If left undisturbed, no phone calls, texts, knocks at the door, errands, or a to-do list, I can write for hours. But life's not like that. It interrupts me constantly. Today, for instance, I got up at 4 a.m. to write because at 10 a.m. I need to take my car in for repairs. I can't just drop it off and flee back to my office. I use a mechanic who works out of his own garage. He left a 9-to-5 job as a shop mechanic to do his own thing on his own time. He's good, very good. And he's cheaper too - $35 an hour rather than the $85 an hour the old mechanic at a local auto shop charges. He lets me buy my own parts too. (Rockauto.com is the best, cheapest place in the world to buy high quality car parts by the way.)
The point is, I have deadlines from hell, but need to juggle and fit my life into those deadlines. I'm fortunate that I have a washer/dryer and a dishwasher. They save me insane amounts of time, but I still have to load, unload, and put things away. I have to shop for, and cook food. I need to feed the cats and empty their litter box. I have to sleep. All those things interrupt my writing. Writing becomes just another thing I schedule if I want to get it done. So I do. Here are my tips for making life work for you rather than interrupt you:
Keep a Calendar and Refer to it Often:
I have calendly for setting up appointments. It frees me from playing that, "What's a good time for you?' game where I go back and forth with someone for 20 minutes over the best day, time, and hour to meet. I send people the link and they take it from there. Seriously. I have between 5-10 calls a week to set up with clients, interviews, and vendors, editors, and friends. The Calendly site is seriously awesome at saving me several hours a week I can then devote to writing. I use Google Calendar on my iPhone and desktop. Also makes life easier.
Keep a To-Do List
I use the app, Leadertask to maintain a running to-do list. You can get the free version, or a paid version to use more features. It helps me organize tasks into folders - one for each client, and ones for my own projects. It works on my phone, tablet and desktop and syncs everything so it's all up to date.
Most of us schedule doctors appointments, meetings, and things where we have to go somewhere - like a party, conference, etc.. Scheduling forces us to carve time out of our day to get something done. It makes us accountable. That's why I also schedule tasks - like writing time, lunch, naps, and things I need to do around the apartment. By making something part of my schedule I'm not worried about if I will "have time" to do something - whether it's cleaning out the fridge, walking, exercise, or going on a decluttering spree. I KNOW I'll have time because I scheduled it! Shoot for 7-to-11 items to schedule per week. Make at least two of them fun ones - like go to Papa Jims for ice cream, or watch a movie. This also helps me say no to outside distractions. I simply check my calendar and tell the person "I'm sorry. I've already got something scheduled then." People will argue with you when you say "No," to their requests, but are less likely to argue if you say you've already scheduled something for that day/time. Funny how we all put more importance on a scheduled task than simply deciding whether to do something or not on the spur of the moment. At the end of the week I then look back over all I did, or didn't do and reset my goals and the number of items I schedule. It's kind of like a budget. You don't manage your time, your manage your priorities.
Manage Your Priorities, Not Your Time
Mike Salomon at SherpaGuides saved my life and my business with his Time Management program. He is a business coach who focuses on helping people manage their priorities in order to manage their time. We can't really manage time, we all have 24 hours in a day. But we can manage how we choose to use that time - i.e., the manage your priorities tag. By doing a mind dump of all the MUST do things in your head, then prioritizing them in order of what's most important, you do several things:
Stop Reading Your Email Throughout The Day!
This is the most important time saver of all! When you check email first thing in the morning what's in there sets your agenda for the day. We tend to forget everything we intended to do and spend hours answering, responding to, and being distracted by email. I don't check email until I've been up and working for a few hours. I don't check it throughout the day unless a client has texted they're sending me something. When I do check email I do several things. I employ the rule of two. If I can respond to, answer, or deal with an email in two minutes or less, I do. It's like only handling paper/mail once. I set aside 30 minutes three times a day to deal with email and then forget it. I have an alarm on my phone and computer that remind me to check it. I go through it as quickly as possible. If something will take longer than two minutes I send the response to my To-Do list. If it involves several steps to answer it goes to my scheduling list and gets scheduled for the next week. If someone needs something right away, chances are zero they're going to get it done unless they pay a rush fee. Clients mostly know to give me at least a week to work on their project because they know I schedule everything. I'm not perfect, and I do stumble but when I do it simply reminds me to get back with the program.
I aim for an empty in-box. This is hard to do, but once you do it, the feeling is awesome! It means unsubscribing to a lot of things, and setting filters and rules for your inbox, but it's worth the hassle and saves so much time. When we have emails sitting around in our inbox to "deal with later" we end up rereading them. It's a time waster. Empty your inbox. Delete the things you have responded to or taken care of. Schedule other things and put what you need on a to-do list. I know. What about emails you may need to refer to in the future? If it involves information or other details you may need in the future, move it to your archive folder. Let it live there, out of sight and out of mind until you need it again.
There's more, lots more, but the time I scheduled to write this blog post is up and it's time to write! I'm working on a book about prioritizing your work and life and will post it here when it's done! What's your biggest challenge when it comes to managing your time and attention? Leave a comment below!
Consistency Matters More Than Talent
You don't have to be talented to succeed. You do need to be consistent.