Feel like you’re buried beneath a to-do list that is full of non-writing tasks? Two weeks ago, I talked about five activities writers do that seemingly have nothing to do with writing, things like bookkeeping and organizing and communicating. This week, we are going to cover five strategies to help you manage all those non-writing tasks. So grab a shovel, and let’s start digging our way out!
The first step to getting a handle on all your non-writing tasks is to acknowledge and plan for them. Ignoring them will not make them go away. In fact, it might multiply them. For instance, ignoring all those update notifications on your WordPress blog will eventually make your themes and widgets outdated. At some point, they may even stop working.
If you aren’t sure what non-writing tasks you do (or should be doing), start with the list I offered two weeks ago and based on those categories, jot down a list of your own non-writing tasks. If you are already doing a lot of non-writing tasks but are struggling to identify them all, my colleague and friend Ann Kroeker told me about Toggl, a time-tracking app that will help you inventory your day, minute by minute. You could do the same thing with a simple Excel spreadsheet or a pad of paper next to your laptop. For one week, keep track of every single task you do and how much time you spend on it. This information will be invaluable to help you plan.
The second strategy for managing your non-writing tasks is to aggregate or batch similar tasks, then, pencil them into your day when it makes most sense for you.
If you look at my calendar, you might believe that your life is decidedly simpler than mine. And you might be right. On the other hand, my calendar isn’t just a reflection of my life; it’s a plan for my work. In fact, my calendar is really three calendars synced into one: my own Google calendar, where I put actual appointments for myself and my family: events, meetings, activities where we have to go somewhere or do something that’s time-specific or involves other people. I share this one with my husband. His Google calendar, a compendium of similar events and appointments, which he shares with me. And then the Google calendar I have labeled “Work Calendar,” the constantly updated plan for how I will spend all my otherwise “unscripted” work time. So though I am technically “free” for large swaths most days—free in the sense that I don’t have to meet or call someone—I have found a calendar is the best way to block out to get all of my tasks done.
To be clear, my calendar is not a task list or a to-do list. I use a combination of a digital reminder app (that features recurring tasks) plus my own adaptation of the analog Bullet Journal and Donald Miller’s Productivity Schedule. In the past, I’ve used an app called Todoist to keep track of every individual thing I do each day (including recurring items for tasks I do every day or every week). But my work calendar allows me to pencil in these aggregated or batched activities. Some of them are writing projects. Others, though, are the non-writing tasks, including a couple of hours every day set aside specifically for administrative tasks and social media. Not that I don’t occasionally sprinkle in those activities throughout the day, but since I know that they are a large part of what I do, I set aside blocks of time to ensure they get done. Also, since my eyes and brain grow tired by the end of each day, I try to plan tasks that feel more like busy work during those hours. When I need to do research or detailed drafting, I set aside morning or early afternoon slots.
Some of the non-writing tasks I do can be automated. For instance, an email version of my blog posts automatically goes out to subscribers anytime a new item is posted. As well, I mentioned above about recurring tasks on my to-do list: for tasks I know I have to perform on a routine basis, the task automatically pops up on my task list in the future according to the schedule I have determined. That means I don’t have to keep thinking about that task and adding it to my list time every time I need to do it again.
Other ideas for automating your non-writing tasks include signing up for direct deposit with clients you work for regularly, having regular supplies shipped on a recurring schedule, creating rules for your email inbox to help move messages into folders and organize your communications, using a tool like Hootsuite to schedule Tweets or Facebook posts ahead of time, and even setting up social media or shared workspace notifications so that you will know when to open those applications rather than repeatedly opening and checking them.
There are many other options. For instance, an email marketing tool like MailChimp, which I use for my email newsletters and blog posts, can be set up with a series of automated posts depending on what links readers click (or don’t click). Or, if you want to offer all new subscribers a special 3-part series just for subscribing, you can set up those campaigns to be sent automatically any time someone subscribes. And don’t forget the power of “rules” in your email app. Not only do the rules move messages to folders based on the sender’s email address or a keyword in the subject line, you can also use those rules for automatic replies (think out-of-office messages) or redirects to colleagues or clients.
Collaboration is not just for creative work. Join forces with other writers to help you with non-writing tasks like promoting your work, leading workshops or other events, even sharing invoice templates or submission trackers. Though this might be your first rodeo, chances are somebody somewhere has gone before you or is going there with you right now.
Even if your friend doesn’t do the work for you (because we all have enough of our own work, right?), they might be able to offer you some pointers that will help you save time. When my friend Ann Kroeker first started podcasting, I thought the learning curve would be way too big for me. I wasn’t even interested. Then, when she showed me how to do some of the technical aspects of recording and editing, I realized that audio and video production might be something I could do. Later, when Ann was interested in setting up a MailChimp account, I had been using the app for years and could give her a few tips. She now uses an app called ConvertKit, which she’s demonstrated for me.
This one is new for me, and I have to admit that I’m not very good at it or very far into it. But some non-writing tasks you would normally do yourself can be delegated to others so that you can focus on doing what you do best. Here’s one I occasionally do: I delegate cooking our family meals to a local restaurant, and we eat out. That happened on Tuesday when we had out of town guests plus a track meet for our youngest son. Delegating household tasks is a really basic application of this principle; I know many writers who do this. A nanny, a housekeeper, an hour of babysitting: asking someone else to do something from your to-do list so that you can set aside time to write.
But even if you don’t have a full-time assistant and can’t afford to hire one, you can still delegate some of your non-writing tasks to others. For instance, Fiverr is an online site where you can delegate basic services for only $5, or pay more for advanced services. Do you have “create and design Facebook Author page” on your to-do list? You can hire someone through Fiverr to do it for $5. Need a proofreader? Get up to 1,000 words proofread within 24 hours for just $5. You can get other basic services, too, like transcription, video production, jingles, logo design, and more. Not only are there things you could delegate to save yourself time, there are things you probably should delegate because they are out of your skill set. Another outsourcing company is called FancyHands, a personal assistant service that allows you to buy a certain number of tasks per month (or year) on a subscription basis and then delegate all kinds of scheduling, communications, or administrative tasks.
What about you? How do you manage all the non-writing tasks that come with your writing life? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comment section.