by Diane Holmes, (a) Chief Alchemist of Pitch University, (b) lover of learning, and (c) writer of fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional manifesto
Failure is an option.
And who knew you could fail in so many spectacular ways?
Well, as your fearless, Freelance-Zone correspondent, I’ve tried them all in an effort to bring this travesty to light. (Oh, noes, the brightness of “travesty light” is too much! I must be carried offstage on soft bedding, surrounded by the cliché of cabana boys! Quick, quick, boys! Pamper me….)
Take the Failure Quiz: #19 – #34
Do you answer YES to any of these? If so, your goal may not have a chance in hell.
(Just joining the fun? #1 – #18 are HERE.)
#19 You think if you get behind today, you can make it up tomorrow.
Goals fail one day at a time. The first day of failure is your only chance to catch the problem and create a solution (which is never the word ‘tomorrow.’)
HINT #1: The solution is to re-plan, not to work extra hours. For you to stay on target you’ll already have to work extra hours, because everyone –even you—underestimates the time needed to achieve a goal.
HINT #2: Re-planning involves changing something! The deliverables, the goal, the date, the people involved, the success criteria, or something else substantial.
And yet, what do people do? Everyone decides the human resource (you) should just work harder and faster. If that were a solution, you’d already be doing it and not be behind.
#20 You don’t track meaningful metrics.
Met-what? Units of meaning. For example,
- Hours spent writing are only useful and meaningful if you’re paid by the hour.
- Words or pages per day are only meaningful metrics when combined with project milestones (what needs to be accomplished by the end of those words or pages).
- Marketing effort and investment only makes sense compared to results (unless your goal was to spend a lot of time and money with no results).
So what does make sense?
- Progress through a story by Act and Scene/Event.
- Forward movement through a script based on the steps in the Hero’s Journey.
- Effectiveness of hours spent writing. (3 hours writing = completed 1 article, plus Act II, Scene 37)
- Success of marketing efforts. Called 5 business to partner in January marketing event, got 1 yes. Time: 45 minutes.
#21 You don’t use your metrics as a reality check.
If it consistently takes you about 15 hours to write a scene, you might not like that fact, but it is all yours to own, for better or worse.
Soooooo tempting to want it to take only 2 hours. Yes, my preciousssss. Other people… they can do it in 2…..
Stop that. Magical thinking is not your friend.
#22 Tangents R Us. You don’t know your critical path.
You’re focusing on the wrong things. Doing the wrong things.
(Sometimes it’s even your focus/obsession on the planning down to the tiniest detail, color-coding it, and putting it all in Excel.)
Know your critical path. Track the critical path. Everything else is just pretty and shiny.
What is your critical path? It’s the core doing-ness that actually puts you one step closer to your goal, in a real way.
It’s not just a task that is linked to your topic or would be nice to do.
This is the task that if you don’t do it, the next piece of work can’t be done. Making it (ahem) critical.
Want a little test? It’s the work that (a) if you don’t do it today, the project can not move forward tomorrow, and (b) you won’t reach your goal ever.
It’s easy to spend time on tasks that aren’t on the critical path. Frankly, when something matters less, it’s less stressful and easier to approach.
But it doesn’t really help no matter how you justify it, even if you need it eventually. Eventually isn’t your critical path. Eventually is la-la land.
#23 You plan to track work-in-progress instead of completed tasks.
Okay, you’re going to swear I’m wrong about this.
You’re going to demand the work you’ve started be somehow recognized. But counting partially-done work is how projects fail (especially large projects).
Let’s say you’ve had ideas for 37 articles, plus written parts of 14 articles, and have 3 articles waiting for your to edit. That’s a lot of work.
But how many articles/tasks are complete? None. If the client calls today, can you give her the parts of your 14 articles? No.
By refusing to count partial tasks, you have a chance to actually see this truth and focus on finishing something.
If you count partial work, it looks like you’re doing a lot and are really making progress in fulfilling your clients order for 75 newsletter articles (your goal). You might decide to start a few more articles without finishing anything. You might not realize you can’t get everything finished before the deadline. And so on.
All counting partial work does is make you feel better.
#24 You don’t have distortion-proof project tracking.
The Reality Distortion Field. Ah, yes.
While we’re on the subject of rose-colored glasses and making it look like you’ve got a lot done, let’s decide to make reality our friend, no matter what.
Even when there’s bad news.
Spin leads to failure. It never helps. Never. Don’t bend your tracking to make you feel better.
#25 You focus on completeness over satisfaction, intent, usefulness, elegance, and your reputation.
If quality really doesn’t matter, you have an interesting product/service model.
#26 You haven’t incorporated customer delight into the critical path.
Okay, back to the critical path. If your chosen goal must ultimately delight someone other than yourself, then your goal/project’s critical path must be chock full of customer/reader/editor/whatever delight.
It’s not enough to get a check mark, to do something that satisfies your goal but not the customer’s goal.
So let me be specific:
The customer’s goal is to be wowed. Whatever they want (even if they don’t know it they want it yet), it has to jump up (out of the mass of look-alikes) and kiss them full on the mouth.
It must be love at first sight all over again.
#27 You haven’t planned for failure, de-motivation, and life catastrophes.
I’m no fun, I know. But we’re friends with reality now. We know that in the past we’ve experienced things that have interrupted our goals.
We know this, so we can plan for them, mentally, emotionally, and otherwise.
#28 You are counting on being a “new, improved person” as part of this goal.
Okay, I’ve done this too. But then I made friends with reality and quit doing that.
#29 You haven’t incorporated a deep, on-going set of rewards that is geared specifically to what makes you tick.
If you think you’ll work forever on this goal, need no motivation along the way, and find your journey easy and satisfying, you’ve set a pretty easy goal, my friend.
Everyone else, start testing rewards to see what really works. And whatever you think motivates you, according to a recent Harvard study, you’re wrong, it’s actually THIS.
#30 You haven’t considered penalties for non-performance.
Let the beatings begin.
Okay, I’m kidding. But also take time to think about what will happen if you don’t meet your small task or your large goal. Don’t make up stuff or give into drama (Oh, I’ll be such a failure-head!)
But if nothing happens, and you find you don’t care if you fail, then it’s pretty much busy work and not goal-worthy.
#31 You haven’t prevented Scope Creep.
Scoop Creep is that good idea you or your client had after you made your plan. You say, “Oh, yeah, that should be no problem to add. It’s easy.”
Or you think of a plot twist that will require the first 150 pages to be re-written.
It’s not that you should say NO. It’s that you should re-plan if you say YES.
#32 You’re not elevating the needs and wants of your client/reader above your own needs and wants.
This, of course, only applies if the result of your goal will intersect with another human being. But assuming you have a writing goal that requires a reader, pay attention.
Readers aren’t interested in what you want. (Selfish creatures. But aren’t we all.) They just want to read what they want.
Same with marketing.
And so on.
Delighting other people is about service to others. We can sometimes forget that in pursuing OUR dreams, which is about service to us.
Just saying. (Because I don’t want you to fail.)
#33 You forget to consider your own needs and wants, too.
You matter. It’s your heart and soul here. Please don’t be one of the unhappy people who hate what they do.
#34 Timeline too long. Project too big.
Let’s say you’ve answered NO to #1 – #33. Awesomeness.
But there’s one last trap. Is your project big and audacious? Will it take months and months(or years and years)?
Bigness in size and time is a risk. A lot can happen to any of the thousands of small successes needed to pull it off.
But go for it anyway. Everything has risk.
Just be extra rigorous about the other 33 tests. If a big project topples, the thud is louder and you could get hurt. Don’t want that.
So make a vow today. Get more mentors. You’ll need them.
Diane writes two columns for Freelance-Zone: (1) Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and (2) Marketing-Zone: Marketing Yourself and Your Writing.