Posted On February 7, 2018 by Print This Post

Scheduling and Time Management by Alyson McLayne

Ever wonder how you’re going to get everything done? Let Alyson McLayne show you how she seizes the day!

With January just ended, I realize I haven’t set any goals for the year. And truthfully, as busy as I am, I can’t help but wonder What’s the point? I already have goals for this year in the form of deadlines: 3 books to complete, 12 newsletters to craft, 25+ blogs to write, and the world to wow on social media—not to mention conferences to attend and edits coming out of my ears.

Maybe, like me, you’ve reached the point where you no longer sit down and write a list of New Year’s Resolutions—only to fail come December 31st. Instead, perhaps you choose an inspiring word that becomes your mantra, or theme, for the year. One year I chose the word “success”, and last year a friend of mine chose the word “courage”. This year she has a catchphrase: “Seize the moment”.

These are all good ideas. I can only imagine that if we courageously seized the moment whenever we could during 2018 it would lead to great success!

But I feel like those kinds of words and the sentiment behind them are too ephemeral for me this year. I need something with more grit, more heft, to get me through the challenges I face. Like many of you, in addition to writing, I’m also busy on the home front—I have twin five-year-olds, a puppy, aging and sick parents, and a husband who works long hours.

This past June I was working on three books at once: Final proofs for HIGHLAND PROMISE, edits for HIGHLAND CONQUEST, and a first draft of HIGHLAND BETRAYAL. And that’s not unusual for most writers. I’d say it’s more par for the course!

So I need words that will live in the trenches with me, concrete ideas to get me through the year. They are…

Scheduling and Time Management!

I’ve been playing around with scheduling for a while now, trying to figure out what works best for me—especially as my kids started kindergarten this year and the layout of my days changed to early mornings on school days (hard when I’m a night owl) and activities or play-dates in the late-afternoon.

Some days I feel so overwhelmed with everything I have to do, I jump from task to task and end up feeling like I’ve accomplished nothing—a downward spiral that leads to missed deadlines and burnout. When I work in a scattered fashion like this, I waste time shuttling between tasks and lose track of what I’m doing. Then it takes time and energy to get my brain re-focused on my original task.

And when I do try to concentrate on one project—writing my book, for example—my brain keeps expecting (and wanting) to click away to Goodreads or Facebook or Gmail or Mailerlite—the pathways it knows.

My ability to concentrate has been diminished by multi-tasking!

The last time I made big headway on a manuscript I was on a solo writing retreat and consistently wrote 3500 – 4500 words a day, which is a lot for me. Not only did I improve my word count, but I also wrote for longer stretches of time—increasing my ability to concentrate.

So how did I do that? More importantly, how can I take the success from my last retreat and repeat it in smaller doses during my day to day writing schedule—even with edits, newsletters, blogs, social media requirements, kids, a dog, and a household to run?

First, let’s think about what I actually did before and during my retreat:

  1. I PLANNED the retreat ahead of time.
  2. I COMMITTED to the retreat.
  3. I DECIDED what I was going to work on before I arrived.
  4. I ELIMINATED distractions.
  5. I FOCUSED on only one project during the retreat (HIGHLAND BETRAYAL).
  6. I had an EXPECTATION that I would write a LOT.

That sounds easy, right? For some people it probably is easy. But for others (like me), who often find themselves wasting their working hours, it can be hard to consistently produce to their potential. So let’s start by breaking down our day into blocks of time and thinking of each block as its own mini writing retreat that we’ll apply those six concepts to—whether we’re writing a blog, sending out a newsletter, or working on our manuscripts.

The first block I’ve chosen is Thursday from 9am – 2pm. I’ll commit that time to my calendar and choose to work solely on my next book, HIGHLAND CAPTIVE, during that time. I use a Google e-calendar as well as a big desktop calendar—and if I complete my task, my kids get to put a sticker on that time-block!

Now try to expand your plan into an entire week or month. I do it monthly because I have several writing tasks, like sending out my newsletter and blogging at the Casa Authors Blog. I also have weekly tasks such as scheduling my social media posts, and daily tasks such as working on or editing my manuscript, checking email, responding on social media, and going through Blasty.

To help me get a visual map in my mind (very helpful for me), I write my tasks into a simple graph:

 

DAILY TASKS WEEKLY TASKS MONTHLY TASKS EXTRAS
– Write 1800 words on ms

– Respond/comment on social media

– Go through Blasty

– Write emails (that can’t wait)

– Set Freedom

– Schedule social media posts

– Respond to followers and update Wattpad

– Write emails (that can wait)

– Newsletter

– Ads

– Graphics

– Casa Authors blog

– Edits

– Blogs for book release

– Requested material for publisher

-Update website

 

Once I have my blocks of work-time decided on, and I have an overview of the month’s tasks, then I can schedule accordingly. The good thing about scheduling on a monthly basis, is that if it works for you, you can repeat the same schedule month to month. That’s not to say you don’t have to be flexible—you do, especially when the “Extras” come in like edits, a gazillion promo blogs around your new release, and requests for support materials from your publisher—but knowing what needs to be done and when, gives you clarity, control, and the ability to commit to your plan.

And here’s a tip: if you’re obsessing about something like an email you have to write or a phone call you have to make, take the time to write the task down, so your mind will stop circling around it. Then you can schedule it into your calendar later or complete it when you have free time.

So that’s it, then, right? We’ve got a monthly schedule. We’re done!

Hardly. Scheduling is only half of the equation. Next comes Time Management—which for me means managing my time-blocks (or mini-writing retreats!).

As much as my success (or lack of) depends on my pre-planning, it also hinges on my ability to concentrate for that entire block on the assigned task. For that to happen, I need to eliminate distractions.

Here’s the best tip I can give you to stop losing hours to social media and other places on the web: download a program from the internet called Freedom and install it on your computer, tablet and/or phone. Freedom is a software program that allows you to block internet access in varying degrees—so you can cut yourself off entirely, or just cut yourself off from social media. I have several different settings, the one I use for writing cuts me off from everything but dictionary.com.

Freedom also allows me to schedule a start and stop time, so I can sync it up with my writing schedule. If I want to browse social media, but I don’t want to be at it for longer than half and hour, I can set Freedom to start after just 30 minutes. The program will cut you off automatically, so you don’t lose two hours looking at cute puppies and kittens.

Here are some other ways I eliminate distractions:

  1. I commit to my work time, which means no household chores, phone calls, texting/messaging with friends or playing with the dog. I let people know I’ll be incommunicado for that time, walk the dog beforehand, take lunch/tea/water with me into my office, and go to the bathroom before sitting down, etc.
  2. I leave my phone out of reach and turn off the sound. This is extremely important as I have access to social media, google, messaging, texting, and email on my phone. It has the potential to screw up an entire time-block.
  3. I set up Freedom ahead of time, so I don’t have internet access first thing in the morning or during work hours. If I go on social media, I set up Freedom to start after a certain amount of time.
  4. If you’re working in Word, set your document to Focus View (bottom left corner of your manuscript). That gives you a black border around your document, so you can’t see all the files on your desktop waiting for your attention.
  5. Try working at the library/coffee shop during the day if it’s too distracting at home.
  6. Engage sensory deprivation. For me that means wearing earplugs. (Did I mention I have kids?). Someone else might block noise by listening to their favorite music. Or you may be one of those people who can’t work without the TV on. Whatever the case may be, don’t forget to set it up before hand.

The last aspect of time management and scheduling you should think about, is how you group your tasks so you concentrate longer on similar tasks. That way you’ll have less time lost jumping between files and trying to wrangle your brain back to the project at hand. Think of how you plan your grocery shopping. Instead of getting apples, then crackers, then bananas, then milk, then green beans, we pick up similar items in the same place to save time and energy. Apples, then bananas, then green beans, then crackers, then milk.

Here are some ways I could do that with my work:

  1. I complete all of my non-writing tasks for the week in one or two days, and the rest of the week I focus exclusively on my manuscript.
  2. My newsletter has several components to it. I may choose to complete all the components at once and stay focused on that one task until it’s done.
  3. If I get edits back, I may choose to drop everything and focus exclusively on the edits until they’re done. Or if I have a new release coming up and my publicist gives me seven blogs to complete in the next six weeks, I may decide to power through and get all seven done in a week or two—then go back to my regular schedule.
  4. Use a cross-posting, scheduling app like Hootsuite or eClincher to schedule social media posts for the entire week or month in one sitting.
  5. Go through social media only once per day (don’t forget to set Freedom before you start!).
  6. Save up your emails and write/respond to several at once.
  7. Create several ads or graphics at once.

So we’ve talked about scheduling our time, choosing what to work on and when, and how to manage distractions, but a big difference for me between a writing retreat and my regular day to day writing is that I have the expectation that I’ll write A LOT during my retreat. Way more than on a regular Wednesday. So to this I would say: challenge yourself. See what happens if you give yourself a three hour writing-block—during which you’ll have no distractions and deep concentration—and decide that you’ll write 1500 words during that time. And if that’s not a lot for you, see what happens if you stretch it to 2000 words or even more!

The last piece of advice I can give you is to keep adjusting until you find your scheduling sweet spot. This is important for me because while I keep trying to squeeze my writing time into the hours my kids are in school, I find I’m more productive after they’ve gone to bed at night—which means writing late (which I end up doing several days a week anyway), getting up early with the kids, and then having a nap during the day.

After book 2 HIGHLAND CONQUEST releases, I’m planning to test several ways of working and see which one produces the best results. I suspect I’ll find a pattern that is a mix of writing late some days and writing early on other days, less sleep on some days and more on other days—and lots of naps!

Anyone else ready to quit multi-tasking and fill their weeks with distraction-free, mini writing retreats instead?! A little pre-planning will go a long way to setting us up for success. Try it and let me know how it works for you!!

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Join us on Friday for Amy Alessio!

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Bio: Alyson McLayne is a mom of twins and an award-winning writer of contemporary, historical and paranormal romance. She’s also a dog lover and cat servant with a serious stash of dark chocolate. After getting her degree in theater at the University of Alberta, she promptly moved to the west coast where she worked in film for several years and met her prop master husband. Please drop by for a visit at www.alysonmclayne.com and look her up on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AlysonMcLayne) or Twitter (@AlysonMcLayne).

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Discussion

6 Responses to “Scheduling and Time Management by Alyson McLayne”

  1. So practical, Alyson! Excellent tips and strategies to make your writing time work for you.
    I’ve saved them to see how I can modify them for my own use – being retired with no kids & their needs to meet, means my schedule can be too loosey-goosey. Cheers.

    Posted by Celia Lewis | February 7, 2018, 12:23 pm
    • Hi Celia!

      Yes, I can see how having a lot of time on your hands would take the urgency out of making the most of your free time.

      Try setting a time-block for the same time and place every day where you ONLY write and see if that helps. 🙂

      Alyson

      Posted by Alyson McLayne | February 7, 2018, 10:55 pm
  2. Evening Alyson!

    I agree, multitasking doesn’t really seem to get you anywhere…except having a lot of projects all partially done! On the other hand that doesn’t seem to stop me from trying. =)

    Great article, love it. Thanks so much for joining us on RU today!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Peters | February 7, 2018, 9:29 pm
  3. Hi Carrie!

    Yes, I call it the myth of multi-tasking. I think it’s a necessity of being a mom, but it can really screw with our work-time. Not only does working on one thing at a time teach our brains to concentrate longer, but at the end of a day, we have a sense of accomplishment at completing a task too!

    Thanks for having me!

    Alyson

    Posted by Alyson McLayne | February 7, 2018, 11:01 pm

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