These 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.