10 Tips For Writers: Managing Your Time

Do you have trouble balancing your writing life, your online social life and your regular, everyday life? Do you ever find yourself wondering how you are going to get everything done and still get enough sleep to function without vats of coffee? I certainly do!

Last week I confessed that my biggest challenge as a writer was finding a balance between writing and maintaining an online presence. I’ve been working to find tactics to make the best use of my time, and, although I’m by no means perfect, I’ve come up with a few ways to make the most of my days.

Here are ten tips for managing your time so you can maintain an online presence, write, and still have a life (and survive by drinking only small buckets of coffee, rather than vats :).

10 Tips for Writers: Managing Your Time

1. Steal Snippets of Time:

It’s amazing how much you can get done in fifteen minutes. When you have a few free moments in between chores or parts of your day, whip up some notes for a blog post, program some tweets or respond to a few emails languishing in your inbox. You’ll be surprised how much you can get done by filling in the little spaces in your day.

2. Finish One Thing at a Time:

I’m often guilty of starting one thing, and then being distracted by seventeen other things before I manage to finish the thing I sat down to complete in the first place. Try to focus on completing one task at a time. If you sit down at your computer to write an email, start the email, finish the email and then move on to the next task tugging at your pant leg.

3. Scan, Decide, Act:

This concept took me some time to feel comfortable with. I used to be one of those people who finish every book they start, regardless of how good it is. I would force myself to read every article in a magazine, every email in my inbox, every bog post I happened upon, all just to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

These days we’re inundated with information at every turn: it’s impossible to digest all of it. To overcome this, I’ve adopted what I call the ‘Scan, Decide, Act’ tactic for filtering information. When I get a new email, I scan the contents (this is especially easy with blog posts with good sub headings), decide if it’s something I need to read, and then act accordingly. If it’s not something I need immediately, I file it for future reference, or discard. If it is something I need, I read it right away. I use the same tactic with books and magazines now: I scan, decide if it’s valuable to me, then read (or don’t read). I’ve even managed to stop reading books that aren’t doing anything for me (although I’ve yet to figure out how to file those ones on Goodreads :) Do I miss out on some useful information using this tactic — certainly. But, I’ve also managed to free up more time for other things, like writing blog posts, so I feel like I’m gaining more than I’m losing. Scan, decide, then act!

4. Batch Processes:

Because I have a day job, I’ve taken to setting aside chunks of time on the weekends for blogging, tweeting, Facebooking and blog reading. I’ve found that taking a few hours to set up for the coming week takes a lot of pressure off of my evenings, with the added bonus of focusing at one task at a time.

5. Automate:

Automating tasks can be a great way to help you batch processes. There are lots of tools to help you program your social media activity (my favourite is HootSuite) so you can ‘set it and forget it,’ saving your time for other things, like writing. I also use email filters extensively: you can pre-sort your emails into folders and then read/sort them when you are ready, rather than staring at an overflowing (and overwhelming) inbox. There are lots of other ways to automate, depending on the tasks you are completing — look for ways to streamline your processes to free up time for other, more interesting pursuits!

6. Let Unimportant Tasks Slide:

This was another concept that was tough for me to adopt. There are only so many hours in a day, and when you’re trying to balance several roles, something’s going to have to give. Sleep is of the up-most importance to me, so I’ve let some other, non-essential, tasks slide, like washing the floor. This pains the clean-freak in me, but letting the dishes pile up for an extra day or leaving the laundry in a heap on your bedroom floor isn’t going to hurt anyone; the time you gain for getting your other tasks done will certainly help you.

7. Stop Doing Things That Aren’t Working:

Early on in my online life I learned that it’s a good idea to ditch the things that aren’t working in favour of focusing on the ones that are. I’ve watched fellow writers leave Facebook and Twitter because they weren’t getting the return on energy and time investment they were hoping for. I have abandoned projects and websites that didn’t turn out to be as useful as I hoped, and I’ve stopped participating in certain social media forums or reading blogs that weren’t helping me anymore. It’s tough to let go of something that you’ve put time into (no one likes to be a quitter!), but in some cases it’s better to cut your losses, take what you’ve learned, and move on to the next project.

8. Keep It Simple:

With so many options for building a life online, it’s easy to let things get of of control. Just like you should give up the things that aren’t working for you, you should also strive to keep things simple. For example, if you have a blog and a website, perhaps you could combine them into one site, so you only have to worry about managing and updating one online platform (note: this might not work for everyone, depending on the topic of your blog). I did this earlier this year and it’s saved loads of time and energy. Keeping things simple has the added bonus of making it easier for people who want to follow you online: if you’re clear about where they can find you and interact with you, they’re a lot more likely to do so.

9. Take Time Out:

When you’re on a productivity roll, it can be easy to forget that managing your online presence is a form of work — it may be fun work, but it’s work. Try to take time out from social media and online, even if it’s just a day or an evening. If you’re worried about losing followers during an extended vacation, you can always leave a note to let them know you’re taking a ‘time out’, and set up automated tweets and posts to keep people engaged while you’re away. Taking time out can help you gather your mental resources, and come back refreshed and ready to jump back into your online writing life.

10. Make Lists:

This tip is likely something that most people do, but  I can’t emphasize enough how much lists can help you get control over your time. I like to use a chalk board near my desk and Evernote to manage my lists. When I’m feeling overwhelmed by everything I need to get done, I write it out, organize it by urgency, and then get to work, crossing things off the list as I go. Lists can help you see the big picture of the tasks you need to complete, and allow you to take control of your day.

These are the tactics that have helped me manage my time, but we’re all different. What tactics have you successfully used to manage your time?

Author: Carrie Mumford

Carrie Mumford is a writer and content manager living in Calgary, Alberta. She write short stories and non-fiction articles, and blogs about technology, editing, writing and (of course) books.

  • I had to scan this – no time to read, because I’ve actually carved out a bit of a personal writing retreat for myself this long May weekend! Thanks again, Carrie, for some great tips and help with our writing lives.There’s a lot of common sense here that we often forget in our rush to write and get published. (BTW, I love making lists! That’s exactly what I was doing – making lists of all the completed and almost final manuscripts that I have filed away in various corners of my computer and on memory sticks – when the phone rang (it was my editor!) and I thought to check email. When listed altogether in one place, what I’ve managed to write over the years looks very impressive indeed!)

  • Some great tips although I have to say that the one about of taking time in chunks is one that I have applied. The trick if making the time and not wasting it on something else!

  • Great post Carrie! I am so amazed at how much work you can actually accomplish in 15 minutes when you actually set your mind to it. Batching has also worked really well for me!

  • I like 3 and 7 most – number 6 is something I’m incredibly good at *ahem*. ;)

    I, too, waste tons of time reading a sh*tty book from cover to cover, crincing way too much, but feel oblidged to the writer who took the trouble and time writing it (oh well. Yeah. I AM aware that he/she won’t ever KNOW that I bought the book) … So I’ll definitely give this one a try.

    Quitting things is also difficult for me, especially throwing out blogs of my RSS that I have followed and commented on a very long time …

    In a way, I organise my day via the morning pages. During the last two or three days I wrote out and planned on the page what I wanted to do to make me feel better and the end of the day – and it worked pretty well. :)

  • I’m starting to use those snippets of time I have at work during the day. You’re right — I can do a lot with 15 minutes.

    List making is one of my favorite tools, be it an electronic list (Todoist) or pencil and paper. Every day I check the list and either do the tasks or move them to the next day.

    My best tool is the “It’s okay that you didn’t get it done” thought pill that I swallow when needed.

    • It’s amazing how much you can get done in little snippets of time, isn’t it! I have to be careful not to let snippets turn into chunks as I find I tend to get caught up in something and then hours have flown by.

      I’ve never tried Todoist, but I use Evernote and a series of notebooks spread all over my house and in bags and purses :)

  • I guess one way I’ve saved time is if I’m not inspired to write then I don’t write. This may sound like the wrong thing to do in the writing world but it helps me out. I hate to force words out because they sound force and the articles are never as good as the ones that flow through me.

    • Yes! I agree. If I’m not inspired, I’ll sometimes set a timer for say, 10 minutes. If it’s still not happening after 10 minutes, I move on to something else. I do this with running too – when I don’t want to run, I start the run, and tell myself if I’m still hating it after 1km, I’ll go home. Usually I feel great by the time I make it to 1km and keep on going :)

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