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?