Business Musings: Time Management
Those of you who saw this post in the first week of January on my Patreon page got an added part of the title “for the year ahead.” The rest of you are reading this in February, already traversing the year ahead. Considering how much changed between the end of December 2020 and February of 2021, I’m leery to add that cheery “for the year ahead” here.
Still a bit shell shocked from the past two years. I don’t expect that feeling to fade any time soon.
I seriously debated making this post part of the year in review, but that didn’t feel appropriate. Time management isn’t something that belongs in the past. It’s actually about the future.
So I thought of starting a year-ahead series, but that just seems cumbersome. Much of what’s coming up on this weekly blog this year will be about the year ahead, but some of it will be a bit harsh, talking about ways to keep you all in the game. The writing biz ain’t easy, as many of you already know.
The genesis for this weekly blog was an experiment. I wrote The Freelancer’s Survival Guide one week at a time during 2009, during the Great Recession. I had hoped to revisit the guide during the pandemic, but the future got away from me. It got away from all of us, really. I’m still considering ways of revisiting the guide, maybe in the summer.
The reason I’m mentioning this is because a section of The Freelancer’s Survival Guide became a Freelancer’s Survival Guide Short Book called Time Management. The ideas in that little book will help the first-time (or maybe even a long-term) freelancer organize their life so that they can get more done.
That’s not what this post is about.
In the year-end posts, I often review new tools and new tech, not in depth, mind you, because I’m not the person to go deep into anything like that. I’m just intrigued that this new stuff all exists, and that we indie writers and publishers can use the new stuff to do things we couldn’t do in the past.
Generally speaking, new tools/tech:
- Make an existing task easier and often prettier. The new tools take an existing system and streamline it, or update it for the current year, or do everything that people had asked for two decades ago.
- Make something that once took an army of workers into a single-person task. Making movies has become like this. Back in the day, to make a short film required at minimum two people (one to film what the other one was doing) and usually quite a few more. Now, I can make a movie with excellent visual quality on my phone. Still contemplating that…
- Make a whole new, heretofore unimaginable, derivative work from a creative work like a book. Some kind of tech or product that simply did not exist one hundred (or even ten) years ago—from video games (games existed, but not video games) to apps (because phones were stuck to the wall) to functioning VR environments to hell, I don’t know. It’ll probably all change by next week, and I still won’t know what it all is.
- Make distribution of the artistic product—from film to stories to audio books to whatever else you can imagine—simple and easy and financially viable. In the past, taking an artistic product to a national or international market required a lot of middlemen (yes, usually men) who wanted a super large piece of the money for the favor of bringing that work to market.
- Make payments a) greater for the artist, b) without a middleman (see above), c) easy to receive, and d) best of all, easy to track. For example, yesterday, I went for a walk with a friend carrying just my phone and ten dollars cash in my pocket. The ten dollars made the old lady in me feel better, but the woman who lives in the 2020s knows that I could buy a high-end meal at one of the big casinos just using the payment apps activated on the phone. I did neither, because sometimes it’s just nice to walk and talk with someone, but the point is that I could have—and my purchase would have been tracked as an expense, and had my friend been a writer (she’s not) it could have been a deductible expense against the writing income that flows digitally into my various accounts.
Those are the five things that new tech and new tools do every year that I came up with off the top of my head. I’m sure I probably missed a few bullet points.
I find all of that fun and fascinating and wonderful. I have since we started this merry-go-round that is the new world of publishing about 12 years ago. I used to greet each new innovation with a round of applause and huzzahs. I would learn how to use those innovations or I would find someone who could teach me how to do it.
We all did, because we were all doing the same things. Sometimes we had to jury-rig something new to help with the new tech because some of the other pieces hadn’t been developed yet.
I think all of us who started publishing ten to twelve years ago still have a few vestiges of those jury-rigged systems. Some of those vestiges are just in our minds: You mean that’s a two-click solution now? To something that took me days?
One of those thought vestiges is believing that we have to explore every new thing. We need to figure it all out because Successful Writer over here is using that program/system/tool to great advantage. That was how we learned how to do indie publishing, after all. We bootstrapped off each other.
We’re a lot more organized in our bootstrapping now, with Facebook Groups like 20BooksTo50K or WideForTheWin or any one of a dozen other gathering places for like-minded writers or writers who want to learn and prefer having people to ask.
All that said, what these groups and this new tech does to each and every one of us is increase our anxiety. Maybe there’s a new tool we’re missing. Maybe there’s some tech that will make our lives easier. Maybe, if we move to this particular delivery system, we’ll make a boatload more money than we’re making right now.
I fall into that anxiety, just like you do. Writing the final blog post on new tools, not to mention some of the other research I did for year’s end, made me wonder just how I can squeeze more time out of the day.
Here’s the thing: I’ve been very efficient in 2021, particularly in the second half. I could squeeze more time out of the day—at the expense of things I want to do and/or things I need to do, like exercise.
This essay isn’t about squeezing time out of the day. (That’s what the Time Management book is for.) This essay is about how to handle all the new stuff, in a constructive way that won’t overwhelm you.
I tend to overwhelm everyone. The staff at WMG, who knows more about the new stuff than I do, got a barrage of emails from me as I wrote the year-end pieces, informing them of this or that, or asking if we’d tried it or asking if they’d investigated that or asking if it would be useful. I do this with seasonal regularity, so much so that Allyson Longueira, who runs WMG, asked me to tag the subject line in the emails, so no one saw them as urgent.
Which they most decidedly are not.
Because our small staff is as overwhelmed as the rest of us are with all of this new stuff, every day of every year. I once thought a writer-friend of mine who has a blog about new tech kept up on everything, but that person doesn’t. Instead, they just interview whomever they find, and don’t do the research at all.
Which, to be honest, made me stop following their work regularly. I’d rather have a small number of curated items from someone than all the new stuff on blast.
Two days ago, when I wrote the final year in review blog (which some of you aren’t seeing for a month), I wrote this:
I learned long ago that running after the latest thing only tires you out. I’ve learned to wait until the latest thing has been around a while (and by a while I mean whenever I get around to investigating it) before I decide whether or not to jump in.
That’s the time management trick I’m giving you here. A lot of new product, new tech, and new tools arrive with great fanfare. Some sound so fascinating that everyone (or at least, it seems like everyone) jumps on board.
In 2010 and 2011, I did too. I ran hither and yon, exploring all the new tech, trying to figure out if it would work for me/us/the company. Much of it I rejected because it seemed like traditional publishing wrapped in a fig leaf, and even more of it I rejected because it was exclusive. I’m going to have a post on exclusivity in the next few weeks, but suffice to say that I learned the pitfalls of having all my eggs in one basket in traditional publishing, and it nearly ruined me.
Somewhere along the way, as indie publishing progressed and as I got sicker with the chronic illness, I simply didn’t have the time or energy to keep up. All I could do was work on my stuff. Then I would do massive prep for the year in review, and I discovered something that I’m pretty sure part of me already knew:
All those wonderful new things that arrive with great fanfare? Many of them disappear with nary a whimper. They vanish, some of them within the six months it took me to investigate them.
Here’s why you should wait before jumping on the new tech/tools bandwagon:
- The product might be a massive failure. Sometimes the failure is so massive that the product vanishes as the owners run out of venture capital. If they’re bad at what they do, that’ll take as little as six months, but never more than a year or so.
- Let other people experiment first. They will figure out the bugs, the shortcuts, and the shortcomings. I have found something cool by doing this: A lot of the stuff that the Newest!Latest!Bestest! People hate about the new product are things I like about it. I’m aware enough to know what I’m looking for, and what works for me. So sometimes, I venture into a new product as the Newest!Latest!Bestest! People are running off to the next newest latest bestest thing.
- Let the product/idea/tech settle. Often the product (I’m just going to stick with that term) doesn’t know what it does best until it launches. And then what works isn’t what the producers thought would work. It’s something else. And that something else might be useful.
- There’s a lot more information about the product. That information might show up in the form of blog posts or YouTube videos on how to work the product. Sometimes others will actually make a side living showing the rest of us how to use this one thing.
- Version 2.0 will probably exist. The first version of anything—app, game, new tech, new idea—is always buggy. The bugs won’t be worked out by 2.0, but the worst ones will be gone.
- Someone will have figured out how to integrate this new thing with that old thing, and everything will be better for it.
Are there disadvantages to waiting? Oh, sure, a bunch of them. They are, in no particular order:
- You might miss out on the best window. Some things, especially new ad sites or new ways to discover a book, only work for the very first people on the scene. (A note: Often those people go on to tell everyone how great this thing is, eventually charge for their special techniques, and become “experts” in this thing…which won’t work for anyone else because for them, it’s not new. Sigh.)
- 2. You might miss the early-bird discounts. Or whatever it’s called. The cheaper early version designed to make everyone try whatever it is.
- You might miss out altogether. Sometimes the newest, hottest, bestest thing fails because the producers are business idiots. The product itself might be wonderful, but it might exist for only a short period of time.
- You might miss the coolest features…because they might not be the thing that the developers like the best, so they might go away.
Mostly, though, waiting costs you nothing, and actually saves you time. By the time you get to whatever product/new tech/new thing interests you, you’ll have facts and figures on how well it works, analysis that might help you decide if it’s right for you, and—to me—the biggest bonus of all, you’ll have some sense as to whether this newest latest coolest thing is a passing fad.
Particularly in the derivative works side of your equation, it’s really important to escape the passing fad. The fads cost time and money, and never pay out. But you don’t know that up front.
I used to think I could spot the passing fad, but I can’t. I’ve never been able to, and frankly, I don’t know many people who can. Some things I thought were fads are still around ten years later and some things that I thought were durable disappeared within a year.
Scams, on the other hand, I can usually see those pretty clearly. Or things that are designed to be helpful to writers but are, in reality, harmful. I have a pretty good sense about all of those.
Mostly, though, it comes from waiting. And waiting is a form of time management.
The second part of waiting is the research stage.
At some point, you need to make time to research the once-newest hottest greatest thing. Make an appointment to do so. Or do it annually, like I do. Investigate what impressed you, the things you flagged, the things that everyone else seemed to try.
Ignore the newest coolest greatest item that just arrived on the scene. Focus on the ones that have been around long enough to get through the early months and/or years.
The third, and most important part, of waiting is analysis.
Not other people’s. Yours. I know a lot of people who have made a lot of money over a number of years in the Kindle Select program. I did experiment with it, early on, using a pen name, just to make sure I wasn’t missing something important.
I don’t know if I was missing something important, but I did confirm my own sense of the ecosystem. It’s exclusive, and exclusive is not right for me.
Exclusive is still biting me in the ass with some traditional publishing items that have lingered over the past ten years, things I need to extricate myself from and haven’t done yet, because—again—time management.
I value my time with a dollar amount. If it’s not worth that dollar amount to spend hours on untangling myself from a problem, I don’t do it…until I have the time to spare.
Perhaps that’s the biggest piece of advice I can give you. Put a dollar figure on your time. It might be what you earned at your last day job. It might be what you earned in your worst month as an indie or your best month. Or just some random figure.
To calculate your indie hourly rate, by the way, take the amount you earned in one month, divide it by the number of weeks in the month, then divide that by 40 hours per week. Just like you’d do if you had a day job.
Believe me, putting a dollar amount on the time you spend clarifies time wasters. It might be worth $20 of your time to spend an hour figuring out some new tech, but it might not be worth $200 of your time.
Once you get used to doing that, you’ll be able to move past time wasters pretty quickly.
And one other note: some things aren’t worth a single dollar of your time…except in enjoyment. Not everything is work.
If you’re not spending some time every day just for you—reading, walking, seeing a movie, spending time with friends—then you’re a candidate for burnout.
Be kind to yourself. Don’t be a bad boss who expects their employees to be on standby 24/7.
And there you go: By the time many of you read this on my website, several new useful things will have premiered. We’ll get to them…or not.
In the end, the thing you must remember is that you started all of this because you love to write. Hang onto that. You’re a writer, not a marketer, app developer, designer, or voice actor. Yes, you might do those things, but you’re a writer first.
So be a writer first.
That’ll clarify your time as well.
Now that we’re done with the year-in-review posts, I have a lot of topics sketched out for 2022. I’m excited about them. Whatever this year brings, it’ll be interesting to say the least. I think the past two years have shown us that the world continues, publishing continues, and life continues, no matter what we’re all dealing with. And honestly, that gives me hope for the future.
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“Business Musings: Time Management,” copyright © 2022 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © Can Stock Photo / stevanovicigor.