Write While True Episode 41: Transcript

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I’m Lou Franco and this is episode 41 of Write While True.

Write While True is an infinite loop, and that’s because I think of writing as an infinite game. A game I play for fun and to get better at it. Like a game of catch.

So in each episode, I’ll tell you something I learned about writing, and then I’ll throw you the ball with a writing challenge or a prompt.

The 2nd Discipline

I kicked off season four last week by announcing that I’m writing a pamphlet, which is a small, focussed book on a single topic in my industry. It’ll be about fifty pages.

For the last few years, I’ve been concentrating on short form writing, and I’ve written 100’s of blog posts. In those posts, a few themes emerged, and now I want to expand on one of them and write something longer. In this season, I’ll share my process and what I’m learning about how to do that.

In the last episode I shared that I’m using the techniques described in “The Four Disciplines of Execution” to help me plan this project. When we take on a new project, it often competes with the whirlwind of tasks that we have to do to keep our life going. This book recognizes that.

I want to write a short book, but I still have to service clients, work on my startup, work out, cook dinner, and spend time with my family. The authors of “The Four Disciplines” don’t want you to stop doing any of those things, but they show you a way to find the time to work on what they call “a Wildly Important Goal”.

My wildly important goal is to publish a fifty page book on a topic in my industry by the end of 2024. I defined it using the SMART goal format (S. M. A. R. T.), which means it’s specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. This is a good way to define goals, but the issue with SMART goals is that even though you can easily tell if you have reached them, they don’t drive day-to-day activities. That’s where the 2nd of the four disciplines comes in.

The fifty page book is a lag measure. On December 31, 2024, I will either have a book or I won’t. If I don’t, there’s not much I can do about it. Even today, a random day in March, having that goal doesn’t help me know what to do right now.

To address this, the 2nd discipline says to define a lead measure. This is an activity and metric that can be accomplished each week. You design a lead measure so that doing it repeatedly will eventually add up to you accomplishing the lag goal.

I decided that my lead measure is to spend at least 1 hour a day on each of 5 different days of the week working on the book. Every day, I have a chance of progressing on this lead measure as long as I can spare an hour. Usually, it comes at the cost of a very low priority task or something that was a waste of time. To make it more likely that you’ll do your lead measure, you want to pick something that’s relatively easy to do.

Here are two more tips from the book on defining a lead measure. The first tip is that it should always be possible for you to accomplish it without depending on anyone else. I don’t need help or permission from anyone to work an hour on my book.

The second tip is to pick a metric that it is easy to track. That’s also true of my lead measure.

So much of the 2nd discipline is about daily behavior, so just putting it whatever task manager you use for the day is sufficient to see if you’ve done it.

If you are playing along with this season and also working on a long-form project, then try to define a lead measure that will help you make steady progress.

A time goal works well for me, but for a book, it’s also reasonable to track word or page count. I didn’t do that because I am self-publishing, so I have a lot of other activities besides writing that I need to do. But, it’s totally fine to start with weekly word-count goal and then use a different lead measure later as you progress. Find something that works for you—the 3rd and 4th disciplines, which I’ll talk about soon, will help make sure it’s working.

This has been Write While True, a podcast where we love infinite loops as long as they’re fun.