Project Management For Writers
Did you know a writer’s career can be summed up as mini-projects from start to finish? Author and project management are two terms that rarely go hand-in-hand. There are thousands of ebooks out there that will tell you how to write, how to market, and how to increase your word count. Trust me, I know. I’ve read most of them. What I’ve yet to find is a comprehensive guide for effectively managing multiple author projects, website updates, marketing, money, contracts, etc. and still manage to get your writing done.
Many years before I took the plunge into full-time writing, I was a project manager for large military hospitals at various sites. Fifteen billion dollars in products and services passed through my hands during those years. It was a high-stress job with micromanaging at an epic level (for good reason! That’s a lot of tax dollars!), and keeping track of my daily to-do list was a nightmare all its own. Our base had become a joint venture with our sister services as well as the VA so there were a lot of eyes on our new program.
My job site sent me to shadow three project managers of the largest accounts in all of Pacific Air Force. For one week, I’d be at their side, learning the ins and outs of time management in the midst of turmoil. Each project manager taught me valuable lessons that I’m going to share with you. If they don’t make sense, no worries. I’ll expand on them in a bit.
- Your daily list is the most important list you’ll ever have. If you’re not a list maker, then you need at least a primary goal in your mind.
- If you don’t hold yourself accountable for your time, you will constantly feel as though you will never catch up.
- Document your time. And BE HONEST. Don’t exaggerate how you did. Later on, when you’re really struggling, you’ll need to see this wasn’t the first time you’d hit a snag.
- Effective time management means balancing the project legs (parts of the project) with the appropriate amount of time and attention. That means cutting your big projects down into manageable chunks.
The life of an author has taken a fascinating turn these past few years. We’re expected to do more with less, market harder than the person next to us, and still write gripping prose while maintaining optimism. It’s enough to overwhelm a person.
Each book you write, edit, upload (or submit), and publish is a project. A book can be broken down into four main project legs: writing, editing, publishing, marketing. If you have a publisher, the publishing section would be what you have to do in order to get your book ready for submission and will include the submission process. Maintaining your financial records is an ongoing project that requires a scheduled update. Website design and maintenance are a project all its own (though creating a new lead page for your latest release could technically fall under marketing for a book project). Blog posts, like this one, need to be scheduled and promoted. These are important aspects to our career that we have to pay attention to.
So how do you set up your project management tracker?
For many years I used the bullet journaling system to keep myself on track, but lately, I’ve needed something that’s easier to update and maintain. Since I type far faster than I write by hand, my project management has moved to the digital age. Besides, there’s nothing better than drag and drop projects over marking through pages and moving tasks to new lists.
I began using KanbanFlow to track my productivity. It’s free to use, so you’re welcome to check it out. Their tutorial is incredible. I upgraded to the premium account so I could have additional reports, swimlanes (rows AND columns), their built in calendar, and access to their dashboard for at-a-glance scheduling. Both versions have a pomodoro timer that you can set to you preferred time limit (with a count down or count UP option using stopwatch for productivity tracking).
So let’s see how we can set up our projects. In KanbanFlow, you can set up multiple project boards. (I have an admin one that has a preset templates for new books, promotion, etc. I use this to save as much time as possible on tasks with the same steps for completion. You can easily copy and move the new section to the board you wish.)
My boards are as follows: 2016 writing tracker, Projected Projects (in all pennames) for the year, Admin Template, Website Rebuild, Weekly Grind, and several boards that I share with my husband on our joint ventures (Uncle Jerry’s Kitchen and JDR Creatives). You can add anyone to your board as long as it’s free, but if you sign up for premium and add an individual under your premium boards (as a member of your organization), you’ll have to pay for their participation as well. I am a member of my husband’s boards and he is a member of all my non-writing ones (the writing ones are under my premium account so I can have access to the calendar, email task update, and swimlanes).
Daily To-Do List
Your daily To-Do list has to cover what needs to be done for that day. In KanbanFlow, you have a main list, a “Do Today” list, an “In Progress” list (the default is set to three) and a “Done” list. In the example below, you’ll see my writing workflow. I have three on-going projects with chapter break downs as subtasks (check boxes!) that let me tick off my work for the day. A friend of mine actually has her subtasks set to a minimum word count per day. Set it up however you need to. This is where I would suggest you build a board with your templates. It’s far easier to copy a blank book template and change the title than it is to type chapter number after chapter number with each new book.
Setting up personal deadlines (with due dates) is very important. If you’ll notice, the example above shows a due date under DEVIL’S DUE of Feb 22nd. I am writing this two weeks prior to my due date, so it doesn’t show a red warning for missed deadline. I receive emails from KanbanFlow as often as I wish for upcoming deadlines. It helps keep me on track.
Document Your Time
KanbanFlow allows you to use a timer to track the amount of time you spend on a project. My husband tracks social media responses and interaction, blog post development and completion, as well as shot time for his food photography sessions. I use the countdown timer (Pomodoro writing sessions of 25 minutes writing, 5 minute break) for writing, but use the stopwatch for tracking the amount of time I spend on any of my other projects. It’s especially effective at giving me an accurate picture of my social media time.
In the example below, you’ll see the pomodoro timer set up window. If I’m interrupted during a countdown, I can even say who or what caused it. You can set the timer limits to whatever your heart desires. I happen to enjoy the fact that each writing session and break are thirty minute chunks out of my day.
If you are a person who hates list making, who doesn’t enjoy this kind of countdown frenzy as they work, make sure you keep track of what you’ve accomplished for the day.
At the bottom of the image below, next to the word “Timer”, you see the word “Reports”. KanbanFlow’s report feature is impressive. It took only a moment to realize the reason for last month’s lack of productivity: too many projects going on at once. I worked for over 380 hours last month, but my only completed projects were formatting my Voodoo Carnival boxed set, publishing it, publishing an older title, and building a few promotional images. The rest of my time was scattered among books that weren’t due for months. It was a real eye-opener. Let’s hope those new words will give me a break down the road.
I have five pennames (only three are shown in the image below), a project list for 2016 numbering close to 1,000 (not just books. I have the food blog, the craft YouTube channel, my weekly finance report, etc.), my husband’s home business, the family, and going to school full time. That’s a lot on my plate.
One of the reasons I upgraded to KanbanFlow’s premium account was access to the dashboard feature which allows me to see my months at a glance. I have a current writing dashboard that shows all penname titles, my overall projected projects list for Dawn Montgomery, Jesse Wells, my non-fiction penname, and more. My projected projects list contains all events, blog posts, and various administrative tasks beyond just the writing for the entire year of 2016. I set it up by month (Jan-Dec) with swimlanes (rows) that contain my individual pennames. The dashboard allows me to grab parts of each row and column to view at my leisure as well as a snapshot from my 2016 Writing board (Listed as “Current Writing” in the image below).
Since February is a Dawn Montgomery focused month, my other project lanes are restricted. This keeps me from overburdening myself as I get heavier into deadline mode. I can look at my Projected Projects list and see immediately if I can take on this new boxed set invitation or that call for submission that tickles my fancy. It also tells me when I’ll be open for book signings, events, etc.
Tackling your writing career the same way a project manager would is just one more way to get yourself on track for 2016. If KanbanFlow and project management doesn’t work for you, no worries. The Romance Authors Marketing Network has a fantastic set of posts on Productivity and Author Tools that may help!
About the Author
USA Today bestselling author Dawn Montgomery loves to write almost as much as she loves to read. She has traveled the world twice over. While her days were filled with long hours and hard work, her nights were left for dark, lustful fantasies in and out of strange hotels and cities. Alaska and Texas are the places she calls home. She recently moved from the frigid North to Texas with her family and neurotic dog. It was tragic to leave behind the moose and bear for wide open plains and sexy cowboys. Welcome to my author page! Visit me at my website: http://www.dawnmontgomery.com If you'd like to receive exclusive content and the latest news, check out my newsletter: http://mad.ly/signups/97538/join