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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.)

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Steph Morrison

    Got my worksheet printed out and recorded my day thus far. Even though I can think back and realize I haven’t spent time so well, it’ll be much better to have it written down so I can make it more real and more of a tool to change.

    I totally relate to “mixing too many things at once” and have been casually working on getting better focused. Although I’ve tracked my time in the past, I now realize that I really need to do it again to help me get on a more efficient work schedule.

    Thanks for the reminder and the great resource from Laura Vanderkam. Love how you ‘exposed’ your time tracking and shared your way of analyzing it. Much appreciated.

  2. Jessie

    Thanks, Steph! How’s the recording going? I find that it’s both useful to look back on, and it keeps you on track when you realize that you’re going to have to record *just* how much time you spent on Pinterest. 🙂

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