© Gaye Wilson 2008
A system? Not a system! I can’t use systems!

Yes, you can. Systems are invaluable for getting stuff done. They are especially important when you are working to a deadline. They help you plan the project, they tell you what still needs to be done, and they tell you what to do next.

For instance, for the editing project I’ve been talking about in this series (I finished the project, by the way, on time, and the client was ecstatic with my work), my system was:

  • Print out all emails pertaining to the project
  • Start a file for everything related to the project
  • Keep track (see this post)
  • Use checklists
  • File all the stuff when the project is done so that I can refer to it again if necessary (for instance, if the client wants changes or disputes what we’ve agreed, or if I have a similar project in the future). 

Without the system, I don’t know where I’m up to, and I don’t know what is still to be done. Having everything in hard copy in the one place I find is much better than having to boot up my computer to find stuff.

The beauty of this is that, once you’ve figured out a system to get a particular task done, you can use that system again and again for similar tasks. Tweak the system as you go, so that it is the best system for you.

Studies have shown that people who use systems get more done.

So what systems can you come up with?

© Gaye Wilson 2008
One of the most useful strategies I’ve used for this particular project, and one that I will use again, is keeping track.

Keeping track of what, you ask?

Keeping track of whatever will help you (a) reach the goal and (b) reach your next goal.

For this current project I have been keeping track of:

  • the hours spent on the project: it is essential to know this, so that I can charge the client for my time.
  • the number of pages I have edited per hour: I seem to be averaging five.
  • the number of pages I have proofread per hour: this one is not as simple to quantify, because I was not doing my usual thorough proofreading because the time was running out. I definitely need to note how many pages I proofread on my next job.
  • the amount of time I spent formatting the document. This particular one had issues that I hope I don’t get again. Unfortunately, I didn’t note specifically which bits were formatting and which bits were editing. I’ll need to do that next time.
  • extraneous items that need to be included in the invoice at the end of the job, such as the cost of phone calls, postage etc.

For larger projects, or multi-faceted projects or projects that need a lot of resources or take a long time, you would need to keep track of some other items:

  • who’s doing what
  • when each phase needs to be completed and how on track you are
  • problems/delays
  • what’s been done
  • costs

 This is only a very short list of what can be tracked on a job.

I keep track of my projects using an Excel spreadsheet I developed some years ago. I plug in the date, the time I start work, the time I finish work, and a short description of the work. I can also track what has been sent off and when, and interim payments, and I can see at a glance what my productivity is like by using graphs.

Someone else who uses spreadsheets to keep track of business stuff is Gayla, of Mom’s Gadget. Have a look at her blog entry on how she uses spreadsheets.

What else do you keep track of, and what tools do you use?

 

© Gaye Wilson 2008
When you are working hard on a job, especially one as physically and mentally challenging as editing or proofreading (amongst others), it really helps to take regular, refreshing breaks. I have found on this particular editing job that I stopped seeing errors after about an hour of intense concentration. Getting up, taking a walk, drinking a glass of water and maybe playing with the dog all helped when I got back to work. I would pick up the job, re-read the last paragraph I was working on, and immediately see the problem that had been eluding me.

This tip is applicable to almost everything you do. If you are a workaholic who doesn’t take breaks, your health will suffer. If you don’t take annual holidays, your health and relationships will suffer. If you have multiple tasks to do, changing to another one when you are weary of the first one is a good way to refresh yourself, and when you come back to the original one, you’ll be able to cope with it a bit better.

 

© Gaye Wilson 2007
Well, I didn’t post yesterday, as I had intended. I had to do the grocery shopping yesterday, amid hordes of post-Christmas shoppers, and didn’t get home until half the afternoon was gone. I did manage to get some editing on the project done, and I made sure I had reached the original target for the day before I knocked off. This means that I am where I should be according to my original time estimate, but am behind on the revised estimate of doing extra pages each day.

Therefore, the strategy mentioned in my previous post about doing more than the daily target whenever possible has paid off. I’m on schedule, even though I had to do some extra-curricular activity yesterday and could not put in all the hours.

This leads to another point. When I was planning the daily targets, I didn’t take into account the possibility of doing anything else. I didn’t factor in the shopping trip, nor did I factor in the possibility of a computer crash.

Which is what happened today.

I logged onto the computer and the internet this morning to update this blog, and the computer froze. I rebooted, and it wouldn’t. Boot, I mean. The local computer shop was singularly unhelpful over the phone, insisting that I bring the computer in. No, they couldn’t possibly take me through the BIOS setup over the phone to see if the problem could be fixed that way. Grrrr. The computer shop is a one hour round trip away. If a phone call could fix the problem, that would save me two hours of travelling, two days of no internet connection (because I’m sure they will insist on a 48 hour turnaround for what is probably a simple problem), and some aggravation.

So, the blog isn’t being updated today. It’s being written today, but won’t be uploaded today. I discovered this morning, looking at WordPress for Dummies (more about this fantastic book later), that I can change the date of a post, either to a future date or a past date. I’m sure I’m going to be using that facility to post this entry, when I get the computer working again.

Oh, how can I be writing this on a dead computer? I’m not. I’m doing it on an AlphaSmart 3000. More about this nifty device later, too.

Lucky I have another, non-internet connected computer to do my editing work today, and that I backed up last night. Well, not lucky, exactly. Yet another strategy to lead to victory.

© Gaye Wilson 2007
Christmas is over, and I’m back at work.

Yesterday I did five more pages than my goal number. Today I did two pages more than my goal.

Why?

Because of the tight timeframe for this project, I need to ensure that I finish it on time. The All Paths To Victory Strategy states that you do whatever it takes to complete your goal. In this case, the daily goals I set myself originally were best-case-scenario. If something happened to make me miss a daily goal, the whole project would be in jeopardy.

A case in point. We had a thunderstorm today. Thunderstorms are not good for computers, and I’m doing this job on the computer. I had to shut the computer down and unplug it while the storm was around. If we get another one tomorrow, the time available to work will again be shortened.

So this is the second strategy I am employing to get this job done: do more than the daily goal, if possible.

Tomorrow I will post the third strategy to completing a goal.

 

© Gaye Wilson 2007
Well, I did 30 pages yesterday instead of 25 before I had to stop and do Christmassy things, and am now up to page 75 of the manuscript.

I discovered that having a specific number of pages to complete for the day was a very powerful focus for me. Whenever I got tired or distracted, I remembered that I had to meet a (self-imposed) quota, and that if I didn’t meet the quota today I would be behind for the rest of the project, probably submit it late, and have a very unhappy client.

I don’t want unhappy clients. I want happy ones who rave about my service.

So, two days of meeting a quota feels good. The project is on schedule, and now I can have a day off to celebrate Christmas with my family.

Merry Christmas to everyone!

 

© Gaye Wilson 2007
Christmas is only a day away, but I’m working very hard on a rush editing job. I have to edit and format (including standardising the bibliography) 350 pages of academic research, and I have to get it done by 9th January. I only just got the job yesterday. And it’s Christmas time!

Editing takes a long time. Formatting bibliographies takes a long time.

So how am I going to do it?

The whole job looks overwhelming and the timeframe is a nightmare. It needs to be chunked down. I find numbers very soothing in circumstances like this.

So I’ve counted the pages and the days I have to do it in. I figure if I edit 25 pages per day, I might just make it. But that means I don’t do anything else in that time. I’ve allowed myself Christmas Day off.

We’ll see how it goes.