A pic from my office: My path-to-freedom workboard

What I have to do to retire from teaching
My office workboard, now with what is probably going to be a two-year checklist in place.

If you’ve taken any of my courses (or read some of my more detail-oriented posts, you’ll recognize me as big on goal-setting, getting a plan in place, and making sure it’s where you can see it.

So the day before yesterday, I erased all the short-term stuff off my office workboard, and put up my BIG goal, which is to retire from teaching inside of two years so I can write JUST my fiction again.

And I put up the steps on how I’ll accomplish this, in order, and with checkboxes.

I love checkboxes.

They’re physical proof of progress. Sitting there blank, they’re a reminder of a step to be taken. Checked, they’re a square on the game board you’ve now covered.

I don’t know how you organize goals, but on the MACRO level, this is how I do mine. On the micro level, I have a notebook I carry with me all the time, in which I keep lists of the small steps that help me accomplish the big steps. I’m pretty close to finishing the first of the four Self-Pub lessons. I’ll check that off on the little list, then make a check on the board when all four are finished.

How do you get from where you are to where YOU want to be?

Oh. By the way, CD II and CD III on the right are shorthand for Cadence Drake 2: Warpaint, and Cadence Drake 3: The List of Three (working title). So my list does include the completion of two novels along with all the rest of the work on the board.

Freedom Board Update: Two Down >>

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41 responses to “A pic from my office: My path-to-freedom workboard”

  1. Cori Avatar

    I LOVE checkboxes, too!

    My next favorite way to let myself know I have something yet to do is to put a minus sign (-) next to it. I don’t let myself turn it into a plus sign (+) until I have completed that task.

    So all the little negatives are NOT done; all the pluses are DONE!

    I think putting a planning board or sheet in front of my desk would be great for me for NaNoWriMo this year.

    Thanks for the inspiration every day! πŸ™‚

  2. Jean Marie Bauhaus Avatar

    I love this. I keep a notebook with a master To Do list (that gets added to faster than it gets checked off, natch), project goals, ideas, etc., but I think it would help me immensely to have the larger goals out where I can see them and be reminded what I’m working for. I tend to get bogged down in the smaller stuff and lose focus of long-term goals.

    My big goal right now is similar to yours — I want to be able to write and self-publish full time within the next 5 years and retire my freelance web design and virtual assistant business. Until now I’ve just thought of that as a hope more than a concrete goal, but I think I need to make it a real goal and plan out the steps I need to take to get there.

  3. Pat Avatar

    You’ve inspired me to make up a spreadsheet with the areas of my life I want to change. I’ve always had problems using most tools because I have many irons in the fire, and most want you to focus on one at a time. With three kids, writing, home, garden, etc, it’s not really feasible for me to do that, and it helps my enthusiasm for each project for me to switch gears during the week.

  4. david Avatar

    The most difficult part of writing for me is TIME; the most valuable thing.

    I am a supportive husband and father, because that’s what I always thought a husband and father should be. This means supporting my wife while she lived her dream of staying home to teach and raise the kids until we agreed they were ready for public school.

    Then I kicked her out, and made her go to college.

    So I have a daughter and wife in college, another daughter in high school, a mother-in-law who frequently needs help, and to finance them all, I run my own business.

    Writing comes in little chunks of time stolen from other things. Because time is so valuable, and nothing gets done unless I do it, I record story ideas on my phone, I spend time every day thinking about the story. I write it down where I am, and sometimes, I can sit down with the whole thing in front of me and fit the pieces together.

    The thing that struck me looking at your list is that it focuses on one aspect. I know there is much more to your life than finishing the items on that one page.of check boxes.

    Presently I ONE list, with everything in life on it, from chores for my mother-in-law to billing clients. Tasks related to writing [notes like ‘submit FlashFrame story’] are interspersed in there, primarily toward the bottom of the list.

    Any suggestions for segregating blocks of time, so that items can be put on separate lists?

    The only idea I have at the moment is to put real walls and a door on my office to keep the rest of life from intruding. I haven’t done it because, honestly, my family wants access to me when I am home.

    Do you find it necessary to close everyone out in order to get things done? What kind of arrangements do you make to get work time?

    1. EliseInAZ Avatar

      David, I feel your pain.

      Coincidentally, the speaker at my RWA meeting yesterday had the topic of Work-Life Balance. Since writing rarely pays the bills and “stuff” happens to everyone, EVERY writer has this problem. The only way to have time for writing is to make time.

      Bluntly, yes, you have to put walls and a door on your office and you probably need a sign saying something like “Keep out! I’m writing.” Then you need to schedule your writing time each day (or whatever days you can set aside) and enforce it. It might be as little as 15 minutes a day that’s all yours, but if you want to be a writer, you need to do this.

      Your family has to learn that you’re not always accessible. Or, as was mentioned several times at the meeting yesterday, if it’s not on fire and there’s not blood or vomit involved, don’t disturb me. It will probably take a while to get the message across and you have to be consistent, but it will work. Oh, and if you’re like me, you’ll feel guilty the first dozen times you throw someone out of your office who hasn’t obeyed the sign, but you’ll get over it.

      Good luck!

    2. Holly Avatar

      Doors. Seriously.

      Treat the door as sacred space, and give yourself a time behind it that is sacred time. You write to feed your soul, to feed the part of you that must create to live.

      The soul starves, the rest of you dies a slow and ugly little death every day.

      You cannot expect the people you love to understand, unless they too create. You can, however, expect them to respect a closed door.

  5. WandersNowhere Avatar

    Hi Holly!

    Ironically, I just bought a whiteboard (on a whim), berating myself the whole way home lugging the damn thing for ‘why did I buy that?’

    Now I know why. And now I also know I can apparently see the future, since I just read this post now. Cool!

    1. Holly Avatar

      Serendipity is a lovely thing. Good luck with your whiteboard.

      1. WandersNowhere Avatar

        Thanks! I have plans for this whiteboard, yessss…

  6. GillyGx Avatar

    Hi Holly and friends,

    I know I bang on about how brilliant Scrivener is, and here I go again, because I use it to set my goals too.

    I plan an outline for each chapter on a index card and pin it to the corkboard. Each day I choose an index card from the corkboard and work the chapter up from that plan using your Sweet Spot Map technique. Once I’m clear on which scenes are in the chapter and how they will play out, off I go.

    But the best part is Scrivener’s Project Target window. I’ve configured mine with Growl notification software and set a deadline for Christmas Eve, I tell it which days of the week I write on and it tells me how many words I need to complete that day. As I write I have a progress bar staring me in the face urging me on. It starts out red, then turns orange and eventually green until I finally hit my word count and huge bar fires up from the bottom of the screen telling me I’ve reached my goal for the day while Heather Small screams out at full volume singing ‘WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TODAY TO MAKE YOU FEEL PROUD?’

    It’s cheesy and perhaps a bit sad of me but when I hear that song every day and know I’m another step closer to finishing my first book, I do feel proud! :o)

    Good luck all.

    1. Elmi Avatar

      I LOVE that! I use Schrivener all the time, and I do mean, all the time, for everything. But that is one aspect I have not yet explored (to have it urge me along with growls, then break out in song when I’m done. How delightful!) I’m definitely going to look into that.

  7. magi fowler Avatar
    magi fowler

    Thanks Holly for all your good advice – goal setting is so important – nothing works until you write it down. For years – about 65 – I have been pottering around writing stuff – occasionally getting a short story published in a writing magazine – all without a set goal.

    Last July I decided – at 72 yrs old – that I had better get my finger out or I would arrive at the Pearly Gates without a book to show St Peter – for some reason deep in my brain, I believe that he is going to be looking for something like this before he lets me in.

    So in July I wrote out my goal which was to have a book of short stories published before December this year. The goal was a little more complicated than that and listed the steps and timing necessary to achieve it. It also included printing, binding, marketing and distribution by myself. I have amazed myself by finishing way ahead of schedule – the book will be on sale in about two weeks.

    Along the way I have learned so much about layout, printing, binding, etc, but the best thing of all is that a local artist – well known in this area – asked if she could illustrate it for me. We have been working together on the book and have produced something far more than was first anticipated.

    The number of copies of this first edition is small – but we are already looking at the second edition. And I am planning with a goal my second book.

    Thanks, Magi

  8. John Hick Avatar
    John Hick

    I use SQL Server databases with tables like, Milestones, Markers, Projects, ProjectsMap, etc. That way, I can query and graph any way that suits me. I can see where projects or milestones intersect or diverge; I can plot markers to show where I am behind or ahead of schedule. If I find that I am missing a metric, I just add another table (and some queries bring it into the fold).

  9. Tambra Kendall Avatar

    I haven’t been a recipient of your tips for very long, but I’ve learned from them and I wanted to thank you. I wish could have taken your courses. I teach for Savvy Authors so I know a lot of time, work and research goes into preparing lessons (and so forth.)

    I also hope one day we get to meet at a conference or other writer’s gathering, so I can tell you in person that you inspire me.

    You posted not long ago that your son was home from the military. I didn’t know how to contact you to tell you that my son is a Sgt. in the Army. I can’t wait until he’s out for good.

    I wish you all the best!
    Tambra Kendall
    Daughters of Avalon Publishing

  10. Lesley Lawrence Avatar
    Lesley Lawrence

    Hi Holly,
    I love your Planning whiteboard. Maybe it’s synchronistic, but lately I’ve been reading some Napoleon Hill books (like “Think and Grow Rich” and “The Master Key to Riches”, etc.) and it’s almost like your path seems to be following every step that he has outlined. You are a born leader who leads by example and you appear to be following your heart’s desire. It just doesn’t get any better than that does it? I wish you happiness and I’ll be looking for your new novels.
    Lesley Lawrence

  11. Reetta Avatar

    Your system really produces results, Holly. It’s a great tip to place your goals and to-do-list somewhere where you see it at all times. I can’t wait to hear more about the progress of Cadence Drake book 2.

    I have just a micro task list that doesn’t stretch much beyond the next week. What I need to get better at is prioritizing tasks and getting stuff done right away when I have free time. Right now I get bogged down to pruning my inbox, internet lala land and checking Twitter, or then I just cherrypick the fun tasks. Lack of willpower and long-term planning are my stumbling stones.

  12. Carol Wallin Avatar

    Thanks for the inspiration to get onto my seat and write. Today my first job is to put up my plan and use the board I’d bought and never got to use. I feel great today, thanks a million. So many helpful hints have come my way through your emails Holly.

  13. April Leigh Avatar

    Thank you for another brilliant idea, re: ‘Whiteboard to freedom’. Your wisedom shall be missed.

  14. Karen Avatar

    I loved your title: “Path to Freedom.” As always, you are an inspiration. Reading this has inspired me to make a checklist of what I need to do in applying to college right now, and make sure my novel does not go by the wayside while I’m super-involved!

    Best of luck on getting to check that last box πŸ™‚

  15. Lola Lavy Avatar

    Hi, Holly!
    So happy for you and I know you will definitely enjoy and appreciate your retirement time so much although I might not label it “free” as you will continue writing. I’ve been “retired” for several years now and find myself just as busy, if not more so, as when I worked – just different work.
    As for how I write, I have the major idea in my head before I begin along with major characters; then I just sit down and start writng as I’ve done for many years – and it just flows from there. I don’t tie myself to a specific time each day on the computer, but I write several hours some days, and only a half hour or so if pressed for time. Now that I’ve completed my 150,000 word novel, I have your guidelines in front of me, along with other materials, as I work on editing, then I’ll move to formatting for submission. I have decided I should write a prologue also, and I’m confident the idea for that will come as I do the editing. As for the ending, I’m just sooo happy with it – I knew what it would be before I began the book – and it is perfect! Also, I depend on my inner voice, experience, and wisdom gained from the Lord and his Word for guidance as I write – works wonders (miracles)! I would also like to add, along with one of your other respondents, that I appreciate, so much, your noncondescending attitude and your williness to answer all my questions. Ever wonder how many books you’ve “helped” write? I will miss you also when you stop teaching, but GO GIRL!

    1. Holly Avatar

      I don’t ever want to actually retire. I picked writing as my dream job when I was twenty-four because I knew it was something you could do until you fell over dead at the keyboard at the age of 103.

      I want to write stories. Lots of them.

      I simply want to do it from a position of having some free time, too.

  16. Taryn Avatar

    Great picture Holly and I wish you all the best on your path to freedom!

    On a related note, this post was quite timely. I was looking for something on goal-setting, as I have recently taken a big step towards my writerly dreams (purchased a laptop, just for me and set up it’s home). Today, I thought, “Hmm, I need a plan of action.” Your linked post on goal-setting was exactly what I wanted.

    Thank you once again for your help.

  17. Felicia Fredlund Avatar
    Felicia Fredlund

    Right now I get up earlier to get my planing (and when November starts my writing) done. That doesn’t mean I actually go up terribly early. My university lessons usually start at 10 am, so I’m in school latest 9 am. However many classmates thinks me crazy.

    I also get up around 8-9 am every day even if it is the weekend or a day without lessons. That way I get things done.

    Right now my main goal (beside uni) is to write a first draft with the help of htts so I can htryn my draft. (Yes, that should totally be a verb.) So after nanowrimo if the draft is finished I’ll let it sit until after christmas and then it’s time for to htryn it. πŸ™‚

    1. Anne Lyle Avatar

      8am? On a good day I’m up at 6 πŸ™‚

      1. Felicia Fredlund Avatar
        Felicia Fredlund

        Hehe. About a year ago it was a good day if I woke up between 10-11 am. So I consider it a success.

        I’m working towards going up 7:30 am. But I’m not rushing myself since that never works. I’ve always had a hate relationship with mornings. I have to ease myself into earlier mornings, because if I don’t go to bed earlier I’ll just snooze or be severely tired the whole day.

        However, when I start going up at 7 am this spring (for now that’s my goal), my classmates will really think me crazy. “What you don’t play all night and sleep until you have to run to school to be only 5 minutes late?!?!?!” πŸ˜›
        That’s what you get when you go a Game Design and Programmering education where most haven’t figured out that uni won’t be like high school. ^^

      2. Felicia Fredlund Avatar
        Felicia Fredlund

        Of course I mean that I go a Game Design and Programming education. Sorry for the untimely Swedish. πŸ™‚

        1. WandersNowhere Avatar

          I sympathise. I was a nine-am-starter uni kid for years and then moved to Japan to be a teacher – have to be in school by 8:20 and one of the schools was more than an hour away. I have trained myself via three consecutive alarms in case I sleep through one XD

  18. Lesann Avatar

    I love lists and checkboxes and post-it notes too. Anything I can use to track progress and goals…especially as I get older and can’t remember things like I used to. I’ve enjoyed so much of your contributions and I’m excited that you’re getting to go back to writing full-time. Enjoy!

  19. Anne Lyle Avatar

    I’m a big fan of ToDo lists and checkboxes. I still use Forward Motion, the writers’ website Holly founded, to post larger goals and progress, but as a fan of GTD I use Things on my Mac and iPhone to track individual small tasks: blog posts to write, that kind of thing.

    Good luck with your own plans, Holly – it looks like you have them all under control!

  20. Jennifer Avatar

    @Charlotte… that’s what NaNoWriMo is all about – turning off your internal editor & just write the words. I’ve completed three 86,000+ mystery novels by doing NaNo each November. It’s fun and it really helps you just get the words down.

    @Holly… I’m a “listee” too! LOL I like making lists & checking things off when completed, but I’ve never used a goal board. Thanks for sharing this wonderful idea! While I’m happy for you that you’ve decided to just write in your near future, I’ll miss the teaching. What I really love about your website and your comments is that you explain (teach) things so clearly. And, I might add, without the arrogance or condescension that some published authors put forth. I’m going to get a white board this weekend when I go shopping and put my writing goals prominently on them!

  21. pj Avatar


    I share your same goal. I’m about 3 years out from retirement, but I’m going to do it.

    Thank you and Karina Fabian from whom I found your information. Bless you both!!!!!


  22. Sherie Venner Avatar

    Holly, thanks for sharing the photo of your work board! Like they say, a picture tells a thousand words!!

  23. Todd Avatar

    Holly, I do the same with daily tasks. Once a task is started or in work, I color in half of the block. When it’s done, it’s all black. Thanks for posting!

  24. Leah Avatar

    Good for you, Holly! That looks like a lot of work, but a lot of satisfying work!

  25. Charlotte Lenox Avatar
    Charlotte Lenox

    I once set a goal of finishing a first draft of one of my novels. I set up a bet with my fiance that if I could finish that draft before he got his degree, he would clean the 90 gallon fish tank for me for a year. If I couldn’t finish it in time, I’d have to take him out to a nice dinner. Looks like I might be losing that bet… πŸ™

    1. Ruth Cooke Avatar
      Ruth Cooke

      Charlotte: NaNo. Now! You can do it! (Yes, I know NaNo’s not for everyone, but it might work for this.)

      Holly: Makes me want to go out and buy an white board for my office. I love that last check box: FREE! (I think you need to put an exclamation point or to after it…)

      Hugs and blessings, Ruth

    2. Robert Lee Avatar
      Robert Lee

      @ betting fiance: A First Draft is merely a beginning — a stream of consciousness thing. Turn off your internal critic/editor and finish that first draft.

    3. Laraine Anne Barker Avatar

      Cheer up, Charlotte. Didn’t you know, courtesy of Olin Miller, that writing is the hardest way of earning a living, with the possible exception of wrestling alligators? Ergo, finishing your book is harder than earning a degree. :-0

    4. Wednesday Avatar

      I felt the way you do, until I got a copy of Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write. It’s a collection of essays, and reading one or two puts me in the frame of mind to plant my butt in the chair and simply enjoy the act of writing for a couple of hours or however long I have. “Just lay the track,” she says. Throw aside the “every word has to be perfect” syndrome, and give yourself permission to write badly. Just show up to the page every day and commit to sitting before that computer for however long. Write anything–stream of consciousness, whatever–but don’t let yourself get up until the allotted time has passed. She taught me it’s far easier to go back to “rubbish” writing later and make it better than to try to make something (or perfection) from nothing. Something else I’ve learned when I’m blocked is that I’m trying to do everything at once–both the physical beats and the emotional beats of the scene–which is a great way to drive me insane. If I just lay the physical track (they went here and did this) and leave the emotional reactions/layering for later, it’s far easier to pound out the scene drafts. Just lay the track….set down whatever comes, even if you think it’s horrible. It works. Really.

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