Writing Wednesday – Time management for writers

A week or so ago, I mentioned on Twitter that I was working out my daily and weekly schedule, using a spreadsheet. The responses I got back on this ranged from, “Holy cow, are you anal retentive organized!” to “Hey, I do the exact same crazy thing!” to “Please don’t post an example of that spread sheet. I really don’t want to see how you obsess over handle your work schedule!” In light of such glowing responses, I felt I had no choice but to share. So here’s a quick screen grab of my daily/weekly schedule, with an explanation of what the hell is going on.

Okay, here’s a small screen shot of the spread sheet. I keep my schedule in Google Docs, so I can access it from anywhere I can get wireless. This is handy in my house because I typically float between three computers all day long. That’s right. I’m so crazy I have to have three computers to get my work done. One computer is a large, super powerful desktop where I do most of my writing and computer graphics as well as all my podcasting and audio recording. That’s in the room above our garage and it has it’s own separate flight of steps from the rest of the house. Then there’s the laptop I often work on in our bedroom, in a sort of mini-office I set up years ago so I could work while breastfeeding my youngest daughter (yes, again, I am crazy). That’s up the other flight of steps. Between the two computers, I’ve got the netbook, set up in the kitchen. This is where I do a lot of my tweeting and web browsing during the day, so if you see me on Twitter, it’s a good bet I’m goofing off in the kitchen. In any event, it doesn’t matter where I am in the house or what computer I’m on, I’ve got access to my schedule.

Now take a look at the schedule. Across the top are the days of the week. Down the side I’ve listed blocks of time in half hour chunks. I rarely do anything that takes less than half an hour of time, and I’ve learned the hard way not to schedule my time in blocks any smaller than that. Whatever I’m doing, I don’t care what it is, it’s going to take at least half an hour of my time.

Also note what time my day starts – 4:45 AM. This is the only time on the calendar that is not listed by the half hour, because it usually only takes 15 minutes for me to actually wake up and roll out of bed, then stumble to the shower. Unless I fall back asleep and then this whole schedule thing is just crap for the rest of the day.

At the very top of the schedule, I’ve made some notes about each day, a sort of quick guideline to let me know what my priorities are for that day. What kind of exercise am I doing that day? Is there any special tasks to accomplish that day? What blog entry is due that day? I’m anal, and very busy, so I like to keep this check list handy at the very top of the schedule.

You may have noticed, the page is color coded. My special notes and goals at the top are in blue. Regularly scheduled items are in green. Those items in black are the ones subject to change on a regular basis. For example, under “Podcast – writing” is a block labeled “Lustcraft theme stories.” That’s the name of the story theme for next month’s podcast. I’m writing the stories this month, so I just put in what them I’m working on, or occasionally what specific story title I’m writing that day.

Here’s another shot, further down on the schedule:

Pretty much the same thing going on here, except later in the day. I include everything I know I will be doing on a regular basis in my schedule, so in addition to what time I want to wake up and go to sleep, I also include my workout schedule, my karate class schedule, when to take the girls to the bus stop and when to pick them up, when to do my physical therapy, when to get the laundry in the washing machine and when to fold it, etc. Anything I need to do on a regular basis, weekly or daily, goes into my schedule, thus the need for the spread sheet. You’ll also notice at the bottom that this page with the actual schedule on it is not the only page in the spread sheet. I’ve also got pages for weekly goals, routines (because sometimes it’s just easier to list a routine in the schedule and then go to that routine on a separate page), my blog schedule, shopping lists, etc. I have a lot going on, and I like to keep track of things, so I use the additional pages to help me do that.

Feeling overwhelmed yet by all this scheduling? It’s okay. Let me say up front that there is no one way to do a personal schedule, and don’t worry if you don’t want to do your schedule how I do it. YOU DON’T HAVE TO! This is really just a peek into how my crazy brain works.

So where did I get this crazy method of making schedules? From my days in the Army Reserves. I used to be a training officer for a very large unit, and was responsible for schedule all the training events for everyone in the unit. I had to decide who was doing what, when, where, why, and how. The schedules I created for each drill weekend look rather similar to my personal schedule today, only I don’t have to list anybody as the trainer for a specific event, nor do I have to quote which regulation and training manual to reference.

How do I come up with this schedule? This, I think, is the important part, and the part I really want to share with people:

I start by making a list of all the things I’d like to do in a day/week.


I start plugging items from my list into my schedule. The important things get the biggest blocks of time, and are usually scheduled early in the day. Did you notice what was the first thing on my schedule after waking up, showering, and starting the laundry? Yeah, the podcast, either writing for it or recording and editing the audio for it. The podcast is a weekly deadline. It has to get done every week, and so it gets done first!

I only schedule things in half-hour blocks. I refuse to break down my day into 15 minute segments, or 10 minute segments, or what have you. I know I could list 10-15 minutes of house cleaning a day, to ensure that my house cleaning gets done. But you know what? It never works for me. I’ve learned the hard way that when I start nickel and diming my day away like that, I lose sight of the important work, the work that actually requires me to focus for half an hour. So I don’t bother putting things on there like house cleaning that would only take 15 minutes, because house cleaning isn’t a priority (getting a shower and folding laundry are, however! At least to me).

I try the schedule out for a few days. I usually end up realizing I forgot to add something in, or I need to take something out. Sometimes I realize that a particular task would be more likely to get done if I scheduled it for a different time during the day. For example. I prefer to workout first thing in the morning after I get the kids to school, but recently I realized that I was getting the workout done, but not the other stuff I had planned in the morning. So I flipped things around. Now I work in the morning on my major projects – the web comic, writing a book, redesigning the website – and then take off around lunch time to swim, attend karate class or go for a run. I was surprised at how well that worked out. I actually got a lot more done, and I still got my workouts in.

I realize that past a certain point in the day, things are not going to get done. That point in the day is 3:30PM, when the girls come home from school. At that point, my time becomes their time. So I make sure to fit in things like my physical therapy before they come home, and I don’t plan to do anything serious after they get here.

If the schedule does not seem to be working, I start a new schedule, or I copy the old one and make any changes as I see fit. My schedules are not written in stone. Things happen, plans change. Schedules need to change too.

So that’s my schedule in a not-so-small nutshell. It’s detailed. It’s anal. It works for me.

It usually takes me a day or two to write the basic schedule out, and then another week or so to tweak it until I’ve got everything I want on it. Then I’ll be able to work with that schedule for a few months, up to six if I’m lucky, before needing to change it for some reason. If you’re having trouble getting stuff done during the day, my suggestion is to pull out a spreadsheet, or even just a pen and a piece of paper, and start making a list of things you want to get done, and figure out when to get them done. You don’t have to be as anal detailed as I am, but a simple schedule could help you go a long way toward accomplishing your goals.

About Cynical Woman

Cartoonist, Artist, Geek, Evil Crafter, Girl Scout Troop Leader and Writer. Also, a zombie. I haven't slept in I don't know how long.
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