I had dreams. I had goals. I think we all do. But the same thing kept happening to me. Big idea after big idea…new goal after new goal. I didn’t succeed.
Sure, there were small wins along the way. I learned a lot from every failure. My problem was pushing through the tough parts of the creative process, where there is no adrenalin and anticipation moving you forward. In reality, I wasn’t good at finishing what I started. I was great at planning and awful at facing the reality:
Then I read about Nathan Barry writing 1000 words a day. He had a great blog. He had two books published. And it instantly made sense…he accomplished similar goals that I had by focusing on what would lead him to success. Tony Robbins has an interesting perspective on this exact point:
“In essence, if we want to direct our lives, we must take control of our consistent actions. It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, but what we do consistently.”
That quote made a ton of sense to me. So, I sat down and looked at some of the professional goals I had for myself:
- Create a blog that mattered
- Write and publish a book
- Make some real change in education
I have many other personal goals and life goals, but I wanted to focus on what I could change professionally. Nathan’s work on writing 1000 words a day really motivated me to do the same thing. If I wanted to create a blog, write and publish a book, and make change in education…then I had to create a system to get me through the tough times when inspiration was lacking.
Creating Systems for Goals
In March of 2013 I started to write on a daily basis. I decided to “commit” to the writing process and a system and see what would happen. As I began to write 100 words a day, it became easier to write 250 words a day. My system allowed for constant improvement because I wasn’t focused on the end goal (writing a book or building a blog) but instead just the act of writing. Here’s what that first year of consistent writing looks like in terms of growth:
That summer I started writing 1000 words every day. I’ve continued that habit for over a year now. It’s hard to do some days. I’ll only get 500 one day, and have to make up for it the next day. I’ll miss a day here or there and have to catch up over the next week. But I’m committed to the system.
Here are a few of the things that came out of my 1000 words each day:
- Over 130 Blog posts
- Inquiry and Innovation in the Classroom (my first book)
- Learning By Choice (my second book)
- Launch: Using the Design Thinking Process to Boost Creativity and Spark Innovation in Every Classroom (book I wrote with John Spencer set to come out this year)
- Re-designing Learning Spaces (book I wrote with Erin Klein, Ben Gilpin, and Bob Dillon set to come out this year)
- Intentional Innovation (almost finished this manuscript!)
- Scratch Your Itch (the book I can’t seem to finish writing!)
- Curriculum writing
- Unit and lesson planning
- Grant writing
- Emails (lots of them!)
- Weekly Newsletter
- Keynote and Workshop Presentations
- Consulting work
- Video scripts for courses on the Creative Classroom Academy
Since June of 2014 I’ve averaged writing 1000 words every day (which is only a few pages). That has led to over 600,000 words. Never in my wildest dreams would I believe I could write that much, but when I do it everyday bit by bit, it’s not only possible but also very doable.
The Power of Habits
Habits and systems are something we don’t talk about nearly as much in education as we should. If we want to improve student engagement and performance, the trick is to work on systematic change. As the quote above said, “take control of consistent actions.” What do your students do as soon as they walk into your classroom? What does your staff do as soon as they walk into a meeting? Are we building good habits?
My system of writing every day isn’t necessarily a habit. The habit part comes when I tell you that the writing almost always comes around 5:30am with a cup of coffee next to my computer. Habits have triggers, specific times, and repetitive actions. James Clear gives “3 Rules For Actually Sticking to Good Habits” and I think they are spot on:
Here are the rules:
- You have to start with a version of the habit that is incredibly easy for you. It must be so easy that you can’t say no to doing it and so easy that it is not difficult at all in the beginning.
- You have to increase your habit each day, but in an incredibly small way.
- Even after increasing your habit, all repetitions must remain easy. The total habit should be broken down into easier pieces if needed.
As a teacher or leader how could you implement these rules? As a writer I used these three rules to keep improving my system. So, even when I have days when my writing stinks (happens a lot), I’m still going through the motions and working.
When you ask yourself what your goals are, do you have a system of how you’ll reach those goals? For a long time I didn’t…and I thought they might magically happen with hard work. It’s not enough to have goals…everyone has goals. The systems and habits you create for yourself are where the magic happens.
What’s been really exciting for me is seeing how talking about “systems” can help other people I’ve worked within the last year. Whether it is working with teachers, students, leaders, or other authors…I’ve seen the power of systems at work!
And there you have it. Another 1000 words for the day. What are some habits or systems you’ve built up over the past few years to help you reach a goal? Please share so we can all learn!
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