How can I get my calendar and my task list to play nice with each other?
July 8, 2008 9:22 AM   Subscribe

My calendar and my task list aren't playing nicely together. Freelancers, how do you manage your schedule and your to-dos so that you can visit clients, conduct interviews, and get the work done?

I'm looking to you guys to help me get unstuck. It's not so much a procrastination issue as it is figuring out how the hell to stop overscheduling myself.

My workload consists mostly of small to mid-size projects with numerous, generally tight deadlines. Each week I project out for the next week the tasks I need to get done: interviews of sources, research for stories and projects, and then the actual writing. The problem? Unless it's an actual appointment -- a phone interview, say, or a client visit -- I don't allot time to do these tasks.

So I'll tell myself that on Friday I need to write x, but then on Monday I set up a couple of interviews for Friday for project y because, hey, there's nothing on my calendar for that day! Then all of the sudden I do the interviews Friday and realize I have insufficient time to get x done.

So how do you manage your time, your workflow, your calendar, and your task list to ensure you're not always playing catch-up? Do you slot a specific amount of time to actually do you work and treat it as a sacrosanct appointment that cannot be infringed upon? Something else? Tell me the secret, oh wise, productive ones!
posted by shallowcenter to Work & Money (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Do you slot a specific amount of time to actually do you work and treat it as a sacrosanct appointment that cannot be infringed upon? Something else?

Yep, that's the trick. I just treat everything as an appointment - any stuff I need to do goes into iCal with an amount of time allocated, based on word count, expected length of interview/visit/whatever including a rough estimate of travel time, &c. (Obviously some things overlap - eg. if I'm going to a gallery in another city, I'll add reminders to make calls during the hour on the train.)

Also, I treat everything as an 'event', and don't keep a todo list at all. So even if it's just a very simple todo item like "Call Mr. Smith to arrange interview with Mr. Jones", it gets it's own five-minute long event, and I have iCal email me one minute before I need to do the task. (If Mr. Smith is out, I reschedule in iCal for ten minutes after after whatever task is next - as you can probably tell by now, I have a really crap memory!)

I know this runs counter to all the advice you see on productivity/GTD weblogs, which tend to focus on methods for constantly revising todo lists, but it works for me...
posted by jack_mo at 9:48 AM on July 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

Oh, and if I'm going to be out all day, I do switch to dumping my stuff into todo lists on Remember The Milk, because you can send it a text message and get a text message back with everything you need to do that day.
posted by jack_mo at 9:51 AM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've just started trying out ThinkingRock - so I'm not familiar enough yet to give a hearty recommendation, but it has a lot going for it.

For your specific needs, it lets you schedule an action to have a particular duration (select an action, choose Scheduled from the Status menu, then enter the amount of time it'll take).

It's cross-platform and free.

If you want something based on a basic calendar, I'd do this:

* write down a list of all the tasks (including optional ones - for example, maybe you need to do fact-checking on 25% of your assignments?) involved in doing a story; include a generous estimate of how long each task takes
* when you get a new assignment, pull out your calendar and block off time for each task

You can move the blocks around as needed, but you'll at least SEE the blocks and know they represent time you need to devote to each assignment.
posted by kristi at 9:52 AM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm more a GTD guy. One to do list, one inbox, I use a big calendar with dry-erase markers to block out multi-day projects. I constantly readjust the calendar. I always know what I should be doing.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:52 AM on July 8, 2008

Response by poster: jack_mo and kristi, I think you're onto something with that notion of "scheduling" tasks -- not simply due dates but slotting the time to get their various components done. Any other suggestions, folks?
posted by shallowcenter at 10:27 AM on July 8, 2008

One other minor tip, which I'd forgotten until I checked something in iCal just now: I have different calendars for different locations, which are colour coded. This is really handy, as you can see at a glance where you are doing a task as well as when, so if something new comes up, you can see at a glance when would be a convenient time to slot it in (eg. earlier today I got a call asking when I wanted to meet someone to see their new exhibition, and from across the room I could tell Friday afternoon was good, because a) there was a big block of free time and b) the stuff scheduled above showed I was already out of the house and in the same city as the show).
posted by jack_mo at 12:11 PM on July 8, 2008

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