Monday, April 20, 2009

Dividing Your Time Between More than One Project


I’ve just recently come back from spring break with my children.  I think it was a nice break…for them.  I tried to maintain my writing schedule to the standard I have at home---with varying success.  I discovered though that it all balanced out in the end.  Some days (days I was in the car all day, for example), I was able to come up with some ideas to pursue, but I didn’t obviously commit as much to paper.  Other days, I accomplished more than my usual goal—but frequently I was putting on paper the ideas I’d come up with in the car instead of brainstorming new ideas.

This has been an unusual three weeks for me.  I’m actually working on three different manuscripts at the same time.  While I’m delighted at the opportunity to have so much work, at first I was hesitant about how to prioritize my projects.  The first morning I tried dividing my time was pretty harried.  I started with one manuscript, then I had an idea for the other work-in-progress, so I picked it up and worked on it for a while.  Then I got antsy because of my deadline for proofing my ARC (due May 4).  So I picked up the ARC to do a bit of proofing.

Not productive.

Many of you might be in the same boat.  Maybe you’re not working on three manuscripts simultaneously, but perhaps you have more than one project going on at once---are you promoting one book and writing another?  Or are you trying to develop a website or blog presence while you’re working on a manuscript?  You could be taking an online course to improve your writing skills (or teaching one), freelancing for extra cash, and writing a novel simultaneously.

Whatever your situation, I’ve discovered a few ways to help feel more organized.

Although it may seem obvious, it’s important to prioritize your projects by importance.  Do any of them involve a deadline?  If you have two projects with roughly the same deadline (something I’m experiencing now), try to prioritize the deadlines—which project requires more work before the deadline?  Will you be less frantic if you first finish the project that doesn’t require as much work?  Or will you be more relaxed if you focus on the project that requires more from you?

Plan your day according to your creative flow: Does one project require more creative output (writing) than the other (a proofing project, class, website development?)  If so, pinpoint when your most creative time of day is and plan to work on that project then.  Moments when you’re not feeling as creative are good for more rote chores like working on a website, research, and proofing.

Take breaks:  There’s nothing like getting burned out.  Busy is one thing, but strung-out is something worse.  When you’re taking these breaks, try to unplug.  Turn off your cell phone, close your laptop.  Try something active like taking a short walk, gardening, or housework (not as fun, but it needs to be accomplished too.) 

Set small and realistic goals for each day’s work:  It’s easy to get overwhelmed if your goal is the completion of several projects in the same time frame.  Instead, make reachable, realistic goals for your day.  For example:  This morning, I’ll write five pages for Project A. This afternoon, I’ll proofread one chapter.  Tonight I’ll blog. 

Keep a notepad handy.  Record ideas, but focus on the project at hand:  Frequently when I’m proofing or working on one manuscript, I’ll get ideas or bits of dialogue for another manuscript.  Instead of changing direction and picking up another work-in-progress, just quickly record the ideas on a blank paper to fit in the manuscript later.  This helps prevent the “running in five different directions at once” scenario.

By taking a little time to prioritize and plan, I’ve had a really productive last few weeks; even while working on three things at once while traveling.