In a previous article, I discussed how to write an effective cover letter if you…
This is the final post in my Write to Get Results blog series about professional writing. I’ve enjoyed sharing this series with you and hope you’ve discovered strategies that will help you strengthen your own writing and reach your writing goals. Please stay tuned for upcoming posts that will focus on career management.
You can have every intention to produce your best writing, but if you fail to manage your time wisely, what happens instead is a sloppy email sent from your iPhone while you’re pumping gas that says, “Yup, got it last week wll be in touch ASAP.” Or, a hastily written blog post that you are mildly proud of—or at least not embarrassed of. From my own experience as a writer and more than 10 years as a writing consultant, here are my top time management strategies.
Strategies for Brief, Routine Communication
Estimate how much time you’ll need
Routine communications, such as day-to-day emails, often don’t take long to write individually. But time can pass quickly and what started as writing a few emails can turn into a day of only writing emails. If you’ve noticed this happening, keep a log for a week or two of how much time you spend on writing email and then block time in your calendar for that task throughout the week.
Be deliberate with your email writing schedule
If you decide to take care of email from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. each day, recognize that means that your in-box will likely be filled again by 10 a.m. Consider scheduling several blocks of time throughout the day to respond to email. If you’re tempted to merely “check” rather than “do” email, retrain yourself to combine these tasks so you respond to email when you check it, or schedule time in your calendar if a particular response requires it.
Acknowledge if emails are written quickly
Sometimes a quick response is more important than making sure there are no typos. If you often reply from a phone, include a line in your signature that acknowledges you are responding in haste. But I recommend you do this only if you are truly in a role that requires it, one where the speed of your response directly impacts another person’s ability to do their job and meet deadlines.
Strategies for Longer Writing Projects or Content Creation
Set realistic goals and create a schedule
Writing is a multi-step process, so schedule time for each step. Projects can vary, but you’ll generally want to account for brainstorming, outlining, drafting, revising, and proofreading. The drafting and revising steps often take the longest. Here is an overview of each step.
1. Brainstorming If you routinely produce written material for your job or business, such as blog posts, LinkedIn articles, or social media posts, I recommend keeping a journal of ideas, whether that is an actual journal, a spreadsheet, or a note on your phone. When an idea pops into your head, jot it down. This habit prompts you to create a running list of topics so you can begin writing when you have scheduled time for it instead of spending that time figuring out what to write about.
Remember that your best ideas might not come as a result of you scheduling 15 minutes for brainstorming every fourth Thursday afternoon. You might find that ideas pop into your head when you allow your mind to be creative and wander, such as when you’re cooking, exercising, or engaging in hobbies.
2. Outlining Write down key ideas in whatever format you want, whether that is a traditional outline, a visual spiderweb map, or paragraphs. There’s no need to demand precision from yourself at this step. Some scribbles on a sticky note might be all you need.
3. Drafting Drafting is the time to get your ideas on the screen. Do not waste time by doing line edits at this point. There will be time for that later.
4. Revising After you have a full draft (which might take several discrete sessions), let it sit, then review it with fresh eyes and edit. Ideally, you will also get an outsider’s feedback on your writing during this stage. Revising is likely the step that will take the longest because you might have several rounds of feedback from your reviewer(s), or you may continue to see issues on your own. However, recognize that there will be a point where you should stop because you likely don’t want to spend your valuable time splitting hairs over inconsequential matters.
5. Proofreading Establish some best practices for proofreading, including how much time you’ll spend on a document. Unless you notice something truly problematic, stick to your scheduled time, whether that is five minutes (perhaps for a long-ish email), 30 minutes (maybe a blog post), or two hours (the proposal for a project that might garner you a huge bonus).
Go on a writing retreat
If you are a business owner or in a role that requires you to generate substantial content, consider going on a writing retreat. I go on at least one writing retreat a year, and each time I have gotten a shocking amount of work done. For my retreats, I go to the beach and hole up in a condo with one or two fellow writers and entrepreneurs. The energy is simply amazing, and we brainstorm, draft, provide feedback, and otherwise support each other’s endeavors. We create a schedule for the retreat and stick to it.
Perhaps the most important strategy is to dedicate time for writing, and honor that time. So many people (myself included!) have ideas for written content that can help them build their businesses, serve their clients, strengthen relationships, or demonstrate subject matter expertise, but they never schedule the time to turn these ideas into actions.
Create Templates for Frequently Used Items
Generally speaking, generating proposals and reports requires similar effort as for any other forms of content, but you can make the process more efficient. Consider creating templates for documents you use repeatedly that you can then tweak with each use. (And the same is true for emails that you write frequently. This can be a huge time saver, especially for business owners.)
One word of warning: do not get too comfortable when using templates. Remember to customize any sections that are specific to each client or project. Highlighting sections of the template that need customization will prompt you to tailor them. A quick way to make a bad impression is sending a proposal to a potential client with the name of a client from a prior project on the proposal. For this reason, read the entire document from top to bottom before finalizing, rather than only reading the parts you changed (because you might have forgotten to change something!).
Perhaps the most important strategy to remember is to dedicate time for writing, and honor that time. So many people (myself included!) have ideas for written content that can help them build their businesses, serve their clients, strengthen relationships, demonstrate subject matter expertise, etc., but they never schedule the time to turn these ideas into actions. Or, if they do, they let other more urgent priorities encroach. Also, be realistic about what you can accomplish at any one time. Building writing and the writing process into your calendar in discrete, manageable blocks will help you reach your writing goals.