Posts Tagged ‘time management’

How Writers Can Stop Procrastinating Forever

Posted in Blog on November 12th, 2013 by Carol Tice – 95 Comments

do it - procrastination conceptHave you been trying to get serious about writing, but can’t seem to develop a regular writing habit?

Do you find you keep putting off writing in favor of something else — snacking, chatting on Facebook, reorganizing your closets…pretty much anything except sitting your butt in the chair and grinding out the paragraphs?

“I manage to do everything except the actual writing!” one would-be writer emailed me recently. “Can you help?”

Another writer recently related that she quit her job to become a freelance writer about two years ago, and then never wrote a word. Ever. Until her money ran out and she had to go back and get a day job again.

Yet another commented on Facebook:

I need motivation-Facebook comment

When writers don’t write

So here’s the thing about being a writer who doesn’t write. And who is looking to the outside world for a way to acquire the burning drive to do so.

I can’t help you with that.

You might tell yourself or your spouse or your writer friends, “Well, I’m procrastinating about writing right now.”

But really, you’re not.

Let me explain what I mean.

The truth about procrastination

The reality is, you are never procrastinating.

I know! It feels like you are. But you’re not.

What all human beings really do, in their every waking moment, is make choices.

Every minute of every day, you are making decisions about what you will do, based on what matters most to you.

You are not procrastinating. You are deciding.

Today, or this month or this year, you may be deciding not to write anything.

Yes, maybe today you really were dying to write but you had to take the kids to soccer. Maybe this week the relatives were in town.

But over the course of a month, a year, a decade, you ultimately make time for the things you want to do.

And you don’t make time for the things you don’t.

Be aware of your choices

Often, we make these choices on how to use our time a bit unconsciously. We become creatures of habit. “Yes, I never miss an episode of [your favorite TV show here].”

If that’s you, then it’s time to bring these choices up to the level of your consciousness and start thinking about how you spend your time. Keep a time-use diary for a few weeks if you need to.

It may help you confront a basic reality of life: We all make time for whatever really matters to us.

It’s been said that you don’t become a writer or aspire to be a writer…you either are a writer, or you aren’t.

You are one of those people who is scribbling song lyrics in the margins of their grocery lists, or lying awake at night composing poems in your head, or pitching editors dozens of article ideas. Or you are someone who doesn’t feel that drive to get words down and put them out in the world.

“I’m dying to become a published author!” you say. But contrary to what the greeting cards tell you, it’s not the thought that counts — it’s the action.

If you’re never making time to write, it’s because deep down, you don’t really want to write.

Or at least, you don’t want to write bad enough to face your demons, overcome your laziness, and sit. down. and. do. it. On a regular basis.

That may be harsh, and tough to confront. But that’s the reality.

Stop putting it off…

Runners get out every day and run. Writers make regular time to write, because it’s impossible to go on living without getting those ideas out of your head. And because we know it’s another muscle that has to be exercised a lot to get working well.

The corollary, I’d say, is if you are a freelance writer who never can find time to market your writing, you don’t really want to do this for a living.

Maybe you want to dabble with your memoir or your fiction or write a personal-journal type blog, but you don’t have the drive to make writing your source of reliable income.

The next time you find yourself wanting to complain that you are putting off writing (or marketing), remember that it’s not procrastination. It’s a deliberate choice.

Stop waiting for the kids to leave home or the move cross-country or to feel better-rested or whatever it is you blame for why you’re not writing now.

Be a writer, not a waiter

There will never be a better time to write. For all you know, you may not have another day of life to live beyond today.

If it matters, you’ll make time to write.

Because you are doing exactly what you really want to do with your life.

How do you fight procrastination? Leave a comment and share your tips.

5 Tips to Beat the Inefficient Monday Freelance Writer Blues

Posted in Blog on September 30th, 2013 by Carol Tice – 47 Comments

Sad freelance writer has the bluesDo your Mondays seem to whiz by without your ever getting a chance to write?

That has been me, for a long while now. It always seems like by the time I answer Freelance Writers Den questions and blog comments and email, and maybe do a little research or planning, the day is over.

I often feel like if I looked at the clock, I would see it spinning around wildly like when they want to show time-lapse in movies!

The fact that my kids now have an early-dismissal school schedule that means they arrive home two hours earlier every single Monday is not helping, either. (Thanks, budget cuts!)

Recently, I decided I needed to get serious about reclaiming some productive writing time on Mondays. Here are the steps that are working for me:

1. Write a to-do list on Friday

I try not to leave the office without a list of the urgent priorities for the next day. That was working well Monday-Thursday, but I often failed to get my list together on Fridays. Getting serious about taking a few final minutes to prioritize before my week wraps helps me hit the ground running Mondays and get right to the important stuff.

2. Keep regular sleep hours

It’s always tough to stay on schedule on the weekend — we all want to sleep in! But a renewed effort to stay on the same schedule means less head-fog on Mondays when I suddenly try to get up hours earlier. And that means I’m more likely to feel I have the energy and focus for writing.

3. Write before your day “begins”

I was recently influenced by a post about how Jeff Goins writes something every morning before he checks email. I’ve adopted this habit now, and it is fantastic!

I’ve discovered the world will not end if I don’t respond to emails before 9:30 or 10 a.m. instead of at 8:30. And once I start looking at emails, it’s easy to get pulled onto other people’s agendas and off my own priorities.

Writing first before the blizzard of requests and questions hits means I’ve got one important thing checked off for sure. I feel more in control and get more writing accomplished.

If writing first thing doesn’t work for you, block out another sacrosanct writing time in the day when you will shut distractions out and write, no matter what else you have on your plate.

4. Write what you want

Since Mondays are hard to get traction on, I tend to schedule fairly easy writing projects such as my own blog posts, ebooks, or course materials. On the other hand, I rarely try to write a lengthy feature article for a magazine or post for my Forbes blog on Mondays — those posts require a lot of research and take a lot longer to write.

Since I want to get through a draft in one sitting, and often have a lot of other tasks on Mondays, I try not to schedule any tough client deadlines for Mondays.

5. Mini-blitz on Sunday

I hate to tell writers to give up weekend time since I really believe in work-life balance. But I’ve discovered if I can put in a couple of hours somewhere on the weekend, I can clear the underbrush of administrative tasks out of the way and have a more focused and productive Monday. Since I never work on Saturdays, for me that means grabbing some time Sunday when the kids are in religious school or on playdates.

The bottom line is that I can’t afford to let one of the five weekdays go down the drain while I potz around trying to get in gear. I feel less panicked and like I’m “behind” as I head into the rest of the week when I get some writing done on Day One.

How do you make Mondays productive? Leave a comment and share your tip.




Hit the Wall? 8 Marathon Training Tips for Writing Stamina

Posted in Blog on September 25th, 2013 by Editor – 23 Comments

marathon runners are like freelance writersBy Cinthia Ritchie

You’re slumped over your desk struggling with the freelance writing assignment you contracted three months ago — and just started today. You cram chocolate in your mouth and send one desperate email after another.

Sound familiar?

For months, I cluttered my freelance business with bouts of procrastination. I flailed and strained, unable to find my rhythm.

Then the answer hit me during an 18-mile run. I wouldn’t race a marathon without a training plan. Why, then, was I struggling to complete writing assignments without a schedule?

Later that night, I created a writing plan.

The end result isn’t a training notation so much as a reminder to grant my writing life the same priorities as my running life — to slow down and make time for the difficult tasks, to build each assignment with slow and deft care.

Here are the steps I take in running — and writing:

  1. Start with a solid base. Begin marathon training without a solid base and you’ll bonk. Attempt a freelance business without a long-term plan, and you’ll hit the wall, hard. Find a schedule that works for you, and stick with it.
  2. Prep for the long run. Skip the long run — the backbone of marathon training — and you’ll suffer lead legs on race day. Overlook research — the backbone of writing — and your copy won’t make it past the starting line.
  3. Run when you don’t feel like running. Dragging yourself out of bed at 5 a.m. for a 12-miler isn’t fun, but it’s a necessary part of marathon training. An empty computer screen can feel equally daunting. Get over it. Writing is hard work, and some days it’s just that: work.
  4. Break out of the pace rut. Want to run faster? Push the sweat with tempo runs. Want to break into new writing markets? Attend conferences, cold call or, scarier yet, query in person.
  5. Fuel your runs. Marathon fueling is tricky. Too much sugar, and you risk Runner’s Belly. Too little, and you run out of steam. Writing requires a similar balance. Do you sprint through photo assignments only to lag on captions and headlines? Find what works and run with it.
  6. Remember that the marathon starts at mile 20. Most marathoners hit the wall around mile 20, when glucose levels plummet. Writers hit the wall when they run out of ideas and good quotes. How to break through? Suck it up, and keep writing.
  7. Finish strong. The last few miles of a marathon are brutal. But if you run a smart race, you’ll finish strong. The last lines of a writing assignment are similarly challenging. Strive to finish with a burst of lyricism. Then raise your arms over your head and celebrate.
  8. Take time to recover. A marathon is a beast, and your body needs time to recover. Some writing assignments extract an equal toll. Space out long projects to allow yourself breathing room. Take a walk, read a book or, better yet, head out for a run.

Cinthia Ritchie writes and runs in Alaska. Her first novel, Dolls Behaving Badly, was published by Grand Central Publishing in February 2013. The process of pitching this guest post was detailed in a previous post on Make a Living Writing.

How to De-Clutter Your Mind and Become a More Productive Writer

Posted in Blog on May 24th, 2013 by Carol Tice – 56 Comments

Businessman Seated at His Messy DeskHave you been finding it harder and harder to get the writing done lately?

This happened to me recently.

I felt like a rusty engine slowly grinding to a halt on rails that needed some oiling.

It seemed super-hard to focus on the article or blog post or email I needed to write. I just couldn’t get started.

My head felt fuzzy like it was stuffed with cotton.

Then I took a look around my home office, and all around my house.

Clutter outside, clutter inside

Know what I discovered? A lot of junk. On every available surface.

It’s the 21st Century American curse. Stuff is cheap and readily available, and it tends to pile up like you wouldn’t believe.

After 18 years in my house, the place was a clutter-hole. There wasn’t a cupboard or shelf you could put anything inside of anymore, so things were piling up in plain sight. And this house is loaded with more closets and drawers than you can believe.

In my office, a mile-high stack of about two years of project files sat, waiting for me to discard old files in the filing cabinet and make room for them.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m looking at a world of clutter all around me, I find it hard to focus. The visual clutter clogs my brain up, too. It’s too much stimulation and not enough serenity.

Getting clean and simple

Once I realized what the problem was, I committed to combing through the house to get rid of useless junk and get things put away.

It took a few weeks to get through the bulk of it, but the results have been well worth it, both for my writing productivity and for simply enjoying my home more.

Think you don’t have time to declutter? I hear ya. That’s how the clutter gets there in the first place.

Around my house, we often throw stuff down because we “don’t have time” to figure out where it goes right now. Two years later, it’s still sitting there. Junk was dripping from the tops of bookshelves, piled on the fireplace mantle, shoved under the beds…you name it.

The problem is, all that clutter calls to me. It makes me think I should be picking up around the house instead of writing.

I refuse to blow writing time to do it, so the clutter sits. But I also don’t write. It’s sort of a vicious cycle. And here’s how I escaped…

A busy writer’s de-cluttering guide

I didn’t get any less busy, but I managed to clear vast swaths of junk out of my house. Since getting the place cleaned up, I’m finding it much easier to sit down and get to my writing assignments.

Want to clear the visual clutter to kill the mind-clutter? Here are my tips:

  • Do a 1-drawer quickie. On hold on the phone? Waiting for dinner to cook? Pull out one drawer or attack one shelf. Over time, these really add up, and allowed us to rip through most of the kitchen. It now has — gasp! — actual empty shelf space ready for new edibles, and half the counter clutter is gone.
  • Get family buy-in. If you don’t live alone, you didn’t make this mess alone. Explain to everyone that we’ve got too much stuff, and their help is needed to cull the collection. (Anyone unwilling to participate will have to live with the decisions others make on what to discard.)
  • Go for the worst. I was shocked when my husband went straight for the worst drawer in the house — the one we call “The Drawer of a Thousand Things.” You couldn’t even fully close it anymore, but whaddaya know, it didn’t take very long to clean it out! After that, everything seemed like a breeze.
  • Pick a boring day. A dull, rainy day is a perfect time to organize a cleaning party. Warn family members that you’re planning to do some cleaning tasks that day so everyone is prepared.
  • Think Container Store. Often, closets seem full but are just poorly organized. My daughter’s closets were a disaster area…so we bought three sets of new organizer drawers. Presto! All her art projects and raw materials are easy to tuck out of sight. Now, she can pick up her own room in 5 minutes flat, a task I used to spend at least a half-hour on twice a week — hello, extra writing time! There are pricey organizer systems out there, but plenty of cheap systems, too — this doesn’t have to cost much.
  • Make it fun. We turned on the stereo and listened to music while we cleaned, and rewarded cheerful cleaners with treats such as a movie, DVD rental, or a fresh-baked muffin. There’s also the bonus of finding actually useful items you no longer knew you had.
  • Have a splurge. Once you’ve got empty drawer space, treat yourself to something you’ve been wanting. One of my kids replaced three entire bins of ancient, little-used toys with one $30 copy of Wii Sports Resort. Now, he’s got a fun new game and tons of closet space to store his current, grown-up kid projects.
  • Donate. Anything useful but outgrown can be donated to any of the many charities that run thrift stores or garage sales. Feel good that you’re helping others by passing on what you can’t use, especially clothing. If you haven’t worn it in a year or two, it should go.
  • Don’t forget the computer desktop. If your online desktop is a morass of miscellaneous visible files, get those tucked away into folders and out of sight, so you can focus on your current assignment.
  • Get into maintenance mode. Once you’ve got cleaner closets, commit to keeping them that way. Five quick minutes a day to make sure closets are still functional and clutter is stored gives you the reward of a tranquil writing environment. Be pickier about what you decide to purchase and bring in the house, and you can kill more clutter at the source.

When I’m stressed lately, my sister orders me to immediately throw away 10 things that are sitting out. That’s a great quick drill for preventing clutter from creeping back.

What clutters your mind? Leave a comment and tell us how you clear the decks.