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January 6, 2015

How Do You Stay Organized?

Crumpled sticky note with text: How Do You Stay Organized?

With a new year, we often want to start off on the right foot, and we don’t want to repeat last year’s mistakes. (Let’s make new ones instead, right? *smile*) So we like figuring out what didn’t work last year and what did.

My schedule has been absolutely insane for so long that I can’t even remember when it last wasn’t insane. My inbox is a disaster where things go missing on a regular basis, my Twitter mentions are a stream of people I mean to get back to (but too often don’t), and my to-do list grows larger as I fall more behind Every. Single. Day.

For as much as people tell me that I seem organized, I feel like I’m just barely not drowning. I joke about how my “method” is to flail randomly, but that’s not really a comfortable feeling for me. So I’d love to find a time management approach that helped me track everything.

The Facets of Our Life

As writers, we have to juggle many aspects of our life. We usually have day jobs taking up most of our time. The hours we have left are often split between writing, personal time (including those oh-so-fun dentist appointments), household time (cooking, cleaning, etc.), and family time. That’s a lot of juggling.

Add in the fact that our writing life is often just as complicated (or maybe more complicated) than our day job—with deadlines, drafting, revising/editing, social media and marketing, business accounting (and if we self-publish, add finding and dealing with cover designers, editors, etc. to that list)—and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

Knowing Our Goals

I’ve written many times before about how we need to know our goals:

Heck, I’ve shared a business plan for writers, which is all about deciding on our goals. And as I mentioned in my post about when we should develop a business plan:

“The process of putting our goals or priorities to paper is different, especially if we then translate those ideas into strategies. Writing down our goals can force us to think through an issue, to think deeper and see the ‘end game.’ …

Whether the plan actually works or not is somewhat irrelevant, as Robert Doucette commented on my last post:

“The benefits of a well thought out business plan are psychological as well as strategic. It helps to focus efforts.””

Writing Down Our Goals

Jane Litte of the Dear Author blog had a great post this past weekend about the steps of goal making and prioritizing:

  1. Set Goals
  2. Prioritize Goals
  3. Define Tasks (breaking down goals into smaller chunks)
  4. Prioritize Tasks
  5. Estimate Time (<— Many failures are caused by underestimating the time required.)
  6. Stick to the Plan

She shared a story about the effect of writing down our goals, and it was so interesting I had to look up more information. Per Forbes:

“There was a fascinating study conducted on the 1979 Harvard MBA program where graduate students were asked “have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?”  The result, only 3% had written goals and plans, 13% had goals but they weren’t in writing and 84% had no goals at all. Ten years later, the same group was interviewed again and the result was absolutely mind-blowing.

The 13% of the class who had goals, but did not write them down was earning twice the amount of the 84% who had no goals. The 3% who had written goals were earning, on average, ten times as much as the other 97% of the class combined!

Unfortunately, that study is an urban legend that’s been around for a long time (some references attribute the study to the Yale class of 1953). However, Dominican University conducted a study specifically to see whether or not the original “study’s” idea of the importance of writing down goals was legitimate, and their real study showed similar positive results as the legend. So myth or not, the results are legitimate.

It makes sense. After all…

If we’re not committed enough to write it down,
are we really committed enough to get it done?

Tracking Our Progress

Great! We have goals and we’ve written them down. Now what?

Thanks to Louise Behiel, I discovered Jamie Raintree’s Writing Progress Spreadsheet. If you’re comfortable with clicking around spreadsheets (such as from using one of my beat sheets), you should be able to figure out Jamie’s tool.

She gives us a way to track our word count by day, week, month, year, or project. If only her calendar on each tab offered NaNoWriMo-style color coding, I wouldn’t be able to contain my love. *grin*

But how do we track our non-drafting writing projects? How do we track our progress on editing, or sending out review requests, or our publishing production schedule?

The Holy Grail: All the Information at Our Fingertips

So far, my time and project management has been a mishmash of tools. I use OneNote for brainstorming and brain dumps, and I use various calendars and task applications (Outlook, Google Calendar, Trello, Wunderlist, etc.). But that mix-and-match approach means it’s easy for things to get lost or for my time to get double-booked.

I want an app with a connected website that contains a word count calendar like NaNoWriMo, but also allows us to set up goals and tasks. I want to set up revision and editing tasks like “layering in characterization and theme pass,” “getting rid of clichés pass,” etc. I want publishing tasks like “set up blog tour,” “update website for new release.” etc.

I should be able to put in time estimates for each task and chain them together as parent-and-child tasks with dependencies so I can estimate when a project would be complete. Those tasks should be easily copied and pasted into future projects with the dates adjusted by a simple change to the starting date. I want reminders of upcoming due dates and the ability to link to relevant information.

My calendar and to-do list should also reflect whether I’ve written today’s blog post, cleaned up my email inbox, or connected with people on social media. I want to get a “green success” day on the calendar for completing that day’s tasks, whether they were drafting-related or not, darn it! Oh, and integration for tracking income and expenses per project would be great too.

Is that so much to ask? *smile* (And please, if you know of any such organizational tool, let me know!) Until then, I’ll just have to muddle through, but maybe we can help each other by pointing out tools or lists we can use to get a head start on those tasks. *grin*

If you’ve developed goals, have you written them down? Do you have a strategy or plan for how to complete each goal? How do you track progress toward those goals? Do you have task lists to help mark progress? Do you have a Holy Grail of an organizational tool, or do you mix and match? Which tools do you use? Share names or links!

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45 Comments on "How Do You Stay Organized?"

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Sophia Kimble

Great post Jami, and I’m floundering with you. If by some miracle you find the magic app that does it all, please, please share.

As of now, I use OneNote, Outlook calendar, old fashioned pen and paper that oft times disappears, and excel. And I still feel like I’m forgetting to do something on a regular basis.

Need the magic app! I think it should be called that too when some techy person makes it.

Melinda
Melinda

Hi Jami,
Man, does your dream tool sound nice! I have goals for this year, but not written down. So far I’m 0/5 for days I’ve written any fiction. Great start, huh? I think evaluating where my time goes will be a better place to start. There never seems like enough hours in a day.
I don’t have any organization tools to suggest, but I’ll be checking back on this post.
Good luck with your goals in this new year.
Melinda

Joanna Aislinn

I really like the idea of evaluating where my time goes, Melinda. I might just keep a running record for a while, just to see it in writing. I suppose ‘proof’ of how much time I might actually have could be quite an encouraging thing.

Paula Millhouse

Jami,
Check out Lynn Johnston’s web site writersmarternotharder.com
She developed a tool she calls Writing Tracker that is user friendly, and might be exactly what you’re looking for.

I’m still convinced spread sheets and Excel were written by the devil, but hey, if it works for some folks, I’m all about use it.

One thing I’ve noticed about myself is I start off all gung-ho on a new system, then fail to follow through with it.

I will say this about your bringing up those studies on the students: the ONLY way I made it through graduate school was to write out semester goals, then break those jobs down into measurable objectives, and then get through the work.

Abbey MacInnis

Hi Jami, 🙂
I love this post. I too, wish there was a tool like the one you mentioned.
Thanks for posting links to what you use as well. I’ll definitely need to give them a try.
I’ve recently heard of Asana. It’s a site where a team of friends can work together on projects and tasks. I don’t have an account, but I’m part of a team.
There’s also RescueTime where you can see how you’re spending your time every day while on your computer. You can set goals too.
I have a free account, so I’m limited as to what I can do 🙂 I just downloaded it this weekend, so I’ll receive an email in a week with a report on how I spent my time this week.
I’ve used my iPhone’s reminder feature and calendar to help me with reminders and dates. I’d rather get a reminder or notification on my phone than an email. 🙂
I have written down my goals in Asana. I have them as projects or tasks, which you can also add subtasks 🙂
Sorry for the long comment 🙂
Hope this info helps.
Happy New Year!

Robin
Robin

Great advice, Jami. Setting goals is so critically important to get where we actually Want to go – if you haven’t decided if Montana or Texas sounds great for your next vacation, how do you decide which way to turn on the highway? hmm? 🙂

Stacy Jerger

This reminds me of the year I planned my wedding, LOL! I had made a list of about 150 tasks, with some requiring micro tasks just to complete one task. It sounds crazy, but the list was immensely helpful because it was in chronological order, so I always felt like I was working toward a goal with manageable deadlines (also helped to see what was behind me and what was ahead). I had the list in a spreadsheet (don’t ask how may tabs) and also on my calendar.

I wouldn’t plan a wedding again, but since then I’ve used similar methods for other goals – for my business, personal life, social life, etc. And I’ve found other great chronological lists for things like book releases (what to do 3 months prior). There’s something about *writing it down* that minimizes mental confusion and reinforces what we’re trying to do. Goals, tasks, and prioritizing definitely help get things done! 🙂

Onita
Onita

I’m having a similar problem, in addition to my health issues! UGH!!! My biggest hurtle is to blast through severe fatigue, then my next identifying my goals of my WIP.

Lara Gallin
Lara Gallin

I’m not going to lie, I have no idea what I’m doing at the moment. As well as knuckling down to start on my second draft, I’m still trying to find a part time job, I’m making jewellery and trying to run an Etsy shop which is massively time consuming. I’ve been neglecting social media and need to find time to take a more active approach but right now everything’s all arrrgh!

After reading this post I’m wondering whether it might be an idea to set up a timetable on Outlook to organise myself.

Almost forgot, I also need to learn how to use Scrivener!

Abbey MacInnis

This post made me want to do some research 🙂
I found a free app in the Apple app store called ToDo Lists or Reminder Plus by SixAxis LLC. You can add tasks and set them to remind you every day, week, every two weeks, month etc or not at all. So for those tasks that you want to repeat, I think you can simply change the date. You can also delete multiple tasks and sort them.
It says that it will put your tasks/reminders in order of date. It says that it will help you organize your daily, weekly, monthly tasks etc. I’m going to give it a try.

christa allan

I’d love for you to create/design a planner that does all those things! I still do better keeping track of myself on paper.

Joanna Aislinn

When I have the time and some structure, I can do very well in the organization dept, but mostly of ‘things’ or ‘duties’ (i.e., household papers, closets, notes for school, etc).

Re: writing and projects: I’d gotten insanely overwhelmed with trying to do too many other ‘writing-related’ tasks while working on developing some workshops I plan to teach. I wrote some specific goals re: the workshops, and made a conscious decision to put the fiction writing to the side for a while. (Story ideas weren’t getting me anywhere either.) That helped big-time. Although one piece is missing, it won’t hold me back from starting the contact phase.

Goals: I jotted a few down last January. They’re on a word-doc somewhere. I revisited them once and found I’d made more progress than expected.

Every step forward gets me closer to my goal(s). I can slow myself up by judging the pace, or just keep on feet-forwarding it.

Happy New Year, Jami! All the best to you in 2015!

Deborah Makarios

For me, if it isn’t in ink, it isn’t written down. Text on a computer I can change, but the ink does not lie 🙂
I’m big on making lists, especially if I’m stressed, although my writing is generally in big block planning (these two months I’m working on redrafting this, then I’m going to outline that…) as I tend to be a big-picture person. I can do details, they just don’t enthuse me.

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[…] software and the Windows 8.1 are so screwy. Yesterday afternoon I was reading a post written by Jami Gold about being organized. I’ve been trying to be organized ever since I married Hubby — to no […]

Connie Cartisano

Thanks for the post, Jami.
I have set the same goal more than once, to finish my WIP by _____, but I repeatedly fail. Partly because I have a lot else on my plate, but mostly, as I gather from this conversation, because I haven’t broken it down into manageable tasks.
I’m going to try that.
Also, I feel the frustration with the need for multiple organization and management tools when one would be so much better. Don’t any of us know programmers who could do this? I guess our circles as writers wouldn’t overlap with computer experts, hmmm?
Thanks again.

Chelsea
Chelsea

I use todoist to stay organized. it works on all my browsers and on my phone.

I put everything in todoist. EVERYTHING. From projects that will take years to my to-read book list to “cut otis’s toenails” any floating idea I have, I whip out my phone and write it down. if it’s something that’s more than one action to complete, I make it a project, and write down the next action. I can add reminders, due dates, scheduled repeats, all kinds of stuff.

The weird thing that happens is once I write it all down in todoist and set up my reminders or repeats or due dates, my mind clears because I’m not trying to remember the name of the book I meant to read or that otis needs to go to the groomer or that I have a dentist appointment in three months, all at once. It’s all written down and in a system that will help me handle it.

I only use todoist to organize my life. (scrivener handles the writing) So far, it’s working out pretty good. now I don’t have to remember what i’m supposed to be doing, and that frees up a lot of brain space.

Killion Slade

I really like Todoist – https://todoist.com/ – it integrates with everything and sends you reminders 😀 mobile, desktop, calendars – you name it

I find that I don’t judge myself as to how much I write each day, but more by the project. If I wrote a manuscript of 138K words for one year – that averages out to 378 words a day. Not a real high count. But if I add in all the words that I edited … then that count goes up considerably.

It’s too much stress to judge myself like that. I have set my goal for this year to submit three short stories in addition to another manuscript to take a break from time to time.

Usually when I begin a project I give myself a day to construct a chapter/scene, then another day to write it. That takes the pressure off trying to get the words down because the research and prep work is completed. Then its just a matter of time to relax enough to allow the words to flow. 🙂

Thanks for another awesome post!

Julie Musil

Jami, you seem soooo organized! I’m amazed at all you accomplish. Thanks for the great advice.

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[…] we agree that writing down our goals helps us focus our efforts, we might see how writing down our self-definition can similarly help us focus our sense of our […]

Jennifer Rose

Timely post! I’m working on organizing everything now. If it’s okay, I stumbled across this amazing video that could help someone be efficient with their time… “Robin Sharma – How I Beat Procrastination” http://youtu.be/bLp9EimaEQI

With all the research being done about the difference between handwriting and typing, it makes me wonder if handwriting down a goal makes a different impact on your brain!

Finally, I’m trying out this new software this morning: Weekplan.net. It seems interesting because it integrates Stephen Covey philosophies.

Kerry Gans

The constant juggling! I have an Excel sheet for all writing-related things, color-coded by priority. I have this set up so it opens automatically when I boot up the computer. So it is the first thing I see every day.

The non-writing stuff (child, personal, family) goes on my calendar on the refrigerator. Also color coded so I know who the event is for and what kind (medical is green, my daughter’s stuff is pink, etc.)

This manages to keep me above water–but there are still not enough hours in a day!

Kerry

Grace Potts

One thing that’s really helped me is to make two to-do lists, one for regular, one for goals. That way, my goals don’t get swallowed up in the mundane.

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[…] We’ve been talking a lot about goals lately, and some of our milestones might be related to our goals. But other milestones we watch for might be out of our control. […]

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[…] mentioned before that I’m not nearly as organized as I seem. (That’s assuming I do seem to be organized. […]

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[…] software and the Windows 8.1 are so screwy. Yesterday afternoon I was reading a post written by Jami Gold about being organized. I’ve been trying to be organized ever since I married Hubby — to no […]

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