Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Project Management for Writers - Part Two

This is part two of a series on applying project management used in the workplace to your writing. To read part one, click here

2. Be Realistic

I used to have an IT manager that was terrified of letting people down on project deadlines. 

He insisted that we base our project plans (the Microsoft Project kind of plan that I would not recommend for writers) on a 32 hour work week even though we all worked well more than 40 hours a week.

His logic was that people aren't at their desks with their heads down pounding out software every minute they're clocked in. Meetings (lots of meetings), coffee breaks, chit-chat, and long lunches (I miss the long lunches) cut into those 40 hours.

We also got an incredible four weeks of vacation plus one week of sick pay and even more if we got really sick. (As I write this, I'm starting to doubt my choice to resign.) My manager required us to figure out the weekly average days off and subtract that number from the 32 hours to get a realistic number of hours a resource (warm body in a chair) would be available weekly.

As a writer, I need to figure out how long I can sit in my chair and pound out stories without interruption.  I'm going to plan on normal uninterrupted hours and be flexible when my hours get interrupted - like I may need to double my time on a particular day if I can only write when my kids are home.

If I'm planning for the year, I should factor in how many weeks I think I'm going to take off from writing. I will probably take six weeks off from writing this year - one for Spring Break, two in early summer, the week before school starts for my kids, and two weeks for Christmas. 

I know I can write six hours a week at the pace I set in step one. I'm not sure I can write more than that every week.  It will be great if I can, but I'm not going to plan on it. 

When I factor in vacation plus a week of sick time, I know my plan for this year should include 45 weeks, not 52. For a normal job, that would seem kind of pathetic, only six hours a week with seven weeks off, but the words add up if I keep going at that small pace over a whole year. Committing to writing six hours a week gives me 270 hours I can plan on and about 270,000 new words.

If I'm not able to write daily without interruption, that drops down to 135,000 words unless I can carve out an additional six hours a week, which I can't. 

If I don't write six hours a week, the plan is out the door too. For me, knowing the weekly goal and a ballpark of how many hours I need to invest helps me maintain self-discipline. I'm not sure this is true for everyone.

A warning that I should have mentioned in the intro:  The manager referenced in this piece quit before he got fired by a new regime that didn't believe in coffee breaks and chit-chat in the workplace. This series isn't intended to help anyone increase their productivity as a writer. I'm only talking about setting realistic expectations based on current work habits, something I struggle with constantly.

More next week.... 


  1. Wow, that's a really interesting work model he followed.

    It's best to be realistic with your writing time so you don't get frustrated with perceived lack of writing time.

  2. That's so sad he had to quit. I believe in coffee breaks; heck I believe in anything that involves coffee lol

    But seriously, I love this post. It is so important to be realistic. It makes goals worth keeping. Instead of my last one (of blogging each day for a year) where I feel like I'm crawling to the finish line it was so hard and probably not healthy lol At least it's almost done and I can make more realistic goals in the future.

  3. Realistically, I can only get about 2-3 hours of writing time in a day since I work a good 32 hours, clean house, do the laundry, cook the meals, and do the groicery shopping.

  4. Thanks for commenting on my query at Matt's blog! And very interesting post - I like how organized you are about it! I try to make bigger goals and break those down into smaller components, too.

  5. Nicole - I think he wanted happy workers. It did make for realistic timelines if you counted only the time you would actually be working.

    Elisabeth - I'm on a permanent coffee break. :) You blogged every day for a year? Wow! Awesome that you stuck to what you said you would do.

    Shelly - That's awesome that you can write that much while working and managing everything at home. I think the hours really add up if you make the most of them.

    Alexia - Thanks for visiting here. I like to break writing projects down into small parts too - it makes me feel like I'm getting more done.

  6. Your manager sounds like he was a very generous boss! I hope he was able to find another job. I admire your determination, and know that you will find a schedule that works well for you. Julie

  7. Julie - Well, it was a different time (Clinton era). Yes, he got a wonderful job before he left. And thank you.

  8. Great tips, Tonja. I love this series you're doing.

    Often my ambitions are bigger than reality. I amend my goals to fit what stage I'm in. When writing a new piece, I set a word count goal. When revising/editing, it's more about quality, etc ... So the goal will center on getting 1+ chapters a week all pretty. Depends. In that phase, I revise & revise & revise until I'm happy. Don't move on until I am. Sometimes I divide time between projects. It's crazy.

    But, like you said, a dose of realism is necessary.

  9. Shame to hear that manager quit. You should work in Australia. 4 weeks holiday is the norm and I think we get 10 days sick leave too.

  10. M Pax - that's true for me too - I do whatever feels right. I like to work on one chapter at a time whether I'm writing or editing.

    Lynda - That sounds great! It's rare to get more than two weeks off a year in the US.