One of the things I’m often asked—from both writers and non-writers alike—is how I manage my time. “You’re all over the place,” I’ll hear, “how do you do it all?” By day, I’m a pharmaceutical consultant with hours that vary greatly and by night, I’m everything else. That everything else includes being a girlfriend, an aunt raising a teenager, a writer, a reviewer, a singer, a photographer, a Board member for The Women Fiction Writers Association, an active member of Rave Review Book Club and a host of other oddball hats I tend to wear.
Well, I’m here to tell you that there’s not really a secret to it. We’re all given the same number of hours in a day, right? It all boils down to how effectively you do what you do. So then the question becomes “How can I do things better?” Here are some of my tips:
Answer Those Emails
I’ve read countless articles on time management, and most advise that you should allocate one or two times a day only to respond to emails. I tried that and all it did was make responding to emails even more overwhelming. By only setting time aside once or twice a day, you run the risk of not responding to things in a timely manner.
Instead, I stay logged into my primary email (I have multiple accounts) as long as I’m in work mode and respond to emails as they come in. I’ve set up labels in Gmail and I prioritize items as they arrive. For instance, I’m currently working on a launch project for the Writers Association, so those emails get answered above just about anything else. As soon as I’ve responded, I apply the label and move them out of the view of my inbox. I only keep things that need my attention in my main view; everything else is filed.
Also, remember that not every email needs a response. If something is sent just to notify you and doesn’t require an action, file it immediately so it’s not getting in the way of the things you actually need to get done.
Learn Those Programs
Having spent “A Very Long Time” as an administrative assistant, I had a lot of time to get familiar with MS Office. Because of this, I’m now an expert of sorts in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, One Note and Access. All of these have their pros and cons, but they’ve made my life so much easier. I use Word for my writing (versus a program like Scrivener) because it’s so straightforward and I’ve learned the shortcuts. I use Excel to track sales and build ROI models for my promos. One Note is where I keep my project ideas. And believe it or not, my first stab at making my own book trailer was done in PowerPoint. They’re an integrated system and I’ve found that taking the time to master them has drastically increased my efficiency.
Be Honest With Yourself
If you’re not a morning person, then don’t try to set goals or schedule the important stuff in that time frame. This might sound like silly advice, but I know so many people who try to force themselves into a pattern that isn’t conducive to their own biological clock. And in the long run, it doesn’t work.
I am a morning person, so I try to get at least a half hour of writing done in the morning. During the weekday, that’s all I can spare. On weekends, that usually expands to no less than four hours. But the important thing for me is that I have a quiet time set aside to do it. By the evening, I can’t focus on the things that require the creative side of my brain, so I use that time to work on promotional plans and plow through my read/review list.
Go on Autopilot
This is probably going to sound crazy, but I eat the same exact thing for breakfast and lunch on weekdays. Not having to stand in the cafeteria, faced with overwhelming choices and struggling to make a decision means that I can get in, get out and get fed as quickly as possible. If the idea of this bores you to death, then narrow it down to a few items so you’ll still save time making the decision. Also, I don’t bother making elaborate meals anymore unless I’m entertaining. Dinner is something quick or made in the crock pot. I’d rather invest that time elsewhere.
Batch Similar Tasks
I try to batch similar tasks. For instance, I’ll block time specifically for writing and I try not to have to switch to something analytical immediately afterwards. Since I have a long commute, I try to do the majority of my calls in the car – whether they are work-related or simply connecting with friends. If I’m headed out for an errand, I try to do them all at once.
The exception to this—for me—is that I can be involved in social media throughout the day and still manage to deliver my other projects on time.
How Does It Actually Look?
When my consulting job falls into the 40-hour a week range, here’s how my week typically looks:
|Task/Item||Hours Per Week||Weekly Balance|
Now, there are weeks when my consulting schedule is more than 40 hours and I have to “steal” time from some other bucket. There are weeks when I don’t do photography at all. There are weeks when my time for music (i.e. practicing, etc.) is done during my commute to maximize the time. And yeah, I could spend less time watching television, but I don’t feel guilty about it because (a) we all need downtime and (b) I use the excuse that it helps me be a better writer and build more believable characters so really, it’s research, right? And sometimes, I’m reading such a great book that I take that time away from my “sleep” bucket. We’ve all been there.
At the end of the day, you’ve got to understand yourself and how/when you work best. Then create an environment in which you can thrive so you can get the most out of your time.
Lisa Mauro is a novelist, blogger and pharmaceutical consultant. She is the Secretary of the Board of The Women Fiction Writers Association. The Place We Went to Yesterday is her first novel, published by Heartless Press. She lives in Boston, MA with her better half, Brian, and an obnoxiously cute kitten, Harper.
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