Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services chases after a story during her reporting days, while trying to multitask setting up the camera on her phone.
By Shelley Widhalm
Considering that I consider myself a writer, I have let time dis-management get in the way of what I love.
Yes, I made up a word for my inefficiency at time management. I’m used to a 9-to-5’er, but starting a business and taking on a part-time bridge job (that’s fun because I get to wear a baseball cap, run around and be busy) has shown me that I’m not as skilled at using my time as I thought. In other words, too often I’ve exhausted myself and gotten overwhelmed, resulting in dreaded wasted time.
When time isn’t well managed, efficiency can be affected as well as how quickly work can be produced and the quality of that work. To feel more at ease and in control, I found a few ways to better manage my work day to free up space and time for my personal writing and to make the most of the writing and editing work I do for my business.
First, I learned I shouldn’t think of all of the tasks I have to do for the next day or week all at once. I tended to blow them up in my mind, thinking something that will take 10 minutes would take a half-hour or longer. I exaggerated, and then I worried, falsely believing that I’d never get it all done.
So, what I now do is break up what I have to do into small chunks, doing the most important things first, using lists to prioritize and get rid of any unnecessary things. With a boss, my tasks list was defined for me, but out on my own in the big world, I had to figure it out, get organized and develop systems. I had to get intimate with the time clock.
Time Management Tricks
Here are a few other things I’ve learned about time management:
- Focus on one task at a time. Though multitasking sounds trendy and is touted as professional, the brain actually switches from like task to like task but can’t do both at the exact same time. The brain, however, can handle two dissimilar tasks at once, like listening to an audio book while driving. (Check out the “Mindfulness Pocketbook, Little Exercises for a Calmer Life,” by Gill Hasson).
- Don’t squeeze too many tasks into the day, causing the time devoted to each one to become frayed or frantic.
- Don’t procrastinate tasks, because with procrastination comes the guilt of needing to do the one thing but not doing it now, resulting in wasted thought time. Plus, the task can be broken into smaller chunks if there is a longer deadline.
- Devote your entire attention to the task, ignoring email or other distractions.
- Switch tasks when you get tired or thoughts seem to slow down and come back to it later with a fresh perspective, unless, of course, the deadline is immediate.
- Mark down how long it takes to do each task—three months into my business, I started tracking how long I spent on everything, devoting a surprising half-hour ad day on email (I’d thought it was less). This helped me identify how long it took for each different task, especially to speed up the process.
- Set a time limit for each task, but allow for some overage.
- Don’t get caught up in too many details of the task, spending too much time on any one aspect. Be thorough and accurate, but don’t dwell or aim for 100 percent, absolute perfection.
- Identify your most productive times of the day and set aside easier tasks or chores that are routine and do not require much thought. Be sure to do something on the weekends, even for an hour or two, to make for less work later.
- Use waiting times, such as in an office or in line, as a time to do portable tasks, such as jotting down ideas or answering emails.
Fit in the Breaks
And lastly, take breaks, including between and during tasks. A short walk once an hour is ideal to stretch muscles and invigorate the mind and body to get ready for more work.
Some, or all, of these time management ideas can be used for writing. Be sure to set aside time every day or week for writing, so that it isn’t forgotten because of all of the tasks that have to be done. Have a place to write. Squeeze it in when waiting in those lines. Keep a notebook with you. And take pride when you do write, another task accomplished.