Set A Single Goal (And Stop Managing Your Time)

Time management gives me the chills.

When I’d been a lawyer for about three years, the large law firm where I worked sent an email about a time management seminar. A slow week for me was working 55 hours, and I was writing a novel on the side.

I saw the email and literally thought, “I don’t have time.”

Plus, the description reminded me of something I read once about stress management seminars. Most people attend not to lessen stress but to learn to take on more of it. This seminar sounded like a way for my firm to teach me to cram more into my schedule.

No thanks.

But can you cram in less and get more done?

The best way I’ve found to do that is to set a single overarching goal for the year.

The Single Goal

Choosing one major goal for the year creates time.

Most articles and advice about goals stresses ensuring that by a certain time or after certain steps, you’ll achieve something measurable. As an example, simply stating that my goal is writing a novel, particularly if I tell other people and add a time frame (such as “within a year”), makes it more likely I’ll do it.

But that’s only part of the benefit. An overarching goal helps you make the best use of the limited time you have and, more important, causes you to spend less time on tasks that won’t get you where you want to be and don’t add to your enjoyment of life.

Without goals, we can check things off To Do lists all day and feel like we’re accomplishing a lot without achieving what we truly want in life.

How Making One Decision Creates Time

No one schedules time to stare at a blank screen or an overflowing To Do list feeling overwhelmed. It just happens, and it not only takes up time, it undermines us. We feel less able to get things done and less sure we’ll reach our goals.

That in turn takes more time as we mentally reevaluate whether we set the right goal, whether we have time for this whole writing thing anyway, and whether we’d be happier focusing on something else.

Choosing a single main goal for the year eliminates those countless minutes (which eventually add up to hours).

Let’s say your overarching goal for the year is to finish one novel. That doesn’t mean you can’t write anything else. But your time split for writing will be 80/20 or 90/10 in favor of the novel. Not a short story or article or blog post. You do those things if you feel good about your progress on your novel for the week or month, but the novel comes first.

In other words, if you only have 20 minutes, you know what you’re working on.

Or let’s say you have books published and your main goal is to increase your earnings. You’ll still need to write, but you will need to devote significant time to business pursuits. You’ll probably do a 50/50 split between writing and business.

That’s where I am this year. My overarching goal is to earn $50,000 in gross income from royalties by the end of the year, which is a significant increase for me. (I wrote it on this index card to remind me.) To pursue this, I’m splitting my time equally between writing and business.

Breaking It Down

You’ll still need to know what to do with each small segment of time, especially if you have many other responsibilities and are likely to have only short bursts of time to write.

The single goal gives you the framework. Once you set it, break it down.

For the novel example, if you’re starting from zero, depending on your own writing process the pieces might be:

  • Characters
  • Plot/Outline
  • Scenes
  • Organizing Scenes Into Chapters
  • Revisions Of Plot
  • Revisions Of Dialogue
  • Copyediting

Now if you have 15 minutes, you can start on the next task on the list. In 15 minutes, you can write a few paragraphs or sketch out bullet points about a character (try my free Character Creation Tip Sheet for some questions to ask yourself). You can figure out one major plot point. If you’re standing in line for groceries, you can imagine a single scene in your mind so that when you get the next 15 minutes you can start writing it.

For me, if I have 15 minutes, I might watch a section of the Ads For Authors course I’m taking or listen to 15 minutes of a marketing podcast or research the latest book promotion sites by running a quick Google search.


The single goal also ensures you focus on what matters. If you’re like me and you like goal setting and lists (I love lists), you’ll probably set other goals for the year or month, and that’s good. You can see the top of my monthly goal sheet in the photo below the index card.

Your single major goal will help you decide if those other goals make sense. It also will aid you in knowing which to omit if you’ve taken on too much and which to push toward regardless.

On a task level, the single goal keeps you on track. If I’m tempted to check my KDP Dashboard (which shows book sales updated periodically) for the third time in a day, I look at my index card and ask myself if doing so will help me increase my royalties to $50,000.

The answer, all but perhaps once a week to see how different promotional efforts or ads worked, is No. Same for randomly checking Twitter.

All of the above isn’t to say that you can’t have any time where you are relaxing and not being productive in a work sense, where you’re spending time with your family or friends or reading a book. We all need that or what’s the point of life?

The single goal helps you focus and use all your time well, including short bursts of it, giving you more free blocks of time for other parts of life.

Rather than time being an unruly employee to manage or an enemy to overcome, it becomes your ally.

And who doesn’t need more allies?

Until next week—


L.M. Lilly

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