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Monday, January 06, 2014

The Caffeinated Writer's Guide to Getting It Done

What I'm reading: Cover Her Face by P. D. James
What's on the iPod: Dani California by Red Hot Chili Peppers

What freaky weather. As a western PA native, I'm used to January being the month where the minus sign replaces the first digit of the temperature and seeing snow on a regular, monotonous basis. What we were rarely prepared for, nor wanted, was the freezing rain. No one is prepared for that, and when it hits, no one should be outdoors.

As I tried to navigate on foot down a very slippery driveway yesterday (I just took to sliding instead of attempting to move my feet), I remembered trying to climb on all fours up a road 30 years (or so) ago that was just as slippery. Funny how these little reminisces come flooding in when the experience is repeated. My reason yesterday (get the recycling bin from the curb) wasn't the same as it was back then (get to the bus stop a quarter mile away), but the results were pretty much the same. I did get what/where I needed to, and I got back inside without falling. Like then, I opted halfway into my trek to head for the snow where traction was infinitely better.

Today it's 58 degrees already. Tonight, it will be -1.

Welcome to January in Valley Forge. Despite the legend, it is not usually like this.

As I sat down to write this post this morning, I realized how writing workloads are often just as moody as the weather. On Friday, I walked away from the computer with a set schedule for today. This morning, I see one more must-have in the in box. Worse, there's a rather large project that's going to need most of my attention today. So how does a writer get the work done?


Ah, if that actually helped instead of hindered. Those of us who are a bit ADD to begin with can't rely on caffeine to regulate our time. It's just there to give a much-needed boost on a groggy-looking Monday.

Still, there are ways for us writers to manage the busy writing schedule. Here are a few ways I do that:

Prioritize. There's no surprise here. Every writer at every stage of the writing career has to know how to prioritize a workload. Yet this can be the step that's overlooked when things get busy and muddled. When I find myself spinning my wheels, I drop what I'm doing and take five minutes to organize the workload.

Time it. Particularly when I have four things all due at once or within days of each other, I need to devote certain amounts of time to each project. I turn on the project timer and time myself. Did I spend two hours on that article like I'd planned? Now I'll know.

Schedule it. The project timer doesn't have an alarm or notification function, so how am I supposed to know when I'm finished? That's where Outlook has helped. In those five minutes I've spent prioritizing, I've set up Outlook "appointments" for each task -- scheduled for when I expect to finish. I've also set it to remind me 15 minutes before the "start" of the next project/end of the first project.

Talk to the clients first. With today's request, it really is a small task. However, I've seen these small tasks turn into hour-long time robbers. So with the request, I'll send my reply and promise it by the end of the day or early tomorrow. That way the client knows I've seen the note and am working on it, and I don't feel pressured to get the last thing to come in out the door first. It's just common courtesy to reply to the clients, anyway.

Writers, when your schedule gets busy or wonky, how do you get it all done? What works best for you?


Cathy Miller said...

I'm the list lover. It helps me stay focused and there is something very gratifying about checking off finished tasks.

I find the physical activity of writing it down (or typing) gets me over any procrastinating or stalling due to lack of direction. And you can easily change your list. I look at mine and/or revise it at least once per day.

Paula said...

You fared better than I did with ice. We had an ice storm two weeks ago when the guest dogs were here. Had them out and it was rainy and not slippery. An hour later one of them needed an extra trip out. We went out the front door and I discovered the cement steps were iced over when I fell down them. Luckily I had a thick coat on and only bruised an elbow.

We're in the deep freeze, but no warm weather in front of it. Snow, more snow and temps plunged last night. Today our high temp is supposed to hit -14. After taking my dog out at 9:30 this morning I checked and the air temp was -18 and the windchill was -45. I don't even want to know how cold it got overnight. Scariest part? We're several degrees warmer than the coldest parts of the nation. But as long as the heat's on, one day of this is way better than dealing with ice.

I live by lists, but when I have multiple assignments, like now, I dedicate specific times of day to them. Early morning is for correspondence and LOI follow ups. The pair of assignments I have to wrap up for one client will be my focus in late morning and into the noon hour. The afternoon will be devoted to working on the new assignments from Favorite Editor.

Gabriella F said...

I do much the same as you, Lori.

I write a list of all my upcoming deadlines, in chron order so I know what I have to focus on and the time cushion I have to work with.

I don't formally time myself, but I do have mental time frames. For example, I'll plan to finish x project by noon and get y project done by 3. Or I'll leave an entire day to write a feature.

I also don't plan phone calls on days I have to write. That leaves me big chunks of those days uninterrupted, making it easier for me to concentrate.

Finally, much like you, I talk to clients. This ties into the first point of listing my projects. If a client says, as one did on Dec. 3, she'd like to have an article done by Jan. 2 (over the holidays, when nobody's available?!), I can quickly scan my workload and immediately say, "You're crazy!"--in an ever-so-polite way.

People wonder how I can work out of my home and stay motivated and on track. It's all about planning and organization.

Lori Widmer said...

List lovers unite! Same here, ladies.

Cathy, that works for me, too. If it's in front of me, I'm less inclined to ignore it.

Paula, that works well for me, too. Yesterday I managed a huge chunk in a large project in just over an hour. I hit the timer and ignored everything else because the timer was running. Psychology works!

Gabriella, LOL! I love the "you're crazy!" response. Good idea to push back on the deadline when you know it's not going to work, though. :)

Anne Wayman said...

In addition to lists and allocating time I also occasionally actually time how long it takes me to do x... although after all these years my estimates are pretty good I do like to double check myself once in a while...

Stay warm and off the ice!

Lori Widmer said...

Good practice, Anne.

Warm is the challenge today -- it's currently "up" to 10 degrees.

Paula said...

Lori, once the Polar Vortex reaches you, 10 degrees will sound toasty! We were thrilled to get up to 1 above today...which of course means it's headed your way. Sorry about that!

Lori Widmer said...

I think we got the brunt of it yesterday, Paula. It went from 4 degrees up to 12. Today, it started at 12. We're expected to be in the low 60s by Sunday.

Paula said...

Lucky duck. Sounds like the worst of it missed you. We were double-digits below zero, with wind chills down to -50. Our warming trend arrives today, with an expected high of 10...but up to the 30s by this weekend. Yay!!

Knowing my next gas bill will probably be at least $250 is a good motivator to redouble marketing efforts.

Devon Ellington said...

For me, it's no phone calls. I got rid of the cellphone, and the landline is OFF when I'm working. If someone schedules a call - which is charged, in 15 min. increments -- I turn it back on.

Otherwise, if you need to reach me, email me.

90% of the phone calls are nothing more than a waste of time, a way for the caller to feel like he's doing something. If you're going to waste my time, it will cost.

Lori Widmer said...

That's why I've worked phone calls into my fees. I don't mind taking their calls if it's critical. That time, however, is compensated. It's part of doing the job for them, in my view.

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