Amy Atwell: Taking control of your time

When I invited Amy to be a guest on my blog, she asked if I had any topics in mind. Since Amy and I belong to the same loop where we post what we’ve accomplished each week and Amy’s list is usually incredibly long and productive, I mentioned the issue that has been hammering at me lately is “How the heck am I supposed to juggle my regular life issues with writing and all the business of writing stuff?” And she’s obliged. I don’t think her suggestions apply only to writers, but to any sort of professional.  So here’s Amy …


Thank you for inviting me today, Leah! I’m happy to be here and share a little about my latest project, Author E.M.S.—an online business resource library for authors. More details at the end, but I think it’s quite interesting that when members were asked what they wanted to learn from our web site, the top answer was “learn to be more efficient.”

That’s a common theme I hear from many authors. How many of us have wished for a 25-hour day—or a 35-hour one, so we might actually get a full night’s sleep? If I just had more time, I would… you can fill in the blank. Top answers include finish my wip, update my website, do more promotion.

So, today I thought I would offer these tips to help you gain efficiencies in those tasks that tend to interrupt our writing. Hopefully you’ll find a few of these tools useful!

Use a Calendar.  Worry less about managing your time and more about managing your expectations.  How much can you expect to get done on a given day? You won’t really know until you do two things: set goals and track progress.  This doesn’t have to be onerous. Jot a few notes at the end of the day in journal form and set a goal for the next day. Or note time spent/words written and other writing tasks you do as appointments in a calendar software. (Bonus: For those not yet published, this tracking comes in handy if you’re ever audited by the IRS as a sure-fire way to prove your writing is NOT a hobby.)

Use Folders.  This may sound overly simple, but think about what types of information you need to keep, whether it’s on your computer or physical paper. Make folders for logical groupings of material. Be sure to file things regularly. It will save you a ton of time later when you need to find that information again.

Use Signature Lines.  Spend 30-60 minutes to learn how to program a signature line in your email program.  Every time you send an email, your signature line becomes a promotional opportunity. Keep it simple and clear. Pick one or two links if you want to embed links. Sending people to every book title and every social media is unrealistic—and can be annoying to readers.

Use RSS Feeds.  For writers who make the rounds and visit blogs each day or each week, RSS feeds can be a lifesaver. If you’re not familiar with them, they allow you to bookmark in your browser a blog’s posts. This way, whenever the blog has a fresh post, it’s available in your browser. This saves you from going out and checking the blog to see if they’ve posted something new yet. Your browser software Help section should have instructions for how to set up an incoming subscription (mine even lets me decide whether to bookmark it or email it to me).

Use Browser Bookmarks and Menus.  Think about the web sites you visit repeatedly: your web site, your blog, your book page(s) on all the various retailers, your Facebook profile, your Twitter profile, Goodreads, LinkedIn, even things like your bank or your horoscope. Bookmark these pages in your browser. Create menus on your bookmark or favorites bar.  For example, I have one called Social Media, and it has the bookmarks to all my social media profiles in that menu. If your browser opens in tabs, you can now open up all your social media at once and just tab from one to the other.

Create a Promotion Kit.  Maybe you think no one will want it, but you will use it every time you write a guest blog. Write a bio for yourself of 100-200 words and include key links. Pull your author photo, book cover photos (200×300 pixel size is the most requested by bloggers).  Gather the URL links for your book sales pages at the primary retailers and the links for your social media profiles. This way, you’ll have all this key information at hand whenever you’re asked for a guest blog.

Like Goes With Like.  Don’t interrupt your work constantly with email and social media. Flag emails that need replies and set them aside until a set time. Facebook, Goodreads and other social media store all your pending friendship requests, so take care of them once per day or once per week. This way, you can set some time aside to do other promotional things in those social media—visit some friends, comment on pictures or posts, leave a review for a book, create a list.

Divide and Conquer.  Divide your day into sections. This creates task deadlines every hour or few hours. Be sure to take a break between tasks. Get up out of the chair, stretch and rest your eyes for ten minutes.

Minimize the Flow.  If you’re overwhelmed by email and social media notifications, go through your settings to reduce them.  Go “no mail” on some of your Yahoo groups. Set your privacy settings so you don’t get notifications from Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or others. You should still schedule some time each week to visit all these sites and take a quick look around, but you don’t need to stockpile all these incoming messages that raise your stress level. You can also reset how often your computer delivers fresh email to you (instead of every 5 minutes, make it every hour).

Whew! You may be looking at the list and thinking that to implement all these things will take, um…time. Yes, it will. But with practice, these tips can save you time—hours of typing and clicks at your computer over the course of a month. And every hour you can recapture from these types of tasks is another hour you could be spending writing.

This was one of my primary goals in creating Author E.M.S. (Entrepreneur. Managment. Solutions.) I want to gather and curate a library of business tips and tools to help authors save time, reduce stress and improve focus. Ultimately, I want to help authors find more time to write. I hope you’ll check out the site or watch our intro video.

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Amy Atwell worked in professional theater for 15 years before turning from the stage to the page to write fiction. She now gives her imagination free rein in both contemporary and historical stories that combine adventure and romance. When not writing, Amy runs the WritingGIAM online community for goal-oriented writers and has recently launched the Author E.M.S. online resource library. An Ohio native, Amy has lived all across the country and now resides on a barrier island in Florida with her husband and two Russian Blues. Visit her online at her website, Magical Musings, Facebook, Twitter and/or GoodReads.

14 thoughts on “Amy Atwell: Taking control of your time

    • To be honest, Stacey, this list is something I developed over time. Perhaps anyone attempting to use this as a plan of action should implement one tip per week.

  1. So many great points. I use a calendar and a notebook. It helps so much to keep track of stuff. I would probably forget it all with out having it written down somewhere.

    • I’m like you, Savannah. I rely on my calendar — “if it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist” is my mantra because OMG there’s just so much to keep track of.

      • Leah, my husband is forever asking me to do little things around the house and I always say, “Yeah, sure, I can do that.” But if I don’t write it down, I totally forget the conversation within about 5 seconds. I like to think I’m too focused on the bigger things.

    • I’m like you, Savannah–if it doesn’t get written down, it goes completely out of my head. I can track six details at once, but that seventh one will make everything fall out of my brain. That’s why setting up these systems so I can retrieve info is so vital to me.

    • LOL, Jill–no, I don’t think I’m good at controlling a clock. I always seem to be running behind and trying to squeeze a bit more activity out of my day. But I’m glad you found the info helpful!

  2. Great information. I need all the help I can get. I started using OneNote on my phone to keep my To Do list handy, and that’s helping. (Now I just need to remember to look at it more than once a day…)

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