The Juggling Act: Planning
Tips + tricks for keeping your projects afloat
If there’s one consensus within the writing community or any other creative space, it’s that there’s never enough time in the day to work on your projects. Between a 9 to 5 job, school, family, the general duties of life, how is someone supposed to fit writing into their day?
This balancing act is something I’m intimately familiar with. As a full-time student, and a small business owner, most days it feels like I have barely time to breathe let alone write. Over the years — I’ve been in and out of university for almost six years now — I’ve taken stock of the methods that work and the ones that don’t for keeping every project I’m juggling from crashing down around me. Planning and organization are organic entities, you grow and you learn and you change as you go. I’m constantly discarding and tweaking systems, and from that here are some things that may help you as well.
Write It ALL Down
This may come as given to many people — but how many of us have written lists only to throw them away, lose them or never look at them until way past your due dates? Personally, I write things down in multiple places. Hey, making a list is being productive, right?
I’m an analog individual — I use a planner, a series of notebooks, and a whiteboard. The only thing in my digital calendar is my class and work schedules. My planner, however, is always full to the brim with every little thing I have to complete. Assignments, readings, client pickups, if you can name it it’s in there — right down to the laundry, meal prep and housekeeping tasks.
The most important thing: remember that writing is a task! It might be your hobby, or it might be your job, but it belongs on your planning list regardless. Be specific. Instead of “Writing” put down a tangible goal, so you can cross it off when you’re done. Maybe it’s ten minutes a day. Maybe it’s getting through that one scene that’s had you stuck for weeks. Just put it out into the world that you’re going to get it done.
It’s overwhelming at first, I won’t deny that. However, seeing everything out on paper allows you to pare down the list, sort it and prioritize. I keep multiple lists on the same page, use colours for each section (you’re more likely to look at it if it’s fun) and then get the satisfaction of crossing off things like “Laundry” or “Tidy room” that allows you to see just how much progress you’re making.
Once you have a list, find a way to prioritize it. If you don’t have set due dates, make them up. Having something to work towards and a date to finish it by can help motivate you. For me, my assignments come first, chores are done on a certain day each week as I’m blessed with a relatively regular and flexible schedule. When it comes to writing, I try to set a goal for each week — generally one chapter for one of my WIPs.
Be generous with yourself — plan for life to get in the way, and don’t get discouraged if you don’t meet your goal. Every missed goal is just another indicator of how to readjust your priorities, your goals and your timeframe to something manageable for you.
Build a Routine
Now that you have a (possibly monstrous) list of tasks to complete, and you’ve put them in an order of priority, now is the time to build a routine. Pull out every repetitive task and schedule it into a specific time of day or day of the week. Remember to schedule your writing into this routine, and also — perhaps one of the most important things — your ‘me’ time! This is your time to unwind, read, play video games or watch cat videos on YouTube.
Nothing is set in stone. Make a flexible routine, and take time to re-evaluate it regularly — especially if it starts to feel stale or that something isn’t working.
My routine takes a huge weight off my shoulders — and I’ve been doing it for long enough now that it’s become second nature. Especially if you deal with anxiety, a solid, consistent routine means you know when things are happening, giving you adequate time to prepare for them, and ensures you know you aren’t forgetting anything.
For everything that doesn’t fit into your routine, having the schedule in front of you allows you to fit these extra things in where there’s space. Since you’ve already planned out your free time as well, you know that you’ll still have time for yourself!
Evaluate and Evolve
As I said in the beginning, planning and juggling life and multiple projects is an ever-changing process. The most important thing to remember is that this is meant to be a tool to take some of the weight off of your shoulders. Yes, it requires a little bit of management, and regular re-evaluation and tweaking, but it shouldn’t be an added stressor. Allow yourself to be flexible. Allow your plan to be flexible. Remember that they don’t have to be iron-clad rules, but rather suggestions, roadsigns and goalposts.
There’s no one correct way to plan out your projects, build your routine and maintain your organization. But working to develop something that works for you and is tailored to your work and learning style will pay dividends in peace of mind, productivity, and mental clarity.
The Juggling Act is an ongoing series of articles about productivity, organization, planning, and mental health. If there is something you’d like to see discussed, please leave us a comment below!