I recently mentioned the variety of editing and writing work I do … and I love it. However, sometimes the number and variety of projects I’m juggling require organization and focus.
In the first two days of this week, I’ve edited a board report for a community leader, finished up a church newsletter, created a magazine ad for a realtor, spent time planning a Web site project with a business client, resolved some formatting problems in a policy and procedures manual for a consultant, and completed the final edits on a doctoral dissertation.
When I look at the things I have scheduled and the deadlines to complete them, I could easily be overwhelmed. Most of the time, everybody wants everything yesterday.:o) So I keep a detailed list of tasks in my to-do list – I use Outlook, but there are other programs that work just as well. For every task I try to put the due date before the actual deadline so I have flexibility to take on rush projects and to allow for problems or delays. Outlook has plenty of room so I make notes to have all the information on the task right there in my to-do list, and I record progress of long-term projects as well as information or contacts I’m waiting for … and the absolute “drop-dead” date.
Things I do regularly – such as weekly Web site updates, monthly newsletters, and the once-a-year volunteer duties for a student writing contest – become recurring tasks.
One thing that works for me that is contrary to usual advice is that I spend a lot of time on e-mail first thing in the morning Actually I’m a night owl, usually working til 4 or 5 am … so “morning” comes later in the day for me than many people; you’re more apt to find me at my desk/computer after midnight than before noon. But when I start my workday, I go through e-mail and try to clean out my inboxes. Much of my business is conducted via e-mail, so checking for messages from clients is important. My messages are filtered into several different mailboxes so if I have an urgent project waiting, I look at the mail in my “In” box only; the others can wait. However, generally, I empty all the mailboxes, responding and filing or deleting messages as I go. Lots of unread/unanswered messages make me feel like there’s even more work for me to do; taking action on the morning’s e-mails gives me a sense of achievement.
Then when I work on a project, I focus on that project. If I have an idea on another project, out comes the Outlook task for a note. Making a note where it will be found when needed frees my mind of distractions and helps me give my full attention to the current project. By focusing on one thing at a time, I’m able to accomplish a number of different tasks each day.
The last thing I do when leaving the office at the end of the workday is to back up my computer onto an external USB hard drive. Whatever files have been used during the day – e-mail, Outlook, documents, financial records – are copied to the secondary hard drive. Not long ago my computer crashed and the hard drive had to be reformatted. Although it took several days to reinstall programs and restore data, all I lost was the current day’s work. And fortunately, just about everything had already been e-mailed to clients.
Organization and focus can mean the difference between accomplishing a large number and variety of tasks and being overwhelmed by “too much to do and not enough time to do it.”