Saturday, April 26, 2014

Quitting Time

For a time when we had only one car in the family, I had to pick up my Dad at the sawmill where he worked. I'd sit in the parking lost a good two blocks away from the mill, but I could still hear the whistle blow even in the car with the windows rolled up. Not long afterward, my Dad appeared weary from a long, hard day's work, but certain of one thing: He was through for the day.

When I retired from teaching and began writing full-time, I thought I was ready for another job without
Photo by Alan Cleaver
a nine-to-five schedule like teaching. I taught at a college, my classes changed every semester and the job was just starting when the students left the classroom with papers to grade, lessons to prepare and committee meetings to attend.

However, I found I wasn't prepared at all. My Dad knew that when he had completed eight hours of work, he could go home. I knew if I completed grading the papers for Interpersonal Communication by April 30, I had done my job. There was a very clear benchmark that said, you are finished for the day.

Writing had no such benchmark. Oh for some private jobs I had deadlines to meet, but for my bread and butter work of writing novels, Bible studies, short nonfiction books, things were open, and I was always wondering if I had done enough. In other words, had the whistle blown?

This has led me to do some very foolish things. I've been known to work 16-18 hours with just a short break for lunch, working all night and day. Going 24-hours without sleep and then crashing for three days afterwards.

It came home to me last week when I took on too much work including a rush private job. I ended up overtaxing myself (I have health issues which mean I only really have five or six healthy hours a day so working beyond that is going to create some payback later on) and was too sick to go to church Easter sunday.

I took some time to discuss the problem with some other writers. Many had good ideas, but not ones that would work for me. However, those ideas did spawn other ideas. Most importantly, it helped me clarify what I really needed.

What I needed was a way to be sure that I could make a certain amount of money from my books and grow that at a certain rate over the next five years.

So, here's the plan I came up with. Maybe some ideas in it may help you as well if you struggle with the question of when to quit. I've been working this plan for a week and I've never been more productive or more rested.

First I asked myself, what do I want to accomplish by the end of the year?

I came up with a list:

10 Bible Studies edited, formatted and published on Kindle (They are already written first draft)
3 New novels written
2 of the above novels edited and published
2 Novels already written edited and published
5 New Bible Studies written, edited and published
6 Mini courses with 8-12 lessons each written and distributed to students

If I do that, my income is where I want it to be.

My next job was to figure out how long each would take. Now, if you don't know how long it takes to do basic writing activities, then you need to find out. It really helps in managing your time. If you are doing long term planning like I am it's even more helpful. Now, you might say, but some days I can do 1000 words an hour other days I'm good if I write 700 in the same time. I'm talking about averages here. Yes, it will vary from day to day, but over time you will discover an average. On a good day I can write rough draft speed at about 1500 words an hour. Other days I'm closer to 1000. So that averages out to about 1200. The same goes for other activities as well. So for each of these activities I figured out how many hours it would take. Let's use the Bible study editing and publishing as an example. I have already completed three of these so that left seven for the year. It takes me about 10 hours to edit and format. So, that's 70 hours.

Now I need to figure out the number of days. It's 37 weeks or 185 work days (M-F)

But there are upcoming holidays I want to take off. Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving (2 days), Christmas (2 days). So, let's take eight days off that total. That's 177 days.

But I also want to take a three-day weekend or its equivalent every other week. So let's take off another 16 days. Now we are left with 161 days.

Now, all that is left is to divide 70 hours by 161 days thats .43 hours a day or about 26 minutes. So I round it off to 30 minutes a day.

I repeated that with the rest of the items on my list and added three: Blog writing, posting a daily devotion (which are already written) and marketing activities. Blog writing is a low priority, so I set it at 5 minutes a day (this post will take almost a week); devotion is just cut, paste and publish, so that was just 10 minutes; marketing is important but can be done in 30 minutes a day.

What I ended up with was this schedule

Lesson writing: 30 minutes
Novel editing: 30 minutes
Bible study editing: 30 minutes
Novel writing: 40 minutes
Blog: 5 minutes
Devotion: 10 minutes
Writing new Bible Studies/Nonfiction Books 15 minutes
Marketing 30 minutes.

So, now I have a schedule where I work 3 hours and 10 minutes a day. I don't do them in the same order every day and I take long breaks between each one. But I set a timer on each one and when it rings, I stop without guilt, without concern that I might not be doing enough to ensure my financial future or to accomplish all I need to accomplish by the end of the year.

I worried a bit that I might lose the flow of the writing stopping right in the middle of something. But I find if I just finish that sentence or paragraph and stop, and come back to it the next day, I can pick it up without any problem because I'm fresh and not worn out because I was overworking the day before.

This last week has been my most productive in a long time. I wrote 5000 words on my novel, edited 8000 words, wrote 4000 on my lessons, outlined a nonficton book, completed a blog post and published 5 devotions, and uploaded one new Bible Study to Kindle.

Again, this might not work for you, but I do think that making long term goals and turning them into daily action plans could be valuable regardless of how you do it.

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