I recently came across an article on CNN about the phenomenon of extreme work culture, and it caught my interest because I’ve been there—worked to the bone, tired, sick, and apathetic. And while the article focused on traditional industry, I immediately realized that this was an issue for the self-employed, as well. They are perhaps the silent majority.
When you work for yourself, there is no off button. There is no end-of-the-work-day whistle because you are already at home. There is an inclination to overwork every day because there is no telling what disaster will pop up tomorrow and throw a wrench into your schedule. When you are self-employed as an author, this is only worsened because there is no cushion between you and the fray. You may feel if you are going to make this indie author thing work, you have to hustle and promote 24/7.
As an indie author, much of the work falls to you. You are your own marketer, promoter, PR, and salesperson. Not only do you have to write one great book, but a whole slew of them if you want to be successful. You are constantly working. Where does one find the time and even the inspiration to write a second book when they are buried under the demands of job, family, marketing, promotion, cross-promotion, and social media? The internet has changed the whole game for authors, and while this is amazing and wonderful in many ways, in others it is an overtaxing nightmare.
And as much as I’d like to tell you that there is a neat, quick solution to help you get more hours out of your day and make you super-author extraordinaire, there really isn’t. There are, though, some common sense practices that you can institute in your life to make things easier. It comes down to discipline, organization, and inflexible boundaries. With determination, organization, and some creativity, you just might find you have all the time you need to fulfill your dreams without overworking.
Today, I’m going to share those things I wish I’d known when I stepped into the realm of the self-employed a decade ago. These steps are relevant to the indie author as well as freelancer. I made a lot of mistakes when it came to working for myself, and I learned a lot of hard lessons—many of them at the expense of my family. Therefore, I write this article today, hoping to spare you some of what I experienced. Because of lack of focus and overwork, I almost ruined my health, lost relationships, and missed milestones in my kid’s lives that I will regret forever. This doesn’t have to be you.
Step #1 Define Your Level of Success
I began to consider just what it is that drives us to overwork. I think that it is something beyond expectation and keeping up with the Joneses. Instead, I’d argue that the driving force behind overwork is our cultural drive to be successful. This is a problem because success is an intangible goal. There is no clear definition of what it is. The reason for this is because success is a personal thing. If you do not define what it is for you, you will end up in a cycle of ever-striving but never obtaining.
So, the first step in being able to contain your write life, is to define what success as an author is for you. Be specific. How many books do you want to write? How many books do you want to sell? Is success defined by bestseller lists or renown in your local community? Once you’ve defined this, you will have a clear understanding of your goals and it will be easier to create a game plan. It is much better to work toward a definable goal rather than to proceed forth mindlessly all the while telling yourself that you’ll recognize success when you obtain it.
Step #2 Prioritize
Begin every day with a plan. It will make your day more productive. When you don’t have a plan, it’s easier for your day to get away from you. And then all the wonderful things you planned to accomplish remain undone day after day after day and, unfortunately, year after year after year.
There are certain elements in our lives that, though minor and seemingly unimportant, rob us of time we should be spending on other things. (Yes, video game console, I’m looking at you.) These little gremlins come in and cause chaos and stress before we know it. Because of this, we have to create spending priorities and budget. But this budget has nothing to do with money; it has everything to do with time.
Time is currency. You have a limited amount of it to expend on those things that are priorities in your life. Like with money, you cannot harness the power of the time you have if you do not understand how you are spending it.
To get the most out of your time, it is necessary to identify those things that matter and the things that are wasting your day. Then you must prioritize them. Time wasters get low priority, and goals and those things that are important to you get the highest priority.
Write down your daily goals, prioritized, and stick to them. Once you’ve identified what’s important, you’ll have a better picture of how to budget your time.
Make sure that you add time for yourself in that priority list. If you are going to be at your creative peak, you need to craft an environment that nurtures that creativity. If you are stressed, disorganized, sick and overburdened, the quality of your work is going to suffer. Give yourself the time you need to eat, to exercise, and to unwind. Make it a priority because you are worth it and your readers deserve the best you can give them. 🙂
Step #3 Set Up Boundaries
Create a Buffer
I would highly recommend setting up a buffer between your write life and your real life. By setting up a pen name and a persona for yourself as an author, you create a delineation that makes it easier for you to leave “work” at work and home at home. It’s imperative that you keep a part of you for your family and friends that the public does not have access to. This will also keep you from crossing that TMI line in your social interactions on the web. The last thing you want is your write life bleeding over into your real world.
Also, protect your emotional health. When you write a book, you open yourself up to heavy criticism and critique. If this sort of thing wrecks your creativity or throws you into depression, avoid reading your reviews or hire someone to manage your e-mail and reviews and to respond to them on your behalf. By creating this buffer, you can preserve your ability to write.
Give Yourself Business Hours
Everyone needs time off. Set up your business hours and work within those constraints. When your work day is done, shut your office door and walk away.
Give yourself a day or two of rest each week. Don’t work, don’t blog, automate your social media, etc. Turn off the computer, your phone and your tablet so you’re not tempted, and enjoy your life and family without the digital noise. If you want to write on your days off, go old school and reach for a pen and paper.
And while it may seem counterproductive to take time off when you are trying to get the most out of your day, rest is key to mental clarity, productivity, and health. The more you take care of yourself, the more creative and productive you’ll be.
It is imperative to give yourself time limits and to stick to them. Adjust them if you need to, but don’t work outside of them for low priority things. Both work and play can take over your life if you let them. Do as much as you can in the time you’ve allotted yourself and then stop. It will be there tomorrow.
Kill Time Wasters
Yes, you need to schedule things that allow you to unwind—TV time, gaming, reading, meditation, etc.—but don’t allow those things to take over your day. It’s tempting, especially when you have a task that you aren’t looking forward to. A good rule is to give unpleasant tasks first priority. Get them out of the way immediately. And if you find that you constantly procrastinate a task, it’s time to look into automating or outsourcing it.
This is harder than it seems. There are so many good and worthy things that are vying for your talent. It’s easy to over commit yourself. I highly recommend putting your schedule into a calendar that can be accessed via phone. This way when someone asks you to commit to something, you can glance at your schedule and see if you have time for it. “I’m sorry, but I can’t” is a necessary phrase to add to your repertoire. It will set you free. Remember, just because something is good, doesn’t mean that it’s good for you to do. This includes saying no to projects if you are a freelancer.
Keep Work Contained
Work generally becomes uncontained when you procrastinate or take on too much because of a lack of organization or underestimation of the time a project will take. To solve the procrastination, do things immediately. Yes, it’s really that simple. To avoid taking on too much, it’s necessary to understand your limits. Track how much time certain tasks take you and allot the proper amount of time for those things with about 25% extra added on. Unforeseen events do happen, so do not schedule yourself too rigidly. Keep an up-to-date calendar of your projects and know what’s in it. Never take on a project without consulting your calendar. I also recommend scheduling downtime after working on a project that is intensive and stressful (like working with a professional editor on your novel) so you can recover.
If you are an author, take the time you think it will take to write and edit your book and double it. Just because you breezed through you first book doesn’t mean that your second book will flow as quickly. If you finish early, great; if you don’t, you’ll have the extra time that you need to get things done. Also, don’t underestimate how long it takes to market, promote, and manage your social media. This will eat up a huge amount of time, and it’s even more taxing when you are writing one book and promoting another. Schedule it properly and limit the amount of time you spend on Twitter and Facebook. It’s fun interacting with your fans but not so much when they begin clamoring for a book you haven’t even begun to write. Beyond this, consider limiting the number of speaking engagements and interviews you agree to and author events that you attend. It takes a lot of time and effort to prepare for these events.
Accept Your Limitations
Self-employed individual, you must know thyself. 🙂 Work with your strengths and make allowances for your weaknesses. There are only so many hours in the day. You’ll take on less and prioritize your tasks better when you are realistically aware of your limitations.
Train Your Muse
I watched a wonderful TED Talk by the author of Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert. She talked about the Muse and how creative people use this entity/force as a buffer for criticism and to give themselves some distance between their emotions and their craft. What I found most interesting was that she would schedule time to write each day and speak to her muse. She was determined to write regardless of whether or not her muse showed up.
If you are a muse-driven writer, it’s absolutely necessary that you train your creativity. This force is a persnickety thing. It’s willful, inconvenient, and oversensitive. If you do not master it, it will master you and you will waste tons of time waiting on your muse. I’d compare training one’s muse to training a puppy. It’s going to whine for attention, get under your feet and trip you up, run away when you call it, and fight against the leash you put it on. The key is that you shouldn’t work against your muse, but rather with its strengths. Is there a time of day that it speaks to you? Set that time up to write. Does it bother you when you are trying to sleep or drive? Put a mini-recorder by your bed or in your car. And when your muse speaks at an inconvenient time, write down the gist of what it’s saying and go on with your day. But whatever you do, don’t let it define how you spend your time.
Step #4 Minimize Your Workload
You can’t do it all, and you shouldn’t try to. Do you need to be on every social media site out there? Do you need to be on Twitter promoting your book five hours a day? Do you need to post three articles a day to your blog, or would one a week suffice? Do you really need to read and review the book of every author you meet in hopes of getting some cross-promo? Ask yourself what things are necessary for your version of success. If you’ve set reasonable goals and have reached them, it’s time to move on. Get your next book written and ready for publication if you haven’t already.
While social media and cross-promotion are useful tools, they quickly become time wasters if left unchecked.
Are there places in your life where a little advance planning would make your load lighter? If so, take advantage of this. A freezer full of oven-ready meals is a godsend while writing your novel.
A little bit of forethought can go a long way, personally and professionally.
Don’t be afraid to get help on the home front, as well. Involve the family in the upkeep of the house. Hire a maid to come in once a week to do those things you don’t have time for while writing your novel. Is your best friend a web design guru? Hire her to create your website. A little extra money well spent can help you get the most out of your day.
If there are tasks on your to-do list that you absolutely hate doing or don’t have time for, consider hiring help. There are people out there that will handle your PR, blog, your social media, and read and answer your reviews. Make use of their services so you can be an author instead of a marketer.
Schedule your blog posts, tweets, and Facebook posts ahead of time. If you don’t have time to automate it, perhaps your spouse could. You could also hire one of your children or grandchildren or a local internet savvy teen to schedule your social media. Be careful about automation, though. You should still get on social media and interact with your fans every few days. Your social media should be a balance between meaningful interaction and promotion.
What things to you do to squeeze more time out of your day without overtaxing yourself? Please share you timesaving tips below.