One of the more difficult things to do when working for yourself, in my opinion, is structuring your day for Maximum Achievement. When you work outside the home or for someone else, expectations are laid out according to the parameters of the job. In other words, you have someone telling you what to do. It is clearly spelled out — you must be at your job by this time; you are allowed a break at this time, and you can quit by this time. In between, you must do this, this, and that. Sometimes, a little of the other. For your reward, you are paid regularly and if you’re very lucky in this day and age, there are benefits such as health insurance, bonuses, paid time off…generally speaking, of course. I know how it is out there.
When you are self-employed, you have none of that. No structure, no benefits, no one telling you where to sit and squat. It’s heady, this type of freedom — but it also has its downside. It’s too easy to be distracted by shiny things, to wander off into the playground of Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube (all in the name of “networking”, an essential part of the job) or to get caught up in that Black Abyss of Research. Worse yet, you can easily get lost in one of the “-ville” games (which I have since blocked, oh, they are so evil!) or endless hands of Spider Solitaire. Or, reruns of “The Twilight Zone” that just so happen to be running on SyFy, or just one episode of “The View” to keep up on current events. Maybe you need a snack, even though you just ate breakfast ten minutes ago. The lawd knows you need a nap, since you didn’t sleep well the night before, right?
You tell yourself things like, “I’m just not productive in the morning, I’ll get to all that other stuff later today,” or “That’s why I went into business for myself, I want an open schedule,” or “I probably have ADHD.” Yarite.
I’m guilty of all of it.
The Strategy of Battle
One of the best ways to combat a bad case of the Wandering Attention (which is just a way to procrastinate) is to set achievable goals throughout the day. I know myself enough to know if I don’t set some kind of goal, achievement level, stepping stones, road markers — whatever you want to call them, I’ll get to the end of my day and ask myself, “Just exactly what did you do today?”
(Hint: A 25% winning percentage at Spider Solitaire doesn’t count. It’s not all that impressive anyway.)
Now, coming from a “pantser” in almost all areas of life, this really goes against my nature. I want to be free! I want to go with the flow! I want to dance naked in a meadow full of flowers underneath the balmy summer sun! (Oh, wait…never mind that last statement. That’s private. Heh.) And that’s great — you can still do that and be productive. The trick is to break your goals down into smaller pieces and remain flexible. (No, not like one of those crazy acrobats that can get their feet behind your head, although that’s a talent that would probably make you very popular at parties. But I digress. Of course. Heh.)
Keep in mind that although I have been a freelancer for years and I have very rarely missed a deadline (as a matter of fact, I can’t remember one I’ve missed) and would rather stick a coat hanger in my eye than miss one, this setting goals thing is relatively new for me. However, since both sides of my writing life, fiction and non-fiction, have picked up steam, I’ve had to do a reboot in order to accomplish everything I want and need to get done.
The Weapons of Choice
The first thing I did was invest in a hefty daily planner with lots of room in it for notes. I already know there’s no way I’m scheduling something for every fifteen minutes — I just can’t work that way, and why I left the dreaded Day Jobbery. But, I do note what I want to accomplish in that day, plus I note when I’m getting close to deadlines, what I need to check out and even if I can “afford” to devote time to the social networking sites above and beyond the “social” aspect. I might hit all my marks and I might not — I always aim high, because I’m an overachiever, but better to aim high and land amongst the cow pies…or something like that.
In addition to my day planner, I also have a calendar. (Okay, it might be overkill. I may have an obsession with calendars. I could have time issues. We all have our quirks.) This gives me a longer-range view of the month. Yes, I could do this from my day planner but then I’d have to *TURN THE PAGES* and I seem to do better with having it up on the wall in front of my face so I can’t ignore it.
Shuffling the Deck
Of course, situations come up that will require me to adjust my daily goals, such as a cry for help from a friend, an idea that occurs to me or a time-sensitive opportunity I can’t pass up. This is where the “pantser” skillz come in handy. I’m in tune with the most productive times of the day for me, and I don’t fight this (unless something of Great Importance crops up) and this is a great advantage to not having to answer to anyone but myself.
The Long Term
I’m not good at long-term strategy, but I’m getting better. For instance, I’ve joined in on the ABC Indie Fiction Reading Challenge so I know I have to read and review two books per month, and I have a page set up to keep me accountable. I have set a goal to read 40 books this year, and I’ve got that set up on Goodreads. I am determined to write two short stories per month, and I’ll get a ticker up somewhere at some point to keep me on track for that.
I’m committed to updating this here blog three times a week. I’ve already got “Fabulous Fiction Friday” to help with that, and I’m considering options for other days of the week to aid in this endeavor.
I’ve hooked up with Hootsuite, trying to coordinate my posting habits for FB and Twitter.
I already know my non-fiction commitments, and since they pay the bills at this point they are non-negotiable.
That’s about as organized as I’m willing to get. What kind of weapons do you use to keep you on track? Share with me in the comments, because I’m always on the lookout for what can help in conquering the day without losing my pants. Heh.
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