Deciding What to Work on When

Well, this topic could take up a whole book, and I have 22 minutes to write this post. But in our MFR Facebook Community, a question that came up on a recent Live Video chat was, How do you balance your writing time. The writer who asked this had, I think, a novel and a nonfiction book proposal she was trying to work on, and she wondered how I juggle various projects.

Here’s how I organize my writing time. This may or may NOT work for you!

Each year, I set a bunch of goals.Things like “Finish 9 new easy reader or picture books (either trade or work-for-hire) that are accepted by wfh editors or are put into submissions rotation by me.” Or “Create marketing materials for MOON: Teaching guide, Trailer, Pinterest boards,” etc.

Then each month, I do a status sheet that lists all my picture books, all my poetry projects, all my speaking gigs, etc., and notes what I need to do for them that particular month, if anything. I put that month’s task in boldface. I highlight things as I do them throughout the month.

This month’s status sheet has things like:

Nonfiction Picture Books (names changed to protect the innocent):

  • MS 1: Submit to Peachtree after MS 4 is rejected
  • MS 2: Get offer from XYZ
  • MS 3: Revise!
  • MS 4: Submit somewhere–does ABC have anything of mine right now?
Status Sheet and Yearly Goals

Status Sheet (left) and Yearly Goals (2 pages long, plus a Dreams page, too, of writing things I hope will happen but have no control over)

I also choose, each month, my ONE Thing. That is my MAIN ONE goal for writing that month, and my MAIN ONE goal for business that month. Of course, I’m eternally optimistic about the amount of work that I can squeeze into a day, so I usually have a 2nd and 3rd item, too. But that top ONE is the number ONE priority. You can see in the picture below that my ONE thing is in all caps and is underlined. Then my next priorities are bulleted. As I completed things, I go into the doc and highlight them in yellow. Yay! At the end of the month, I highlight it in grey if I hardly worked on it at all (boo) or dark green if I’m making progress but not finished.

Monthly Block

Each day I’m working at home (so, not a school visit or travel day), my goal is to work 2 hours on my Writing ONE Thing (or secondary things) and 2 hours on my Biz ONE Thing (or secondary things). I do them in 25-minute chunks with 5-minute walking breaks between. Of course, this time doesn’t always happen. I have Mentors for Rent clients. I have family emergencies. I have stacks of email 8 miles high. I have social media. I have contracts to work out and marketing and promotion to do. All that is supposed to happen after the 4 hours of ONE Things. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t.

But I do find that this system helps me focus. By forcing myself to scaled down my list, I quiet some of the other things clamoring for my attention. If I had two main writing things–one a novel and one a proposal–I would choose only ONE to be my top priority that month. And I would aim to work on it 4 out of every 5 writing days. I would work on the proposal the 5th day, and/or whenever my brain just couldn’t wrap itself around the novel at the moment.

And, of course, things come in and blow my plan all to heck and back, anyway. I spoke with an editor yesterday, and now I will be spending part of my writing time every day for the next couple of weeks doing a new revision of my Spring picture book that is in the process of being acquired. So this plan has to be flexible. Maybe I will revise Spring (now the top priority, despite what my sheet says) and revise Whoa (the previous ONE Thing), but I probably won’t get to the “Revise one other pb” entry. I have to be very flexible or I will explode:>)

So, that’s basically what I do. Would love to hear you guys’ systems!

Whee! 30 seconds left on my timer. Let’s publish this puppy!

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About Laura Purdie Salas

children's writer, poet, reader, visiting author, speaker/teacher, mentor, copyeditor, freelance writer
This entry was posted in Laura's Writing Life and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Deciding What to Work on When

  1. Wow. Great system! Now I know why I’m always overwhelmed. I just have a bullet list of “to do this month” that transfer to the next month if they’re still important and don’t get done. I need to be better at prioritizing. And I LOVE the timer!

    • Thanks, Jilanne–I use http://www.online-stopwatch.com/full-screen-stopwatch/ :>) My system is always a work in progress, and it’s REALLY hard to prioritize and acknowledge that I might have to let this thing I really want to do this month go, if I want to accomplish this thing that I want to do even a little bit more! I tend to be a magical thinker: If I just say it, list it, and work as hard as I can, I can get ANYthing done. Not true. I can’t get a list of things that are 2 months’ worth of work done in 1 month. I just can’t. It’s hard to admit, though:>)

  2. Laura – this is a fabulous system I will be putting into practice. I love it. It’s a great way to stay organized and also to prioritize your work commitments. I also like how you acknowledge that things shift with family obligations, emergencies (both bad and good!) and when life just gets in the way. Thanks for this very helpful system!

    • Thanks, Melissa–I’m finding it very difficult–which is how I know it’s what I need. Hehe–see my reply to Jilanne about my magical thinking problem. No matter how my system shifts over years, one thing remains. I’m constantly crossing out one thing and penciling in another. If it’s because of something good, like a book sale, then I consider myself super lucky! If it’s because of problems/emergencies, then I breathe deep and try to just really downsize my goal to a more manageable bit. Good luck!

  3. Thanks, Laura. This system makes a lot of sense to me. People don’t realize how many hats a freelance writer has to wear!

  4. Focus. This provides it. It’s just what I needed. Thanks! I created a monthly goal sheet earlier…but it was too broad. I like this!

  5. So true. And the hats (and my system) are always morphing… :>)

  6. Carol says:

    I love this system. I love that you plan for the year, then break it down into chunks. I agree that flexibility is a must. There are somethings over which we have no control. Life happens. But having a written plan to help you focus and then regain focus as needed is awesome!

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