The Author Toolbox: Time Management Tools To Save Your Sanity (Part 1)

The book is written. The platform is built. The publishing decisions are made. The people are in place. The bank account is ready to start collecting those royalty checks.

We’re ready to launch, right? Not quite. As I discovered the hard way, a successful book launch and the swirl of time-sensitive marketing can be an exhausting black hole that consumes all of your time, energy, and balance to the detriment of your health, relationships, and mental sanity. Not to mention the creation of your next book gets lost in the chaos.

Don’t panic yet. Just be aware that you’ll need to have an organized plan for the weeks leading up to launch. You’ll also need a time management plan so you don’t sacrifice your other priorities along the way.

Tool #1: Set aside time at least yearly for a “Big Picture” dream session. We started this section with a dreaming session for the ten-year vision for your writing career. That was great, but now we’ll take it a bit further. Think five years. What books do you want to have written by then? Where do you want to be in one year? Write it down. If you feel overwhelmed by how much there is to do (or you are a chronic procrastinator who thinks there is a ton of time and then has a mad sprint toward the end of the year to meet those New Year’s resolutions), consider the 90-day year concept. What would you like to get done in the next three months? The looming deadline might be enough to get you actually working while the realistic goal isn’t so large to create a feeling of being overwhelmed.

However, life is not just about our writing. So go back to that big picture and look at the other aspects of your life. Health, finances, marriage & family, faith, hobbies, relaxation activities, friendships, day job, etc. are as much a part of us as our writing career. In fact, thanks to the Boss Mom podcast, I’ve come to see the various responsibilities in my life as all piled into a single bucket rather than a home, work, personal, and writing collection of buckets I’m trying to carry and keep balanced without dropping anything along the way. It’s just me here—one bucket—and everything is mixed together in a jumbled mess with easy access to the things that rise to the top layer as urgent tasks.

We’ll get to the logistics of making sure the right things rise to that top layer, but for now keep focusing on the big picture of your life. Where do you want to be in ten years, five years, a single year, and in the next three months? Stephen Covey would call this the first habit of highly effective people—to begin with the end in mind. If you know where you want to go, it’s easier to chart a course to get there. And if you dream with a balanced approach, then you won’t accidentally sacrifice your health, family, or other relationships along the way to climbing the corporate ladder or reaching your writing goals. Not to mention, when you circle back for your next dream meeting, you can evaluate how you are doing and re-adjust your path in order to reach your goals.

Tool #2: Create a brain dump place and develop the habit of regularly writing down or recording all of the random thoughts of things you need to do. From a future book idea to a reminder to yourself to schedule a dentist appointment or check the oil in the car, those nagging there’s-something-I-don’t-want-to-forget-to-do thoughts can creep into your writing or work time and steal both your attention and your momentum.

I’m a list maker and find great freedom in knowing things are written down somewhere so I don’t have to worry about forgetting them. (I can now just worry about how I’ll get them all done!) Of course, there is also the worry that I might lose that particular list if the clutter builds up around my work area. That’s where it becomes critical to have a system in place that works for you and your personality as you keep yourself organized. The following tools have at various times worked for me but are in no way an exhaustive list.

First, for the paper lovers who would rather see things in writing than rely on an electronic app, there’s the proverbial day timer that my own mother calls her “paper brain.” Many of the more expensive brands have side bar places for to-do lists that can also be used to capture random thoughts.

I have a friend who creates a comprehensive journal using a cloth cover around a small stack of composition notebooks. One notebook is a personal faith and prayer journal for the year, one for family and home related brain dump lists, one for writing, one for her artistic doodles, and so on. The resulting “book” is thick but contains everything she needs to refer to in the moment as well as provides a convenient place to write down that next random thought in a place she won’t lose it. (There’s a lot of beauty in having everything in one place but many people function very well with a family calendar and a personal day timer.)

I used to joke that I needed a list of all my lists…until I found with the connected app on my mobile devices. This free program is literally one giant list with the ability to create sub points and sub-sub points and even sub-sub-sub points like a limitless outline. It’s as simple or complex as you want to make it and it’s easy to expand or collapse the sub-lists to limit the visually overwhelmed feeling. Completed tasks or items can be marked off but not deleted so you can see what you’ve already done. Although I never quite figured out how to use it best, there is also the ability to add hashtag search anchors (i.e. today, this week, urgent) which can create a layer of scheduling to the chaos when you search for those specific terms.

Speaking of scheduling, I found that the massive list could be paralyzing since it was hard for me to filter out what needed to be done next. That’s when I discovered ToDoIst with the built-in ability to send me reminders when it’s time for a task to get done. This free program with synchronized mobile apps allows you to create projects (such as personal, appointments, writing, future ideas, day job, etc.) and then tasks within each project. Each task can then be assigned a due date which could also be the date you need to start working on that task if it’s a bigger project like your taxes. (The premium version offers more labeling and reminder options but also allows you to turn an item from your email inbox into a task with a due date and synchronizes with iCalendar.)

ToDoIst has an “inbox” spot to do a brain dump of every random thought where you can then later edit each to assign it a specific project or date. Tasks can be flagged as a top priority, scheduled as recurring, or left unscheduled as merely thought placeholders within that project. This program then automatically populates your To-Do list for today with the top priority tasks at the top of the list as well as any scheduled appointments. You can also see a schedule for the next seven days for future planning.

If you are a more visual person, check out Trello which is a cross between a To-Do list and the visual bulletin boards found inside Pinterest. The free version offers plenty of organizational magic as you arrange moveable cards onto vertical lists that can also be moved around onto various boards. Each card has additional features like the ability to create a checklist (or ten), add pictures, notes, or even links to a website. Using your one “power-up” connection per board, you can add a due-date to specific cards and see them on a calendar layout. The premium version has customization options for prettier boards, multiple power-up connection features with other applications, and the ability to share boards with team members.

How could you use Trello? You could have a board for writing projects, a board for marketing tasks, and a general board for this week’s schedule. On the first board, create a list for each book idea with cards for each step of the process, cover design ideas, and pictures of your hero with additional checklists for more detailed ideas. For marketing, create lists for each social media platform you are on, your blog, and your book launch team with individual cards or checklists for each random idea or quote or tweet you could use. On the weekly schedule board, create a list for each day of the week with a few extra lists to the far right to capture cards for next week, future appointments, household to do items, or those other other goals outside your writing. Then at the start of each week, move appointment cards onto the appropriate day and copy task cards from the other boards over to this board until you have a virtual calendar for the week paired with easy access to all of your other ideas and a convenient place to brainstorm new cards within any list. What’s extra nice is that you can then drag cards around to create a different priority order within a project or postpone a task to a different day on your current week’s board.

Tool #3: Organize your brain dump tasks into individual projects and prioritize them in order with the next right thing at the top of each. I’ve already touched on the organizational abilities of the three programs I have used, but the point here is to break that massive project down into tiny achievable steps that don’t feel so overwhelming, and then arrange those steps into the best order. Whether they are lines on an outline, tasks in a project list, or cards on a board, the important thing here is to develop a plan.

The specific tool you use—whether one of the programs or methods described above or a different one that works better for your personality—is not as important as the process. The dreaming at step one naturally turns into a period of brainstorming ideas that then need to be sorted into a logical plan where it’s easy to see what is the next thing to do. Many time management gurus emphasize the importance of a weekly check-in time—often on Friday afternoons or Sunday nights—in order to review the previous week, see what worked, make adjustments, and develop a specific plan for the week ahead. If you have already broken each project down into actionable steps, it’s easy to know exactly what needs to be done in the upcoming week. There is also freedom to know that a plan exists and no step will be overlooked along the way.

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