Updated: Jan 16, 2021
In this article, I offer some tips and techniques that I use to break down big projects and make them more manageable, especially at the start. If, like me, you struggle with initiating a new resolution or goal, this article might help you take the first step toward making your 2021 dreams come true! Read the first article in this series entitled 2020 Recap: From Fearful To Fearless here.
The First Step
For me, taking the first step on any new project is the hardest part. This is especially true if I know that the project will be difficult or time-consuming or if I’m unsure of what it entails. In these cases, I almost always procrastinate. For example, when it came to publishing a children's book, I sat on the dream for almost a year without taking any action. This was partly because I didn't know what action to take and partly because I suspected that publishing a book was going to be a lot of work, especially since I was starting from scratch. (Spoiler: I was right!) I knew that chasing this dream was going to take time and energy away from other things and that I was ultimately going to be held accountable for seeing it through (due to the finances involved). As a result, getting starting was difficult and scary, and it took me a while to finally go for it.
How did I finally get started? Unfortunately, I don't have a magical formula or extreme shortcut to success. For me, it has all come down to ACTION! Over the last year, I have taken a series of small, incremental steps toward making my dream come true. It hasn’t been quick or easy. There has been a steep learning curve, and it has required a lot of time, effort, and help from others; however, that's been a small price to pay, and the journey has already been worth every bit of it.
For me, it has all come down to ACTION! Over the last year, I have taken a series of small, incremental steps toward making my dream come true.
So, what actions did I take? Below are some strategies that I used to get started on my goal. My hope is that they will help you begin to work toward your 2021 goals or resolutions so that you can achieve more this year.
1. Officially commit to the goal.
One year ago, I made a list of personal goals for 2020. One of the items on that list was to “publish a children’s book.” I didn't yet know exactly what that entailed, but I had written it down, making it seem at least somewhat official.
In my opinion, if you record your dream or goal somewhere, it feels more real. So, go ahead...record your goal however you like to keep track of such things. You can make a note on your phone, on your computer, or on the nearest sticky note. Just record it somewhere that you can refer back to it and expand on it, if needed. Easy enough, right?
2. Research what the goal entails.
If, like me, you don't even know enough about your goal to know what you don't know, I suggest starting with research. When I initially jotted down "publish a children's book" as a personal goal, I had no idea what it actually involved. As it turns out, publishing a book isn’t just a single item on a checklist that can be accomplished in an afternoon. (Technically, I suppose it could, but I wouldn't recommend that route.) I still needed a plan of attack, to include a much more specific list of actions that I could take to progress toward the overarching goal. So, I did some research.
Since I was starting at Square 1, I initially researched the steps involved in publishing a book. I literally typed “How to publish a children’s book” into the Google search bar and read through several of the articles that populated.
None of those articles provided everything that I needed to know, but they were a decent starting point in that they led me to additional resources and helped me to formulate a list of questions that I could conduct further research on. For example, did I want to publish my book via traditional publishing or self-publishing? When I performed that initial Google search, I didn’t even know that those were the two basic options...seriously. However, through research, I slowly but surely figured out exactly what I didn't know and where to find the answers. Then, I read and read and...well, read some more.
Eventually, I had conducted at least a small amount of research on a myriad of publishing-related topics. I had read multiple books and countless blog articles and had taken several free online classes. I had listened to publishing podcasts and had joined multiple professional organizations, networking with their members, participating in their webinars, and absorbing as much information from them as I could. All of these things clarified my understanding of the goal, helped me to refine it, and aided in generating a list of defined actions that were required to achieve it.
How much research is enough? It depends on what your dream or goal is and whether or not you're starting from Square 1 like I did. It also depends on the type of person you are and how comfortable you are moving forward with the knowledge that you've gained. I spent approximately 4-6 weeks up front doing nothing but research, and I didn't move on until the articles and information that I was reading began to feel repetitive. Since then, I have continued to research relevant subjects as they've surfaced, and I've continued to search out opportunities to learn the craft as I go. That's just me, though. Do whatever feels right for you and your goal!
3. Organize your research.
Depending on how extensive your research phase is, you may accumulate a lot of informational materials. (I know I have.) As such, it's important to keep these materials as organized as possible from the beginning. Again, I recommend using whatever organization system works best for you and your goal, but I'll provide the methods that I have used as a reference guide.
At the start of my research, I created two documents in Microsoft Word to keep everything organized. The first document is titled "My Publishing Plan," and it includes a step-by-step guide to self-publishing a book that I devised based on my research. I have used this document to keep track of where I'm at in the overall process, and I have made sure to update and modify it as I have progressed. (Once my book is published, I plan to share the final version of this document with you. That way, if you ever decide to self-publish a book, you will have a head-start! 😊)
The second Word document is titled "Research Questions & Resources." Every time that I have stumbled upon a topic requiring further research or even a new resource to check out, I have typed a note to myself in this document. It includes separate sections for books, articles, online courses, webinars, podcasts, research questions, etc., and it has become my starting point for any additional publishing-related research.
In addition to these two documents, I have accumulated a ton of notes. Some are handwritten, while others are typed. Regardless of the method, however, all of my notes are organized in handy paper and electronic files, ready to be referenced at a moment's notice. In my opinion, you can never be too organized. 😊
The organization of the informational materials related to your personal goal may look very similar to or different from mine. Again, it just depends on what your goal is and how you prefer to keep track of its associated materials. At the very least, I hope that these tips encourage you to consider the organization of these materials early on in your journey so that you can refer back to them as needed. If these techniques assist you in setting-up an organization system that works for you, that's even better!
4. Refine the goal and create an action plan for achieving it, to include deadlines when possible.
Once you have a realistic idea of what your goal entails, it's time to refine the goal that you initially recorded. For me, this meant turning my initial "publish a children's book" goal into this: "Self-publish The Train Rolls On via my own LLC with the help of a crowdfunding platform and a professional editor, illustrator, and book designer."
At this point, I utilized "My Publishing Plan" to create a specific list of actions that I could take in order to achieve the refined goal. Here's what this process looked like for me:
First, I created a list of action categories.
I essentially took the major sections of “My Publishing Plan” and made each one the heading of a separate "to-do" list. At that time, the categories in which I needed to complete tasks included the following: Editing, Illustration, Author Website, Social Media Presence, Crowdfunding, Research, LLC Set-Up, and Other.
Next, I prioritized the action categories.
When prioritizing, I knew that I needed to have the manuscript fully edited before hiring an illustrator and that the illustrations can take six months or more to complete. Likewise, I knew that setting up an author website and social media presence would have the most impact if they were completed as soon as possible. Therefore, my completed, prioritized list looked like this:
Social Media Presence
Then, I created a separate "to-do" list for each category.
Each "to-do" list included the first 3-5 items that needed to be completed for each category. I prioritized the items and gave them deadlines when I could. Here is an example of what my Editing "to-do" list looked like at this stage:
a. Perform a thorough self-edit of manuscript.
b. Research developmental editors on Reedsy.
c. Request quotes from up to 5 developmental editors by Feb. 15th.
d. Research the logistics of submitting my manuscript to the editors.
i. What do they need in addition to the manuscript?
ii. Is a certain type of formatting required?
iii. What file type is required?
e. Submit self-edited manuscript to editor by Mar. 15th.
Finally, I followed the action plan.
Once I had a plan in place, I got to work checking off each "to-do" list item, always keeping the items' priorities (and those of their parent categories) in mind.
Honestly, creating and managing eight separate to-do lists did feel overwhelming at first; however, I took things one step at a time, one day at a time, and I always focused on the next item that needed to be done. Within a few months, I had completed almost everything on those lists and had made significant progress toward my goal. In the end, having separate "to-do" lists allowed me to keep track of my progress in each action category and to make progress on multiple fronts at the same time.
5. Update your action plan as you go.
Making a plan is a great start, but it's only the beginning. Because the specific actions that you need to take and their associated priority levels will inevitably change over time, I recommend modifying and updating your action plan as you work toward your goal. For example, as I worked through each "to-do" list, I crossed off completed items and added new ones that popped up, always keeping my eye on the highest-priority categories and highest-priority tasks.
Keeping The Momentum
In my experience, getting started is the hardest part. Since I got the ball rolling on my publishing dream, it hasn't been difficult to keep it in motion. The thrill of learning new things and seeing the book progress over time has kept me engaged and moving forward at a steady pace without having to think about it. I just try to keep my eye on my action plan and focus on the next task at hand.
Remember: Take it one step at a time!
I also try to take breaks if I'm feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, or frustrated. After a few days (or sometimes a week), I return to my plan feeling revitalized and ready to go again. So, if you find yourself getting stuck along the way, don't beat yourself up about it. Just take a break, and return when you're ready.
By committing to my dream, researching it thoroughly, refining it, creating an action plan, organizing that plan into several prioritized "to-do" lists, and always focusing on the next task to be completed, I have found myself well on my way to publishing my first children's book. Using these techniques, I was able to stop procrastinating and start achieving a life-long dream. My hope is that they will help you do the same. So, what are you waiting for? Stop procrastinating, and go for it! 😊
In the final article in this series, I share my personal and professional goals for 2021 and how I plan to achieve them. Check it out here!