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Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Time Management via Google Calendar: A Week in the Life

In my last two posts, I explained a new time management approach that I've been using to try to corral my busy life and chaotic to-do list.  The approach combines scheduling Google calendar events instead of keeping a to-do list, with planning everything a week or two in advance.

I always used to plan my to-do list the night before, so it was pretty natural to start planning my week Sunday nights.  The webinar I originally watched claimed that it would only take 30 minutes each week, but with the complexity of my schedule I find that it takes more like an hour.  And then, of course, it's not "plan and done," since I find that I have to adjust my plans throughout the week and sometimes throughout the day when unexpected things come up.

This week, though, I planned out the week Saturday night.  I changed it because a whole bunch of our plans for the weekend changed, and it meant that some things got pushed back until later in the week.  I decided that while I was making those adjustments, I might as well plan the rest of the week too.

I mentioned already that I've been doing a hybrid approach where I have to-do list tasks, but I also schedule out the time to work on those things.  Maybe in time when I get through some of the tasks that have gotten stacked up, I'll start depending on the task feature less and the calendar blocking of time more.  But for now, I've found I still need those task reminders.

I'm also hoping that as time goes on, I'll get better at anticipating my time requirements when scheduling things.  For instance, I totally underestimated my need for down time on Sunday, and as a result I didn't get done all of what I had planned.  I also routinely underestimate the amount of time it will take me to do tasks or transition from one thing to another, although I'm already getting a little better now that I'm presented with a visual of my day with time blocked out for everything.

Of course, there are other times when I just need to allow myself some leeway to change the plan as needed.  I really struggled on Monday, partly because things didn't go as planned and partly because I struggled with motivation. I think it's important to give myself grace at times like that and remember that I'm only human.

I also really like that by changing the schedule in real time, I can look back at a day and see what I spent my time on.  It has been useful for determining hours spent on different things, and also helps me to see that it is not just that I'm not getting enough done - I can see for myself that I'm working on things, I just have too much to do!

Overall I think there are a lot of reasons to like this combined approach to scheduling and planning in advance, and I'm hoping it continues to work well for me.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Upping My Google Calendar Game: Part 2

I recently blogged about my new time management approach using Google Calendar.  The approach requires blocking out time for tasks rather than making an actual task list.  I've been doing kind of a hybrid approach, and blocking out time for my task list.

There's another, equally important idea I've been using in conjunction with the Google calendar, and that is to plan out your week in advance.

Another webinar I listed to basically suggested planning out the coming week or two over the weekend.  The idea is to do the most important tasks early in the week.  I'm assuming because the webinar teacher recognizes that things come up and you might not get everything done, but that if you plan the most important tasks early in the week, you'll have plenty of time to reschedule them even if something comes up.

What's working:

I'm finding that it really helps to look at the entire week, and even into the following week, in advance.  It's helping me to not try to put all the tasks on my to-do list all on the next day, because I'm recognizing that I have time to do all of those things.

What's not:

In theory, planning an entire week in advance sounds doable.  In practice, it doesn't work all that well for me.  Clients will assign me work that is supposed to be done within a few days, and families I babysit for contact me with last-minute requests.  I ride with a friend once a week, but it tends to be whatever day our schedules and the weather can agree on.  And the rest of my life tends to be constantly in flux as well.  It's not like I go to an office, work reliably for eight hours, and go home.

Additionally, I'm still learning what's reasonable to expect of myself and what's not.  So while my scheduling has gotten better and I have fewer changes now than I used to, I still have to adjust my schedule accordingly when I've failed to plan a reasonable amount of time, anticipate hurdles, or allow myself down time between things.

In my next post, I'll go into more detail about how I'm making all of this work for me, and what a typical week looks like for me so far.  Remember that I only just recently started using this combination of techniques, so I'm sure I have a lot of learning still to do about how to make it work for me - and, honestly, how to schedule my life so that I'm more likely to follow through with the original plan.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Upping my Google Calendar Game: Part 1

I mentioned in a post last month that I've been utilizing a new method of managing my time, but I haven't had a chance recently to revisit that topic and post about it.  I also feel like I've been still working on perfecting the approach, at least for my own personal uses, so I haven't felt ready to post about it.

It's ironic that I've felt too busy to post about it, considering this method is supposed to be helping me better manage my time, but I got really busy in November with NaNoWriMo, and it hasn't really let up much in December, even with NaNoWriMo over.  We no longer have write-ins to go to nearly every day, but I am still working on my novel every night, plus we've had a myriad of other things come up in recent weeks.

A few weeks ago, I went on a flurry of listening to free webinars for tips and ideas for growing my various businesses.  I did get some ideas (as well as a ton of marketing emails) and some of them were quite helpful.

One of the ideas I got has helped to revolutionize my to-do list.  Remember recently, when I said I'd been using the task feature in Google Calendar to replace my written to-do list?

Well, this productivity idea basically built off of that thing I was already doing.  Instead of setting tasks, however, the idea is to set calendar events.  Rather than having tasks to cross off your to-do list, you schedule your day around the concept of working on things.

Part of the idea behind this approach is that having a task list becomes demoralizing when you routinely don't accomplish everything you wanted to do.  We all have a tendency to make lists for more than we can actually get done, especially small business owners.  Even knowing that you've put too much on your list, it can make you feel like you're not good enough or productive enough when you don't cross everything off on your to-do list, day after day after day.

So the idea of using calendar events instead of tasks means that instead of having a bunch of (and likely too many) tasks to complete, you're just scheduling time into your day to work on the things you want to work on.  Nothing to cross off, nothing to make you feel bad about yourself.

Unfortunately, I felt like it's not really entirely practical for me to do it that way.  I still need that satisfaction of crossing something off, for one thing - but also, I need that list to remind me of what I'm supposed to do.  So instead of using only calendar events, I decide to use a mixture of calendar events and tasks.  That way I still have my to-do list, but I'm also scheduling out time to do the things on that list.

What's working:

I'm finding it's actually helping me to realize how much time I spend on things, and to build more realistic expectations into my day.  I'm still routinely overloading myself, because a habit like that is difficult to break, but it's no longer by as much.  Instead, I'm spreading out my task list throughout the week in a much more reasonable fashion, and by creating events for what I want to work on, I'm also able to see a visual representation of how long things take to do.

In addition, I also love the fact that my calendar is color coded according to my different businesses and personal endeavors, so I know just by seeing the color of a time block what I intended to work on during that time.

What's not:

I'm not a rigid, stick-to-the-plan kind of person, so even with my day scheduled out, and even with some flex time built into it, I'm routinely re-planning as I go.  I'm not sure that's how the technique is meant to be used, especially since it does often mean that I don't get done everything I intended to get done.

On the flip side, since it's easy to move around events even after they've passed, I can rearrange to reflect what I'm actually working on or what I did work on.  It requires a lot of involvement with my calendar throughout my day, but it also means that I'm able to look back at a day and see what I worked on and for how long.  And, more importantly, I'm learning as I go: learning to be more realistic about my expectations, to plan more time for tasks, and to leave time for things like coffee, lunch, dinner, and personal or flex time.

And actually, when it comes down to it, I'm not sure that changing my plans and rearranging my calendar on the go is a bad thing.  It may just mean that I've taken a technique and adapted it to be more usable by me.  I also think it's good that I am flexible with my time and can change my plans accordingly when I don't feel like doing one thing... assuming that I can get things done when I really need to, of course.

I've combined this approach with another technique that I think is equally important.  I'll address the second part of my new approach in a future post, and then sum up where I'm currently at with it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Using the NaNoWriMo Site for Tracking Non-NaNoWriMo Writing Projects

I made an interesting discovery this year: You can now use the NaNoWriMo website to track other writing projects throughout the year, rather than only being able to use it to track progress during regular and Camp NaNoWriMo in November, April, and July.

So this year, following NaNoWriMo, I created a new project for my continuing rewrites after November ended.  I was unfortunately unable to just create a new goal for the same project I'd used during NaNoWriMo, but this works just as well since I had to adjust the word count to eliminate the words for some related writing I did during November that wasn't actually part of the novel.

I am really enjoying this new feature of the NaNoWriMo website.  I like having a place where I can keep all of my writing projects catalogued in one place, and track progress in all of them.  Plus you're able to set an end date for your goal, and the site calculates out how many words you need each day, based on current progress and end goal - just like it does during NaNoWriMo.  I am really looking forward to using this feature more than just during NaNo and Camp.

The one feature I wish it had was the ability to put progress bars on your website or blog.  In the "old days" of NaNoWriMo, there were word count widgets that pulled your word count from the NaNo site and allowed you to share your progress on your blog.  They've since done away with those, but I really wish they still had them, especially now.

For now I'm using a hybrid approach of updating my word count on the NaNoWriMo website to take advantage of the graph and tracking features there, and also using a word count widget I found online some years ago to show my progress on my author blog.

Monday, December 05, 2022

NaNoWriMo 2022 Recap

I have been focusing more on my author blog lately, since I've been working so heavily on my novel, and I realized I have forgotten to update here very often throughout November.  In fact, NaNoWriMo ended five days ago now, and I still haven't provided a recap!

The recap is that I won NaNoWriMo!  It was the most successful NaNo I've ever had, actually.  I had a few big word count days, but other than that I had a constant, daily pace that got me to the finish line on November 30th.  I could have probably finished earlier if I hadn't been determined to continue writing in order, despite needing to do some research in the last week or so.

As I've mentioned in a recent post, I've been planning to keep working on my novel post-NaNoWriMo, and I've been considering how to ensure I make time for it.  I wrote every day in November except for Thanksgiving, so I felt like this year had a good chance of having created a lasting daily writing habit.  And sure enough, I've managed to work on my novel every day in December so far.

Right now it's a little up in the air what will be happening with my other endeavors.  I also wrote recently about contemplating whether I wanted to continue or change my writing services.  My primary client hasn't yet assigned out work for January, and I haven't done any marketing.  I was going to wait until after NaNoWriMo to start marketing again, but if I decide to go that route, I think I'll actually have better luck after the holidays.

In any case, NaNoWriMo 2022 was a grand success, and may have done what I'm always hoping NaNoWriMo will do: Kick start lasting habits and produce lasting changes in my life.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Shifting Scope in Freelance Writing Services

I've come up against a hard question lately.  I know I'm juggling too many things, and I'd like to be able to focus on some of my other projects, such as finishing and self-publishing my novel, and working on building my doll business.

At the same time, I've lost a couple of regular clients over the course of this year.  I am seeing fewer jobs on the freelance platform I'm using, and have reason to believe they're on the verge of going under, which will take with it my last remaining regular client.

I was planning to start marketing heavily and transition away from using said platform once NaNoWriMo was over, but I've been tossing around some other ideas as well.

One possibility is to take a hiatus from writing freelance entirely, and focus on finishing my novel and getting it self-published.  All of that will require a good deal of work, plus I still have some other projects I'm juggling, so I expect not to have it published until mid-year next year.  Taking a break from freelancing would mean one less thing on my plate, which would hopefully allow me to finish those projects sooner.

Another possibility is to change what I do.  Right now I'm building (within the provided software) and writing a website for the stables where I board my horses, and I'm enjoying it very much.  It's as much visual design as it is writing, and I find the combination very satisfying.  I was thinking last night that I'd enjoy specializing in something like that.  Maybe I could offer blog packages or ongoing blogging as part of my website services.

I haven't decided yet what, if anything, I want to change.  I may just keep things the same through the holidays, and give myself some time to think it through before making changes early in the new year.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

The Simon Memory Game of Life

I feel like, ever since Panama started getting better, I've been playing one of those games where you add something every round.  You know, like the Simon memory game.  Remember the lighted button/tone correctly, and next time it adds a new one to the sequence.  And on and on, until you mess up.

That's what I'm doing right now.  Every time I master making time for something in my schedule, I add something new.  And on and on... except I don't get to exit this crazy game, I just have to make it keep working!

Juggling several businesses and projects can require a lot of schedule compartmentalization.  In the months while Panama was gradually getting better and requiring less care, I made a habit of blogging and working on my websites regularly, in addition to my client work.  And as I got a little more time back, I added some doll and photography stuff to my schedule.  Then he went back to his corral (requiring a lot less work) and I added novel writing to my daily schedule for NaNoWriMo.

Now NaNoWriMo is almost over, and I'm planning on continuing to work on my novel daily after November ends.  I do want to try to get this book published in 2023, so I need to keep working on it until it's finished.

But at the same time, I'm planning on adding another new daily thing to my life in December: I want to ramp up my work on dolls and start getting some of these projects done and out the door.  I also need to do better about taking pictures regularly, as that's part of the marketing for my doll business.

I have a lot that I do, and I don't really want to give up any of it, so that means I need to optimize my schedule so that I have time for everything when it needs to be done.  I don't always succeed, but I think I do pretty well.  I've learned some approaches recently that have made it easier, too, which I'll share in a future post!

I hope all of my US readers had a good Thanksgiving and are able to enjoy a long holiday weekend.  Back to work on Monday!

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