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Kim Wilson
P.O. Box 4145
Hamilton, NJ 08610

E-mail: kim @ writefromhome.com

Time Management for the Drowning Writer

by Mandy Borgmeier

Does the end of your day leave you feeling unaccomplished? Find it difficult to close the home office for the night? Many professionals struggle over their workload. Self-discipline alone is not enough, especially if your time management system is inefficient.

A freelance writer wears many hats: marketing coordinator, accountant, research specialist, interviewer, appointment secretary, and often even cleaning crew. Then comes the grunt work of writing. 

It's easy for the writer enthusiastic about an assignment or story to leave the other hats on the coat tree. But neglecting billing, marketing and other tasks only takes more time away from actual writing later.

Key to an effective time management system is the act of prioritizing. Make a list of all your projects and tasks.  Include everything you can possibly think of. Then, sort the items on the list by those needing immediate attention and those less urgent.  

If it's month-end, invoicing will likely be at the top of your list. If you're approaching a deadline, drafting that project should probably come before research time spent on another. Re-write the entire list of projects and tasks, numbering the items in order of importance.

Now, physically commit your list of priorities in some other way. Consider putting them each into file folders, labeled accordingly, and stacking them on your desk with the most pressing on top. The goal, obviously, is to work your way to the bottom. 

Or, if the concept of a stack distracts (or outright terrifies) you, consider using a stair file holder instead. Arrange the folders and tasks in the same manner, with the most important in the front.

Scheduling Strategy
Prioritizing is only the beginning of an effective time management system. Taking your list, you must now consider exactly how you're going to get from point A to point B, or how you're going to take your projects and tasks from list items to completed items. 

The easiest way is by breaking projects into what I call "chunks," and then setting aside a certain number of hours per day, week or month for each project. Some find it easier to dedicate one day per week to each project. Others prefer to spend a little time every day on all. The latter adds variety and can keep creative juices from evaporating.

As an example of how chunking works, following is a pattern I frequently use for my own stories. Monday, I tackle the task of researching for the article. Tuesday, I prepare questions for the interview and contact the subject for a meeting. Wednesday, I hold the interview, Thursday transcribe it, Friday draft the piece and Saturday I finish it.

Note your scheduling strategy on your daily to-do list or planner. Your priority list has now become a roadmap of strategic planning leading you to the achievement of your goals. Build all your other meetings, appointments, etc., around this new prioritized schedule.

Even after identifying, organizing and scheduling your priorities, important matters sometimes get neglected. 

I keep a to-do list for each day of the week that corresponds to my prioritized projects and defines my scheduling strategy. Checking these items off my list as I tend to them each day is helpful, but sometimes even that's not enough.

Consider employing a reminder system to stay apprised of important events, meetings, deadlines, etc. Many e-mail programs, such as Microsoft Outlook, have reminder options.  Setting-up these reminders is easy and takes very little time away from other tasks.

Yahoo offers another form of computer-aided reminders whereby you can send yourself e-mails reminding of important upcoming events. Most people use this for birthdays and anniversaries.  I use Yahoo's system to remind myself to check the library each month when publications I don't subscribe to, yet wish to research, come out.

Still another reminder method is what's known as a suspense filing system. Simply set-up a hanging file folder for each month. Then, using regular file folders, set-up 3 sets of 31 folders.  Place one set of 31 in the current month's hanging folder, and the other two in the months to come.

Now, insert notes or assignment reminders in your new 90-day suspense system in appropriate days and check it daily. (If you're like me, you'll want to put this on your to-do list too).

Keeping Yourself Accountable
The only way to ensure that a new practice sticks is to keep yourself accountable. I've devised a logging system that does just that. 

Using a spreadsheet program (Microsoft Excel), I created a basic chart for every month of the year with column headings Day, Date, Total Hours Worked, and Tasks Completed. Each day I write in the number of hours I spent and briefly list what I worked on.

At this point, it becomes apparent to me if I've neglected something on my to-do/priority list. If so, I know to put it on the top of my list for the following day. (Of course, log-entry is on my to-do list every day too!)

Another advantage to logging is that if you're ever the unfortunate victim of an audit, you can show the IRS that yours is a legitimate business endeavor. The practice serves as a form of diary in case you're trying to track down something you've done, as well. 

All in all, it is possible for the drowning writer to stay afloat. The key lies in effective time management. The right system will serve as an infallible life preserver.

Mandy Borgmeier is a freelance writer living in Northwest Arkansas. She writes an outdoor column, profiles prominent people in her community, and drafts helpful articles about the business of writing. She also manages copywriting, typesetting and transcription assignments. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, nature photography, reading and the occasional game of tennis.









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