This is a lesson I’ve (re)learned just in the last week or so.
New year, new schedule. I’ve been jiggling things around, to change up from last year’s marathon sprint to get ahead by six weeks, so I could take a vacation.
This year, I re-thought my writing schedule and what should go into my day.
The problem is, it looks like there’s way too much to do. Every indie author faces this problem. If you write out a list of everything all the experts tell you that you should be doing, the list comes out longer than your arm and is simply impossible to manage.
I will be talking a lot more about author overwhelm this year.
It’s really a long-term problem.
But to solve the immediate problem which, it turns out, is really a long-term problem.
When you face a very long list of things to squeeze into your day, the short-sighted solution is to slash everything that isn’t immediately urgent, and manage the handful of priorities that remain.
This works in the short term.
You may even be a good medium-term thinker and learned to address some of the chores and activities that properly live in the upper right quandrant of Steven Covey’s priorities box – the Important, But Not Urgent priorities.
So you do manage to write every day, and do some marketing and networking, etc.
Which is good. It’s actually great. It puts you far ahead of millions of wannabees who never seem to get their ass in gear and write.
If you never move on to longer term planning, this is still a great place to be.
Consider the very long term.
I did not consider the long-term priorities at all, last year. It was a deliberate decision, designed to carve out the six-week vacation I so badly wanted.
And I got my vacation, so this year, I must return to the very long term priorities that I abandoned last year.
Very long-term priorities for indie writers actually look like they’re not at all important in the short term.
- Story development.
- Writing in other genres and pen names
- Deliberate practice and training
- Networking and relationship building
- More reading.
There are not too many of these seemingly trivial activities, although I’m sure I’ve overlooked some. Those I have listed here are my personal extremely long term priorities that I wanted to squeeze back into my day.
They’re on-going, endless activities with little or no pay off in the short term.
In the long term and very long term, they have an overwhelming impact on my writing and my business.
Squeezing them in seemed impossible.
I jiggled and shifted and merged and split. I reworked my weekly schedule four or five times, trying to get everything in there and not give up any of the short and medium term priorities that must be tackled.
And I did it. And no, I didn’t give up on sleep, as that is a very high priority for me (and it should be for you, too).
You can pull this off, too.
There are two key tricks to managing it.
1. There is only 24 hours each day.
The more you want to do each day, the less time you can spend doing it. I did a lot of grouping and shaving of time. I also did a lot of compromising.
Depending on how many things you want to get into your day, you may find yourself down to five-minute increments for each.
There is a point of diminishing returns, of course. Spending only a minute on a major chore per day probably won’t work. But if you group those minutes, until you have seven per week, or 15 per two weeks…that’s doable.
You can also cycle through major priorities. Spend this quarter on story development, next quarter on studying and deconstructing every how-to book you own and the third quarter on relationship building, using the same timeslots for each.
There is a way to squeeze in everything.
2. Remember it is a game of increments.
I’ve spoken about writing in increments a lot. Five minutes, here and there, adds up.
One thousand words a day is 365,000 words a year, a goodly number of books.
The same increments thinking applies to any other priority or project you want to tackle. This is the thing I was reminded of this week. Five minutes a day to develop stories might seem like it’s not worth opening the file and starting, but the five minutes add up.
You can also group and cycle your priorities, too, if you like working in bigger chunks of time.
I did this with my pen-name writing. I like staying immersed in a story for hours on end. I’ve been doing it for years. In the last few days, though, I found that having to break off two hours earlier than I used to, in order to start writing an entirely different story, was adding unnecessary stress. It felt as though I wasn’t progressing sufficiently on my primary writing.
So I’ve “grouped” my two forms of writing. I will continue to write six hours a day on my primary writing, but stick with the deadlines and production schedule for that writing which is based upon only spending four hours a day on it. It means, of course, I will finish the book ahead of deadline.
That will give me two or three or possibly more solid six-hour slots to use for the secondary books, when I can work at full immersion upon them.
I also grouped and cycled the other long term priorities, so that I do one activity a week, for a good, solid 90 minutes each time. On Monday, I do Activity A. On Tuesday, Activity B, and so on.
If I find one of the activities needs more attention, I can spend a week doing it every day for 90 minutes, as long as I put it aside later, and concentrate on the others. I think of this as “working in seasons”.
You can do this grouping and cycling, too.
Or you can continue with five-minute bursts on all your priorities, each and every day.
It doesn’t matter how you do it, because even spending five short minutes a day on a project will give you progress you wouldn’t have otherwise, and those five minutes add up fast.