How Smart Writers Manage Their Time

“It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.” — Steve Jobs

Do you know how to manage your time?

A smart writer does.

She understands how long his writing projects will take, she takes charge of his other commitments so they don’t impact on his work, and she gets the most out of the time he has for writing each day.

Using the Calendar

Some professional writers block book periods for writing each morning and/or evening in their calendars. They avoid making personal or professional commitments during these times because they consider themselves ‘committed’ to their writing.

They treat their craft like a job with professional obligations that must be honoured.

The calendar is the productive freelancer’s best friend. It should be yours too.

Get deadlines and appointments out of your head and into Google calendar, Outlook or some other tool you trust. Then, make a point to check your calendar each morning or evening.

At the end of every working week, you should also spend twenty minutes reviewing all the entries in your calendar.

During this review, check what’s coming up for the next seven days and how you spent your time over the previous seven days.

While reviewing your calendar, ask questions like:

  • What took up the most of my time last week?

  • Are these activities likely to reoccur?

  • What resources do I need to complete these activities faster?

  • What do I need to prioritise next week?

  • Am I likely to meet or miss my imminent deadlines?

  • What’s my most important task next week?

Editorial Calendars

Editorial calendars are another great way of managing your time, particularly if you work with other writers or if you are a blogger.

The editors of professional media organisations use editorial calendars to plan writing projects in advance and to allow teams to juggle various projects.

You can use an editorial calendar to map your articles, stories, blog posts or chapters that you’d like to write over the next few months. They will help you gauge if you’re progressing towards your writing goals.

You can keep an editorial calendar in a notebook, a spreadsheet, a file on your computer or on a digital calendar. Whatever your tool of choice, an editorial calendar should identify some or all of the below:

  • The topic

  • The deadline

  • The resources required

  • The state of the project i.e. first draft, second draft etc.

  • The publication date

  • The priority of the writing project

  • The media outlet or platform e.g. blog post, newsletter, social media

Making Friends With Deadlines

Deadlines are the productive writer’s best friend; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

According to Irish short story writer, Claire Keegan:

“Deadlines are not to be feared. They add a sense of urgency to our work.”

Professional writers, like Claire, use deadlines to write more often.

Amateur writers skip right past deadlines and tell editors their articles or stories will be ready when they’re done.

If you’re good, you can get away with telling your editor to wait.

For the rest of us mere mortals, staying up late the night before a deadline may accomplish the task, but it’s not a great way to work or write.

In the past, I missed deadlines because I was overworked, sick, unfocused and disorganised. My editors made allowances when I was overworked, understood when I sick, chastised me when I was unfocused and gave their next commission to someone else when I was disorganised.

If you’re going to write for someone else, accept deadlines as part of your life. Respect them. Put them in your calendar and be honest about your ability to hit or miss them.

Deadlines give productive writers a goal or end-point to write towards. They force us to make decisions and commit. Yes, a looming deadline can cause stress and anxiety but this kind of tension is natural when it comes to hard work.

Tips for Meeting Your Deadlines

If you’re having trouble meeting deadlines you could:

  • Keep a list of your projects, assign a deadline to each project, and review this list each week

  • Break projects into mini-projects with supporting deadlines

  • Focus on the first or next action you need to take to advance a project

  • Make more time for projects that are causing stress

  • Diary your deadlines in a trusted system

  • Communicate your deadlines to colleagues

  • Negotiate or renegotiate deadlines

  • Abandon projects that won’t help you achieve your goals in favour of higher-value projects

  • Question why you missed deadlines in the past

  • Use existing deadlines as a reason for saying no to new projects

These days, I set myself artificial or soft deadlines for my writing projects.

This helps me focus on what I’m writing, and it also gives me time to review and polish my work before publishing it.

Even if this approach doesn’t work for you, ask yourself why you missed deadlines in the past and how you’re going to solve this problem.

As a smart professional writer, you must finish your writing projects on time. This is your job, and almost every writer will tell you that finishing one project before a deadline makes it easier to finish the next one, on time.