7 Time Management Tips for Authors
Time management is something I’ve been asked about multiple times. I get a lot done and pour a lot of time into my writing, so people assume I must have a handle on time management. Which is understandable, but to be totally honest… I mostly just don’t have a lot of things eating up my time, so I don’t have to manage my time as well as some people do in order to get a lot of writing stuff done. (I consider myself blessed.)
That said, in answering specific questions on this topic I have discovered some time management tools and patterns that I use, which do help me get things done and not waste all of the time I’ve been blessed with. And since time management is something I’ve been rediscovering the importance of recently, I figured it was as good a time as any to compile my tips and tricks into a post.
Set Large-Scale Goals
For starters, you’ll need to know what it is you’re spending time for. Do you want to get your book drafted? Build a course? Set up a side business? Get your newsletter under control? Engage with a particular number of social media posts each week?
Once you have this bigger goal (complete with a way to measure progress and a time frame to shoot for), you can work toward it with intention. Breaking this goal down is what will give you the pieces you need for the rest of these tips.
Set Session Goals
This is particularly helpful if you have a limited amount of time to write each day. Session goals are great for those seasons when you have to fit writing into margin spaces and balance it with other activities. They’re also great if you often find yourself with pockets of free time to fill.
Setting manageable goals for each session gives you something specific to shoot for in these free periods. You’re more likely to sit down to write for ten minutes or until a chapter is done than you are to just write with no end goal in sight. And if you make sure that your goals are things you can reasonably achieve in the time you have, then you’ll be more likely to work on them than if you consistently set goals that you can’t tackle all in one time frame.
As an example of setting a manageable goal, say you want to set a word count goal. If you consistently have 10-minute blocks of free time and you can only write 200 words in that amount of time, then setting a 500-word goal for each session is likely to leave you frustrated. You’ll end up discouraged from spending those ten minutes writing, because you can never hit your goal. Setting your goal to 200 words per session, or maybe trying to stretch yourself to only 300, is more likely to leave you with a sense of accomplishment and encourage you to keep using those time slots productively.
Patterns vs. Schedules
I personally struggle to start and finish things at set times. I’d rather start Thing A when I’m free, spend as much time on it as it needs, and then start Thing B when I finish Thing A. With specific time frames, I feel stuck.
So, I use patterns instead of schedules. Instead of saying “I’m going to write from 1 o’clock to 2 o’clock and then blog from 2 o’clock to 3,” I have a general list of tasks to get done and projects to work on. I try to work straight down the list, but I have the flexibility to take them out of order if that works better for my brain on a particular day.
If I find myself procrastinating, it’s easier to have grace for myself with a list and just go back to whatever was the next thing. There’s no artificial deadline for a particular task, so I don’t feel guilty for missing a “cutoff.”
My habit stacking doesn’t quite match the traditional idea of attaching my writing to an existing habit. Instead, I established a set of habits that lead to writing. My stack looks like this: When I need to get myself to write, I start by taking my mug and tea into the kitchen, washing some dishes (either with my mug or while my tea steeps), preparing my tea, and then sitting down at my desk with the proper document. Having a whole writing routine helps me get started easier than if I just jump right in.
This is what works for me, but you might find that setting up a playlist, closing your internet browser, and opening your working documents is all you need. Or maybe you like to take a walk before you write instead of doing a chore.
What are some frequent interruptions to your writing time? Do siblings ask you to play with them? Are you interrupted around dinnertime because the dishes haven’t been washed? Obviously, not all interruptions can be eliminated, but you can minimize interruptions by identifying them and brainstorming ways to prevent them: Telling your family when you start working, having a hanger on your doorknob, getting chores out of the way upfront, etc.
Washing dishes ended up a part of my writing habit for two reasons: First, because I need something to do while my tea is steeping, and the dishes are right there. Second, because I kept being interrupted around 5 by siblings telling me the dishes they needed were still dirty. Washing dishes before I sit down to write gets the chore out of the way, minimizes distractions, and gives me a habit to set me up for writing.
Work in Waves
I’ve had people ask me how I do “everything.” And I understand; I have a lot of projects and somehow manage to mostly keep up with them (emphasis on the “mostly” XD). But the secret is that I don’t do “everything.” Not all at once, anyway.
Sometimes I get really into blogging and schedule three months of posts in three days. I set my book-writing aside while I focus on that, which then lets me focus more thoroughly on book-writing once the blog focus fades. Or I set aside book writing in between drafts to focus on my social media presence.
I try my best to work with my current interests, which sometimes means achieving small goals in a lot of different areas and sometimes means focusing on one project for a particular period of time. This means I don’t have to wrestle my focus away from one project and onto another, killing my productivity, to get things done. I don’t force my productivity to be linear.
Now, obviously there’s a balance to this point, and sometimes it is necessary to work on something that you’re not entirely in the mood for. But I find that those tasks are also easier when most of my work is interest-driven while still enabling me to accomplish all that needs to get done.
Don’t Forget to Schedule Rest
This is one I’m learning I need to do better, lol. It’s great to focus on your writing work, to get a lot done, to make progress in different areas. And, for me, writing is a full-time job. I work six days a week and don’t have a whole lot else demanding my time. But that means I have to work extra hard to build in buffer space, or else I burn out. Rest is just as important to your productivity, so don’t forget to make time for that, too!
Set aside days off, set “work hours,” make sure you’re focusing on relationships, throw in other hobbies and activities for variety… Don’t neglect to balance your writing work with other things, even if some of those other things might seem like a different kind of work.
You might not find all of these tips to work for you. You might need more structure, or more frequent variety, or whatever. This is just what I’ve found works for me. But hopefully some of these points help you, too!
What’s a time management trick you’ve found helpful?