My house is a mess.
We’re stuck in this cycle where, for at least one week every month, one member of our family is sick (I blame Olivia for bringing home the germies from daycare, BTW).
While being sick doesn’t rate highly on the ol’ fun-o-meter, it did give me an awfully convenient excuse to skip out on my regular cleaning routine.
After catching Olivia practically wading through a pile of books in her bedroom, however, I decided that enough was enough. It was time to get back on my game.
So, I made a to-do list. A looong to-do list. Pretty reasonable, right?
The result? My house is still a mess.
Wanna know why?
To-do lists suck.
Listen, if you’re one of those folks who make perfectly reasonable to-do lists and attack them daily with gusto, I envy you. I wish the doggone things worked that well for me!
Personally, I’ve always found to-do lists a bit mocking. Appealing to the procrastination side of my personality, those lengthy lists just beg me to move some of the items to tomorrow’s list. As long as the tasks get done eventually, right?
Hint: those moved items never get done. Because more and more tasks are added and fewer are crossed off. Before long, I simply despise the sight of that stupid list! I become completely overwhelmed with the number of tasks, and my brain decides that surfing Tumblr is a far more appealing use of my time.
Does any of this sound familiar? If you’ve ever used such a list to keep track of your author-ly life to-do’s, I bet you’ve experienced the something similar.
It’s Not the List’s Fault
I’m being awfully hard on the humble to-do list, when it’s not the fault of the list itself. The fault instead lies in the to-do list process. Since the list is, by design, a running list of tasks to work on right now, it offers no perspective; it doesn’t tell me why I’m checking off the items. There’s no birds-eye view of where I’ve been, where I’m going or any kind of final destination.
This is especially important for authors: most of us don’t work on this authoring gig full-time, and jumping in and out of an ever-mounting task list is difficult/scary without an overall plan. We need a status update reminding us why we’re doing what we’re doing, where we’re trying to go and what we need to work on right now to achieve those future goals.
Basically: instead of tasks, we need focus.
Focus in a PDF: The Author Monthly Planner
After my to-do list revelation, I made a decision: I never again wanted any author to sink under the weight of the to-do list, wasting precious writing and book marketing time because she was just too overwhelmed to get started.
So, I’ve spent the past week developing the Author Monthly Planner, an easy, visual guide for organizing your writing and marketing life. Ready to see how it works?
Download and Print the Planner
This part’s easy: click here to download the Author Monthly Planner PDF and print it out. I’ve also created a black and white version in case you’d rather go that route (although both versions print well in black and white).
Note: I also filled out an example planner, if you’re a visual type who likes to to have a completed guide to follow.
Fill Out the Planner
Now, the fun begins. Grab the planner and a pencil (or an extra copy of the planner — so you can erase/start over, if needed) and let’s get started!
#1: Fill in the Calendar
I know, you have a calendar on your computer, your phone and your refrigerator. Why do you need another calendar here?
First off, it makes you aware of the makeup of the month itself. Meaning, you’ll know if the month has four or five weeks, if you have any special events/vacations planned or if there are any holidays (that you might want to schedule a promotion around). Secondly, it makes it MUCH easier for you to fill out the rest of the planner by having the entire month’s dates available at-a-glance.
#2: Choose Your Focus(es)
Having an overall monthly focus will improve your task planning and help you meet your goals. I recommend having one or two focuses each month, but never more than three. Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to include tasks in your plans that don’t fall under these umbrellas, as you’ll see when we start filling out your plan. Here are some focus ideas:
- Develop new book
- Build a website
- Plan book launch
- Develop Twitter following
- Start using Facebook
- Plan blog tour
- Write 15,000 words
- Research competition
- Create a mailing list
- Start an author blog
- Get to know my readers
- Plan KDP promotion
- Edit manuscript
- Work on cover/layout design
- Keep on keepin’ on (for those particularly hectic months!)
#3: Grab Your Stats
I’ve said this before, but tracking your progress will motivate you toward your goals. There’s nothing like seeing the overall growth of your fanbase to make you sit in that chair and put fingers-to-keys! With that in mind, use this area to fill in your monthly stats (I’ve even included a couple of blank spots for any custom stats you’d like to track).
#4: Jot Down Future Ideas
Maybe it’s just me, but I find I come up with great ideas when I have *no* time to work on them! When you get those lightning bolts of brilliance, use this spot to capture them so you don’t forget when that elusive free time comes around.
#5: Plan Your Month
Alrighty, this is where we get down to business. Taking things a week at a time, start building your to-do list for the month in the space provided. Keep in mind:
- Be realistic. Think long and hard about how much time you’ll actually be able to spend writing/marketing each week and write your list with that parameter in mind. If you still find yourself biting off more than you can chew, start overestimating the time it takes you to do something by 50% (if you think something will take you an hour, actually figure on an hour-and-a-half, for example).
- Remember your focus(es). Refer back to your monthly foci (a more fun word than focuses) when deciding on tasks, but still include regular maintenance tasks (that is, anything you’ve been doing on a regular basis that you want to keep on doing).
- Repetition is okay. Some months, you might end up completing the same handful of tasks every week. This is totally acceptable, but if you start feeling bored or find yourself with time left over, consider choosing new writing/marketing avenues to explore.
- Remember vacation and days off. Unless it seriously jives with your personality, don’t plan tasks for every day of the week. Give yourself a few days off here and there to recharge! Also, be sure to block off any planned vacation time on the calendar so you don’t plan too much for that week.
#6: Post it Up!
Now that your month is planned, post your plan somewhere you can easily refer to it when you start working. An added bonus: posting it where you’ll see it everyday will make your plan much more difficult to ignore!
#7: Get to Work
Your month is in your hands. It’s time to jump in, rock your tasks and complete your transformation into an organized author genius! Okay, maybe that’s overstating a bit, but follow your plan (as best you can) and I guarantee you will see positive results. Along the way, make notes of things that don’t go as planned (like a task taking longer than you estimated) so you can improve the plan next month.
A final suggestion: keep your old planners. Stash them in a folder somewhere (or take a photo if extra papers give you the heebie-jeebies) and refer back to them at the beginning of each month. You’ll see just how far you’ve come!
Ready to get started?
Are you a to-do list fan? How do you plan your author life? Do you have any questions about the planner or process? Let’s chat in the comments!