07 December 2012

Working Smarter – Set a Schedule

When I first started as a freelance writer, I worked out I had a window of eight weeks to complete my novel before I needed to look for contract work.  Believe me there’s nothing like that kind of deadline to keep you focussed. 

When I tell people that I work from home they often comment on the discipline needed so you don't waste time. If you're working on something in your spare time, you might think this doesn’t apply to you as you don’t have a deadline, but time is our most precious commodity.   

If you ever intend to publish a novel and make money, or sell short stories or articles, then it’s a business and you can’t start early enough in being professional about it.

Over the years I've worked from home, and before, I’ve learned a number of things about working smarter, and in the run up to the holidays and preparing for the New Year I thought I'd cover some of the things I do.

The first one is to set goals. It’s the old but true, if you don’t know where you’re going… but I’ve already talked about that here, so let's look at some of the others:
  • Write regularly - Set a schedule
  • Manage your time
  • Where and how you work
  • Track Progress 
Write Regularly - Set a schedule

An important part of working smarter is thinking of yourself as a professional writer.  This can be difficult when the majority of your income doesn’t come from your novel/short stories/articles, and also if you have family or friends who talk about ‘your little hobby’.  But if your ambition is to be a published writer, then you need to start thinking like a professional.

A professional writer writes. Regularly, and not just when the muse attacks!

Think about your dream for a moment. The phone rings, it’s your agent or a publisher offering you a contract.  Once you’ve stopped floating around the room the details start to sink in, it’s a three book deal, with deadlines. You’re going to have to start writing, regularly. Everyday!  You’re going to have to come up with ideas for these other books. Oh, and they want you to build an online presence.  They suggest blogging regularly…

If you don’t take yourself and your writing seriously, then no-one else will. 
If you don’t have deadlines to meet, then set some yourself.  An important element of making goals and deadlines is to set yourself up for success rather than failure.

Setting a word count can work, but maybe setting a specific period of time for writing might be better, until you get a feel for what a good writing period looks like in word count.

When I set my goals I also schedule the time to complete them rather than just hoping I’ll find the time.  Believe me, you will never FIND the time, it’s like looking for lost keys.

Once I've set a goal I then outline the tasks needed to reach it, and estimate how long each task will take. You might only have 30 minutes a week for a particular task, but it's in the calendar.

I’m one of those awful people who wake bright and early, and I'm much more creative earlier in the day.  So if at all possible (unless I have a very tight work project deadline), I schedule some writing time early in the day, and leave time in the evening or late afternoon for tasks that don’t require so much creativity.  You might be the opposite.  Work to your strengths. Don’t do what someone else does, unless it suits your best working style.

I wasn’t joking about not waiting until the muse attacks. If I wrote only when I felt inspired I’d never finish an article or blog post let alone a novel.  If I’m developing some training material or a technical manual for a client I sit down every day and work at it.  We need to do the same with our own writing.  I’ve found that by writing regularly I stay in a creative state where ideas come (or I am more aware of them), and I’m a better writer when I write regularly.

Making new habits is difficult to begin with.  Whether it’s an exercise programme, eating healthily, or writing a novel, it feels like climbing a mountain.  That’s why breaking your big goal into smaller chunks, with milestones along the way, makes it more manageable. 

One of the things I did when I started running was to mark on the calendar the days I went for a run. I found I liked seeing the ticks on the calendar.  On the days when I wasn’t so motivated knowing I’d have a blank space on the calendar helped push me.  Just recently I found a couple of posts on the same subject.

Make a schedule, get writing, and don't break the chain.

Next post I'll talk about managing time.


  1. An excellent post. I've found that setting regular times for writing as well as deadlines for progress helps keep me on track.

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  2. Thanks for the lovely comment - I'd definitely not get as much done without setting regular writing times.
    Hope you enjoy the next few posts on the 'theme'.
    Have a great week.