Organization tips for women writers

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B. teases me ever so gently sometimes for being such a workaholic. Even on my so-called “easy days,” I’ll rattle off a list of tasks that I accomplished, oblivious to my defiance of the meaning of the term “easy day.” Still, like a lot of women, I find myself often running around in several different directions, frustrated that there aren’t more hours in the day and wondering how to maximize my precious time.

I haven’t quite figured out the key yet, but I have learned a few things in this experiment in productive-and-fulfilling living. I still manage to make most of my weekends free for fun and spending time with B. while maintaining a pretty good schedule of work during the week, so I think I’m on my way to finding that elusive balance of work and play that all of us so long for.

  • Minimize housework. This is a big one for me. I loathe housework anyway, so my work is the perfect excuse to avoid it. B. dislikes it as much as I do, although we both do our even share so the other person doesn’t feel exploited. What we do instead is try and minimize the circumstances that create housework, e.g., we don’t wear our outdoor shoes at all when we’re in the home. No outdoor dust = minimum dirt to vacuum.
  • Lower your expectations. Theoretically, I would love a home worthy of a Better Homes & Gardens layout, but realistically, that ain’t gonna happen. Instead, I aim for clean, if not neat. As a true-blue Filipino, I never, ever go to bed without having cleaned the kitchen, but I don’t have to have an immaculate living room. Newspapers sometimes pile up on the floor or the coffee table, and books and other detritus sometimes stay on the floor for days, if not weeks. However, neither of us sweat it if we can’t get around to tidying things up for days, if not weeks. Life is too short to worry about every single dust bunny under the couch. I prioritize my day and my schedule and plan accordingly. Eventually, the housework does get done, but it’s not the #1 thing on my list.
  • Demand help. Don’t just sit around and get all passive-aggressive, hoping that your husband will take the hint about taking the trash out. Yeah, it can be annoying to have to keep asking, but you’ll only resent him if you don’t and he neglects to do it. If you must, make a list of his assigned tasks and place it on the refrigerator where he can’t miss it. Have him check it each week (or every day). I know, it sounds kind of maternal, but trust me, most guys worth their salt want to help. They’re either just too lazy or don’t know how, but if you give them direction, they’ll rise to the occasion. I remember a hilarious Dave Barry column about the difference between a man and a woman’s idea of clean. Men have different expectations of what constitutes “clean.” It’s not wrong, just different. If you want him to learn your expectations, you need to teach him.
  • Don’t expect perfection. Okay, so you’ve taught him your expectations, and he’s still not getting it. Or maybe he gets it but isn’t quite living up to them. Remember, though, that they’re your standards, not his. You might want to really think about whether or not it’s worth the hassle and frustration of having to constantly nag him to do things the way you want them to be. Besides, what makes you think you’re more perfect than he is? I know I want the bathroom to look a certain way, but I’m also aware of the fact that I have my own habits that annoy B. We overlook each other’s flaws, though, and focus instead on what’s good about the other person. Do the same for your spouse. See “Lower your expectations” for more hints.
  • Learn to say “No.” I used to be really bad about this, and I still have my moments, but I’m getting better. I had a hard time declining social invitations and requests for assistance, thinking that of course I could squeeze it in and that I couldn’t possibly turn so-and-so down. Well, you know what ends up happening. Your schedule ends up dictated by the needs of others so that you can’t get anything of your own done. Plus, you wind up resenting others for infringing on your time, when really it’s your own fault for not recognizing your boundaries and sticking to them. Just say “no” to any social or professional or even familial obligation that could potentially overtake your plans. You’ll be surprised at how dispensable you really are, and how much more you could get done if you weren’t at everyone’s beck and call.
  • Clean up your office. Oooo, another big one for me. I’m currently in the middle of yet another mess, but I do take some time each week — half an hour, tops — to try and put things in some semblance of order. Buy baskets and filing boxes and whatever else you need to be able to put things in their proper place. What’s often the cause of piles and messes is the lack of a place to put things. Avoid that by making sure that everything has its place. Try and set aside some time each week or every other week to organize your things. You’ll be grateful each time you quickly locate something on your desk, whether it’s a proposal or a valuable piece of research, so that you can proceed immediately to work without wasting time on needless searches.
  • Make a schedule and stick to it. I’m still working on this, but I had some practice when I was toiling away at day jobs and was expected to do certain things at certain times during the day. I’m still tweaking my weekly schedule, but it helps that I have a monthly goals list taped above my desk. Whenever I work on my schedule, I check it against the goals list and see if each of the tasks I’ve assigned myself bring me closer to one or more of the goals on that list. If it doesn’t, then I lower its priority and schedule it accordingly. The schedule and the goals list are thus closely related, and I can end each day with a sense of accomplishment.

Admittedly, each of the above is a work-in-progress for me, but as I progress in my career as a freelance writer and novelist, I find more and more ways to improve upon my productivity and organization to achieve my goals. What about you? Any tips you care to share? I’d love to hear them!