When things don’t go entirely as planned

Several things didn’t go as planned this week, as I had a few unforeseen schedule changes, a bit of bad luck with my running, and a pretty bad day at work near the end of the week. As a result, both my running and my writing suffered (I missed a writing day and my long run is going to be 6k instead of 10K).

So what do you do when things don’t go entirely as planned?

Get back on the horse — so you missed a day, or didn’t make your daily word count, so what? Projects that are worth doing don’t live and die on a day (looking at you NaNoWriMo), but on accumulated body of work done over several weeks, months and years. Do you know what is entirely unhelpful to achieving that work? Getting so caught up in you missing a day that you decide to give up entirely. Get back on the horse, get back to fulfilling your daily goal today instead of fixating on what happened yesterday. .

Don’t go into a spiral of trying to make up for the lost work — that’s a great way to set yourself up to fail. If you set 500 words or a 5K run for today, you probably aren’t going to be able to do that and make up for the 500 words and 6K that you missed yesterday. So then you beat yourself up again, feel crummy, and set yourself up to fail by dragging more and more work with you from day to day until you give up. If you missed a day, then you missed a day. Move on.

Focus on what did happen — in my case, my reading this week sky-rocketted, and I spent more time with my family. That doesn’t make up for everything else, but it is something positive that I’m glad happened.

Partial work is better than no work — I ran a 0.5k this week, which sucked, but was better than nothing. There were also days when I wrote only 20 or 30 words. That’s not great, but its better than nothing, and every little thing can keep the habit going.

Check what went wrong and when, and see if you can learn from it for the future — were you too ambitious? Do you need to rework your plan to account for something that you couldn’t foresee when you first built it? Don’t make excuses, but do be honest and make some changes if necessary.

Leave enough ‘breathing room’ in your schedule for these kind of off days — this was my biggest mistake, and the one is going to be hardest to fix, long term. My running schedule can (still) suffer a few delays, but I’m prepping for a race in the fall, and I can’t really afford to leave things like my long run for the evening of the last day in the week. Earlier is better, and making sure that your goals are achievable even if you aren’t at peak performance is important — especially for endurance sports like running and novel writing.

Some beautiful dahlias to make up for the slightly depressing topic.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going out for a run.

Streaks vs. Plans

I was in a bit of a writing slump over the past two months or so, and I tried to solve it by trying to get as long a streak as possible of writing every day.

I managed to go three days in a row, and then failed.

Now I’m using a writing plan that I drew up for myself, and I’ve gone 7 days in a row with more words written each day than I planned, and I’ve written more each day than I did during my short-lived streak. Why is that?

Streaks are something that we think helps us move forward, create habits, but I think they only give us the illusion of being helpful. Yes, if you’re on a streak, you really don’t want to break it — especially if it’s a long one. But streaks don’t motivate you to finish your daily goal early, or go beyond the goals. Streaks let you postpone things to the last minute — after all, you only miss your goal when the day has passed. They are inflexible — you set the same goal for each and every day, no matter what.

Plans allow you to do just that — plan your daily goal to accomodate your life. Busy day? Set a smaller goal. You have the day off? Set a more ambitious goal. They also don’t set you back to zero if you fail, and encourage you to try for at least a partial success, because not everything is lost if life happened and you didn’t meet your goal. There’s also less of a pressure with a well made plan to “keep extra words for tomorrow”. If you have something to write, write it. 

Just like athletes use training plans and not training streaks to prepare for a race, writers should use writing plans and not streaks to get their daily words in.