My New Planner

As I’ve mentioned to you before, I took it as a challenge earlier this year to find better ways to  manage my time. By last spring, it seemed as if I was working all the time and that my work was running my life, instead of the other way around. Part of this is certainly due to my decision to indie-publish my work. There are a lot more tasks that are my responsibility, since I’m both author and publisher. Not only have I had to learn how to do them or find subcontractors to do them, but I’ve had to fit them (or their delegation and management) into my schedule. A couple of weeks ago, I completely forgot one of them. Fortunately, the portal in question sent me a reminder and everything was done on time, but it was a good warning that I need to be even MORE organized.

I belong to several writers’ groups and in one such group, there’s been a lot of discussion about planners and organizing tools. Many of these aids are printed books or sheets, and while I like the tactile experience of organizing on paper, I wanted a more fluid tool. I also want to be able to easily move a missed task from one day to the next. I was officially on the hunt for a digital planning solution. That way, when something goes wrong or unexpected obstacles appear, I’ll be able to re-adjust the schedule more readily.

The first thing I did was start a spreadsheet of what had to be done, and when. I listed all my upcoming projects, from those that are already scheduled and available for pre-order to those I’m dreaming about. I listed the projected length of the finished project (long book of 100K words, short book of 75k words, long novella 50K, novella 25K, short story 10K). I then set up a formula in the next column to calculate the number of working days it would require to complete this project. I took a low estimate of my daily word count to allow a little bit of wiggle room. Presto- each project had a precise number of days required to write it to completion.

Mr. Math pointed out to me that Excel has a multi-page calendar template. How wonderful! I created a calendar for 2016 and one for 2017. You choose the year, and it automatically populates the calendar so that the right date is on the right day of the week. Here’s what the page for January looks like, after I changed the template colour. (The other months are on separate tabs.)

Calendar Template from ExcelThis looked like a good solution.

Before I filled in the jobs for this year and next, I made some basic rules:
– no more working on Sundays
– I’ll work only every second Saturday
– there are other days like family birthdays and holidays that I won’t work
– I’ll take one day to clear my mind between writing projects
– each day that I write, I’ll write in the morning and do other tasks in the afternoon
– I’ll aim to have two tasks per day, a writing goal for the morning and an admin or publishing task for the afternoon.

Next, I marked out my travel days for next year. Even though I always have good intentions of working on airplanes or in hotels, I never do it. I blocked off the dates for the conferences I’ll be attending, added a travel day on each end and an organization day right after I get home. If there are booksignings associated with those events, I added a note to order books 60 days before the event, and another to post a pre-order form 150 days in advance.

Then I began to fill the calendar. The first tasks I had to fill in were the projects that were already listed for pre-order which aren’t done yet. I had to count back from the publication date to ensure that there’d be enough time for editing and formatting. I had to make some choices in November to fit them in, but nothing too drastic.

For new projects, I scheduled the writing first. Because I’ve worked with my editor for a while, I have a good idea of how long it will take her to turn a project around and send it back to me. I also know how many days I’ll need to do the edits and revisions. I counted out from these dates to establish publication dates. When I added in the second project, I had to skip the days when I’d be writing and editing the first project. I wiggled things around a bit to ensure that the publication schedule for each series was reasonable. I have some backlist titles to republish. Checking the files and packaging the books again will take some time (but not as much as writing a new book). I thought about release strategies and added those books to my schedule. I also intend to commission new covers for some books, which means that there are some admin tasks associated with updating them. I looked for gaps in my schedule and strategically placed those rebranding projects.

Then I put the production dates in. There are a lot of guidelines and hard dates. For example, the final file for any book has to be delivered to Amazon 10 days before the book goes on sale. A pre-order can only be set up at Amazon 90 days before the publication date. Kobo and Apple allow for pre-orders to be longer, so I marked them on my schedule for 180 days before publication. That means the digital cover needs to be done 180 days before publication, which means I need to contract a cover artist or contact an existing one 210 days before publication. Many of you like the free downloadable samples of my books, and I can upload them to Apple, so they should be done when the 180 day pre-orders are loaded. I’ll need the first chapter of the book done in order to create that sample. I set up the print edition of the book after the edits are final and the digital edition has gone to formatting. Once I have the final page count, I order the print book cover from the artist, upload it and proof it. I moved back and forth through my schedule, filling in these tasks for each book.

When the writing and the production were covered, I began to think about promotion. I usually send out my newsletter on the date of a new release. I can look at each month and choose a date for my newsletter. I can also see what other items to feature in that month’s newsletter. I often put the first book in a series on sale when the third or fourth book in that series is either on sale or available for pre-order. Those sales take about 30 days advance notice to set up. I looked through the calendar and noted when I should be setting up a sale and for which title. Right now, I keep Post-it notes reminding me when to return a sale book to its regular price. I added those dates to my schedule instead.

I was walking the dog when I realized I could add even more things to my schedule! There are still a few of my books under publisher control that will be eligible for reversion requests in the next year or two. I added those dates so I don’t forget them. I could add notations for payments or for sales reports, but Mr. Math tracks a lot of that for me. He can keep it on his schedule. 🙂

I’ve been using my new planner all week, and it works well. Looking at the tasks for the day first thing in the morning gives me focus, and that seems to ensure that I get them done. I also realized the spreadsheet opens to the month I last looked at—so, if I update  the spreadsheet at the end of the day to mark what’s done and save it, tomorrow, it’ll open right where I left off. There isn’t a checklist for completed tasks, but I’m just typing DONE or moving what’s undone to the next day. It’s already proven useful for working with subcontractors—both my editor and formatter asked for estimated dates for upcoming projects and I just looked them up on my planner. Perfect!

I still have a few stray Post-It notes on my desk and some details to corral, but by the end of November, I’ll be completely reliant on the planner. I’ll also have my pre-orders up for 2017 in good time, with complete confidence that the delivery dates will be met.

How do you stay organized? Are you a planner or a listmaker?

6 thoughts on “My New Planner

  1. I use an Electronic Planner called Cozi – it sends me daily or hourly reminders as I choose, but the beauty of it is that it tracks my WHOLE family (there are five of us) and not just me 🙂 It’s been an invaluable tool. Good luck with the organizing it’s never an easy thing to start but it’s amazing when it starts working!

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    • My fave part of it, Karen, was that I could set my 2017 publication dates after assigning the writing time for those projects. The writing is first, where it should be, and everything else is flowing from that. 🙂

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  2. Deborah, your digital planner sounds elegant. I use a paper calendar at my office because there are some things I prefer looking at on paper. But I do need to find a way to merge that with my phone calendar where all my personal obligation “live.” Still, with daily backuls, your solution sounds perfect for your life. Thank you for sharing!

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  3. My life is completely out of control! I’m in need of a tool I can adjust and keep all the book requests and reviews on schedule. I also have that other part of my life which demands attention. I’ll look into the Cozi one of your readers mentioned and check out the excel template to see if it gives me the flexibility I need.

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