Three Ways to Stop Doing the Wrong Things With Your Writing Time
By Christine Niles | October 23, 2017
When you’re first starting to grow a business, saying “yes” to every opportunity can open doors. It can also open floodgates.
Saying yes to everything is a recipe for disaster. So even if you’re just starting out, and especially if you’re a little more established, you need to put a filter in place, and get rid of activities that aren’t serving you.
Last week, we looked at what you’ve been doing and measured it against its importance, impact, and payoff.
So let’s pull that list out, look at the bottom third, and get rid of some dead weight.
Destroy or Delegate
Some things just plain don’t need to be done. Look for things you can stop doing, or stop doing quite as often. When my mom stopped ironing her jeans, she realized that even unironed, they looked fine. Go a week or two without doing the things that were at the bottom of your sorted “I Did This” list and see how it goes.
Some things have to be done, but not necessarily by you.
What can you delegate? Can your family members take on some of the load? Yes, this morning, I emptied the dishwasher while my grown daughter slept in … so I realize it’s not always that simple. If you work from home, sometimes family members perceive your presence as availability to make their lives easier. We’ll talk next week about getting them on your side, but right now, start identifying the things they could do. Will you need to teach them or have some way to keep them accountable? Figure that out now — you’ll need it next week.
Delegating goes beyond your household. Sometimes you’re working on lower ROI tasks for your business, too.
Look for low-payoff activities during time you could be writing or billing higher-payoff work. An assistant might feel expensive, but if you bill at a higher rate for that time, it’s a smart investment.
Finally, if you’re a perfectionist, you might lower your standards for certain activities. If you can bill for an hour of writing instead of folding laundry, perhaps you can live with how your spouse folds your pajamas.
Interruptions might be great for the psychology of marketing, but they’re terrible for productivity.
Interruptions cost more than the few minutes of time they swallow. You’re trying to fit writing into your already packed life. Or you’re trying to fit life into your already packed writing schedule. And you’re trying to do it in a way that respects your priorities and existing commitments, while also keeping you sane.
That’s hard, and it means you need to acknowledge that multitasking is a myth and that every new addition to your schedule or creative queue means yet another string to pull on your focus.
Pros know that if a person’s time is split between two things, their effectiveness on each task decreases. Add another area of focus and it drops even further. And so on.
A lot of research has been done about the energy needed for even the most routine decisions. Everything you have to think about, even the good stuff, requires mental energy. What to wear. Which toothpaste to use. Work. Responsibilities.
Choices take energy.
If we don’t realize that, we can set ourselves up for significant failure. We think we’re slipping in a few extra minutes of something that will feed us. But you have to be realistic, and you can’t bully your production with brute force.
You want to create a sustainable way to do what matters — to you personally, and to the world. You’re special; it’s essential you get this right.
Every idea or project is a drain on your available energy. Pick one, and put the rest away, for an hour or a month. Turn off everything that interrupts, pour your focus into the task at hand, and do that one thing to the best of your ability. Then do that for the next project. And the next one.
The Power of No
Now that you’ve got some techniques to get your current tasks under control, you’ve got to filter and protect your future.
For everything you’re doing now and for every new request, client project, or invitation, filter it through your Why statement. If you have openings in your schedule, ask: does it serve your Why and advance you toward your goals? If your schedule is maxed, you have to ask if it serves your goals MORE or LESS than the things you’re already committed to. If it’s MORE, something else has to go. If it’s LESS, you just say no.
But saying no is hard. We want to be everything to everyone. I’m a sucker for people in need. I’ve spent hours answering questions on Facebook, then barely had time to write or do paying jobs.
But I finally hit a point where I was being sucked dry. So a good friend and mentor taught me three great ways to say No:
1) Not right now
Maybe the opportunity is one you love, but it doesn’t fit into your present schedule. Say, “I’d love to, but not right now.”
Maybe you can build time into your schedule to do it later, or maybe it’s time sensitive and you’ll have to pass.
If you use “not right now,” be sure it’s something you’re willing to do later. Don’t fake it, or it’ll keep coming back.
2) It’ll cost you
Let’s be honest: everyone has a price.
If someone offered me two thousand dollars to write an email campaign in the next two days? Everything goes on hold and I won’t sleep until it’s finished. But a “fantastic opportunity” to do it for “exposure”? No way.
Maybe you already do this with business, but it can work with family and personal things, too.
If you’re willing to do the task, assign a price that values your time and means something to the asker. Tell your teenager, “I’ll give up my writing time to pick you up from practice if you clean your bathroom.” Then write during the time you’d planned to clean the bathroom.
If you’re unwilling, set a price too high for them to pay. “I’ll give up my writing time to pick you up from practice, but you’ll need to give up gaming time for a week.”
You can also add a rush fee: “I’ll edit your essay tonight if you’ll give up three hours of TV, but if you wait until tomorrow, it’ll only cost you one hour. When do you need it?”
Pro Tip: Make kids “pay” in advance.
3) Someone else is better
We live in a world that prizes performance and achievement. Our identities are wrapped around what we’ve accomplished. Sometimes it’s hard to admit we’re not the best at everything.
Saying, “Someone else would do this better” is hard, but it provides relief when we shouldn’t (or don’t want to) do something.
A while back, I was helping a client plan a conference. We were talking through the volunteer roles with our event planner. She said, “We need a stage manager to make sure speakers are where they should be, are mic’d up, and know how much time they have.”
My client said, “Christine, can you do that?”
It would have been easy for me to say, “Of course I can.” But I knew what I needed during the conference. I wanted to meet people I only knew online, not be constantly glancing at my watch or spending all my breaks backstage. And I knew I couldn’t focus my attention on the schedule for two days.
So I replied, “I’m not the best person to do that.”
My client was taken aback; I’d never refused him before.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“I can be distractible,” I said. “I’m not sure I can stay focused and keep everything on track. This is critical, and I’m not the person to do it.”
The event planner agreed — one of her team would be great, and other volunteers could do the things she’d planned for him. Problem solved. The guy who assumed the responsibility was fantastic.
Saying “I’m not the best person” works even better when you have a name. Maybe a non-profit you volunteer for asks you to edit their newsletter. You can say, “I’m the worst person to catch typos, but Susie is fantastic. She’d love examples for her portfolio. Here’s her number.”
You don’t have to do it, the person asking gets a superior solution, and the person you’re referring gets an opportunity.
Building the New Schedule
Now that you’ve got a better sense of how you work, why you’re doing what you do, and what you can let go of, it’s time for a new schedule.
This is where patience and experimentation come in. There’s no easy button here … just trying new combinations to see what works.
Some of this is obvious. Anticipate surprises. Group similar tasks. Respond to email just two or three times a day. Do all your business accounting once a week, or monthly if your business is smaller. Consolidate errands. Carpool with neighbors for events.
Some of it might feel uncomfortable or downright unpleasant.
Not a morning person? Try getting up a half-hour early anyway. Then try an hour. During that hour, do simple tasks, or tasks that require creative thought, which can be a little more free before the critic inside your head wakes up.
Not getting enough sleep? Try a power nap mid-way through the day. See if your productivity improves when you’re more rested.
Whatever you try, the trick is to plan ahead, stick to the plan, then evaluate. Give your experiments time, keep what works, scrap what doesn’t, and try something new.
This article is part the series: Time Management: You CAN Do It All
- Part 1: How to Find Time for What Matters Most
- Part 2: Your Time Study: One Simple Step You Won’t Want to Skip
- Part 3: How to Objectively Analyze Your Life (or at least the way you’re spending it)
- Part 4 (this page): Three Ways to Stop Doing the Wrong Things With Your Writing Time
- Part 5: The Final Secret to Supporting Your Writing Schedule