Finding enough time is a challenge for everyone, especially writers. Chores, family and friends, even writing-related tasks such as tracking assignments and payments, all claim your time until there's almost nothing left. The answer is time management, but coming up with a system that suits you and keeps you on top of your workload is a very personal endeavor. The methods you choose must fit your work style, personality and needs. Experiment with different techniques until you find what works best for you.
Use "To Do" Lists. When starting a new project or assignment, break it down into immediate, intermediate and long-term goals so as to better keep on track. Put major deadlines on a wall planner or calendar as a visual reminder and whenever possible set a time buffer to allow for emergencies.
Develop A Priority Plan. One of the toughest challenges can be deciding what to do first. Should you tackle the 2,000-word article or the high-paying copywriting assignment? Over-research and last-minute emergencies can also result in your neglecting your important projects. Use these questions to decide which project should be next on your list.
Learn To Say No. Resisting too many demands on your time can be tricky, but courteously declining extra work is a skill every professional needs. If the request comes from friends and family, explain your workload and make arrangements for a later date. If clients or editors are asking for your services, explain that you're swamped at the moment and offer to help them later. You can refer them to another writer.
Tackle One Assignment at a Time. Multi-tasking is not always the answer. Moving between projects means your time becomes fragmented, you're unable to focus on specific assignments and your sense of urgency is heightened. Starting one project only after you finish another can save you time and energy because instead of retracing your steps, you'll just keep moving forward.
Cluster Tasks. Grouping common tasks together can also save you time. Do you send out a query letter or routine correspondence on Monday, two of the same on Tuesday, and then two more on Thursday? Designate one or two "mail days" and then work until you have many documents to send at one time (of course, this is for work without tight deadlines).
Match Your Work Schedule to Your Energy Cycle. When do you feel at your best? If it's possible, target your most challenging projects for that time of day. Low-energy times are best for "no-brainers" like reading publications, checking e-mail, filing, ordering supplies, and so forth.
You can also keep your energy from seriously flagging before the end of your workday by inserting energy boosters into your routine. Whether it's switching from one type of task to another, exercising, taking a quick nap, or something else, figure out what will help get you going again.
Automate Computer Tasks. If you frequently go to your computer's menu bar to perform a specific task, create a toolbar button for easy access. Toolbar buttons are those icons on your screen that identify different program functions. An example is Microsoft programs' little printer icon designating the printing function. Most application software should allow you to add buttons. In Microsoft Word, you do this by going to the Tool menu and clicking the Customize button, selecting the appropriate category of commands and then dragging the button you want to the toolbar.
Macro commands can be used for more complex tasks. The Tools menu's macro function allows you to group a series of tasks into a single command under your choice of a toolbar button, a menu, or keyboard shortcut.
Instead of formatting your articles each time, develop templates into which you can paste your text. To save a document as a template, simply select the Save As function, choose "Document Template" in the Save As Type section of the dialog box, and then save as usual. You can also establish style formatting (font, indentation, line spacing, etc.) by going to the Format menu and clicking on the Styles function.
Track Project Hours. Whether your assignments are for publications or clients, keep an eye on how many hours you spend working. This applies even if you're not being paid an hourly rate because tracking work time helps you figure out just how profitable a project is.
For example, if a low-ball $200 assignment takes only two hours, the resulting $100 per hour makes it worthwhile to take on similar assignments. However, if an attractive but labor-intensive $2,000 project works out to be only $10 per hour, you may have to decide whether you can pay your bills with that type of job.
In addition, tracking how much time you actually spend on a project can alert you to any bad habits such as procrastination. At times, I have scheduled most of a day for a project, only to find that I only worked three or four hours and spent the rest of the time on chores or drifting through the day.
The easiest way to create a tracking sheet is with a spreadsheet program or by creating a table in a word processing file. Label the columns with whatever you need to track such as client/publication name, description of the project and hours worked. Add any other information you might find useful.
Relax. Taking time for yourself is not often considered a strategy for increased productivity, but it is. Relaxed people can recharge and regroup faster than stress addicts. So take a walk, stretch out with a novel, take up a hobby. Balancing your work life with private time will result in a truly productive career.
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