I’ve been asked – no, I think begged is more appropriate a description – to share tips on how I stay so organized. This is the first part in a series of tips on how I do it.
Two things to note first:
- I am not a neat freak. In fact I’m pretty cluttered, although there is organization to my clutter. It took me a while to get a “system” going, and before I had the system going, I was going crazy with how disorganized I was.
- This is my system, and it works for me. That doesn’t mean it will work for anyone else; as I mentioned in point number one, I am not generally good at organizational skills.
That said, let’s start with something you’ll need to do any sort of time-management: evaluating your time. Why? Because you can’t organize yourself and manage your time doing tasks, if you don’t know how much time you have, or how much time you need.
How much time do you have?
As a freelance writer, odds are you’re working at home, and you’re having to juggle family and/or roommates, and maybe a job too. Every freelance writer’s life is different, though.
What you need to figure out first is how much time you have to write – per week, per day, even on an individual day basis when you get into the workings of it. This shouldn’t be a guesstimate, either – you are figuring this number out to figure out just how many hours of work you can assign yourself each day.
Take an average week, Sunday through Saturday, and do these calculations for each day (don’t worry, it’s not hard math):
- Figure out how many hours you are awake.
- Subtract any hours for jobs outside your writing.
- Subtract the time you have for pre-scheduled activities (for example, church, sports activities, school, meetings).
- Subtract any required time you need to spend with your family (taking kids to and from school, an hour helping the kids with home work, making dinner and having it with the family, etc.)
- Take away another hour for lunch and breaks.
- Take away any “me” time that you feel you need – some people only need an extra 15 minutes a day, some need more.
The remainder is your daily “writing” time. This is as honest of a time you’re going to get with yourself on how much time you have to spend writing each day. We often tend to either overestimate our time we have to write, or underestimate it. This figure will keep you in check, and you’ll know how you got to it if you need to make adjustments.
How much time do you need?
The second part of managing your time is figuring out how much time you need. Now, ideally, you’re going to fill every hour you have to write up with writing productively – even if you don’t think you have the ideas to fill up all that time.
There are two key components to writing – actually writing, and research. Yes, even fiction and poetry writers need time to research, even if it’s just fact checking or rummaging for ideas.
The first thing you want to delegate time for isn’t writing: it’s research. Once again, every writer is different in their time needed for research, but one adage generally holds true: research will kill a lot more time than writing. Take product reviews, for instance: a book may take a few days to read, and a few hours to write and edit a review. A video game may take exponentially more time – I spend about 40 hours over the course of a month reviewing a game for MMORPG.com, and only about 4 hours writing the review itself.
Every project will take its own research time. For every project you take on or plan to do, figure out how much research time you’ll need – and plan that as the first time you spend on the project.
Writing time, on the other hand, takes significantly less time – unless you’re writing a fiction novel with little research involved. But even if you’re not sure how long it will take, you need to estimate how long a project will take you – and if the answer is “indefinite”, instead decide how long you’re willing to spend on it each day.
Put that all together, and the work you’ve just done has:
- Determined how much time you have each day for writing.
- Determined how much time you need for research for each project.
- Determined how much time time you need for actually writing.
Now, here’s the rub: all of that really isn’t as easy as it sounds. Each day, each project, each idea requires different attention and amounts of time. These steps I just laid out aren’t a static, one time thing – they’re something that happens from day to day. They are a habit to get into, a habit which will be applied in later parts of this mini-series.
And, honestly, this is the part I still find the hardest. Even though I’m now in the habit of evaluating my time, I still fall behind or find myself ahead without intending either. I still misjudge research time, and writing time, and often my best thoughts on how much time I need end up falling apart into chaos.
But trust me – if you don’t learn how to evaluate your time, you’ll never get organized.