Fitting in ‘me’ projects – five panic-free time management tips for the professionally overwhelmed

I’ve been a freelance writer for nearly half a year now, and luckily for me, business is moving along fast.  I’m getting more and more recommendations and repeat work, which is fantastic, and it’s getting to the stage where my diary is consistently full up with work.

This isn’t a brag-fest, in case you were wondering, in fact it’s almost a lament!  Why?  Well, while I’m tremendously grateful to be so busy these days, I was beginning to find that the creative writing I do for myself, not to mention sitting down with a good book or calling my best friend for a catch-up, were all suffering. 

I didn’t want to become one of those people who constantly moans about “being so busy”, becoming a martyr to my diary – so I decided to start thinking more about how to plan my time effectively.  It’s not always easy, but here are a few pieces of time-saving wisdom I’m finding really helpful along the way.

1. Plan instinctively
Don’t worry if you’re not a ‘to-do’ list aficionado – neither am I!  It’s not really surprising that long lists of things you haven’t done yet can appear overwhelming (to say the least).  The only list I allow myself to make these days are deadlines for client work.  That way, I can approach each day knowing exactly what I need to do in order to keep myself on track, without forgetting anything.

2. Compartmentalise tasks
This gem came from one of my CV clients, an expert organiser who achieved so much throughout her awe-inspiring career that I was having trouble keeping it all to the regulatory two pages!  “You can get a lot done in an hour,” she said, “so concentrate on something for that hour, no distractions – then park it.  Do something else, then come back to it again later.”  This was great advice that’s been working out very well for me.

3. Book specific time slots for ‘me’ projects – and guard them with your life!
It would be so very, very easy for me to abandon my personal reading, my novel and my short story writing…after all they aren’t earning me any money, and time is money, right?

Wrong – time is potential.  While I read and write for myself, I’m learning more and more about my craft, which I can put to good use for my clients, as well as strengthening my own skills and fulfilling my personal need to carve out something creative for myself.  I like to think of my personal writing and reading time as training sessions…which I plan in my diary and respect accordingly.   

(It doesn’t matter if your ‘me’ projects have got nothing whatsoever to do with work.  Plan time for them and respect the fact that they make your life – and you! – a lot happier).

4. Accept that you won’t fit everything in today
With what feels like a million and one assorted work and personal tasks to achieve every day, it’s easy to feel so overwhelmed that you end up not attempting any of them, simply because you didn't have a clue where to start.  But you can start..by asking yourself what absolutely has to be done today, and go from there.  Because unless today is the last day on Earth, you’ll have tomorrow, too – and the day after that.  Repeat ad infinitum.

5. Beat overwhelm-ment by just getting started
I’ve got an old-fashioned thirty-minute sand timer at home, which has proved invaluable when I’m having trouble getting started on something.  The ritual of turning that timer over, promising myself I only have to spend thirty minutes on a particular task, just to get myself started, has been incredibly effective.  Most of the time I don’t notice when the timer’s run out!

Have you got any time-management tips?  I’d love to hear them if so – connect with me at [email protected], or via my Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn pages.