Time-Saving Tips for Writers — or Anyone

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The next three weeks are major for me, as I help put on a conference for a national women’s organization I currently chair. Lots of workshop material to finalize, speeches to write and present, business sessions to run, and supplementary resources to prepare for participants.

I have to be ON and make every minute count. Not just for the conference, but for our family, relatives coming to town, my other writing projects, my own health and sleep — everything. People often comment that I do too much, and it’s true (and I do even more than most of them know!).  But I’m able to do ‘a lot’ because of some time-saving tips that have hugely helped me over the years.

These tips and self-questions work best for me:

1a. Identify primary and secondary energy times of the day.

Then

1b. Identify which tasks require primary energy and which can get by on secondary (or tertiary) energy.

Do NOT waste primary energy running errands or doing laundry. Editing, brain-heavy first draft work, an email that needs careful crafting — save your primary energy for these tasks.

Phone calls are a mixed bag.  You have to ask: are these the types of calls that require professional concentration, or are they just social? Can they be done casually in the car (with headset or handsfree, of course, and very selectively) or do they require quiet, behind-closed-door time at home or office?

2. Plan to the nanosecond.

Even if you end up diverging from a plan at times, you still have to have the plan in place — in this case, the calendar of tasks and appointments. Schedule your time to the half-hour — maybe even to fifteen-minute intervals. Know that things often take twice as much time as you think. Plan for buffer time to accommodate unexpected delays.  Whether the calendar is electronic on your phone or Outlook, or written in a planner kept in the car, keep it on hand no matter where you go.  When you look at your calendar at the end of the day, you’ll get better and better at estimating how much you can get done each day, and your planning will become more refined and realistic with time.

3. Does this have to be done today?

This is not a procrastination question, but a prioritization one.  Ask yourself: Is this task interfering with my ability to get something done that HAS to be done today? Can it, truly, wait?

4. Can I delegate this?

Sometimes we are reluctant to delegate, but we have to clarify: is this something that ONLY I can do? Or is it something that someone else can do just as well or better? I have several speeches to prepare for my conference, for example, that only I can give. So do I HAVE to be the one that prints/designs the package of notes/resources for one of the workshop sessions? Probably someone else can do that. Delegate so that you spend your time on things that only you can do or that are best for you to do.

5. Can I do this better with someone or better alone?

Will this project clearly be improved if I work on it with someone else? Will it get done faster or actually require more time for oversight/training? Not worth it for smaller tasks, but ask these questions for the tasks which are more complicated, those that have a chance of needing additional people to help.

6. Can this be done with kids/family members as a fun activity?

I know that when my relatives come into town for this conference, they can help me stuff welcome bags, assemble gifts, staple packets, along with my fellow board members (we have fun with ‘assembly parties’ like this – plenty of food and drink alongside the work.)  My kids love these types of projects too.

But I decided I have to have my cerebral work done — speech-writing, workshop notes, etc. — in my alone time, before they arrive.  Then I save the outer, more physical tasks to do with group helpers.  We have to use our alone time and our together time as fruitfully and enjoyably as possible!

7. What can I do while waiting in line for something else?

Is there an email or call that you can return while in line at the Post Office? A stack of mail that you can go thru while parked in the long pickup line at school 20 minutes before school even gets out?  Find the tasks that don’t need the most undivided attention and attach them to another task, time or place.

8. Attach writing tasks to the right times. 

You know yourself.  You know when you are most mentally alert.  For me, I have to do proofreading/editing/first evaluation of a manuscript first thing in the morning, before any other influences/noises/voices of the day distract me.  Freewrites, for me, seem to work better at night, when I’m more relaxed and uninhibited.  Perhaps research/outlining can be done during lunch breaks if you work, or midday at a Starbucks after an intense stretch of writing at home. You know your rhythms and tendencies best.  Tailor your writing sessions accordingly.

9. Schedule writing time — or any ‘must do’ time.

Your brain will adjust and will start outputting based on the schedule you give it — and keep giving it. Decide how many hours each day or week you can write, depending on your other obligations. Then stick to it.  This is why blogs are so great for writers — not just for building audience but also for keeping sharp and productive on a regular time schedule.  Same with things like exercise, devotional time, date night — the more ‘regular’ we make it on the schedule, the more engrained these priorities become within us, and our creativity will adapt to it.

10. Limit social media or TV, especially during prime hours/energy.

Put a timer on your phone so that the ‘few minutes’ you said you were going to look at your Twitter or Facebook page don’t turn into an hour.  I know there are so many great resources out there, so many articles, so many other writers doing fine things. But we still have to keep writing, and social media, simply put, takes us away from our primary purpose, no matter how great the interactions are.

11. When you are tired, sleep.

You are not productive unless you sleep, eat, drink water, take walks. The basics.  When I’m tired, I close down, I can’t ‘push through’ even if I tried. But some people are able to half-continue, yet they are doubly unproductive — their work product isn’t as good, AND they didn’t get their sleep. Don’t lose out twice. Check out when you’re tired, even if it’s just for a few hours’ rest, then check back in.

12. Only schedule activities on one day per weekend.

Try, if possible, to leave the other day of the weekend free to recharge, catch up on family time and other tasks. Great advice from a friend long ago. When both days of the weekend are fully committed to outside activities, fatigue and burnout soon follow.

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Most of these are tips we know inherently already — but sometimes we don’t act on what we know, right?

At the end of the day, what MUST be done? What will give you the biggest RELIEF to get done? Be honest. you know yourself.  What piece of your story do you HAVE to get down today or else it will be lost?

You can do it.

Onward!

(This blog post originally appeared on 6/16/14.)

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