Heeding my own advice: Structure, dammit!

November 27th, 2007

Last week I talked about swallowing my own medicine by creating a detailed spreadsheet to help me wrap my brain around a big fat deadline. Somewhere between the holiday turkey and stuffing this past weekend I realized that when it came to getting reacquainted with working toward a beefy, long-range project deadline while sitting home in my union suit, I still had miles to go before I could consider myself a lean, mean well-oiled machine.

Suddenly the expanse of time I now enjoyed each workday seemed more like a curse than a blessing. The ABC daytime lineup beckoned, as did the half-dozen half-read memoirs on my nightstand. The dirty dishes in the sink taunted me, and the disorganized bedroom closet became an irresistable siren song. I realized I needed to add some structure to my writing day — and quick — or come deadline day, all I’d have would be (1) a Jeopardy-like command of General Hospital trivia, (2) a scarily impressive Goodreads page, and (3) an uncharacteristically immaculate house.

So I once again sought the counsel of The Anti 9-to-5 Guide and quickly honed in on page 104, where I found this tidbit:

“If you’re self-employed, setting ‘office hours’ will help you stay on top of your workload and better compartmentalize when you’re off duty — something that’s infinitely harder to do when your office is ten feet down the hall. Without set hours, it’s far too easy to fall prey to the ‘I’ll just take the afternoon off and then work late into the evening or get up before dawn to finish’ line of thinking. Half the time you’re too tired to do the work justice after dinner, let alone drag your sorry, procrastinating ass to your desk. And setting your clock for 4 AM to finish the work you blew off yesterday is a surefire recipe for oversleeping.”

Ahem, and amen.

Since I’m a fan of lists, I created this one, which I promptly hung on my fridge:

Structure, dammit!

8 AM wake
8:15 journal and morning dance*
9 eat
9:15 walk Buddy
10ish to 4ish write at least 1,000 words for bigass project**
4ish to 5ish catch up on email and errands
5ish walk Buddy
6ish make/eat dinner
8 to 10ish evening activity: playing, slacking, reading, blogging, marketing***, editing day’s work, and/or writing something else****

*Journaling about my project’s progress helps me clear my creative throat each morning. And rocking out to some 70s jam band or other helps get my blood pumping and gives me a morning ritual to signal that the workday’s about to begin.

**Obviously I break for lunch in here. Works best if there are leftovers from the night before that I can heat up in a flash. Also, I discovered in 2006 that (a) everyone strives for 1,000 words/day when working on a bigass writing project, and I can crank out this amount in 3 to 6 hours (or so), polished, depending on how much reporting is involved.

***The other day someone asked for my bio and clips for a potential ongoing career advice gig. Sending them the requested material and following up on other similar opportunities is what I mean by marketing.

*****The something elses I am writing are a couple of non-fiction essayish stories on topics I’ve been wanting to tackle for quite some time. In all likelihood, I will have to put myself on a writing schedule for these too. But first I need to get my hands around the beefier project’s schedule.

Because it’s officially permanently gray in Seattle, with a whopping six hours of daylight available, I discovered I have to set my alarm — yes, even to rise at 8 AM. Otherwise, I’ll sleep clear till lunchtime. So far I have yet to ace this schedule, but I think I’ll have it somewhat close to licked this week. If not, I’ve resigned myself to showering and working in a cafe next week. For some reason, I am resistant to doing that. I like to choose my own background noise/music and visual distractions, I suppose.

How about you? What scheduling tips have worked for you when you’ve seemingly got all week long to chip away at a far off deadline?

Entry Filed under: Book,Creative process

9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Laura  |  November 27th, 2007 at 9:10 am

    I quit my meager office job two months ago to write full time from home and I’m still floundering around, trying to settle into a schedule that works for me. I appreciate the things I’ve read here.

    I’m happy to know that there’s one other person in the world who’s tempted by General Hospital!

  • 2. Michelle Goodman  |  November 27th, 2007 at 1:22 pm

    hey laura, there’s more where that came from in the book. a whole chapter on working effectively from home. just thought i’d mention it. ;)

  • 3. Michelle Goodman  |  November 27th, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    ps, laura, can you believe emily’s dead?! and that i just wrote that?!!

  • 4. Beth  |  November 27th, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    I like to get up around 8 and knock out two hours worth of work, then shower and do some errands. Knowing that I’ve got work under my belt somehow makes the rest of the day seem easier!

  • 5. Laura  |  November 28th, 2007 at 9:57 am

    No. I cannot believe it. I kept expecting her to sputter, cough and come to. But I guess we have to assume at this point that she’s really dead.

    I’ve asked for the book for Christmas!

  • 6. Michelle Goodman  |  November 28th, 2007 at 10:12 am

    aw, thanks. i’m such a promo whore. appreciate it! as for em, i think nik is slated to have some etheral romance with her ghost or something. can’t wait for THAT!

  • 7. Laura  |  November 29th, 2007 at 7:53 am

    Hmmm. I thought maybe they would tell us it was all a dream!?

  • 8. Michelle Goodman  |  November 29th, 2007 at 11:10 am

    Or a delusion… OK, I’m done, lest the non-GH fans run for the hills.

  • 9. Marc  |  February 20th, 2010 at 6:13 am

    The painful truth for me is that I’m most productive when I’m being pushed by someone else to get the job done. Without this external force I’ll spend the whole day engaged in my favorite recreational activities. So I’ve written a number of Autohotkey macros that tell me what to do each day. It will ask me (in the form of a pop-up window) if I’ve done a particular task yet and if I answer no, it will continue to bug me about it every hour until I finally answer yes. I never have to review my to do list because the macro does it for me and then tells me what to do at the appropriate time. It also nags me to pay the monthly bills.

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Who I am

Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

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