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How to prioritise

Advanced tips for writers

What do I write first?

You’ve found some writing time. You’ve got a range of projects or a range of ideas you could be working on. How do you know which one to prioritise? How do you know whether to try to tackle several writing projects at once, or whether to stick to one thing at a time?

For a long time I got hung up on this one. I would let other writing projects distract me from the thing that I had planned to work on. I ended up feeling guilty or hopelessly distracted. So here’s what I did. I’m sharing it in case it helps you too.

I got a lot of help from Dream Author, the coaching programme for writers I’m doing. Sometimes coaching is about drawing out what we already know to be true. I already knew about the planner that I talk about here, for instance, but Dream Author gave me the push I needed to sign up and make use of it. Dream Author enabled me to re-learn that values and goals go hand in hand. It also taught me the importance of decision-making.

Make a decision

So how did I learn how to prioritise my writing? First, I made a firm decision, knowing I could change that decision later. Knowing I had decided to work on several projects meant I no longer needed to feel guilty about it and I could plan for it. I also decided to enter only a choice few paid competitions. A few months later, I decided to focus only on my novel. Again, I could plan for it. Simply making the decision and then re-deciding when I wanted a change of focus was empowering.

Get a Planner

The Full Focus Planner (they’re not paying me to say this) has changed my life. I went through a period early on in the pandemic, when the schools first shut, of not planning my days at all. I had used a planner before that, but it was nowhere near as organised and focused as the Full Focus Planner – which enables you to prioritise what’s important and in line with your goals.

You pick a ‘big 3’ for your week, a set of tasks that will make the most difference if you get them done. You do the same for each day. If you follow the whole system – the planner itself still works if you don’t by the way – then there’s training to do, and you can make sure your goals are in line with your values.

The Planner is also designed to help you to preview and review each week and each quarter, and ultimately your year, if used in conjunction with Michael Hyatt’s book Living Forward. This has really helped me to check in with myself so I can make sure I’m doing the important things and not only the urgent things on my list.

You can find out about the Full Focus Planner here. Having said all that, ANY planner that allows you to keep track of your goals and what’s important to you will work.

Focus on your values

Do you know what your personal values are? If not, you might like to have a go at this exercise (which I’ve mentioned on the blog before) from James Clear, where he asks you to decide on your core values. Another way to bring them to mind is to keep asking yourself: What’s important to me? And then ask why? And then ask why? again until you can’t think of any more reasons. This might relate to your writing life like this:

  1. What’s important to me? Finishing my novel.
  2. Why? I value writing and the writing process.
  3. Why? I love getting my ideas down on the page.
  4. Why? I love being creative.

Values work as a way to validate your goals, but this technique works the other way round too. Once you know what your values are you can base goals on your values. If you have a ‘being creative’ or ‘being kind’ as values, you’re going to want to focus on living a life that enables you to be both kind and creative. Equally, you’re going to feel like something is missing (or you’re going to be downright miserable) if you are involved in work or activities that do not chime with these values.

Focus on your goals

Once you know your values, you can make sure your goals fit and that they are truly your goals and not borrowed from elsewhere. Asking ‘why?’ can also work with goals, because if you don’t have a clear ‘why?’ it will quickly become obvious that the goal isn’t really yours or that you’ve outgrown it.

Asking ‘why?’ – and getting as specific as possible – enables you to get to the ultimate goal behind your writing goal. For example, take the rather general goal of ‘writing a book’. Many people have this goal. But the ‘why?’ is likely to be much more specific and much more personal. Here are some possible ‘whys’ for I want to write a book, all different. You could probably add several more:

  • Because I want a successful career as a novelist.
  • Because I’ve always wanted to be a published poet.
  • Because a book would help me to promote my coaching business.
  • Because I need to publish to stay in my academic job.
  • Because I want my great-grandchildren to be able to read about my life.

I’ve written about this elsewhere in more detail, but I’ll summarise here: it also helps to take a look at the roles you play in life (some of mine are writer, mum, wife, lecturer, coach, patient, for instance) and to think about whether you have any goals related to those life areas. Don’t forget that ‘me caretaker’ is also a life role!

How to prioritise

As a writer, how do you use the information you’ve gained from following the above advice to enable you to prioritise? Take a look at the ‘whys’ you came up with. You should find the answer there. If your writing ‘why’ is to do with having a career as a creative person, then prioritise the writing projects most likely to bring you a return on investment, both in terms of time and money. If your writing ‘why’ is related to your great-grandchildren to be able to read your life story, forget about career goals, make time to write your memoir. If more than one thing presents itself, make a decision for now, and re-decide in 3 months time.

You might discover that the rather ubiquitous goal of ‘writing a book’ isn’t for you and you’d much rather write articles for magazines, or writing and perform poetry at spoken word events. Now put your planner to use. Make time for what’s important. If you do decide that writing a book is for you, this might be just what you’re looking for.

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Louise xx

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