionality that can be applied to the process of finishing, regardless of which method you choose. 

First, and most importantly, you have to find your time.
 

Whether you’re getting up 30 minutes early to write before anyone in your houses rises, staying up after your people go to bed, or you have all day to yourself, every creative has a sweet spot during which their creativity levels shoot through the roof. If you don’t already know when your creative sweet spot is, start experimenting. Work in the morning, the afternoon, the evening. See what feels right. Then rebuild your world around that time.

My very best time is from 2–6pm in the afternoon. I try to get going well before that, but I really hit my stride in the late afternoon. Knowing I work better during that time frame, I usually do business in the morning, then I turn on my Freedom app and block everything else out for some serious deep work time.

Second, once you’ve found your ideal time, guard it with your life.
 

No one will respect your time if you don’t respect it yourself. Create a proverbial lion’s den for yourself. Lock doors, make signs, whatever you need to do, but train those around you to stay off your creative lawn from X o’clock to X o’clock, and don’t allow anyone to deviate from this (including you) unless it’s a real emergency. It might be difficult at first, but people are malleable. They’ll come around. 

Third, when you do have your sweet spot and you’ve created your lion’s den, don’t waste time inside of it.
 

Fifty years from now, which would you prefer to be known for: writing great novels (paintings, stories, sculptures, etc.) or having a fantastic Facebook page? Stay focused. Set a timer, use an Internet blocker like Freedom, hang a Sword of Damocles above your desk—whatever you need to stay on point, do it. 

Fourth, create your quantifiables.
 

This is the reward system you have in place to keep you motivated. By reward I don’t mean a bucket of chocolate every 100 words. I mean a system for tracking your work. I use these spreadsheets. I love the detail I can create—from time served (ahem, spent) in the chair to how many words I get a day. I can set goals, track my word output from month to month, annually, every thing. I’ve been using this system for years, and it works great. 

But for fun, I have added a second tracking system. Remember back in school, you’d get a gold star or a silver star on your paper when you’d done a good job? My friend Victoria Schwab has invented this means of reward, only for adult creatives.

Visual goal tracking is a huge help when you’re trying to stay on target. I’ve adapted this for myself, with a calendar I can bring with me everywhere, and slightly different measurables. It’s wonderful to be able to glance at the month view and see where you are. 

Four steps to success: Find your time, create your lion’s den, do the work, measure the work. Simple. Straightforward. Doable.
 

I can hear some of you, right now, saying, “But JT, why do I need to track all of this. What a pain, what a hassle.”

To which I say, bosh. All professionals track their productivity in some way. If they don’t track it themselves, their bosses track it for them. In the professional world, if you don’t meet your goals, you get fired. Why is creativity any different?

Yes, you’re a creative, but you’re also in business.
 

The sooner you cast aside the dewy-eyed notion that you’re only in it for the exploration, the faster you’ll start to see success. 

How do you measure your success? Is it word count, books published, sales? Reviews, followers? Money earned? 

That, my dears, it completely up to you. 

Whatever measure you go by, consistency is key. You have to hold yourself accountable if you have any hope of building a career in the arts.
 

And with that, here endeth the series. 

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J.T. Ellison

J.T. Ellison is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of fifteen critically acclaimed thrillers and is the co-author of the Nicholas Drummond series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. With over a million books in print, Ellison’s work has been published in twenty-five countries and thirteen languages. She is also the co-host of A Word on Words, Nashville's premier literary TV series, which airs on Nashville Public Television. She lives with her husband and twin kittens in Nashville. Visit JTEllison.com, and follow her on Twitter @Thrillerchick or at Facebook.com/JTEllison14.