Writers must wear many hats to run their business, but they still have lives! If you struggle to keep track of your schedule then spend 5 minutes on this mini-crash course. Follow my advice and you’ll start sticking to your schedule and get more done.
When I worked as Director of the Project Management Office at Suffolk University I developed these top “9 Mistakes People Make That Throw Off Their Schedule.”
Avoid these mistakes and stay on top of your day.
Mistake 1: Not having a schedule strategy
Your schedule is made of appointments and blocks of time to get things done. If you set aside a generic time block like “work” you are liable to go days without accomplishing much.
Define specific blocks of time to accomplish tasks.
I can get drawn into email so I check my schedule first.
Mistake 2: Not writing down your schedule
You have 3 schedules at a minimum:
- Your writing schedule
- Your family schedule
- Your community life schedule
When you don’t write down daily commitments you can easily double book yourself.
Rather keeping 3 appointment books, keep one and incorporate all your time blocks into one 24 hour schedule.
There are many scheduling tools available to keep track of commitments. We have great electronic equipment in our possession: smart phones, desktop computers and tablets. Use an app that syncs across all your devices.
I use Fantastical Calendar on a Mac Book Pro.
Doodle is available for PCs and of course there is Google Calendar. There are also many others. Ask around and see what your friends use. Try one. If it doesn’t work for you don’t give up! Try another.
Mistake 3: Not setting alarms
Don’t rely on your memory for accomplishing your schedule.
Electronic scheduling tools allow you to set the reminder alarms to tell you it is time to end one task and start another! Rather than rely on the snooze feature, try setting more than one alarm!
This approach has you creating one alarm the day before so you plan for the appointment, another an hour before to remind you that you will need to take a break and one fifteen minutes before your appointment. (If you are doing an interview or a phone call, include time to psychologically change gears from writing to the being ready for the call.) If you have to go somewhere, include travel time.
Mistake 4: Going Electronic Only
Get a paper planner notebook and write down your weekly schedule in your calendar book. This allows you to take a quick glance at your day without leaving your writing. Some writers like a Philofax Planner. These are great, but expensive. Some people love MoleSkins (which I discovered through Evernote. I use a LiveScribe pen that syncs your writing into Evernote for general meeting notes (and is searchable.) They now have notebooks with calendars, but I haven’t seen Evernote MoleSkin planners.) I used my free Staples business discount and bought a DayRunner Personal Organizer.
Get whatever planner you like best. Consider one with removable sheets for different types of organizational tasks.
If you are still missing appointments label post-it note arrows with the tasks you must complete that day and stick them on the side of your monitor.
The Post-it Arrow Flags in the Sticky Memo case are my favorite:
Mistake 5: Letting distractions throw you off
When writers can get caught up in a good story, especially when they are writing. However, when struggling with the writing, it is easy to let distractions like email, Facebook, etc. throw you off schedule.
Consider using a method like Podoromo: work for 25 minutes, then take a 5 minute break. This way if you are tempted to check your Facebook account, you know you will get a break soon to do so. Just set a 5 minute alarm to remind you to go back to work!
I use the Nice Timer app by Jędrzej Gronek on my Mac to track my time. It is $2.99. It is simple and it works!
If you are on a PC check out this free Countdown Timer. There are dozens more if you don’t like these but I am a fan of the simpler the timer, the better.
Mistake 6: Not adjusting when an unexpected interruption occurs
No matter how organized you are, sometimes your schedule gets thrown off when you encounter an unexpected interruption. Not all interruptions are bad – sometimes you get a call to be a guest participant in a webinar, or an offer to be a speaker at a conference or an invitation to join a book bundle.
However, a spouse might interrupt your day to say your son’s doctor appointment has been changed. Rather than stop writing to change your calendar, try sending yourself a quick email with the to-do task and update your schedule later. This also works when someone grabs you in the grocery store and invites you to a Superbowl party!
When you get these interruptions that impact the rest of your day send yourself a quick email reminder then when you get back to your desk – review your schedule, prioritize the remaining time in your workday and adjust your schedule, pushing some scheduled activities to another day.
Mistake 7: Not checking your schedule in advance
Appointments can creep up on you. Circumstances change from week to week. It is easy to double-book yourself.
Create a time before the work week begins to review your upcoming schedule and update any changes you have emailed to yourself.
Review your schedule before the work week begins. I check mine on Sunday evening.
Read through your schedule at the beginning of each work day to remind yourself what your day will look like. Check it again at the end of the work day to remind yourself of tomorrow’s schedule.
You might also wake up in the middle of the night remembering an appointment or a deadline you forgot to put on your calendar. Write it down on a notepad beside your bed, or grab your cell phone and send an email to yourself with the subject title containing a short reminder of what you need to add to your schedule. You will sleep better knowing you don’t need to remember anything for the next day.
Mistake 8: Not owning your phone time
An unexpected hour long phone call can throw off anyone’s schedule.
Set up a time during your day to return phone calls and a time at the end of the day to return calls. During the day let phone calls go to voice mail. Return the calls during your designated call times. If an important call comes up, just adjust your schedule for the day afterwards, moving tasks that can wait to another day.
Mistake 9: Giving up control of your schedule
Creating a scheduling process that works usually requires you to experiment with different strategies. If the first strategy you try doesn’t work don’t give up. Your schedule is a tool. The more you use this tool, the better organized you will become.
Analyze what isn’t working and think about what you can do to improve your process. Make a change and re-evaluate at the end of the week. You will soon hit on a plan that has you controlling your schedule rather than the other way around!
Have you tried these ideas and still need help? Write Tonya Price and I’ll set up a time to talk to you on the phone or online and help you figure out how you can improve your strategy.
Have you found a great way to keep to your schedule that I didn’t mention? Send it to Tonya and we’ll post it on the BusinessBooksForWriters website and give you credit for your idea!