I have been encouraged by the responses to the first and second posts of 2020. Thank you to each of you who has commented here or written to me elsewhere.

My favorite: I received a text message from a good friend of a page with 200 boxes and the first box with an “X” through it. His text simply said, “You motivated me.”

That is as good as it gets for a reader response! The world will be a better place if people like him write a little bit every day (or most days).

I also received feedback that I should be even more specific about how I worked toward this habit.

Here is a brief description of how I approached each goal throughout last year:

Writing:

I use this weekly calendar for keeping track of habits and daily to-do lists. Each weekday, I write “Write 500 words” under that day.

When I am done writing, I draw a line through “Write 500 words” and then put the number of words I actually wrote in parentheses next to it: “(572)”

Next to the number in parentheses, I write the number of days out of 200 I have written 500 words. Today it looked like this:

Write 500 words (572) 10/200

At the end of each week, I add up all of the daily number of words written that week and write them at the top of the page for that week. I then add that number to the previous total and write “Total Words: 5,258” and put a bit rectangle around that.

This keeps both my daily progress and the progress I’m making over the course of the year in front of me. In 2019 I needed to see how much I had written and how many days I had left to go to stay motivated.

Reading:

I kept track of my habit of reading using the following method:

On January 1, 2019 I wrote “36,500” in the far right column of my weekly calendar.

When I finished a book, I would subtract the total number of pages of that book from the total number of pages left for the year.

So, if I finished a 230 page book, I would write “230” under “36,500”. I would then draw a line and write the new total of pages underneath it, “36,270.”

I found counting down towards zero to be more motivating than counting up to 36,500. I’m not sure why.

I also wrote the title and author of books I finished in an app on my phone. I have a separate document for each year, so I can see what books I read from one year to the next.

Making the Process Work for My Personality

I am motivated by both goals and habits. I tend to focus on habits as a way to break down bigger goals into manageable chunks that lead to something that feels significant. I write in order to publish articles and books. And I really enjoy the feeling of finishing a book.

I have tailored both of these habits so that they motivate me in both the short-term and the long-term.

In the short-term it has been very helpful for me to be able to say that writing 500 words is my win for the day. This is especially valuable on days when I am struggling with low energy, low motivation, or writer’s block – which happens a lot.

Knowing that I was building towards a goal of writing more than 100,000 words was more motivating to me than the daily habit. But it was the daily habit that got me to the bigger goal.

Two New Habits for 2020:

This year I want to work towards being a person who blogs regularly. I intend to blog 50 times throughout 2020 in order to work on this habit. My goal is to publish a post every Tuesday morning.

John Mark Comer’s The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry inspired me to work on being more intentional in practicing sabbath in 2020. While I’ve had some habits around sabbath in place, Comer’s book convicted me that I have room to grow and motivated me to experiment with ways to enter into a more intentional and thorough sabbath. Thinking more carefully about how to rest and worship for a 24 hour period in the rhythm of a 7 day week has been both helpful and fun!

What About You?

My approach to writing is used in a variety of long-term projects. How have you used a similar approach to keep both the daily steps as well as the big picture in view for large projects?

Kevin M. Watson is Assistant Professor of Wesleyan & Methodist Studies at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. Affiliate links used in this post.