Unusual Uses of Excel for Writers

Regular readers know I’m a little spreadsheet crazy. I’ve offered you a spreadsheet for time and motion studies and another for tracking your productivity. And I’m not the only one, because you’ll notice that Michael Hyatt’s ideal week is plotted on a spreadsheet.

When I wrote about tools, I mentioned some of the things Excel spreadsheets can do, and noted that there might be a whole other post in that.

To-do Lists

If you format your Excel spreadsheet using one of the table options under the Tables tab of the Ribbon, you’ll see arrows appear in each column heading. This lets you sort the list by any column. Continue reading

Take Back Your Time

We all have time. Every week contains 168 hours, and they are yours to spend as you chose. The choices you make determine what you accomplish.

time management

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Your schedule is packed. The question is, with what? Your calendar will reveal what your real priorities are. Making room on your calendar for writing—or anything else—means eliminating something that’s already there. Of the things you are currently spending time on, what are you willing to stop doing so you can spend that time writing instead? Continue reading

Put Boundaries Around Your Writing Time

When we talked about flow, I mentioned Mark McGuinness’s advice to ring-fence your time. The question then is—how?

Actually, your first question might be—as it was for one student who took my time management seminar a few months ago—what does that even mean, “ring-fence your time”?

ring fence boundaries

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A ring fence is a corral. It not only keeps things in, it also keeps things out. To ring-fence your creative time is to set apart a block of time into which you will allow no distractions, either from yourself or others.

Which isn’t to say that it’s easy. But that’s the goal. Continue reading

Schedule a Day of Rest

Regardless of your religious persuasion, I encourage you to take a sabbath. Give yourself one day off a week. Doesn’t really matter which day.

In The Art of War for Writers, James Scott Bell recommends taking one day a week completely off and not writing at all: “Taking a day off from writing actually makes me more productive, not less. Amazing, but it works.”

So take that day off, and when you are planning your daily and weekly quotas, don’t count it as a work day. Continue reading

Schedule Activities and Downtime

We talk a lot about scheduling time for writing. But here are some other things to consider building into your schedule so you can save time and increase productivity:

Morning devotional or meditation.

All my life I have risen regularly at four o’clock and have gone into the woods and talked to God. There He gives me my orders for the day.—George Washington Carver

You don’t have to get up at four, but talk to God or meditate before you start your work day. Feed your brain with Scripture or other inspirational writings before you clutter it with workday minutiae. This will help you focus and stay centered on your goals and can improve your emotional and spiritual well-being. Continue reading

Review Your Progress at the End of the Day

One time management practice I advocate is this: When you do a thing that wasn’t on your to-do list, write it down anyway and cross it off. This helps you assess what you actually did.

Often when we get to the end of the day, we feel as if we haven’t accomplished much. But this feeling can be deceptive. At the end of the day, review your to-do list. Take time to appreciate what you did accomplish. If unplanned items are there, you’ll have a better sense of what you finished. And if for some reason you failed to accomplish the thing you meant to do, assess why. More importantly, decide whether it matters. Continue reading

Choose the Right Time Management Tools

The tricky thing about choosing the “right” time management tools is that the right tool for me may be the wrong tool for you. And the tool for one task may be inappropriate for another. So I’ll give you some options. Test them out and keep looking for others.

Cal Newport of the Study Hacks blog makes an interesting observation:

  • High-tech and highly-structured solutions are best for capture.
  • Low-tech and loosely-structured solutions are best for planning.
Stack of Sticky Note Pads over a white background.

Photo by Chris Dorney • Fotolia

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