One of my difficulties with goal setting is that the idea of breaking something down into smaller steps makes so much sense.  But even when I do this – it doesn’t necessarily make the tasks any easier.

But as I read The Procrastination Equation there was one thought that really hit home for me: if you can’t write a whole section of a paper, then just start with the headings.

The headings?  I can write headings.

And now I realize that I’ve been subdividing my tasks all wrong.  I’ve been breaking it down into sections of text.  When I should have been breaking it down by type of work.  And having each type of work build on the step before.

One of my three outstanding projects is a paper.  And I dislike writing, specifically academic writing.  So in this blog post, I’m going to rework my goal setting for this paper.

My previous system was by section: background – methods – results – discussion – conclusion – abstract.  And then I broke each section down into subsections (if applicable) and then I broke down each subsections into pieces of text.  But the problem is that these aren’t really discrete tasks.  Writing one paragraph means referring to other paragraphs, and possibly editing them etc etc.

So this is my new system:

  1. Write Headings & Subheadings: This creates sections of text, where I can itterrate the following steps:
  2. Select Paragraph Topics:  Goal is to select a topic for each paragraph in the section, that’s all.  But this will sneakily outline the section.
  3. Outline each Paragraph in Point Form:  For this step, I can use my own language with my own quirks (rather than formal academic language), because I’m the only one who needs to understand what I’m saying.  At the end of this step, I will have a very detailed outline for the section.  And it’s possible that by simply rewriting the outline to turn each point into a sentence, I can end up with a pretty good first draft.
  4. Write a first draft paragraph, marking spaces for references but not worrying about finding the refs.  Referencing bogs me down, and stresses me out.  So by taking away the references, it should make writing easier.  But if I know exactly where the reference is (ie, it’s not taking any more energy from me) then I can include it.
  5. Add in 3 References, and repeat this until the document is fully referenced. I can handle a couple references at a time.  This should be a focused-enough goal, that I can do it.
  6. Read the section aloud and edit it for flow.  Make sure I have topic sentences for the paragraphs, and good transitions between paragraphs.

That’s it for now.  I’ll have to add to this list later on…

But the list follows my usual approach to writing, but REALLY breaks it down to give me lots of micro-goals.