Planning and productivity tips for busy writers

busy writers

This weekly scheduling method uses time-blocks to help busy writers manage the various elements of their chaotic lives.

I’ve decided to abandon traditional schedules. The why is easy. They don’t work for me. The how is a little more complicated.

Blame my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Chiment. Rather than regulating every moment of our school day, Mr. Chiment gave us a list of the work he expected us to complete by Friday, separated by subject. After making sure we understood, he’d go about teaching class like he might normally, but we could choose instead to work on our own.

I always opted to work on my own. By Wednesday, I’d be curled up on the class beanbag chair reading my books completely free of schoolwork until the following Monday. From Mr. Chiment I learned, left to my own devices, I could complete more work than most in the same amount of time and still have plenty of time for everything else I wanted to do. It took me years to figure out how to apply that lesson to my adult life.

A different kind of scheduling approach

Here’s the process that works for me. Maybe it will help your days run a little smoother as well. Of course, being self-employed and working from home helps a lot, but it can work wonders even if you work for someone else.

It might seem a little backwards, but I’m going to describe the process from the end of the cycle to the beginning. It starts with a weekly review. I like to do the review at the end of the week, but you can pick any point of the week that works for you. I use the AIM technique:

Air things out (Acute clarity)

Clean out the clutter of your work / project space – physical, virtual, and mental. Even if you’re not a neat freak, having things in their expected place makes it easier to get back to work when it’s time. Notice I don’t tell you to “clean up.” Some people actually thrive in clutter, but make sure things are back where you expect them to be. When you’re done organizing, take a few minutes to close your eyes, celebrate the wins you had last week, and breathe deeply to clear your mind.

Identify your new goals (Intense focus)

As you clean out your to-do list, decide what to re-prioritize into the next week and what to eliminate. Then analyze your other lists. Here are the lists I keep:

    Master list for each client (each project broken down into smaller, action steps)

  • Master list for the business (things like marketing and billing)
  • Master list for other projects/goals (to be worked in whenever they can)
  • Master list for personal needs (fitness, family, household maintenance, personal time)
  • Random list (things that occurred to me through the week)

Decide what you must do during the following week, what no longer has your interest, and what needs to hold until your schedule is more open.

Move your plan (Massive action)

This is the easiest part of the review. Go through your list and plug your identified tasks into their appropriate time blocks. By assigning tasks to time blocks, you can be sure to make at least a little progress toward your most important goals every week.

Time blocks?

Here’s where the magic happens. My life is chaotic. It never runs according to a clock no matter how hard I try. But I know I can always fit at least two time blocks of 90-120 minutes into every day, sometimes as many as six of them. Blocks I use include:

  • Personal
  • Business Growth
  • Work Completion
  • Other goals

The first block of my week is usually a Work Completion block and contains the highest priority items for my clients. I then determine how many more of these blocks I need in the week to deliver projects on time. The last block of my week is a Business Growth block scheduled just for the weekly review. Add fixed appointments to the calendar. Then you have the rest of the week to add blocks or move them around as your schedule evolves. You can schedule a full day for each block type, try to fit each block type into every day, or whatever works for you. A block-based schedule like this is highly flexible and removes the focus on time that can mess so many people up.

Try it and let me know in the comments how it works for you.




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Speed Up! How To Make Better Use Of The Time At Your Keyboard.



  1. Wendy – love the idea of time blocks and actually do use that too. Sometimes it doesn’t work when fires come up that need to be dealt with during a time block or when managing other people. I only schedule 4 hours of things to do in a day when managing people. If I scheduled more, I never got it all done and felt like a failure. This way, if there are interruptions that throw off the scheduled time, I know I can deal with the fire and still get my day’s work done. And if there are no fires? I find those days VERY productive and like you, I have a day sitting in the bean bag chair doing what I WANT to do!

    Thanks for the tips – Very helpful!

  2. Wendy,
    Thank you for the Post! I have so many equally important tasks on my agenda! Between creating a crowdfunding campaign to edit and publish my book, starting an Action Network (related to my novel’s mission), Camp NaNoWriMo (Starting Book Two in the series and needed the support!) and several other things, I was trying to figure out how to do it all and still be a Mom and get my exercise in (Ahm, I have lost some tone! Need to work out!).
    I love that your teacher let you learn such a valuable lesson, and so young! It is so funny how we struggle to apply things we learned young!
    Thanks again!

  3. Hi Wendy- my mind was captured by this post for over a week, and I’ve just done some preliminary prep to see if I can adapt my system with some of your methods. One question, which may sound very in-the-weeds: what do your master lists look like? If there is one for different areas of work and life, and different clients, how do you organize/prioritize them? Google Docs? Evernote? Remember the Milk? Paper? I stash things so many places that sometimes I forget ongoing progress I wanted to make, or put off dreaded duties… any insight appreciated! :)

    • Hi Margaret!

      Great questions. Wendy was our Twitter chat guest last week and answered in part. The transcript of our discussion will be posted later this week, but here is the part I think is most relevant to your question, “I use Checkvist daily. It allows me to keep all of my lists in one place and can access from computer, phone, or tablet. I have lists for each client project, my business, my personal goals, each creative project, and for anything else that tends to fester, I use Trello to share with my clients to keep track of tasks with them. RescueTime is also good for tracking project time. I’m considering a few CRM tools that might combine some of these aspects with other important tools like when did I last talk to X? Nimble is the CRM I’m looking into lately. I also keep a personal Excel file with a list of my accomplishments of the day.”

      – Lucy

  4. My version of time blocks is focused more on the day of the week. Certain days I dedicate to different tasks but 4 hours is generally the most time I can devote to something before I burn out. Out of your tips, starting with an organized space is crucial. I have one desk and a separate bin, basket, or movable file for each “hat” (family finances, freelance work, family business, kids school, writing projects). Only the items related to the project at hand are spread out on my desk to keep me from distractions. It feels great to end a day or week with everything in its place just in case I need to work on one thing or another without warning. It’s like starting to cook in a clean kitchen versus a dirty one.


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