Work Habits that Speed You Up
By Freelance Writer/Author, Bob Bly in New York, NY
[The below is an excerpt from Bob’s Write More Sell More, available here.]
Productive writers have schedules and stick to them. Yet most writers don’t schedule their daily activities.
It’s not enough to know the projects you’re working on. You should break your day into segments – I suggest using increments of an hour, although quarter hour and half days can also work – and write down on a piece of paper the project you will work on during each of those segments.
Do this every day, at that beginning of your workday (or if you prefer, do it in the evening right before you stop work for the night). Tape your hour-by-hour schedule for the day on a wall near your desk, or pin it to a nearby bulletin board. Note that although you may work on a project for more than one hour a day, you need not schedule these hours consecutively.
As you go through your day, consult your schedule to keep on track. If priorities change, you can change the schedule, but do this in writing: Revise the schedule, print the new version, remove the old schedule and post the new one.
It’s OK to redo the schedule as long as you don’t miss deadlines. Some days I redo the daily to-do schedule two or three times, depending on deadlines and inspiration. Why not? As long as you are organized, keep track of deadlines, and allow enough time to finish each job, you will increase your productivity by working on things you feel in the mood to work on.
Can you always work on what you want to, when you want to? No. Sometimes, a pressing deadline means putting aside a more pleasurable task for something more formidable – even if you don’t feel like doing it right then.
On the wall of my office near my desk, I have posted a list that I update weekly. It’s called “Rules of the Office,” and it reminds me what I have to do to be successful in my business. Rule number one is “First things first.” This means you must set priorities and meet deadlines.
For instance, if I am burning to work on a book but have a press release due the next morning, I write the press release first and fax or E-mail it to the client. Then I reward myself with a morning spent on the book. If you do the book first, you may not leave yourself enough time to get the press release written by your deadline.
THE THREE TYPES OF TO-DO LISTS EVERY WRITER SHOULD KEEP
The key component of my person time-management system is a series of lists I keep on the computer. In fact, I have so many lists that I have a file called LISTS to keep track of them!
Every morning, after checking my various online services (the Internet, CompuServe, America Online, and AT&T Mail) for E-mail, I open the LISTS file; it tells me which lists I must read and review to start my day.
The most important lists on the LISTS list are my to-do lists. I keep several, but the most critical are my daily to-do list, projects to-do lists and long-term to-do list:
1. Daily to-do list. Each day I type on my PC, print and post a list of the items I have to do that day. From this list, I create my hour-by-hour schedule. I enjoy work and like to work long hours, so I take on a lot of projects that interest me. But I never take on more than I can handle so I can continue to meet all deadlines.
2. Projects to-do list. In a separate computer file, I keep a list of all my writing projects currently under contract, along with the deadline for each. I review this list several times a week, using it to ensure that the daily to-do list covers all items that have to be done right away.
3. Long term to-do list. This is a list of projects I want to do at some point but are not under contract (such as learning new software or organizing files) and therefore do not have any assigned deadlines. I check this list about once a week and usually put in a few hours each week on one or two of the projects that interest me at the time.
HOW TO OVERCOME PROCRASTINATION AND WRITER’S BLOCK
Having a daily to-do list – and assigning various tasks to yourself throughout the day in one-hour increments – helps you stay on track and avoid putting things off.
Breaking tasks into one-hour sessions and juggling the schedule to work on what interests you most right now help overcome writer’s block: When you get tired or run out of ideas on one project, just switch to another. As long as you have your short-term deadlines and long-term goals in mind, you can be somewhat flexible in your daily schedule, adjusting tasks and time slots to match your enthusiasm for each project.
Give yourself rewards for accomplishing tasks. If you work for a solid hour on a technical manual that’s slow going, reward yourself with a break to read you mail or walk around the block. If you stick with you schedule, for the whole morning, treat yourself to your favorite food for lunch.
The best way to make every hour of every day productive is to have an hour-by-hour schedule. People who have such a schedule know what they should be doing every minute, and therefore do it. People who don’t set a schedule tend to drift through the day, stopping and then starting tasks, jumping from job to job without getting much done.
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