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117 How to Plan a Successful New Year with Tracy Higley

I’ve worked with authors for over a decade, and I’ve found many who are overwhelmed with the many tasks that surround writing the book. Authors often get so overwhelmed by creating content, building a web presence, and marketing that they lose the joy of writing.

Busy authors need a plan to succeed. 

If intentional planning is vital to an author’s career, how can we spin all the plates according to a plan?

Tracy Higley has a few ideas to help. She’s a bestselling novelist, CEO of an extremely successful retail business, part-time college professor, president of Impactivity, and the mother of four. 

With so many irons in the fire, she has crashed and burned several times in the past. But those experiences have helped her learn how to be highly entrepreneurial while maintaining an extremely good balance in her life. Tracy knows how to plan for a successful year.

One of her goals is to teach people what she learned the hard way. She loves showing others how to set goals, find a centered life, and pursue a healthy life that makes an impact. 

In this interview, Tracy teaches us how to plan for a successful year.

Why is intentional planning important for authors?

Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: Why is planning important?

Tracy Higley: There’s too much for authors to do—websites, copywriting, mindset questions, content, sales, ads. We can’t just wing it. Unless you’re going to stumble into a fortunate stroke of luck, you have to plan intentionally for your success. 

Some authors may feel resistant to planning. It doesn’t have to be difficult or overwhelming, but it is important. 

How does goal-setting impact writing and marketing?

Thomas: How important is goal-setting when it comes to writing and marketing your novel?

Tracy: Let’s define goal-setting. If you mean planning, I think it’s really important. I’ve written a book called Impactivity, and I run a business by the same name. 

There are six elements to Impactivity, and one is Design. Authors must design the life they want to have. I believe in goal-setting in the sense of making a plan and being intentional about where you’re going. 

But if goal-setting means self-imposed deadlines just to scare yourself into getting things done, that’s less important. I’m not a huge fan of deadlines that aren’t real. Fake deadlines are deadly to the joy of pursuing our dreams.

When you set deadlines simply to motivate yourself to finish, you might want to ask yourself, “Why am I not motivated simply by the joy of pursuing my dream?”

I know there are tasks we all hate. Sometimes we need a deadline to push past procrastination and motivate ourselves to do what we don’t want to do. But I believe there are better solutions to getting those things done than punishing ourselves for not hitting deadlines.

I believe in plan-setting. 

Thomas: The military has a saying that no plan survives contact with the enemy. 

When you set a goal with a deadline, you have no idea what variables you’ll run into.

Tracy: It’s hard to pivot with deadlines because we get stuck on them thinking, “I have to make my deadline.” I start resenting people who interrupt me and get in my way. That’s a lousy way to live.

James L. Rubart (Jim): I watched a documentary on how our brains work, and they showed an experiment of how narrowly focused our minds can be.

Researchers brought in a cheerleader and told the participants to look directly at the cheerleader. Participants were told not to look to the right or left. Then researchers brought two other cheerleaders, one on each side of the first cheerleader. Participants were told to keep looking at the one in the middle. Then they were asked whether the cheerleaders on the left and right were male or female.

With their peripheral vision, the participants could not distinguish between a female and a male wearing a wig.

That experiment demonstrates how we get so narrowly focused that we miss out on opportunities. We have to be ready to change or shift as opportunities come along, even if it doesn’t fit exactly into our original plan.

Tracy: When you have self-imposed deadlines, you may miss out on opportunities.

Thomas: The writing journey is very long. You won’t be successful if you don’t enjoy the journey. If writing and editing your book is misery and drudgery, you will burn out before you see success. 

What is the most effective way to make next year’s marketing efforts successful?

Tracy: I like to assess my resources before I make a strategic plan for the year. What kind of time, money, and energy do I have?


What’s the ideal amount of time you’d like to spend on your marketing efforts? How will that time be split between writing and life? Be intentional about the amount of time you want to give to it. 


Think about how much you can spend on your marketing budget for the year. Divide that amount into quarters, and then specifically plan how you’ll spend the first quarter. Allow yourself room to make adjustments throughout the year according to what’s working.


Some marketing efforts are more of a drain on our creativity or willpower. Spread your energy drain throughout the year. Don’t pile all your draining tasks into the first quarter or leave them all until the last quarter. 

Jim: Assessment on the front end is so important. I used to tell my ad agency clients, “If you have a budget of one million dollars, I’m going to do different things than if you have a budget of $100,000.”

Instead of getting caught up in everything you think you need to do, like Facebook or Instagram ads, spend time evaluating how much money you have to work with. Step back before you jump in.

Thomas: An author who is time-rich and cash-poor can take courses to learn how to do things themselves. Those authors can take a course on how to build a website or typeset a book.

Someone who is time-poor but cash-rich needs to look for people to hire. You can pay someone to build a website or typeset your book.

If you’re time-poor and cash-poor, you need to get a job and save some money. You won’t succeed if you don’t have any time or cash to invest.

Tracy: The only way you can decide which you need to do is to design an intentional plan for the year.

How would you allocate your budget?

Thomas: What does that marketing budget look like?

Tracy: We usually think of things in terms of annual planning, so set a total amount for the year. 

How you spend it throughout the year depends on your plan. You may want to load it up front because you want to spend a little more on a BookBub ad. Maybe you plan a costly opportunity at the beginning of the years to see if it gets you any return on your ad spend down the road.

Maybe you want to divide it equally between the four quarters so you know how much you can spend on your Facebook ads that quarter.

Thomas: It’s also good to set a time budget. You can budget two hours each day to work on marketing. Or maybe you budget ten hours per week for marketing. Or you might only spend two hours a week.

If you have ten hours each week to spend on marketing, you can use different tactics than if you only have two hours each week. If you can only spend 30 minutes, you need to determine what you can do in that short amount of time that will be most effective. 

A time budget will help guide your weekly activity.

Jim: When we talked about content marketing with Joanna Penn, but if you only have 30 minutes per week to give, you probably won’t be able to pull it off.

Tracy: Intentional time budgeting helps you be accountable to yourself. You know what you committed to, and you’ve planned ahead. It also helps you communicate with the people in your life who need to respect your time and work around it. 

You can tell your family your intentions and explain that when your door is closed during your writing time, you won’t be able to make French toast. Stating your expectations and making sure your family is on board will help you stay committed to your plan.

What do you say to people who can’t motivate themselves?

Thomas: Many people start the year with a strong plan and good intentions. But two weeks in, they’re back to the old routine. What advice do you have for people who have a hard time motivating themselves?

Tracy: I would ask, “Why is it so hard to motivate yourself to work on your dream?”

In Impactivity, we explore the deeper questions about motivation. 

  • Do you feel overwhelmed by the task? 
  • Do you not understand the task? 
  • Are you unsure of what to do first?

If any of those are the case, there are strategies to deal with them.

On the other hand, if you’re having trouble staying motivated because the routine doesn’t fit your personality, ask yourself some questions:

Does it have to be done?

Do I have to do it that way?

Can I outsource it?

Can I swap tasks with someone else?

We don’t actually have to do everything we think we should. 

Understanding what brings you joy and what drains your energy will help you decide which marketing efforts to pursue. You’ll never be able to do it all, so why choose the stuff you hate?

The answer isn’t to gut it out and punish yourself if you don’t meet the deadline. The answer is to dig a little deeper and understand why you feel that hesitation or apathy.

Thomas: Part of your plan should include measurement. If you’re spending money on marketing, you need to know that money isn’t wasted. Measuring your returns is the only way to know how effective your expenditure has been. A tool like Mint or Zero will help you with bookkeeping. You’ll be able to see how much you’re spending and earning.

If you’re spending time, you need to know you’re getting a good return on your time. I’ve started using a free tool called RescueTime that gives you a report about where your most productive computer hours were spent. 

The report showed me that the time I spend on my computer is pretty effective, but I’m not spending nearly as much time on my computer as I thought. I felt like I was putting in an eight-hour day, but it turns out I only spent six hours on my computer, so no wonder I didn’t get everything done. 

I was actually wasting time on social media on my phone while I was away from my computer. I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t measured my time. 

What advice do you have for people who hate marketing?

Tracy: Understand what you hate and why you hate it. 

  • Do you hate certain strategies? 
  • Do you hate certain ways of presenting yourself to the world?
  • Are there things that are easier for you than others?

You can’t do them all, so pick the strategies that seem fun.

How do you balance work and life?

Jim: I had a student at the Rubart Writing Academy who was homeschooling her kids, writing, and working. She was juggling so many things. How does someone like her find time to balance it all with marketing work on top of it.

Tracy: Some people truly don’t have enough time. The second aspect of Impactivity is to Unshackle. Once you’ve figured out your dream, you may need to disconnect from some of your other activities. Can you cut anything to make time for the dream you want to pursue?

I don’t love the phrase “work-life balance.” It implies that work and life are opposites, and it assumes that our work isn’t life-giving. If work is the opposite of life, then it feels like death. That’s a problem, and you might need to find other work.

I prefer the term “work-rest balance.” We all have to cycle through periods of work and rest to connect with people well. You have to take downtime. Don’t cram every minute full of work. Avoiding rest is unproductive because you will burn out.

Many people may have chunks of downtime that isn’t truly refueling and recharging. It’s more of a crash time. 

If you got a little more intentional about resting well, you could probably cut down on social media, TV, or online browsing. Those activities don’t really recharge you. 

There are better, more efficient ways to recharge your energy. The time you save using those recharging methods can be applied to your writing or marketing efforts. 

Jim: I heard a podcast about the difference between relief and rest. We tend to gravitate toward relief because it’s easy. Social media is an easy relief. But it takes a little bit of effort to do things that truly refresh and rest us. 

Thomas: Where can authors connect with you?

Tracy: The main place is If procrastination plagues you, you might enjoy our tool called The Cure for Procrastination. It can help you understand why you might be procrastinating. 

You can also listen to the Impactivity Podcast.


The Five-Year Plan to Become a Bestselling Author

I crafted this plan with bestselling and award-winning author James L. The Five-Year Plan is a step-by-step guide for your writing career. Learn what to do in each quarter of the year to avoid the mistakes that hijack success for most authors. Set yourself up for success. Learn more at

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