10 Time Management Tips from Diana Witt
By Laura A. Ewald
For anyone working as a freelancer, one major issue is always time management. Diana Witt, who describes herself as “very dedicated to the care and feeding of the indexing profession,” reminded us that the structuring of the 24/7 workweek for freelancers is far more challenging than a 9:00 to 5:00 job. And as freelancers, we have the added burden of not only doing the indexing but also managing the non-indexing time, which includes all those things the indexer needs to do to run an office and a business. Diana’s presentation at the Fall 2012 Heartland Chapter Meeting covered ten important areas of time management to consider:
1. Planning: It is difficult to structure an 8-hour—or any other length—workday. Diana suggests taking one night a week—usually Sunday, for her—and identify the non-indexing commitments for the week so you can structure a loose schedule around those commitments and then plan where the indexing commitments fit in. Every night she also plans for the next day—the work and not-work commitments—including the things that didn’t get done on that day. Invariably, the week-long schedule has to stay loose, but at least having the schedule helps to keep things from slipping through the cracks.
Diana identified two important time rules: "First, any time you have to get into the car, assume an hour is lost. If you have to travel more than ten miles, that will be at least 2 hours, and if you have a doctor’s appointment, hair cut, etc., always add an hour to your estimate. Second, if a real deadline crunch happens, like a repagination or a change in index deadline, you may have to cancel something from the non-indexing list."
You also have to really plan ahead for long trips and special occasions like family obligations or vacation. And by the way, Diana will not tell a client what she is doing in that time away but will simply say she is not available to do a job.
2. Goal-setting: Having goals increases productivity and actually increases work flow. Set both minor and major goals: Minor goals are actually sometimes more important than major goals, because as you reach them (such as completing a set number of pages by lunchtime), they can help your outlook. Major goals—for example, learning a new program or attempting new subject matter—can enrich your professional life.
It is very easy to overestimate how much you can get done in any time period, so have goals but be modest about them. Goal-setting is particularly important for the large, long-term projects—you need to set “mile posts” along the way, which can help avoid the pitfalls of stress and anxiety.
3. Deadlines: External deadlines are a big time management problem for freelancers, because they are completely out of our control and can change all the time. Building an extra two days into your deadline can help (e.g., the project is due on Thursday, so set your personal deadline as Tuesday). Turning projects in early can be good for creating a solid reputation with clients, so if you have an emergency someday, your clients will be more forgiving.
Big project deadlines can be scary, because you have to keep it all straight, especially with collaborative jobs, when other indexers work at various speeds, and you have to know how much time it will take you to put it together. And if you happen to be managing the project as well, you don’t always have all the work in hand at the beginning, or the client may not know exactly what they want. Be sure to build time into the project for conversations about the final product: emails, phone calls, etc. take extra time away from indexing. And be sure to schedule time away between writing and editing the index, so you can edit with fresh eyes.
Internal deadlines are those deadlines over which the indexer has some control and include non-indexing time (see #10 below), and personal commitments. Look at your life and work. Know what is important and schedule accordingly!
4. Setting start & stop times: Do you really want to work 24/7? It is a good idea to schedule down time (for exercise, meals, breaks) either strictly or loosely, because these are important. Routine is very important, too, so set a beginning and an ending to your work day to help fight procrastination, and know when to extend them for special circumstances. Structure your work life as much as you need to get the job done, and be sure to prioritize the time frame you have set aside for working.
5. Stress relief: Exercise, naps, reading, knitting, cocktails, “quick” breaks, laundry, watering the plants. . . . Focus on the work is important, but so are breaks. You need to stop regularly and eat right. Nap if it works for you, but whatever it is, do something that will get you away from the screen for awhile. And rather than delaying the start of your work day to do “one more little thing,” build those little tasks into your work routine.
6. Time tracking: All of the indexing programs show time and date of entry creation, and this can be used to track what you are actually earning per hour to see if you are charging enough. As you start a new project and do the first 30 pages, note the time. Say you have worked for 1 hour, at about 4 entries per page:
7. Limit distractions: Turn off your e-mail, to start, and to see how you are handling other interruptions, try to track how long each takes. Insert notes in the index to remind yourself where you were interrupted, and learn how to manage them.
8. Use time-management tools: Keep track of when you are working, what you are doing, and for how long. Try using a timer, cell phone, or any other way you can think of to time what you’re doing when you work and take breaks.
9. Organization: Freelancers need to be highly organized! For e-mail, use folders or even automatic filing for incoming mail; on your desktop, use folders for individual indexes to organize your work. Keep your computer clean—empty and archive e-mail and indexes, back up your work, close unnecessary programs, keep your computer up-to-date, disable gadgets, and shut down anything that runs automatically that may slow your computer down.
10. Non-indexing time: There are an awful lot of non-indexing but work-related activities that require a freelancer’s time. Marketing and office management require keeping things up-to-date and proofed (resumes, references, work samples, websites, etc.). Invoices need to be created, sent, and tracked. Other time monsters include tracking electronic deposits, tax preparation, managing a retirement account, computer maintenance, work-related errands, conferences, courses, chapter workshops . . . it goes on and on! And more directly related to indexing, you need time for organizing e-mail folders; tracking flowcharts of pages received, work done, revised deadlines; e-mailing editors to keep up with projects, confirm pages, check page ranges and file sizes to make sure you got everything. And probably the most important of all, scheduled backup time for all of the above to avoid the disaster of a computer crash.
Beyond these ten points, Diana shared some words of wisdom gained from her years as a freelance indexer. “One of the problems about a home office is that it’s in your home. The dishes are dirty, and the bathroom needs cleaning. Except for taking physical breaks to stay healthy and doing some short tasks, house work is an after work activity. This is where every freelancer really needs help. If you can possibly afford it, consider a cleaning service twice a month. First of all, it will force you to organize and pick stuff up generally, so that the house doesn’t overwhelm you. It also makes it easier to say, ‘It’s time to work, the house can wait.’ If you can’t afford or don’t like help, make sure your housework time is completely separate from indexing time and be disciplined about that. Did I mention that I never watch television? Where are the robots when we need them?”
But finally, don’t forget about you. There is life outside of indexing, so use these ten time management tips to keep your life balanced between work and play.
Useful online sources recommended by Diana:
FreelanceSwitch Productivity Blog: Includes some really useful articles including, “Prioritize To Do Items in Your Weekly Task Checklist”; “10 Ways to Eliminate Distractions”; and “Top 10 Free Time Tracking Apps for Freelancers.”
30 Boxes is a web calendar allowing you to track several projects in one place.
© 2012 by Heartland Chapter of ASI. All rights reserved.