Admittedly, life’s gotten crazier in the eleven months since my agent landed me a book deal. Despite her savvy negotiating skills, she failed to grant me six extra hours a day, so I make do with 24 hours and a lot of caffeine.
I won’t claim to be an expert on time management, but I'll share a few tips I’ve learned for taming a to-do list that threatens to bend you over its knee and paddle you with a wooden spoon (unless you like that sort of thing, in which case you should carry on as is).
1) Omit nothing from the list. It might seem silly to include chores like emptying the trash and clipping your toenails on a to-do list with important tasks like submitting copy edits to your publisher. Don’t let silliness stop you. Not only does it ensure you won’t forget anything, it gives you a much-needed sense of accomplishment when you cross off completed items.
|Walk me, please!|
Dog guilt is a powerful force.
2) Tackle the guilt tasks first. You know what I mean by guilt tasks – the stuff that niggles at your brain and makes you feel like a lousy human because you haven’t done it. Maybe it’s clearing the clutter off your desk, calling your brother, or taking the dog for a walk. Tackling a guilt task seldom requires as much energy as you lose by having it hanging over your head. Get it done, cross it off, and move on.
3) Be smart with high-priority tasks. The most important thing on my weekend list was inputting my critique partners’ feedback into my current manuscript. Even so, I waited until the second day of operations to take a stab at it. When it comes to writing, I need my brain to be clear and creative. Those adjectives don’t describe my mindset when I’m cowering under my bed as the to-do list growls and calls me a pansy. Putting off the big tasks isn’t lazy – it’s strategic.
4) Do double-duty. Skim your list for things you can do simultaneously. Can you fold laundry and chat on the phone with your beta reader? Scrub the toilet while brainstorming a sex scene? Turn your to-do list into a blog post? (Um, yeah…)
5) Ditch the distractions. I’ve learned to switch off email alerts and Twitter notifications when I’m neck-deep in my to-do list. I’m easily distracted as it is, so I really don’t need…hey, look – a squirrel!
6) Add stuff just to cross it off. Yes, I have performed tasks not on my to-do list and written them in afterward just for the satisfaction of crossing something off. Surely I’m not alone in this?
7) Neuter your next list. One thing that killed me this time was watching my number of unread emails hit triple digits and keep climbing. Though plenty were trash, it still took time to make the assessment and hit delete. Determined to make things more manageable next time, I went in and changed some Facebook and Twitter settings to help reduce incoming messages in the future.
8) Save communication for when you’ve made a dent in the list. I get snarly when I’m stressed, and that’s hardly the right frame of mind for emailing my editor or calling my mom. Unless there’s someone you want to snarl at, save communication for when you’re feeling more upbeat about what you’ve accomplished.
9) Timing is everything. Hitting the grocery store at noon on a Sunday is a good way to ensure you’ll spend an hour in line pondering what sort of prison sentence you'd get if a cop opened your trunk and found the decomposing bodies of a slow cashier and the woman behind you who cursed at her kids. Can you save shopping for evening? Skim your list and make note of time-sensitive tasks. Calling the insurance company probably has to happen during normal business hours, but visiting the adult video store to grab an extra pair of pink fur handcuffs can wait until midnight.
10) Don’t forget the downtime. It's OK to recharge your batteries by reading a chapter in a good book while having a glass of wine. It's probably not OK to reach the end of the book or the bottom of the bottle before your list is done.
What are your favorite strategies for tackling a to-do list? Please share!
Now that mine is curled up under the desk purring, I need to go kick it. Gotta remind that bitch who's boss.