(I think this is a great advice that can be used in any area of life, not just for those who are managing a writing schedule)
People ask me all the time how I get so much done. There’s an easy answer, but it’s not very helpful. The easy answer is that I “put the big rocks in first.”
I’m sure everybody has heard the parable about the guy who puts a bunch of big rocks into a bucket. The bucket looks full, but it isn’t, because he then pours in a bunch of gravel around the big rocks. The bucket now looks full, but it still isn’t, because he then pours in a bunch of sand around the gravel. The bucket now looks really full, but it isn’t, because he then pours in some water that soaks into the sand. And now the bucket is finally, really full. The moral of the story is to put the big rocks in first.
Yeah, yeah, sure, nice parable.
But how do you do that, in practical terms?
Here’s what I do:
1) Every morning, my first task is open up my Business Journal and make a list of the Big Rocks for the day. These are the main categories of tasks I’ll be working on. Typically, these are things like the following:
* Web site
* Day Job
2) If any of the Big Rocks have some obvious smaller subtasks, then I list those subtasks. In rare cases, I may need to break down the subtasks into even smaller tasks, but generally there’s no reason to go that deep.
3) I write down an estimate of how long each task or subtask should take. These are not binding estimates. They’re reasonable targets.
4) The day’s schedule is full when the time estimates add up to 8 hours, which is my goal for the day. (There’s nothing magic about 8 hours. That just happens to be a full day’s work for me right now. ) I always try to schedule a full day of work. Not less, because then I’d be planning to waste time. Not more, because then I’d be planning to stress myself out.
All of the above takes me 5 minutes. It’s very simple and it shows me at a glance what I think I can do in one day of effort.
But I don’t stop there, because plans are cheap. What matters is reality.
Over the course of the day, I track my time. As I finish each task or subtask, I mark it with the notation in red, “(Done in X hours)”, where X tells me how much time I actually spent. I put this right next to the original estimate, so I always know whether the estimate was good. It’s an easy way to learn how to estimate better for the future.
Of course, there are always interruptions in the day. There will be e-mail. Phone calls. Skype conversations. All fun stuff, but not what I consider productive work. I log these, but they don’t count toward my goal.
At the end of the day, I add up the number of hours of actual productive work I put in. These are the hours I worked on the original set of tasks and subtasks. Nothing else counts.
The goal is to put in 8 hours every day. If I reach the goal, then the day is a win. If I don’t, then it’s just a partial win.
I also like doing non-productive things. Reading. Skyping. Watching Netflix. Once I’ve hit my 8-hour goal for the day on the productive stuff, I’m free to spend the rest of the day on the non-productive things. No guilt, no worries.
I should add that I have days occasionally when I refuse to schedule anything productive. I caught some wretched virus last week and wound up with a horrible cough that got worse and worse until it was keeping me awake all night.
So I wrote off the entire day, went to the doctor, got an inhaler and some meds, and spent the day resting. You have to be reasonable.
The main point is this. You can be productive without feeling like you’re a slave. You just need to put the Big Rocks in first.
And then keep score so you know how you did.
*This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 8,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com