Monday, November 4, 2013

Time Management For Writers

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

A newly-contracted writer emailed me to ask, "I'm currently a blogger, college student, writing tutor, and now, author. My life just got really crazy. I thought I'd ask, what are some of the best things you learned about managing time and getting it all done?"

I've been doing the author/blogger/mom thing for almost six years now. I'm still fumbling around for the perfect system (I don't think it actually exists, but I keep trying!) and here are a few things I've learned along the way:



You CAN'T get it all done.

You have to pick what matters most to you and do your best.

Everyone's personality type is different, but I'm the type who would rather invest deeply in several areas instead of investing a little in a lot areas. It's just how I am. I would rather invest deeply in the Go Teen Writers blog then guest post for five blogs, and it's why I only have a few social media outlets and I don't often go looking for new ones.

I love Amanda Luedeke's advice of picking one social media platform, learning it well, and doing it well before adding another. I love how this advice acknowledges that you can do it all well, that you have to choose.

Rank your tasks and do what HAS to be done today first.

I keep a running to-do list. On it, I usually have several things I would like to get done today. Maybe they're due in a few days, but I want to get a head start. That's a fine practice, but I need to prioritize what has to be done. I make myself do my "have to" items for the day before moving on to the others.

And when I'm in a writing season, I include my word goal for the day as a "have to" activity. Just because I could technically double up what I write the next day and no one would ever know, I still prioritize it.

When you get overwhelmed, just pick a starting place.

A few months ago, I was feeling really stressed out. I had been a bit snippy with my kids all morning, which I hate. I grew teary thinking about the morning and how not-fun of a mom I had been, and I sat down on the stairs with my head in my hands. I said, "McKenna, I'm so sorry about the way I've been this morning. There's just so much to do, and I'm so overwhelmed."

And in this very sweet, innocent way of hers she said, "Then why are you sitting here? Why don't you get stuff done instead?"

Sometimes my to-do list really overwhelms me. Especially during a book releases or when we have lots of evenings out. When that happens, I really just have to take a few deep breaths, pick something that needs to get done, and work on it until I'm finished.

Start with something hard.

Ann Voskamp phrases this as, "Crush a snake before breakfast," which I just love. The idea is to pick something hard of your list and do it first. And it's different for everybody. For me it tends to be a phone call. I will put off phone calls as long as I possibly can so if I want to get them done, I have to do them first.

You can't pin your hopes on life slowing down.

You likely feel very busy right now - and you are. You don't just have schoolwork and sports, but your schedule often has to accommodate the schoolwork/sports/doctors appointments of siblings and parents. You share a room or a computer. Even if you have your own room, your house is never quiet.

While your life situation will someday change (you won't always share a computer, you won't have school, you'll have more control over your own schedule) life will often be very busy. You'll have a house to take care of or a job to work or kids to run after. Life is a very full experience and it doesn't slow down too often.

I meet so many people who want to write but don't think they have time. I'm not privy to how they spend all the hours of the day, and certainly there are seasons of life where even the most dedicated writers aren't able to be to write as much as they'd like. But many of these people use "I'm waiting for my life to slow down," as an excuse, and the years slip away and their stories go unwritten.

Take a day off

One of the hardest things about working from home is that your work is always there. Especially in the age of social media, there's basically always something I could be doing. And for a while that's what I did - I worked everyday. But I found that wasn't a sustainable pace for me, that I needed a day off. I encourage writers to take one day off a week. Mine is Sundays since that's what works for my family. I don't answer emails or post on social media. Sometimes I write, but only if it's what I feel like doing. Taking a day off has really helped me guard against burn out.

Group similar tasks and use a timer.

These are two tips I heard that have helped a lot. Instead of trying to respond to a couple emails, then write a blog post, then write a chapter, then interact some on social media sites, I try to group my similar activities. I block off one chunk of time for "email and promotions" during which I respond to emails and Tweets, respond to comments on Go Teen Writers, and do some promotions for my latest release. Those are activities that require the same frame of mind from me. 

You've probably heard me talk about how much I love my timer. I use it often to stay focused on writing. I also use it when trying to blast through email, which is one of my biggest struggles when it comes to time management. When my inbox is out of control (which it is right now - sorry if you've been waiting on me for a while!) I'll set my timer for 25 minutes and see how much email I can bust through in that amount of time.

Google calendar and tasks

Because being an author requires more than just writing books and drinking tea, I have lots of details I'm trying to keep track of. I love Google calendar and Google tasks for keeping myself organized. When someone emails  me with a writing question that I think would make a good blog post, I can save that email as an event on the Go Teen Writers calendar that I share with Jill. I also use the tasks feature for tracking my to-do list.

I schedule my next day

This is something I've been doing the last few months and it's made a big difference for me. I used to try to schedule my whole week, but with one kid still not at school on a daily basis, I've found my life is just not predictable enough to schedule an entire week.

What does work well for me is to figure out what I want to accomplish the next day. I put things like empty the dishwasher, write one chapter, fold laundry, and respond to emails on my calendar for specific times. If I think of tasks that need to happen several days from now, I'll jot myself a note (in the form of a Google Task) for that day, but I don't get specific about when I'm going to get it done.

Some make their day's schedule that morning. Others prefer to just have an idea of what needs to get done that day and work it in when they feel like it. It's all about figuring out what works best for you.

I'm always looking for ways to improve my time management. Anybody have tips they want to share? If not, is there something on this list you're going to give a try?


52 comments:

  1. *Jaw drops*

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. This is genius. I need to do this with my LIFE, not just writing. I think I'll try, like...all of them. xD

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    1. Lol. Glad it seems helpful, Amanda! Can't wait to hear how it goes :)

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  2. Thank you so much for this post! As a homeschooler, my writing always seems to be dancing in front of my face. I've had to learn along the way, and all these things are ones I've found work great : ) Another thing is that when my life gets busy, God gets pushed down the priority list. But when I chose to start my day with him, even if that was just thanking him for waking me up, I started out a busy day with a better attitude.

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  3. Thanks for this post! This is exactly what I needed, as I'm about to start school again and need to balance my novel for NaNo in there somewhere. Great advice!

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    1. I didn't even think about NaNo when I posted this, but that certainly is a time of schedule stress. Glad it was helpful.

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  4. I'm new to this blog, and I love it. Thank you so much for this post. I have to get two weeks and a day of school (I'm homeschooled) done in one week this week, and I was wondering where I would ever find time to work on my WIP. One thing that needs to decrease significantly for me is my "free time", so I'm going to get off the blog and start working now!

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    1. I'm so glad you found us, Alyssa! (But we're available 24 hours a day, so definitely prioritize writing and school work :)

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  5. I always start the day with the most important things that I need to get done, (which are usually the hardest) and as I go through the day things slow done and get easier. If I get everything done, I usually have time to write a little bit.
    Thanks for the post!

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  6. Thank you SO much! I'm doing NaNo for the first time this month, so I've been really struggling with managing my time...Speaking of NaNo, I've been very stressed and discouraged because I'm not hitting my word count goal each day. Do you have any tips concerning that? Thanks again for this post!

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    1. OOH! I'm doing NaNo, too! (Though this is time 2 for me). Don't let it stress you out. I would recommend doing "word wars"- you can find them on the forums, where you challenge yourself to write as many words as possible in a certain amount of time. They have really helped my wordcount. I find that the 15 minute ones are the best- not too long, not too short. If you haven't already, check out the Christian Teens Together thread.

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    2. I am doing NaNoWriMo for the first time this month as well, and I can completely relate to what you're saying. Like Rachel, I would suggest using a timer. I usually set mine for 20 minutes, and that really gets me going. If your problem is procrastination, like me, you should try to set priorities, like I am learning to do now. I don't go on the Internet, and I write through my lunch break and before school starts, unless I have homework. If you can't do that, that's fine. You have to remember that you can't do everything in one day, and that's okay. As long as you write you succeed, so don't get discouraged! :) Best of luck on your novel!

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    3. Timers help me a lot too. And I would try to use the time of day when you're most productive for writing. Like if you're a morning person, focus on writing then instead of filling it with other stuff.

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  7. Thank you so much for this post. I'm not doing NaNo, but I do still have school and everything to think about, and it gets really overwhelming. This will definitely help me - thank you so much:)

    www.alicekouzmenkowriting.blogspot.com

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    1. That's definitely overwhelming! Good luck with NaNo!

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  8. The phone call thing made me laugh because I am the worst with it. It has nothing to do with my writing or tasks and still it seems to weasle it's way into my problems. I'm not home right now and have eight siblings so we have to make time to talk to each other every week. While I'm doing my schoolwork, the college kids call because they don't have class at that time and I'm left telling them I'll call back. By the time I finsh school though, I need to write and do some other things and sometimes I really never get back to them for another week, I'm bad, i know :/ Anyways this post came in just in time. I have to bring up my grades, stay in NanoWrimo and keep up with my couch25k plan, and ofcourse, those darn phone calls. This helped alot :)

    http://escapingnormal.blogspot.com/

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    1. I'm glad it helped, Leah! Sounds like you have a very full life :)

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  9. I've been awfully busy and I wonder what I'm doing should be my first priority or not, so really thanks for the tips !:-D

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  10. I love that this post is just in time for NaNoWriMo!
    ~Sarah Faulkner

    www.inklinedwriters.blogspot.com

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    1. I wish I had actually planned that! Then I could feel all blogger savvy and stuff. Just a fluke.

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  11. This month I need to be very organised, since I've got exams and NaNoWriMo to do. I've learned to sacrifice on free time, rather than on study, to get my writing done. Free time on the computer has become a reward.

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    1. Wow, exams AND NaNo? Very impressive, Kate.

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  12. Oh gosh, yes . . . thank you, Stephanie! I love it that these tips don't have to be applied to only writing--they can be applied to other things as well! I've been very busy, stressed out, discouraged, etc., etc., for the past several weeks, and sometimes all I want to do is take a nap. Procrastination is my No. 1 issue and this past week I put off almost all my schoolwork till the weekend. (Not. Fun. I calculated it and figured it was about 18 hours total--but I overexaggerated it [almost on purpose--I was expecting the worst], so it was probably much less--maybe only 10. Still. Don't do it!) If I'm not organized I won't get anything done. I have to focus on one thing at a time, and I can't make any task too overwhelming.

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    1. I totally feel you. I am currently struggling with my procrastination habit, and it is NO FUN. And you're right, breaking things down into smaller pieces really helps.

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    2. I try to break tasks down as well. I've also found it really helpful!

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  13. Managing my time is something I've been horrible with of late. I put off the things that need done because they keep piling up with my busy life! This post was really helpful for me to read!!! Thanks!!

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  14. Thanks for sharing this, Stephanie! I'm going to start using Google calendar and events now. Currently my to-do list has been in the form of my phone's notepad, or a blank Microsoft Word document. However, I've recently found that using the outline feature in Microsoft Word could work too. I might try this by having specific "categories" (such as promotion), then sub-topics that would include social media, book signings, interviews, etc. Then, under those topics I could write in detail what tasks need to be done in that area. I think that might help to sort my crowded mind, lol =)

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    1. Very creative! I like that idea, Tessa. Especially for book release chaos like you've just been through. Thanks for sharing!

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  15. Thank you thank you thank you!!!! I just got to a point in my writing life where I need to, I don't know, schedule! :P I'm going to start the Google calender and event things now. My main objective of every day is to get 1,100 words. I never want to pin my hopes down on 'slowing down'! It would be terrible if I didn't write. This is a great post Stephanie, thanks so much!!

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  16. Let me tell you the number one best app I've found so far: Do It (Tomorrow). You can get it on Google Chrome, iPhones, Andriod (I think), and it's amazing. It's set up in a notebook format, with stuff you'll do today on one side and things you'll do tomorrow on the other. If you don't click on (cross off) the things you wrote to do today, they'll appear tomorrow, and the next day, and forever on until you finally get around to crossing them off. This works amazing for homework, writing, and just random things you need to get done. It's worked amazingly good for me... :)

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    1. I downloaded this yesterday, Laurel. I love the simplicity of it! Keeps me from trying to make my system too complicated (which I'm horrible about.) Thanks for sharing this!

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  17. Thank you so much! I needed this post. This is my first time doing NaNo and I'm already struggling with managing time to write, do school work, etc. I will definitely start using Google calendar!

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    1. I love my Google calendar. So pretty and color-coded. Jill and I have one for the blog that we share, and it helps us a lot with tracking ideas and keeping tabs on what the other is talking about.

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  18. I usually have time to write since I am doing 100 for 100 as part of my schoolwork. Except for maybe on the weekends, it gets tougher to find time to write. My biggest problem right now is writers block. That and the fact that I'm writing a historical novel and I can't find hardly any information on what I'm writing about, not even in books. Oh well!

    HP

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    1. Oh no :( Is it the era that's making it tough?

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    2. No I don't think its the era. I'm doing a story set in the time of the Yukon Gold Rush and so far I haven't been able to find much information on traveling to Seattle at that time. And I haven't been able to find much information on St. Joseph, Missouri (the jumping off place for the wagon trains) and what it was like at that point in time. I have some information that that I can borrow from the California Gold Rush that would still ring true for my time line. Any suggestions?

      HP

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    3. Oh, yeah, I"m sure the info is out there. You just need to tap into how to research it. Let me tap Roseanna to get her input. But I would search for books on Amazon that involve the gold rush, and then a librarian could help you do an interlibrary loan.

      Looks like there are books on St. Joe too: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=St.+Joseph+missouri&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3ASt.+Joseph+missouri

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    4. I see that St. Joseph's has a website: http://www.stjoemo.info/history/robidouxrow.cfm -- you can try emailing them or connecting to the facebook page and asking if anyone has good historical resources for the years in question! Town historians can be a tremendous help!

      Finding resources on travel can be tough, but if I'd start with looking up the founding days of Seattle. There might be something handy here: http://seattletimes.com/news/local/seattle_history/

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    5. Thank you Stephanie and Roseanna! I am sure these links will come in handy. Thank you for taking the time to help.

      HP

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  19. I'm having a tough time getting writing in around my work. :/ This is a really helpful list, though! I love crushing snakes before breakfast. Morning is when I do stuff best! I've backed off on a few social media outlets, too, because I'm getting overwhelmed.

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    1. Sounds like you're doing a great job of managing your time, Cait. Work makes writing very tricky!

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  20. Aw, thanks so much, Stephanie! This is so helpful! I'll definitely try some of these.

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    1. It did! Thanks so much for your input. I love the idea of starting with something tough, and I'm really bad at ranking my tasks.
      I've currently been dividing my day between school studies, writing a NaNo novel, and getting the edits down for my first deadline. If I finish up something early, I squeeze in a blog post or answer e-mails. As long as I cut my day in thirds, things do seem to pan out well.

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  21. Wow! These tips are life savers. I was feeling SUPER stressed because I have three college papers to write this week (That's what happens when you take three writing intensive courses), PLUS Nanowrimo. Since I rarely have assignments that DON'T involve writing I was starting to get really burned out, and by the time I was done with the hard, less-fun work of writing essays I found it really difficult to motivate myself to do even a little bit of the fun Nanowrimo writing. Something that helped me was writing a certain number of words on a paper and then rewarding myself by working on my Nanowrimo project. It's still a crap load of writing, but so far they've tended to balance each other out. Thanks for the awesome advice!

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    1. I certainly understand why you're getting burned out, Laura! Sounds like you've found a great way to motivate yourself, though.

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  22. Thank you so much for writing this post! My senior year in high school has been really stressing me out. There's essays to work on, colleges to apply to, scholarships to find, and on top of it all books to write. I've been so busy and stressed that I've become on edge with my family and sometime at the end of the day I realize I've not taken anytime for Bible reading. Over the summer it was so nice to just focus on God, writing, and my family. And now I've realized I've let the stress of it all mix up my priorities. This post definitely helped me sort some of them out.

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  23. A writer always have to be up-to-date in the respective field where he/she is working. And along with that, one more term which speaks up the way ahead in terms to keep them ahead is the proper time management. If the time is not managed properly, there are big chances of distractions. Even by profession I am a copywriter and have managed well with the time by tracking it with the help of a cloud based time tracking software from Replicon - http://www.replicon.com/time-tracking-softwares.aspx. Remember a better time tracking is only gonna give a proper time management. This particular software has helped me stay ahead, organized and last but not the least productive as well.

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