Monday, November 17, 2008

30-Day Organizing Challenge: Flow Through Work

Day 22's goal: Create a workflow plan

Every Sunday night I sit at my computer in the quiet of the waning weekend (can you tell I don't have kids?) and fill out my plan for the week.

I started doing this because of a very big problem: I was coming up against deadlines and realized I didn't know what I needed to finish. Or, I'd forget that edits were likely on stories I'd already filed. I'd turn in a story and become resentful when I needed to drop everything to make a few follow-up phone calls.

Now that's crazy. Edits, as any writer knows, are a very important part of the job.

What I realized was that I didn't resent the work. I resented myself for not allowing time for it. When I started this challenge, I got a lot of questions about creating time for marketing, time for invoicing and other administrative work like scanning and shredding or addressing mail, time for the gym, and time for personal things.

This chart is how I make time--and make my priorities.

My method is very basic--a Word document marked with eight columns. For you, it might work better to do it in Excel, in ACT or in your Blackberry's calendar function. The key is that whatever system you will use is the right one for you.

This is my low-tech solution, and these are what the columns include:

Column 1: Client/assignment.

On my form it comes out something like, "Chron-nabe" or "TMG-GINA." Any shorthand that helps me easily identify the project.

Column 2: Final deadline.

Self explanatory. It allows me to include both stories I've filed but for which I have expected edits and those for which I haven't invoiced. Everything stays on there until I send the invoice.

Column 3: This week.

Under this heading, I list what needs to be accomplished this week. For stories I've turned in, I always write, "Poss. edits"--possible edits--to remind me that work is not done. For stories I haven't begun, this usually means researching or contacting sources.

Columns 4-8: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.

For each day, I write what I expect to accomplish or what I need to accomplish to stay on-target for my deadline. It also allows me to see that if I have three deadlines, as I do this week, I need to stagger writing them. That way I don't end up frantic and trying to draft three stories in one day.

How Many Rows?

I include a row for each assignment, from inception to invoicing, but also have ongoing tasks that get their own rows--so named because that's what I list as the deadline. It's not that they're not important. It's that they're always due. These include: Querying, Gym, Networking, Admin and Personal.

It reminds me that 1) these are real priorities and need to be scheduled in; and 2) I need to find time to do them every week. This is not optional.

In those "ongoing" rows, I include what days I'll hit the gym or go to yoga, include lunches scheduled with editors, days to scan clips and file old docs, etc.

How It Could Work for You:

Organize your rows.

Start by listing your deadlines by date. On my current list, I have an assignment that was due on Sept. 12 and one due Dec. 16. On the former, I'm waiting for edits, and I use the schedule to remind myself to drop a note to the editor. On the latter, I remind myself to get started this week seeking sources so I'm not slammed as people leave for the holidays.

After the deadline rows, I have the ongoing rows. On those, I remind myself to draft the update to my Web site, write posts to this blog and remind myself that my friend's birthday is on Thursday and need to buy her a present.

Get specific

It's not enough to just say I'm going to query this week in the query row. For me, it helps to list the specific query I'm going to send and the queries I'll follow up on.

The same goes for contacting sources in the deadline rows. I try to write which sources I'm going to call (listed by abbreviation to save space). That takes some of the crisis out of figuring out what to do next when I'm busy.

Make it visible

After finishing the chart, I print two copies. One goes on the bulletin board above my computer monitor, where I can look at it all day long if I choose. The other goes in my planner. It's small enough that it fits just fine.

Do it daily

The real gift of this list is that it saves me time when I make my to-do list for the day. (Not a list person? Sorry. This is the only way I can ever hope to get anything done.) When I fill out my to-do list for the following day--I write mine in the evening so I don't have to think about it when I get up in the morning--I transfer what I haven't accomplished today along with what my chart tells me I need to do. That way, I have a fighting chance to stay prompt with all my work and out of chaos and drama.

This, my friends, is the real source of much of my work serenity. Include everything, schedule it, and try your best to stick to it.

What works for you to keep yourself on-track in work and life?

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