Time Management Triage for Freelance Writers

Let’s talk about time management.

Last week in the Monday Morning Blast-Off newsletter, I asked subscribers to pay attention to where their willpower flagged throughout the week. When did they have trouble making good decisions? When did they have trouble focusing — really focusing — on the work at hand?

The thing is, we all have a finite amount of willpower.

It depletes with each decision we make — which is why tech tycoons famously wear the exact same shirt day in and day out.

(I like to change up my clothes, but I do eat the same thing for breakfast every day, order the same thing a the coffee shop, and run the same old route over and over.)

If you have fewer things to make a decision about, you have more willpower stored up for other decisions.

Like saying no to the Girl Scouts, or choosing salad over fries. Like skipping that third glass of wine. Like turning off Netflix and writing that novel.

And, as Manoush Zomorodi explores in this Note To Self podcast, willpower depletion is why we find ourselves scrolling mindlessly through our phones at the end of an exhausting day.

So what can you (and I!) do about it?

Know thyself….

Knowledge is the first step to figuring out your time management peaks and valleys. For the past few weeks I’ve been tracking my time using Laura Vanderkam’s worksheets*, so I’m getting familiar with myself.

Painfully familiar, guys.

Here’s a quick snapshot of my week. I color-coded each category to make it easy to see at a glance when I’ve been productive, and where I’m all over the place. When I see blocks of time that change color every 15 minutes, for example, I know I’m jumping around rather than working deeply.

Time management spreadsheet #1Time management worksheet #2

Looking back at last week, I can see that I struggle in the afternoons, particularly near the end of the week. I was practically worthless on Thursday and Friday.

I also had three interviews this week. Two were in the morning, which threw off my normal writing schedule, but one was on Friday afternoon when I was already barely doing work.

(Sewing is not work.)

The biggest thing I notice is that I’m mixing too many things at once.

Ironically, two of the interviews were for the creative time management book I’m working on, and both parties mentioned how they compartmentalize their time to keep from having unproductive schedules that look like mine.

The singer/songwriter duo I spoke with said they never work on business and songwriting on the same days, because it’s too hard to make the switch between the two.

Tell me about it.

I’m slicing my days into ribbons of time — no wonder I’m feeling so scattered!

(* By the way, if you haven’t read Vanderkam’s 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, it’s very worth it.)

Use your knowledge

I’m not discovering a new bug in my system here — I’ve been saying I’m going fix this aspect of my time management for ages.

That I’m going to stop letting all aspects of my life bleed together.

That I’m going to put hard edges on my tasks.

That I’m going to set aside certain days for fiction, and certain days for specific freelance projects.

Have I done it? Obviously not.

It’s time to tackle this chaos.

When I look at my time management charts, I notice five main places where I majorly lose willpower. Each of those should be fixable through basic scheduling.

Here’s my time management triage plan

1. Checking email first thing often derails my priorities.

Currently, my Freedom app is set to block email through 8am — when I’m normally just getting to my desk. I changed it to block email through 9am. By then I should be deep at work on something, and less likely to get derailed.

Probably I should block it until noon — but that’s terrifying. We’ll work up to it.

2. Research and rough drafting scatter my brain.

I realize that I’m wasting valuable Deep Writing time by working on rough drafts and research in the mornings.

Instead, I plan to take time the afternoon before I write (whether fiction or freelance work) to sketch out a rough draft and collect research. That will let me use the next morning’s writing session for deeper work.

3. I’m nervous before interviews, so I have trouble focusing on a big task.

There’s not a lot of point in scheduling a writing session in the hour before an interview. Instead, I’ll use that time for less focus-oriented tasks. I’ll also schedule 30 minutes before each interview for prep — mental, physical, and subject-wise.

4. Lately, I tend deal with email/bills/fires as they come in. This derails me.

Because I’ve been so frazzled lately, it’s more satisfying to check off a bill as it comes across my desk or an email as it pops up in my inbox —rather than batching like tasks to do all at once.

(Which would be waaay more efficient.)

Instead, I’m going to schedule an hour on Friday afternoons to deal with accumulated paperwork, bills, and other household management stuff. I have a dedicated file on my desk for paperwork, and I added a tab to my Gmail inbox called “To Process,” where I’ll file those types of emails.

For emails that need to be responded to more immediately, I’ll plan on processing email at lunch and at the end of the day, rather than responding throughout the day.

(I’ll make an exception for emails that require a quick response — I’m mainly talking about off-topic ones that aren’t high priority.)

To do this, I’m going to close my Gmail tab (GASP!) and only opening it when I’m actively checking email.

5. Staying up late affects my ability to dive into work in the mornings.

Go to bed earlier, Jessie. C’mon.

Time management triage — what’s your story?

That’s my plan to boost my productivity and decrease my chaos brain this week. How about you? Have you ever done a time management triage report to figure out where your biggest problems are? What did you learn?

I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.

(Cover photo by Katarzyna Kos via Unsplash.)

Breathe In, Breathe Out — And Retake Control of Your Life

There’s this thing I’ve been hearing a lot from creative friends over the last few weeks. It goes something like: “I’m trying to get back to work, but I just can’t focus with everything that’s going on in the world.”

(Mostly there are a lot more swear words.)

If you’re in that boat lately — whatever the reason — you’re not alone.

I feel you.

I don’t have the solution to all the world’s problems, (sorry), but I do have some ideas for blocking out the chaos and getting your own work done.

Because as much as there is a time for engagement and advocacy, your creative contributions are still critical to the world.

This month, each Monday Morning Blast-Off — my weekly newsletter for productive creative folks — will have a different tip for regaining your focus and getting back to work. I decided to post this series on my blog, too, because hey. We could all use some advice here.

Ready to reclaim your brain?

Tip #1: Meditation.

Disclaimer: I used to roll my eyes when productivity gurus inevitably included meditation in their lists of tips. I mean, seriously, sitting still for a few minutes feels nice, but you know what feels better?

Getting actual stuff done.

But these productivity gurus wouldn’t shut up about it.

And I finally tried it.

And my mind bounced all over the place like a ping-pong ball being chased by a caffeinated Aussie shepherd.

And I did not feel any better.

Despite hating meditation, I kept trying it off and on. I eventually downloaded an app called Calm, which has a variety of guided meditations. (I know other people love a different app, Headspace.)

I started meditating more regularly, and after a while I noticed that not only was I getting better at letting go of thoughts while actually meditating — I was better at calming myself down and refocusing my mind during the rest of the day.

  • When I want to be present for my work.
  • When I want to be present for my husband, or for a friend.
  • When I want to let go of the anger and frustration and anxiety surrounding me.

That is to say, my mind isn’t any less prone to ping-ponging — I’ve just gotten better at letting extraneous thoughts go and coming back to what’s important.

A little bit better, at least.

Here’s a metaphor I like from Thich Nhat Hanh:

Mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves. Consider, for example: a magician who cuts his body into many parts and places each part in a different region — hands in the south, arms in the east, legs in the north, and then by some miraculous power lets forth a cry which reassembles whole every part of his body. Mindfulness is like that — it is the miracle which can call back in a flash our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness so that we can live each minute of life.

(From The Miracle of Mindfulness.)

Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt like your mind has been cut in a million different parts, each part in a different region.

And raise your hand again if you want to learn how to reassemble your mind on cue.

The point of all this is that I’ve now become one of those people who won’t shut up about how you should try meditation.

Sorry.

Anywho, try it and let me know how it goes, will you?

Your Homework (you guessed it):

Try meditating this week — even if it’s for only two minutes a day.

I like to meditate first thing in the morning before my brain gets too buzzy, but pick a time that works for you.

If you’re new to meditation, I’d definitely recommend going through Calm’s free 7 Days of Calm starter session.

Whatever you do, keep engaging with the world, but don’t let it hijack your ability to do your most important work.

And if you want a little kick of creative productivity every Monday morning, don’t forget to sign up for the Monday Morning Blast-Off newsletter.

What are you doing to block out the chaos and get your work done? Let me know in the comments.  

(Cover photo by Sayan Nath via Unsplash)

Hit Your Writing Goals by Setting Smarter Quotas

Yesterday I wrote 3,300 fiction words in one day.

This isn’t usual for me — even when I’m on a pretty good writing streak. This especially isn’t usual for me lately — after all, I’ve been in a 2-month-long fiction slump.

(Need proof? I wrote 2,650 fiction words in the entire month of October.)

Part of that has been busyness (I had my biggest freelancing month ever in November). Part of that was burnout (I finished up a massive revision of a fantasy novel in September). Part of that was the stress of the current political climate (ugh).

But a lot of it was just a lack of momentum on any particular project.

Nineteen days ago, I knew something had to give. I had just come back from the annual retreat with my business mastermind group, the Trifecta, and while the other two members of the group clearly sympathized with my feelings of ennui when it came to my writing, they had no time for complaining without action. Write or don’t write, they said (super nicely), but stop complaining about not meeting your writing goals if you’re not going to do something about it.

To quota, or not to quota

I’ve used word count quotas to try to get in the daily writing habit on multiple occasions, but something never clicked for me. No matter how small the quota, I would still have a hard time fitting it in with client work. If I tried to do it before, I would be too anxious about upcoming deadlines to really focus. If I tried to do it after, I would be too brain-dead.

Plus, if I ended up between projects or in the editing or planning stage, I wasn’t sure how to track my progress. David D. Levine once told me he counts every word deleted during the editing phase as progress toward his daily word count quota, which is great, but somehow also didn’t click for me. For some reason, the logistical problem of how to count the words, combined with never knowing how long writing 500 or 1000 words would take out of my day made it difficult for me to stick with a word count quota.

Nineteen days ago, I decided to try something a little different. Instead of a word count quota, I just told myself I had to work on fiction for 30 minutes.

That was it. Just 30 minutes. I could write character bios, scene sketches, snippets of dialogue — whatever. I could edit something I’d already written. I could just stare out of the window for 30 minutes thinking about the plot.

The point was that I spent 30 minutes every morning working on a piece of fiction.

For some reason, that was ridiculously easy. Even during the height of last month’s client work crush, I could find 30 minutes in the morning to play around with a project. Because I knew it was only 30 minutes, it was easy for me to compartmentalize the stress about client deadlines. I just turned on Freedom and got to work.

Baby steps add up toward writing goals

The first few days were nothing to write home about. Because I was starting work on a brand-new novel*, I wasn’t sure who my characters were or where anything was going. The first few days I logged two to three hundred words of exploratory setting descriptions — but, hey, that was two to three hundred words more than I had written any other day for weeks.

At first, the work was mechanical. The muse was far from the room — I was just putting fingers to keyboard and making them plod away.

But after a week, I started to get into the story. I started thinking about it outside of that 30 minutes. I started writing down snippets of dialogue on my lunch break or before bed.

Soon, I was even scheduling in a second timed writing session later in the day — 15 minutes here, another 30 minutes there.

I was gaining momentum. And all of those little snippets of writing sessions have added up: 19 days ago I wasn’t working on anything; today I’m 12,000 words into a brand-new novel.

For so long, I’ve put off writing unless I can have a large chunk of time to work on a project. I had no faith that I could accomplish so much in so little time.

Man, was I wrong.

How much progress could you make toward your writing goals in 30 minutes?

*Sorry mom. I’ll actually finish one of my many works-in-progress for you to read soon.

(Feature image by Bartosz Gorlewicz, via Unsplash.)

On Medium: An Evernote Productivity System for Creatives

I’ve had a few people ask about my to-do list/productivity system recently, so I decided to write an in-depth post about it.

It’s basically an Evernote notebook that I set up based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done method – essentially, a digital version of his series of folders and notes. In it, I plan out my tasks for the week and keep track of all the bigger picture projects I have going on in my life.

As a bonus, because it’s in Evernote, I can link to other notes and subfolders within the program.

(I love Evernote.)

For a long time I struggled to find a system that was flexible enough to accommodate my ever-changing workload, digital enough to travel with me, and convenient enough that I’d actually use it.

Enter my Evernote Productivity System. Evernote productivity system screenshot

This system works particularly well for me because I feel more at ease when I know exactly what’s going on in my day/week. Will it work for you? Maybe, maybe not. If you like to have minute-by-minute control of your day and never lose track of your tasks, it just might. If you prefer to roll with the punches and work on whatever you feel like at the moment, maybe not.

Either way, it doesn’t hurt to check it out. Even just reading this post might inspire you to think differently about your own to-do management system.

If this sounds vaguely interesting to you, here’s the post:

An Evernote System for Self-Employed Creatives.

I’ve been wanting to experiment more with publishing on Medium, and since I was recently invited to join the Writers on Writing publication I decided to make this my first topic. I have to say I love formatting posts in the Medium ecosystem – it’s very pretty. I haven’t tried actually drafting anything there yet, since I don’t trust my drafts not to disappear. I’ll stick to Scrivener there, thank you very much.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the post! If you end up using all or any of this system, I’d love to hear about it.

How do you to-do? I love learning from other people’s productivity systems. Let me know how you structure your day in the comments!

Jessie and the Dictator: an Update

Since I wrote my last post on using Dragon Dictation for writing, several of my friends and internet acquaintances have jumped on board with the software. More and more people are seeing dictation as a way to live a healthier, more productive writerly life.

It can still be a pain in the butt, though, as I outlined in my last post.

I’ve been using dictation more and more as a tool in both my fiction and in my freelance work over the last six months. Despite my initial frustrations and the steep learning curve, I’m starting to be quite happy with the results.

If you’re just starting out and as frustrated as I was, take heart. There’s hope!

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Fiction

When I first started dictating, I had a tough time making it work for fiction. I think in part by typing, and it was awkward to force my thoughts to flow as I spoke them. I could puzzle out plot problems, but I couldn’t draft a scene.

In the last few weeks, though, I’ve actually switched to where I’m dictating my first drafts more often than typing them. One reason for this is that I’m feeling easily distracted these days. Even when I turn on Freedom and turn off my phone, I still have a hard time sitting down and doing the work.

When that work is drafting a new scene, I’ve found the fastest way to get words on the screen is to take myself on a distraction-free walk and just talk it out.

Originally, I felt like the first draft quality of a dictated draft was pretty terrible. But as I’ve gotten more accustomed to speaking my scenes instead of typing them, the quality has improved drastically. I’m now really happy with the scenes, and they require only a small amount of editing.

I’ve also gotten waaaay better at writing a scene from scratch, imagining it as I go rather than having to dictate a scene where I already know what happens.

(I almost always outline my books, but at the scene level I often feel like I’m wandering in the dark. Outlining will definitely be a topic of another blog post.)

Freelancing

While dictating fiction turns out to be a good way to get away from my desk for a while, when writing for clients I’m normally still tethered to my computer as I dictate. That’s because I need to have my research, interviews, and reference materials in front of me – unless I’m dictating an opinion-based blog post or something that I can fabricate out of the information that’s already in my head.

This was already going well in the last post, so I’ll just say it’s continuing to be a productive way to write non-fiction for me.

The software

Some of the frustrations that I had using Dragon Dictation came from my own quirks, and those are mostly all ironed out.

Mostly.

Here’s a few tricks I’ve learned along the way that will hopefully make the process easier for you, too.

“New Line” vs “New File”

For the longest time I’ve had a problem where Dragon would open a new file about 30% of the time I said “New Line”. It would drive me batty, but I finally realized just yesterday that you can disable built in commands.

Just go to Manage Commands in the menu, search for the command you hate, and click the box that says “Active.”

Dragon dictation screenshotHopefully that will solve my “new file” problem.

The right microphone increases accuracy

I mentioned in my last post that I was going to buy a new headset and see if that helps. I ended up getting the Andrea NC-181VM USB On-Ear Monaural Computer Headset, and that helps tremendously. According to the internet, the USB connection provides way better accuracy, and the Andrea NC-181VM seemed to offer the best quality for the cash. (It’s $32 on Amazon.) It’s relatively comfortable – even while I’m wearing my glasses – and seems to do a good job of recognizing my voice.

Plus, it makes me look extremely professional.

Jessie wearing headphones
How may I take your order?

Quirky capitalization and punctuation

I often edit as I’m going along, if I’m standing in front of my computer. For that reason, where the cursor is on the screen doesn’t always correlate to where Dragon thinks the cursor is.

It took me forever to realize this.

For example, if you tell Dragon to correct a word and then manually move the cursor back to the end of the line, Dragon still thinks it’s back in the middle of the sentence. Therefore, if you say the word “period”, Dragon will add a period, then automatically attempt to capitalize the first letter of the word it thinks is still to the right of the cursor. If you notice this happening, simply commands Dragon to “go to end.”

Rampant running backwards

This still happens from time to time if I try to correct a word, especially once the document becomes large and cumbersome. If any of you know how to stop this, let me know. It makes me crazy.

It’s worth taking the plunge

Overall, Dragon has really been a worthwhile investment for me, both in terms of getting myself up and moving, and also in how productive am able to be when I’m writing. It still has its quirks, but it’s definitely worth it for me.

My biggest takeaway over the past few months is that it’s worth it to make the investment in a good microphone, and to take the time to get up the learning curve. You’ll be grateful you did.

Jessie and the Dictator—Increasing Productivity with Dragon Dictation

About four months ago I finally bit the bullet and threw down the $150 for a copy of Dragon Dictation by Nuance.

It seemed like every writing podcast I listened to was extolling the virtues of using dictation software.

  • I was going to write 5,000 words an hour.
  • I was going to be 1000% more productive.
  • I would never have wrist pain again.
  • I was going to lose weight, and probably live longer.

It sounds like a lot to ask from a speech-to-text program, and if you’re anything like me, you’re probably as skeptical as I was as I typed in my credit card information. Would using Dragon Dictation really cause a magical unicorn to appear in my office and put rainbows in my coffee every morning?

(No. The answer to that is no. Sorry.)

Well, I’ve been using Dragon fairly regularly since I bought it – both for my freelance writing and for fiction – and I have some thoughts to share.

First up, dictation is pretty rad. But it has its challenges.

All the things that people say about dictation are fairly true. It does make you more productive, and reduces the physical strain of typing. You can use it while you’re out on walks. I’ve dictated blog posts and scenes from my novel while cooking dinner.

There’s also quite a big learning curve, and sometimes Dragon becomes infested by gremlins that are incredibly frustrating.

(Gremlins, but no unicorns? Get your priorities straight, Nuance.)

Nonfiction vs. Fiction

Because I’m using dictation for both freelance copywriting and for fiction, I’m basically having two different experiences with it.

Nonfiction

When it comes to my freelance work, dictating is faster. I can definitely speak faster than I type and so long as the dictation software gets it right the first time, it saves me time. Because my freelance client work is mostly fairly analytical – I’m writing about things like adaptive learning software and sales CRM software – I’m finding it fairly easy just to gather my thoughts and say what I want to say.

My freelance clients are pretty specialized, so there’s always a bit of a learning curve for the Dragon dictation software to pick up new industry jargon and terms. I’ve found it’s pretty good, but when it comes to proper names – like my clients’ company names – I’ve had a hell of a time training it to type certain things. In that case, I just develop shorthand and then use the find and replace function during the editing process.

The other aspect that I’ve found dictation software to be helpful in is transcribing interviews. If you’ve ever tried to transcribe an interview and you’re not a pro at it, you know that it sucks. You spend a lot of time tabbing back and forth between your document and your audio file, rewinding, typing, rewinding, typing….

Previously, I had budgeted at least twice the amount of time as the interview itself in order to transcribe it. So that meant a 30 minute interview would take me an hour to transcribe.

Now, with the dictation software, I just put on my headphones, play the audio file, and speak along with the person that I’m interviewing. I still have to rewind from time to time, but it normally only takes me about five minutes longer then the interview itself. It’s become a huge timesaver.

Fiction

Using dictation with freelancing is been really great, but I’m not having is easy time using it for fiction. It slows me down in ways I, frankly, expected it to.

What I mean is this. Sometimes it seems like when I’m writing fiction, my best work pours straight out of my fingertips, bypassing my brain and thought process altogether. (You know what I mean, right?) When I’m dictating, I think a lot more about what I’m trying to say, and have a tough time getting into that creative fugue state.

In a recent podcast, Joanna Penn talks about her experience dictating the first draft of her latest novel. She’s just been getting started with Dragon, too, and I resonated with her observation that dictating produces a poorer quality first draft than she’s used to.

But I also think that learning to write fiction via dictation is just something that will take time. Some days it seems to work, and some days it doesn’t. I don’t think I’ll ever completely stop typing up first drafts, but I am committed to getting better at first drafting by dictation.

Why bother with dictation?

For me, dictation has two main benefits.

The first is that I can often the get first draft done faster then if I type it out – with my freelance work at least. I don’t have to wait for my typing skills to catch up with my thoughts – especially when I’m typing a lot of jargony technical words that I may end up getting my fingers twisted around. I haven’t found it to be a timesaver in my fiction yet, but in freelancing – and in blogging – it does save me time.

The second benefit is increased activity. I dictated the first draft of this blog post while out on a walk. I’d been staring at a computer all day long, and was starting to get what I call “screen sickness” – that slightly nauseous, glazed feeling when you’ve been staring at a screen too long.

In the middle of particularly busy days it can be really hard to get myself out and go for a walk. I’m already behind my schedule by an hour today, and I know I’m not going to check everything off the list – do I really have time to go wander around an hour?

(This is the subject for totally different blog post, but the answer is a resounding yes. If you want to live a healthy, happy life you don’t not have time to go for a walk.)

But, with dictation, I can take a walk without falling even farther behind. On a brisk stroll through my nearby neighborhood rose garden, I can get a fairly serviceable first draft blog post of 1500 words.

Yeah, I may sound a little odd as I’m walking by people speaking punctuation, but hey, it’s Portland. I could be on a unicycle playing bagpipes.

Here’s a devils advocate thought for a moment, though: sure, it’s good for my body to go walk around, but I’m really giving myself a break if I’m forcing my brain to continue composing first draft materials as I walk? Would I be better served by leaving my phone and headphones at home, and letting my mind wander aimlessly?

Maybe. But that’s a luxury for a week less busy.

It’s just not not just walks in the park speaking into a headset though. When I’m dictating straight into my computer, it gives me more freedom of motion, as well. If I set up my computer up on my standing desk (a.k.a. my dresser), and use a Bluetooth headset, then I’m not tethered in one spot through the tips of my fingers. Instead, I can paced back and forth, do squats, dance around, etc.

My dresser – my standing desk.
My super-sophisticated home office standing desk.

 

What equipment do you need?

Beyond the software, I haven’t bought any other fancy equipment – and my results have been pretty good. I’m considering purchasing a better headset that’s really designed for noise canceling, etc., because if I was able to improve the software’s accuracy even more, it would save me even more time. As it is, I think the software is about 90 to 95% accurate for me.

Right I’m using either those white Apple headphones that come with every Apple product, or one of those dorky Bluetooth headset by Jabra, which I bought for about $20. The plug-in headset seems to be a bit more accurate, and from my research it looks like you have to spend quite a bit on a Bluetooth headset for it to match the quality. I’ve tried just using my laptop’s internal speakers, as well, and I find that accuracy rates goes down.

Hey, wait. Doesn’t my Mac come with dictation software already?

Yeah, yeah it does. And although it’s fairly decent, it was frustrating enough to me that I decided to drop the money on Dragon Dictation.

And I’m happy I did.

The Mac’s native software doesn’t have as robust an ability to correct mistakes or navigate through your text. Also, it doesn’t learn in quite the same way that Dragon Dictation does. Dragon will take things that you commonly correct into account, and can be trained both by you speaking, and by feeding it chunks of text that you’ve written with all of your industry jargon, etc. in it.

Also, the ability to dictate things while I’m walking and have it translate audio file has been really helpful – that’s a feature Mac’s native dictation didn’t have.

Is dictation always super magical?

No. Sometimes Dragon makes me want to throw my laptop through the wall.

Sometimes I’ll say something totally innocuous, and because the software for some reason thought that I said “Capitalize Grand Canyon”, the cursor starts scrolling madly through my document trying to find the phrase Grand Canyon – which of course, is nowhere to be found.

I haven’t figured out a way to stop this in mid-run, which means that I just have to wait it out – extremely frustrating if I’m in the middle of Deep Important Thoughts and the document is large. With Scrivener, I can just close out of the program and restart it. In Pages, however, you’re screwed until the curser gets all the way to wherever it’s going.

Nuance’s support is pretty non-existent, too. I’ve sent them a few support tickets when I had problems, and I’ve never once gotten a response. Googling solutions to specific problems normally revealed other people asking the same questions in forums – usually to be told that there is no solution to that problem. The software is constantly being updated, though, and it sounds like Dragon is getting better with every iteration.

Is dictation for you?

I don’t know. I can’t answer that for you. And, of course, purchasing Dragon is a big chunk of cash to plop down. If you’re curious to try dictation out and you have a Mac, you can always experiment with the native dictation program. Here’s how to set it up.

(Sorry, I don’t know anything about PCs.)

You might, like me, get addicted and want to pay for something better. Or you might figure it’s not for you.

Either way, Dragon offers a 30-day money back deal, so you can always give it a shot and see what you think.

Have you used dictation software? What did you think? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.

(*Disclaimer: Nuance didn’t give me one red cent to write about this – I’m just sharing my personal experiences.)

Dealing with overwhelm

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to deal with overwhelm.

Some days, I can feel myself skirting up against the cliff that is total burnout, only to shift myself back on course at the last minute with a weekend off with friends, or taking a long bike ride in the middle of the afternoon.

As my freelance business picks up, I’ve also come up against some pretty pressing deadlines in my fiction biz – which means that my usual strategy of dropping the fiction to accommodate client projects won’t work.

A very regimented productivity and scheduling system allows me to make it all work pretty seamlessly, and, guys, I’m now taking weekends off from client work – an amazing novelty after my first 18 months as a freelance writer!

But overwhelm is still a constant companion, always hanging out in the wings and ready to pounce.

Since it’s been on my mind, I’ve been writing about it a lot recently on GovLoop.

I don’t feel like I have a complete solution just yet, but I do feel like I’m circling closer to one.

How I deal with overwhelm

Step 1. Write down EVERYTHING I need to deal with – from ‘hem the curtains’ to your most pressing deadline. Just get it out of my head. This in the absolute first step – otherwise I get so stressed out by the sheer load of things that I won’t be able to concentrate and accomplish what I need to.

Step 2. Take my most pressing deadlines and prioritize them – by work load, by due date, whatever.

Step 3. Figure out which ones are negotiable. Are any of these projects less pressing than others? If I need to push things back, I talk to those clients and see if I can create a more realistic deadline for myself. This is a last resort for me, since I hate hate HATE missing deadlines, but if I know a client won’t have time to look at it for a few days anyway I’ll sometimes ask for an extension. I’ve found most people are pretty understanding.

Step 4. Understand which items are urgent-must-be-done-today (like write a blog post for a client, or respond to an email), and which are important to my life’s work, but could be put off until tomorrow (like write 1000 words).

Step 5. Schedule those important things to happen first, because I know I’ll always find time for the urgent things. But I won’t always make time for the important ones if I don’t do it first thing. (If I’m on the edge of overwhelm, however, I’ll scrap Step 5 in favor of Step 6.)

Step 6 (optional). Figure out which things are causing the most amount of stress and anxiety. Do them first, even if they’re completely not related to your real priorities. For me, they’re often things like “clean the kitchen” or “pay these bills” or “rearrange the office and figure out what smells like rotting bananas.”

I set a timer for 30 minutes and sprint through as many of these items as I can, and when the timer goes off, I take a deep breath and try to assess if I’m still as stressed out by life, the universe, and everything. If doing the dishes has made me feel better, I go back to Step 5 and try to tackle actual work that needs to be done.


How do you deal with being overwhelmed? I know I’m not alone as a writer who’s day job is also writing. How do you figure out what needs to get done first, and how do you make sure your most important work actually happens?