Friday, June 29, 2012

Maximizing Your Productivity

As your freelance career progresses, you may find that you have too many small projects that are interesting but just don't pay their way. Worse yet, you may on occasion work for a publication that doesn't keep its promise to pay. At year's end, even though you've been writing constantly, you find yourself in the hole.

Be realistic about what you can do. Remember, you can only do so much in the time you have. Spending too much time on poorly paying projects will eventually take its toll. So what can you do about it? The answer lies in creating a production schedule for maximizing your productivity.

If you want to improve your productivity for the next year or even the next quarter, you’ll need to take a hard look at what you’ve accomplished and what you haven’t in the last one. After analyzing the data, you need to come up with a production schedule that meets your needs and your lifestyle. Devise a detailed production schedule for the coming year with a built-in review time each month. You should also mark specific billing dates in red, since you’ll want to be reminded to do bookkeeping chores. Doing this will definitely increase your productivity.

Ease into systematic production planning by starting with a desk diary. You should look for one that allots a page to each day, perhaps subdivided into segments, with plenty of space for notations on your production and billing schedules and which will also allow you to note expenses and a list of important contact numbers and email addresses. If you’re somewhat computer savvy, you can use a project scheduling program and while this will work, you may find that being able to write notes and adjustments on a paper one is more thorough.

Begin by writing in the listing for each project the deadline and what you need to prepare for it—basic text, sidebars, photos, graphs, or charts. Include for each a schedule for initial research and library or fieldwork to be completed by a fixed date.

Next note the dates and times for interviews and contact numbers and/or email addresses. Will your interviewees be available when you need them? Also, don't forget to note time differences if they live outside of your area.

Make a note of the date to contact your editor for a progress report. It’s important to let him or her know if you’ve discovered some new material in your research or if the project isn't going in the direction expected. Discussing this with your editor will let you know if it’s salvageable.

Lastly, make a note of dates when you need to obtain permissions or supplementary material, as well as the dates they're due in your hands, ready to be assembled with your text.

Set up a tentative production schedule before you have assignments—a sort of sketch to see how you can fit in trips, interviews, writing time, research time, and such at the beginning of each month or quarter. Some writers prefer to send queries out in groups at the beginning of each month rather than one at a time. Scheduling several interviews in a certain area, for example, not only saves time and effort but also money.

And while editors will always give you a deadline, it’s smart to schedule your own a bit ahead of the ones they'll give you. If you seem to be running to too many places each month, perhaps you could organize your research into three or four trips, instead..

Along with research and deadline dates, make a note of when you expect to be paid and how much. Even if you send a bill with your manuscript, many publications are slow in paying. Ask each new editor you work with when his or her publication pays for work and record that information on your productivity page for that project, then match that against the schedule of foreseeable expenses.

Doing all of the above may sound like extra work but in the end, it will make you a more productive writer.

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