April 24, 2014

10 Time Management Tips for Writers

clockThese days, it seems everyone is pressed for time. And writers are no exception. The issue of how to manage your time and juggle paid assignments with social media and blogs has come up several times recently.

First, there was Michelle Rafter’s WordCount Last Wednesday chat, which focused on time management tips last month. And in a conference call with several colleagues, the topic came up yet again. It’s been top of mind for me lately, since I’ve just finished reading 168 Hours: Your Have More Time Than You Think thanks to a recommendation from James at Men with Pens (more on that coming in a future post).
While I’m usually able to juggle several projects at once, I disagree with some of the info that’s out there. I have a hard time working without internet because I often need to look up a blog post or statistic as I’m writing. I’m a compulsive list-maker, but I can’t stick to a strict schedule because something inevitably disrupts that schedule. And limiting my email time to twice a day would be torture for me, because I use email to schedule interviews and communicate with editors. If an editor wants last-minute edits or a source needs to reschedule, I want to know!
Not all of these tips may work for you, but hopefully you’ll find a few to help you boost your productivity.
  1. Unplug.
    Take your laptop to a coffee shop and leave the power cord at home. Tell yourself you have must finish this draft before your laptop runs out of juice and you return home. Often that helps light a fire under me.
  2. Use templates.
    Keep a current copy of your writer bio saved on your computer for when clients or editors request one (I have a few different versions depending on the suggested length and the context). I get W9 requests all the time, and instead of filling out a new form each time, I just send the version I have saved on my computer. You can also use templates for invoices, letters of introduction, client questionnaires, and other documents.
  3. Tame your email.
    It doesn’t matter if you use folders, filters, rules, or some other method to manage your email. The important thing is finding what works for you so you don’t waste time searching for emails or sorting through hundreds of unread messages. Every morning, I do a quick email sweep on my iPhone and ruthlessly delete press releases, mass emails, and other items that don’t directly pertain to me. The only messages I read are those from senders I know and/or with subject lines that catch my attention.
  4. Take breaks.
    You might think you’ll save time by powering through a task, but I find that I work best when I’m well-rested. So when you feel your energy waning, step away from your computer and give yourself a break so you come back refreshed and ready to work. For many people, a break means browsing Facebook or checking Twitter. But for me, it’s too much like work because I’m still sitting at my computer.
  5. Create an outline.
    Some people create detailed outlines for all their assignments. I’m not one of them. I’ll write out some subheads or bullet points and fill them in later, but that does help me think about how much material will fill the allotted word count so I’m not wasting time by over-writing.
  6. Outsource.
    Once I reached a point where I was working at capacity and couldn’t take on new clients because it would have required more administrative time, I hired a virtual assistant (VA). As explained in a past post, my VA helps with research, proofreading, and invoices, which frees up my time for writing.
  7. Specialize.
    Sure, being a generalist means you’ll get to write about more diverse topics. But specializing is almost more time efficient, because you develop a Rolodex of sources, an arsenal of ideas, and a deep knowledge of your niche, so you’re not starting from scratch each time you take on a new assignment. Lately, I’ve been specializing in personal finance and entrepreneurship articles, and these assignments typically lead me to more ideas while I’m working on them.
  8. Use little pockets of time.
    I suspect many people waste those little pockets of time when they’re waiting for a source to call them back or for a conference call to start. They figure, “what can you really do with six minutes aside from check Facebook or browse YouTube?” Lots, actually. I use a spare couple of minutes to catch up on Google Reader, update my Twitter feed, or write up interview questions. If a source isn’t ready when I call them, I’ll leave that Word open and move onto some other task.
  9. Schedule what you can.
    I’m active on social media and file anywhere between five and ten articles a week because I schedule many of my blog posts, tweets, even my follow-up emails. That means I can write a week’s worth of blog posts in one sitting or send a follow-up email while I’m working on something else. Most blogging platforms feature the ability to schedule posts in advance. I also use Boomerang for Gmail and SocialOomph for tweets.
  10. Don’t obsess.
    Many writers who think they’re inefficient actually suffer from perfectionism. It takes them hours to come up with a snappy introduction because they discard every idea that pops into their head and wait for the “perfect” idea instead of honing and refining one of their existing ideas. As one of my favorite writing quotes says, “don’t get it right, get it written.” Same goes with managing your social media and email. If you try to read everything, you’ll get overwhelmed, so read what’s important or interesting and ignore the rest.
How do you squeeze more work into less time? Do you agree or disagree with these tips?

Flickr photo courtesy of dibytes

Comments

  1. sarah henry says:

    Good post for the start of a busy work week. I'd love to have a virtual assistant and I'm going to check out what Social Oomph is on Twitter.

  2. Jim Thayer says:

    This inefficiency due to lack of concentration is as old as writing itself. Here is Yeats, bemoaning his failure to concentrate. “All things can tempt me from this craft of verse/ One time it was a woman’s face, or worse–/ The seeming needs of my fool-driven land.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge was working on his poem Kubla Khan in a farmhouse between the villages of Porlock and Linton, when “a person on business from Porlock”—as he would later note–knocked on his door, interrupting Coleridge, breaking his flow. Coleridge was never able to continue the poem, as he had lost the ending forever.

  3. Casey@Good. Food. Stories. says:

    Great tips and I'm so proud that I use a lot of them already! In fact, my computer battery is down to 19 percent, so I need to stop catching up on Google Reader and move on to the next task… lunch.

  4. Lindsey Donner says:

    Love this. "Don't get it right, get it written" is like a mantra for me. So are frequent breaks; science supports the idea that there's a limited period of time during which we can fully focus on a single task.

    I'll take exception to the laptop one though, as my Mac's rusty battery lasts a scant 10 minutes. I do use that trick when I'm updating QuickBooks on my Windows machine, though… :)

  5. Debra Stang says:

    This is great time management advice. I especially liked your emphasis on taking regular breaks. I'm so bad about not doing that. Once I get my teeth into a project, I don't want to stop until it's finished.

  6. All great advice. I love making key point outlines. I've been going over every aspect of an interview even when the subject told me …. " these are most important points to get out." thanks so much J

  7. John Backman says:

    Great tips, Susan, but I agree with your introductory comments: some work for me and some don't. Because of my writing focus and my life situation, for instance, I find myself writing very deliberately these days–so while "don't get it right, get it written" is great for my client work, it's all wrong for my other writing.

    Lately, I've been focusing more on time flow than time management: sensing where my energy lies and going with it throughout the day, within limits of deadlines, etc. It may not be for everyone, but for me the writing becomes better and more fulfilling that way.

  8. artistsroad says:

    A good list! On #8, using little pockets of time, I do make use of that when most of the work in front of me is simple and task-oriented. I find, however, that if I have a lot of work ahead of me that requires high levels of creativity, I'll use those stolen moments to slow down and reflect. It's surprising what insights might come my way.

    Patrick

  9. I need to take #10 to heart. I'm always obsessing over continual improvements, thus dragging on assignments and projects.

  10. Good post. I particularly like point # 10. It's so true. I found that once I stopped worrying about the perfect introduction or the way that a sentence worked the first time that I wrote it…I could get on with the writing of the text and then get on with editing it where I could really get it in a shape that I liked.

  11. Thx for the great post! I love all 10 tips, but 1,3,5,and 8 are key for me personally for fighting procrastination :)

  12. Oooh, I like them all, but especially #1. That is such a good way to force yourself to focus and just DO IT. So many times while I'm writing something I'll take breaks to look at email, surf the web, etc. I know, I shouldn't…

  13. This is a really helpful list. I've been trying to figure out ways to help manage my time and stay focused, and I'm glad I came across this!

  14. Gautam Tandon says:

    100% agreed – word to word! To me Social Media is the most hyped around buzz word of current times. We all know it; We all understand it; And we all are, well at times, upset about it. I have tried to use simple techniques like "Learn about Time Management", "Define your goals properly", "Prioritize your activities", etc. to make sure I don't get addicted and glued to my facebook account all the time. I have tried to capture all that in my blog: http://blog.ellipsissolutions.com/2011/03/15/is-social-media-messing-with-your-social-life/

    Hope it will help others too.

    Thanks,
    GT

  15. blog writing says:

    Great post! I like that quote of ur post "Don't get it right, get it written". And great tips u have provided in the post. Hope i'll make use of them. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Its great to hear about the time management tips for writers, because is critically important for writers.

  17. Great tips Susan, these are very helpful. Taking breaks is indeed a great way to help you manage time and stay productive, which I also do at work. I even list my entire task for the day and organize it depends on priority. Then, set an estimated amount of time when working on each task. I actually automate it using a time tracking tool called Time Doctor. Discipline is my key that I can follow scheduled tasks and finish it on time. Another thing to do to manage time and stay productive is avoid distractions. Airplane mode is a great way to avoid distractions, which need you to turn all your gadgets off like your mobile phone. This way you won’t get distracted by text messages, phone calls and email while working.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] it all done…now. So I Googled time management for writers and found an article at The Urban Muse (read article here). The writer, Susan Johnston, had some really great tips that I found helpful and thought you may [...]

  2. [...] While I was gone, I was reading articles on time management when it comes to writing. Setting myself down and writing is a challenge. One of the good articles I read was by Susan Johnson at the Urban Muse. [...]