How Ghostwriters Multitask
There are frequent discussions in the Association of Ghostwriters private Facebook group about how many projects ghostwriters take on at any one time and how they manage their workload. I always find it interesting to hear how members schedule their assignments and organize their tasks, so as not to be overwhelmed by taking on too much at one time.
Because, the truth is, building a steady workflow is nearly impossible as a freelancer (which is what ghostwriters are, unless they’re employed full-time at an agency).
At times, you may feel you have everything under control: you’re caught up on all your deadlines, and are waiting for clients to respond before you can proceed. That’s the time to take breath and relax while you can—unless you’re underworked and need to find more paying gigs to fill your time.
In that case, that caught up moment should be used to explore new opportunities and to find more paying work.
At other times, you may feel as if you’re watching a massive impending wave of work about to crash down on top of you, as deadlines emerge and you wonder how you’ll cram 50 hours of work into the coming week.
Whether you’re looking to fill your schedule with more paying work or have said “yes” to too many projects already, here are some tactics that may help to reduce your anxiety and get more done, efficiently.
Make a Master List
It’s always helpful to take a look at what you really need to get done and by when. Creating a master list, which can simply be a lined piece of paper with notes on it, or a snazzy Excel spreadsheet, is an important starting point.
List everything you know you need to get done at some point in the future. Clear your mind by putting it all down in front of you, either writing by hand or by typing.
I tend to break down larger projects down into smaller tasks, so instead of writing, “Finish chapter 5,” I’ll identify all of the steps I need to finish for that to happen. Those steps might include scheduling interviews, gathering background facts about people, places, or events, and then writing chunks of, say, 500 words. A project becomes less overwhelming when you see how you can make progress on pieces of the whole (at least that’s been my experience).
Sort by Date
Next, take that list and rearrange it in order of due date. Whatever is the next thing you need to deliver to clients should be at the top, followed by all of the rest of those deliverables in descending chronological order.
Estimate Time Required
Once you’ve organized your master list, go through each action item and estimate as best you can how much time each task will take. For example, emailing to schedule an interview might take 5-10 minutes, researching background statistics might take 45 minutes (depending on how obscure the topic), and drafting 500 words of a chapter might take 2 to 4 hours.
Give yourself some leeway by building in extra time if you’re not sure how long something is likely to take. If you’ve scheduled an hour-long phone interview, you know to block off 1 hour, but when writing or editing, the task can expand or contract depending on how focused you are and how complex the writing.
Assign Your Work to a Specific Day and Time
Now that you have your list of to-do’s organized by due date and a general idea of how long each task will take, you can start to add them to your schedule. I use a week-at-a-time calendar I created myself and tend to work in 30-minute blocks, so I might batch several emails into a 30-minute block, and then work for 2 hours drafting something else, followed by an hour of editing, and then 30 minutes of background research or reading.
Slot tasks according to due date, with the tasks due today or tomorrow on the schedule for today.
Try to gauge what is reasonable to complete in a day. If you have assignments to get done in the next week that total 30 hours, don’t plan to get 10 hours’ worth of work done tomorrow. Spread it out more, unless you can’t because of due dates. Try to limit your work to 6 to 8 hours in a day, mainly because some tasks will take longer than you expect. Be realistic, and don’t berate yourself if you fall a little behind.
Reassess at the End of the Day
To keep yourself on task and to ensure you’re working on the most important project for the moment, keep your list in front of you. As you finish tasks, cross them off. Then move on to the next most important item to complete.
If you can’t move ahead until you hear back from someone or receive needed information or resources, I tend to check that item off, rather than crossing it off entirely, to remind myself that there is still something I have to do once I receive what I need.
Then move on to the next task. Keep checking your daily list to confirm you’re focused on the most important item on your schedule. Try not to be distracted by other items that are scheduled for later in the week. Stick to today’s action items.
At the end of the day, review what you needed to get done, what you did get done, and then move anything you didn’t complete to the next day.
Communicate with Clients Often
If one of the tasks you needed to get done today hasn’t been completed, you need to let your client know. Likewise, if you’re having trouble reaching someone you need to talk to in order to deliver a project in the next week, tell your client that you’ve reached an impasse; they may be able to step in to clear the bottleneck.
If you don’t tell them that your progress has been stalled, they will be expecting you to deliver what you promised, on time. So as soon as you know that your schedule will need to shift, tell them.
That includes falling behind because you got sick, were suddenly called out of town, receive notice of jury duty, had a tree fall on your house and knock out electricity for several days, or any other unexpected event that is getting in your way of delivering your project on time. Keep in touch with your client—more communication is always preferred to too little.
Determining How Much Availability You Have
After you’ve slotted all of the work you currently have onto your schedule, you can add up how much time you’re expecting to spend on that work. That tells you how much availability you have, on a daily and weekly basis.
So if you see that next Thursday you’ve only scheduled 3 hours of work, you know you have time you could spend on another project. You can pursue other opportunities with that hole in your schedule in mind.
Likewise, if a client asks if you can take on a rush project, to be done in the next 5 days, you can look at your schedule to see where you could possibly fit this work in. And if you see that you’re already overloaded, with 8 hours of solid work already scheduled every day for the next week, you can either choose to work extra long to get the work done, or you can ask if there is any flexibility with the schedule, so that you can put it on your schedule for the following week. Depending on your client’s response, you can decide whether to take the work or not.
Successful ghostwriters manage multiple projects at once, to ensure they’re maximizing their available time, but without overbooking themselves to the point of losing sleep. It’s a fine line and most ghostwriters have faced situations from time to time where they had to put in extra hours, or work weekends, in order to get the work done they committed to. I hope this process can help you multitask and avoid overwhelm.