Time Blocking

Time blocking helps me stay on top of the non-writing parts of my writing career. Below are three resources to help you with blocking business days into your writing career.

1) The Time Block Challenge for SMIAH

2) Would you like a BUSINESS DAY CHECKLIST freebie?

3) LESS WRITING TIME MORE WORDS (originally published by The Startup on Medium.)

I thought quitting my day job would free up plenty of time to write — it did not. I filled up my days with countless appointments and fell prey to advice that told me to find social media followers or engage with book bloggers or build a fort out of books big enough for the news choppers to notice me as they circled from above. After a year of “writing full time” my cumulative word count was abysmal and I wasn’t very happy. I realized I used business as a way to productively procrastinate and keep from doing the deep and difficult work of writing.

Parkinson’s law said tasks take as much time as you allot for them, so I devised my ideal time ratio for my writing career: 40% writing, 40% reading, and 20% business.

The question was could I boil down all the business stuff to just 20% of my time? After a few years of practice, I got pretty close to it, and here’s how:

On the 10th and the 25th of every month I block out a business day on my calendar. (Why the 10th & 25th? Because I read a finance book where the author said do your bills on the 10th & the 25th. As a fantasy writer I spend all day making infinite decisions about my characters and other worlds. On occasion it’s nice to have someone tell you what to do and not have to make a decision.)

On business block days I sit at my desk and tackle:

1) Financials. Pay bills, invoice customers, send payment reminders to overdue clients, make sure my book-keeping is up to date, reconcile accounts, transfer money, review income statements, etc. Freelancers are small business owners. It is our job to have a good handle on the money we have coming in and going out. I only have the privilege of pursuing this creative career if I have enough money to pay my mortgage — bi-monthly check ins let me know if that is going to happen or not. (15 minutes — 1 hour)

2) Social media posting. I use scheduling software and schedule posts for every day until the next business block day. This is when I write promotional posts (i.e. Save-the-dates for upcoming presentations or conferences appearances, scholarship opportunities for my Authorpreneurship Coaching, publication announcements, etc.) This is also when I support other authors by reading and sharing their content, books, and posts. It’s important to practice good literary citizenship and supporting other authors is an integral part of that practice. (1.5–3 hours)

3) Back ups. Twice a month I export my email list and website content to my hard drive. Then I back up my computer on to an external hard drive. I use an email service provider, which is currently free. At any point in time they could change their business model and I could have to pay to access my subscriber list and past newsletters or potentially lose access to my list entirely. I read a lot of sci-fi. I can’t trust the cloud with 100% of my being — regular backups give me piece of mind. (5 minutes)

4) Calendar review. I examine my upcoming commitments and deadlines. Between client edits, speaking engagements, and writing deadlines there are a lot of moving parts. Business block days I double-check my priorities and timelines to make sure I’m delivering what I need to before I am supposed to. I want editors/clients/bookers to find me easy to work with, and that’s only going to happen if I meet deadlines and deliver high quality work. (5–15 minutes)

5) Business correspondence — via email or snail mail. Conferences need a speaker bio, or a school district wants a W-9, or a blog interviewer needs headshots. A million strange things pop up when you’re an author, and most of them can wait until the 10th or the 25th. I want people to know I respect their personal time, so I make sure to send business correspondence only between 8 a.m. — 5p.m. Monday-Friday. If I happen to be doing my business block at 10 p.m., I use the delay-send feature on my e-mail, so the messages will deliver during the next day. Turns out when you respect other people’s business hours they’re more likely to respect yours. (15 minutes-3 hours)

One of the smartest things I did was pair something I loathe doing (promotional social media posts) with something I love doing (my financials — because I’m the weirdo that derives great satisfaction from bookkeeping and balancing accounts.) Both need to be done, but by pairing the two tasks together I have built a psychological reward into the process.

The more consistent I am with my business days the faster the business work goes. Therefore I need less time to do it. I also found that by moving all these tasks to two days I procrastinate less on my writing days, without business as an excuse to procrastinate my word count has increased exponentially. Ideally one day an assistant will do a lot of this work for me; by getting a firm grasp on how to do all of this now it will be easier for me to train an assistant when that time comes. But for now, blocking out designated business time makes my writing time more effective.

I procrastinate less. I’m not distracted by impending deadlines, and I know that my business is taken care of.