I know I’m always curious to hear about the schedules of other writers, to better understand how people spend their days, so I’m hoping hearing about my typical day may be of use to you.
Before I tell you about a typical work day for me, I need to warn you that I’m a planning junkie. I like to plan my time, which is why I’m a frequent consumer of day planners. I like to try different approaches to planning my day, with the hope that maybe I’ll learn a new technique for squeezing even more productivity out of my 24 hours.
Ultimately, I suspect that my typical day looks a lot like other writers’ days.
And my day starts the night before with a look ahead.
Identify my top priorities, or tasks that must be accomplished the following day
After I’ve decided my work for the day is done, I pull out my calendar to see what’s on tap the following day. What interviews do I have scheduled and what deliverables are due? Those drive my schedule, to ensure I complete the work clients are expecting, on time.
Map out an hourly plan to get that work done
Having identified my “must-do’s,” I like to pull out a lined sheet of paper with half-hour time blocks. I first write my appointments, carving out the appropriate amount of time for each. And then I block out time to complete the writing work that is due.
That might mean an hour of working on a blog post before my first client call, followed by more work on the post before switching to work on a client’s book chapter after lunch, for example. But on that plan for the day, I’ve allotted time to do what I know must be done that day.
Only with that plan developed, can I rest my weary head.
The following morning, I get up and open my emails before anything else.
Start the day with email review
I know many time management gurus suggest that it’s best to jump right into work and ignore those emails in your inbox. The idea is to prevent getting sidetracked by emails containing tasks that were not on your to-do list, or emergencies that others have created. Retaining control of your schedule is key to getting what you need done, done.
For me, that sense of control can only occur when I know what’s lurking in my inbox each morning. I need to start the day feeling confident that I haven’t forgotten something, or that there isn’t some crisis happening behind-the-scenes that I’ve missed or am unwittingly ignoring, all of which can happen if you don’t look at your email until late morning or after lunch.
So, for me, by opening emails to see what’s waiting for me in my inbox, I reduce my anxiety level at the start of the day.
Work on Priority #1
After I have a handle on my emails, which usually takes about 30 minutes, I’ll pull out the file folder related to my top priority for the day. My top task is usually working on the draft of a client’s book chapter, but sometimes it is drafting a client’s blog post or writing an article.
I usually work for 60 to 90 minutes on that task before standing up and taking a break.
Participate in a client meeting
However, sometimes that work is stopped because of a scheduled meeting or interview.
Interviews or meetings take between 30 and 60 minutes each. Interviews for articles are typically 30 minutes or less, while client discussions generally run 60 minutes, by design. My energy starts to wane after 60 minutes of focused work, so I try not to schedule any meetings that run longer than that. And I tell my clients that, so that they understand wrapping up our discussion isn’t because I’m rushing to another client session but, rather, because I need to take a break and re-energize.
In 2022, I’m going to try to schedule all my phone calls or Zoom meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays. That will leave Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for writing, writing, and writing.
That’s my goal at least. My thought is that clustering like tasks may be more efficient, even when it comes to interviews.
When I take that first break, I usually grab a Diet Coke out of the refrigerator, and then take a couple of minutes to scan my emails. If there’s something that I can respond quickly to, I’ll do that then, to try to prevent needed responses from piling up.
Work on Priority #2
Unless Priority #1 is due today and I haven’t finished it, I’ll move on to Priority #2.
Sometimes that involves editing a client’s previous chapter, or researching case studies or statistics for the client’s project, or it may just be more writing, on a different topic.
I refer to my hourly plan to see how much time I’ve allotted for this task. This helps push me to work quickly if I see I’ve only given myself an hour, for example.
Take a break
Once that task is completed, or I’ve hit my progress target for the day on that project, such as 500 words on a particular chapter, I’ll take another break.
Sometimes that break involves running a quick errand, such as to the post office or to Staples, though I try hard to avoid going into stores these days. But getting out of my office does help clear my head and help me shift to my next task of the day.
Work on Priority #3
Back in the office, I check my hourly plan and see what needs to be done next. Sometimes I get back to working on Priority #1 and other times I’ll start something new.
I’ve found that, for me, getting started on a task makes it so much easier to finish. So as the end of the day approaches, I frequently try to push myself to start one more thing, whether it’s developing a lead for a client’s chapter, outlining an article for Forbes, or getting started on a blog post like this one.
Break for dinner
Around 6:00 or 7:00, I’ll stop to eat dinner. Sometimes that means deciding which meal from meal subscription service Home Chef or Dinnerly to make, or electing to get take out, which becomes more likely as the week wears on.
After eating and cleaning up, I try to get back to my office to check email again, review what I’ve created that day, which always looks different after having put it aside for a few hours, and plan the following day’s schedule.
Evening admin tasks
Some evenings I’ll take a few minutes to read what’s come in the mail that day, such as a magazine, as well as to pay any bills that arrived, to try to reduce the number of tasks that can suddenly appear in my conscious brain and distract me from the writing in front of me. (I get distracted a lot, I’ve found.)
I’ll also file things and take care of household tasks then, too.
Most important, however, is looking ahead to the next day’s schedule and planning the order in which I want to tackle my next set of priorities. That means filling out another lined page with my required tasks and deliverables, so that I know mentally what needs to be accomplished.
Sometimes I’ll sit back down at the desk to do some school work, respond to evening emails, or make some progress on my daily priorities, if they weren’t completed, and other times I’ll tee up an episode of “Project Runway,” “Emily in Paris,” or a baking show, to encourage my brain to turn off before bed.
Does this typical schedule look anything like yours? I’d love to hear!