Monday, August 14, 2017

How Writers Can Stretch Time, in Four Steps

Unless the wheels have spectacularly come off my life in some way, people have a tendency to be amazed by how much I get done in a month. And every now and then, someone will ask me how I manage it.

After all, we writers have the same amount of hours in the day. So how do I stretch mine to get so much done?

Step 1: Set Goals and Break Them Into Smaller Chunks

How does that help a writer stretch time? you might ask. Well. One of my big secrets to getting stuff done is knowing what I want to do.

So I set myself some huge goals, and then I break them into progressively smaller chunks.

For example:

Goal 1: Make a living wage from writing books. 
  1. Write books. 
    1. Write this one book. 
      1. Write 1,000 words every day.
      2. Write 50,000 words.
    2. Write the next book. 
      1. Write 1,000 words every day. 
      2. Write 50,000 words.
  2. Edit books. 
    1. Revisions
    2. Edits
    3. Proofread
  3. Publish books
    1. Format books.
    2. Upload them to retailers. 
And so on. Now I not only have this big goal, but I also see the steps to get to that goal. (The ones that are in my control, anyway.)

I often break even the steps into smaller steps, until I have hundreds of little things I need to do.

Which might sound terrifying, but what sounds easier:

Make a living from writing? Or write 1,000 words today?

So what I'm doing is to break all of my goals into smaller, bite-sized chunks. And then I move onto Step 2.

Step 2: Set Your Priorities. 

Once I know what I want and how I'm planning to get there, I can sit down and decide what's the most important to me. 

But here's the important thing: I decide what's important to me right now. 

This bit is a trick to my success, because a lot of those big goals I set are pretty much equal when it comes to how important they are in my life. 

I don't have kids, but if I had, I wouldn't be able to say writing is more important than my children. But I wouldn't ever be able to call writing unimportant either. 

So the thing is, if you're sitting down to get going, there will be things on that specific day that's more important. If you know you want to focus on that, then focus on that. But also know when you've neglected some other aspect, so you can temporarily bump that thing up your priority list in order to even everything out. 

Step 3: Create a To-Do List.

Once I know all the things that are really important, I can quickly write down the 10 things that are weighing on me the most. (I like 10 for being a nice, even number, but pick whatever works for you.) 

Next thing I do is to number the order in which I'd like to do those 10 things. 

Why? 

Because if I decide upfront what I want to do after I've finished the task at hand, I don't have to waste time later trying to decide what I should be doing. 

How do I pick the order? 

This depends. Some days, it's in order of the shortest deadline to the longest. Other days, it's Writing first and everything else next. Today I'm not feeling a bit lethargic, so I'm making up for it by starting with something easy, then something hard, then easy, then hard etc. 

Step 4: Start Doing

Yeah I know. Obvious, right? But sometimes, people underestimate how important it is to just get going. There's a reason why, when it comes to the setting of my to-do list, I keep things simple. I don't try to schedule anything because I know it takes longer for me to schedule and re-schedule as my day shifts. Time that I could actually be using to tick stuff off my to-do list. 

So once I have my 10 things and I know in which order I'd like to do things. I start. If something happens to prevent me from completing one task, I move onto the next. (Writing this blog is task number 4. Number 3 is postponed because I'm waiting for information.) I might get back to it later. I might postpone to tomorrow. 

And no, there's nothing wrong with postponing as long as it's not going to break a deadline. Because unless you set the bar really low, there's no way you're going to finish all the tasks you set for yourself. 

So move the stuff you didn't get to. Just as long as you get it done. 

And My Big Secret? 

I don't multitask. 

Whaaaaaaaaaaaat? 

Yeah, I know. People usually act like multitasking is the way to go. Especially if you have as many and as varied goals as I do. 

But here's the thing. No one actually multitasks. 

You're just rapidly switching your focus from one thing to the next thing. 

As I'm sitting here, I'm writing this post without looking at my twitter. When I'm doing my social networking stuff, I don't do it while watching T.V. When I am doing something to relax, I try to do so without bringing "work" along. Unless you count crafting as work. But that's a whole other story. 

Point is: If I'm at task number 1, I focus on that task until it's done, or until I take a break. 

And then I focus on the next thing. 

And the next thing. 

And the next. 

Why? 

Because when I'm focusing, I'm making fewer mistakes. And I actually speed up. Because I don't even have the smallest moment of thinking "what did I want to do here again?" 

And so, things get done one little step at a time. And then at the end of the month, I take stock and actually realize how much I have achieved. 

What about you? Are you a multitasker? Do you have a system for getting everything done? What tips do you have? 


26 comments:

  1. When teaching, I was the master of multi-tasking. Now? I am that only occasionally.

    Since I no longer see publishing as a goal, just writing everyday is so fulfilling.

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    1. Yeah, sometimes, the thought of "needing" to publish can suck the fun right out of writing, if you don't see things in perspective.

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  2. I'm always multi-tasking but then it leaves me no time to actually write.

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    1. Hahahaha yeah writing is, unfortunately, one of those things I keep having to postpone in the past two weeks or so. There's just so much that keeps coming up.

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  3. You and I work much alike with goals and priorities. Works well for me, too.

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    1. I just feel lost without a framework of goals and priorities. Like I don't know where to pick up and where to let go.

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  4. I like your approach. It's so important to break big goals down into manageable tasks. Otherwise it can just be so overwhelming.

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    1. Yeah I think even the most impossible-seeming goals can be broken down into things that are under my control, and doing those things brings me closer to succeeding at that big goal.

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  5. Guess these strategies could apply to all parts of our lives. Thanks, Misha.

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    1. Oh yeah definitely. I apply this strategy to all of my life. (Today's to-do list includes crocheting a block because I'm making a baby blanket for a friend. :-D)

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  6. Great post! I think the key to tackling big projects is to break it into manageable parts. Ants might be able to eat an entire elephant, but they've gotta take teeny little bites to make it palatable. :)

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    1. Exactly. One might think you're only doing a teeny little bit, but the thing is, if you do that little bit consistently every day, it adds up.

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  7. Great tips, Misha. I've also found that braking things into smaller goals helps so much. Have a great week.

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    1. Thanks! Hope you have a great week too and that you'll find Malia's services useful. :-)

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  8. Great strategy! But I don't think I'll ever make a living off my writing. Writing is a tough career to earn enough money from. It would be nice, though.

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    1. I think it is possible if you're playing the long game. But I have back-up job upon back-up job to keep me going until I start earning. :-D

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  9. I am a multi-tasker, but admittedly that makes it harder to concentrate. But when I try to focus on just one task, I get distracted by another one. It would be nice to make a living just from writing, though. That's the dream, anyway. :)

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    1. Yeah it would be nice to make a living. Hope things are going well there with you. :-)

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  10. Sandra sent me - and I am grateful for these strategies. I am a list maker and always include one thing on the list that I KNOW I can complete. Having done so, I can cross it off and feel productive and energised.

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    1. That's a really clever thing to do. If you know you at least got one thing done, a to-do list with leftover items isn't so demoralizing. :-)

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  11. I’m impressed by the way you set all this out. The only problem is it would probably have taken me a week to think about it and write; hence nothing else on my list would have got done.

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    1. It took me a while to do in the beginning, but once you've settled on what you're going to do and how you're going to do it, things become a bit easier.

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  12. Hi Misha - yes I came via reminder on Sandra's blog - I must now be more organised as the Autumn sets in ... and I do like to know what I'm doing and when ... but for reasons have got out of that habit - now to settle and clear the slate for progression in the coming months. Cheers and good luck ... I'm sure you'll succeed - Hilary

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    1. I'm the same. I sometimes fall out of the habit, specifically when me life is so crazy that I have no way of predicting what I'll be able to do.

      When that happens, I just give myself a break and do what I can.

      If you'd like some accountability with your goal-setting, I run a bloghop where we update each other on goals. :-) gotgoalsbloghop.blogspot.com

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  13. I came over from Sandra's blog. I think your 4 methods to get things done can apply to almost anything. I can multitask but you are so right that we focus on the one before we go to another and focus there. I actually prefer to just concentrate on the one task before moving to the other so that is the one I prefer. I would add that if one feels overwhelmed, take a break, shut one's eyes and breathe in and out and think of something calming. If one prefers to be active, then take a walk or a bike ride to calm down before continuing on with the task

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    1. Those are some really good tips. We often do need to calm down after setting goals and before starting, as a long list of items can be really overwhelming.

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