Tag Archives: time management

Pareto’s Law: The 80/20 Rule

Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist who observed in 1906 that 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the people.  He furthered his observation in his garden by noting that 80% of the peas came from 20% of the pea pods.

Why the heck am I writing about an Italian economist who liked to garden a century ago?

It has since become a rule of thumb in business that 80% of sales will come from 20% of the clients. Are you getting the idea now?

As self-publishers have to do it all:  writing, production, marketing. Our time is limited so we have to use it wisely. If we accept that 80% of the results will come from 20% of the effort, we have to determine which 20% of the effort is bearing fruit. Or peas, as the case may be.

I’ve written about spending money instead of my time for a cover. I spent a small amount of time finding an artist: evaluating the portfolios of several artists, choosing one, contacting her, then evaluating the three iterations of the cover she produced, requesting revisions. All of that took far less time than learning to do it myself and produced a cover that was better than anything I could have come up with in far less time.  Twenty percent effort=80% result.

Likewise, there’s the question of how much time to spend on self-promotion. Social media is free and there are many, many venues to use to get your brand out to the public. But it can be a HUGE time-suck.  Many authors make the mistake of suspending writing in favor of spending their time promoting. This is a mistake, in my opinion. There are multiple surveys that show that the two most effective ways to influence people to buy your books is

  1. Have a good reputation for writing good stories, and
  2. Have people recommend your book to their friends. How do you make that happen? See number one.

It follows that the best use of your time is to

  1. Write good stories, (80% of your time) and
  2. Let people in your niche know about them in a friendly, not spammy, way (20% of your time).

If this sounds so simplistic as to be insulting, please forgive me. It’s something I have to keep reminding myself of.  And in fact, I still haven’t quite gotten the hang of it yet.

Okay, so what about writing that good story? I’m a believer in the idea that my self-published books should be as good as I can make them, right now. I owe that to myself and I owe that to my readers. I owe us both a nice cover, clean formatting, clean prose, and most importantly, a good story.

I don’t owe anyone perfection.

The question is, how do you know when the story is ready?  When do you stop revising and editing and say it’s good enough?  Can you say, “It’s good enough”?  I think the words “good enough” raise the hackles of many a writer. “Good enough” implies to them that there’s still room for improvement, and if you stop short, before a story is as good as it can possibly be, you’re a slacker, a hack, a lesser being undeserving of sales.

Arithmetically, it’s not possible to achieve 100% perfection. Two iterations of the 80/20 rule will get you 96% of the way to perfection. Three will get you 99.2% of the way, etc.

Of course, we’re not talking about arithmetic, we’re talking about writing, and writing doesn’t add up in neat little sums the way numbers do.  I can’t tell you when your story is good enough. I can tell you that it’s possible to revise your first chapter over and over and never finish the book. It’s possible to finish your book and revise the spark of life right out of it. It’s also possible to put a book away for a year, come back to it and make it stronger. There is no right answer that works in all cases.

The point of this rambling is: Use your time effectively. Where you’ll be tomorrow is the result of what you choose to do today. I know from experience that it’s incredibly easy to scatter one’s efforts and achieve very little. Spend less time on FaceBook and Twitter and reading blogs, (except this one, of course :-)). Instead, write, revise, then send it out the door.  Tell a few friends about it, then write another story.


Filed under writing

Embrace the Chaos

One of the best pieces of advice I ever read on the subject of time management was that while planning how much time it will take to complete a project, you should expect the unexpected and plan extra time to accommodate it.

Now those of you with children are probably rolling your eyes and saying, “Duh!” but apparently ignoring this rather obvious idea is not just my problem because the author (I think it was Tim Ferris, but I can’t swear to it) thought it worth including in his New York Times bestselling book.

It seems that there are quite a few of us who don’t give ourselves any more time than the barest minimum we calculate a project will take.  We don’t ever expect that an accident or road construction will slow our progress across town (despite the ubiquity of those little orange cones).  We never allow for an emergency trip to the dentist to fix a broken tooth, a friend who needs a trip to the doctor, a balky computer program, or even a really interesting article that takes an extra half hour to finish.  Suddenly our carefully planned schedule is trashed.

My father was an Air Force officer and always modeled the behavior that if you’re not ten minutes early, you’re late.  Unfortunately, I take after my mother, who was never early for anything if she could avoid it.   Nevertheless, I have decided to embrace the chaos, to accept that it will make a hash of any too tightly scheduled plan. I will be realistic about how long tasks actually take, and all future schedules will include “slop over” time.  I will accept Murphy’s Law and incorporate it into my itinerary. There’s no point in setting yourself up for failure from the outset.

Chaos happens.  Control is an illusion.

Now I’m off to the dentist.


Filed under Life

Immortality Through Clutter

You’ve probably heard the old joke that goes, “I can’t die until I’ve read all my books — so I’m going to live forever.”

I certainly resemble that remark.  Books to me represent potential:  A new world to be explored, a new idea to be considered.  It’s tremendously difficult for me to to say to a book begging to be purchased, “I don’t have time for you.”  And that’s just to the books that interest me.  There are a thousand times as many books out there, books that were someone’s labor of love, that I walk right by.  I feel vaguely bad about that, too.  I don’t want to be a person who insulates herself inside the familiar.  But where to get the time to consume all those interesting ideas?

And where do I store them until I get to them?

I’m not what most people would consider a hoarder, but I understand (a little) how it starts.  Until you actually get rid of something you haven’t closed the door on the possibility that you might use that thing, or read that book again (or for the first time).  Fortunately, in addition to my desire to acquire books, I also have the need for a serene and uncluttered environment. I think better when papers aren’t threatening to avalanche onto the floor.  Clutter makes me feel claustrophobic.

It feels a little like having a split personality.  My house is generally tidy, but wherever I work starts to look like a nest built of papers and books.  After a while this starts to bother me, and I purge until I can again see the clear surface of my desk and the table beside my chair.  It never lasts, though.  It’s as if an evil fairy waves her wand while my back is turned, and the papers dance their way back to their starting places.

Possibly this nesting fills some need, but I think it’s also just a lack of focus, the natural consequence of an, “I’ll take care of that later,” mentality.

So this is one of my goals this year:  to accept that I can’t get to everything, and that I’ll be happier focusing on a few important things and acting on them.  That a serene environment is important to me, and worth my time.  To that end, I’m applying the ten minute solution to my “nests” everyday.  The kitchen counter has already been cleared, as has the “landing zone” of my desk.  Now I need to attack the “to be filed” pile that’s years old.

As for the excessive number of books making my shelves groan,  I’ll take care of them later.  🙂

Ask me in June how I’m doing.


Filed under Life

Making a List, Checking it Twice

I don’t know where I’d be without my lists.  I make a list every week to keep track of what I need to do, and what I’ve accomplished.  And when life gets particularly busy, I break down my weekly list and create a new list each day.

Keeping a list reduces my stress level.  I no longer have a dozen things swirling around in my head popping up at odd moments vying for my attention.  When my to-do’s are written down the looming cloud is manageable.  I can compare each item to all the other things I have to do:  Is it urgent?  Is it important?  Can someone else do it?

Just as important is knowing what I’ve done.  Before I started keeping lists I’d reach the end of the week knowing I’d been busy, but without much idea of what I’d accomplished.  Now I know I haven’t been wasting my time.  Or that I have, and need to mend my evil ways. 🙂

There are many software programs out there that can help with organizing your time and keep track of recurring obligations, but I haven’t yet put it on my list to try one of them.  For now, the old analog stand-by, paper and pen, works for me.

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Filed under Life

Staying Productive During the Holidays

A writer friend just asked me how I was going to stay productive and sane during the holidays.  After I finished laughing, I realized it was a good question, and gave it some thought.

As we’re all too aware, normal life doesn’t take a holiday during The Season.  There are still meals to be fixed, laundry to be done, and snowdrifts of dust to be blown off the furniture.  On top of that, there are (for some) excited children to be distracted, trips to visit family, holiday meals to be prepared, annual letters to be drafted, parties to be given and attended, decorations to  festoon, and gifts to be bought and wrapped.  For introverts like me, it’s both a wonderful and draining time of year.

So, how to stay sane and productive during all of this?

For me, the sanity and productivity are tied together.  Being even a little bit productive with my writing goes a long way toward keeping me sane when a million things are vying for my attention.  I have to be focused when I’m writing, and the noisy world falls away for a short time.  One way I get the writing done is by keeping my expectations realistic.  I’m not going to get twenty pages a week done.  There’s too much going on.  I’m aiming for one page a day, five days a week.  Just one page. I don’t care if it’s crap.  Crap can be revised.  I just want to write something.

I’ve done this before.  Often, I wind up writing more than one page, and that’s nice, but it’s not required and it’s not my goal.  It’s easier to sit down for half an hour, knowing that when I get my one page done I’ll have kept my promise to myself, than it is to find two hours at this time of year.

So set a modest goal.  One page.  A hundred words.  Half an hour.  Whatever seems doable.  Then do it.  When the new year rolls around we won’t feel like we’ve lost six weeks of productive time — and we’ll be sane.

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The Times, They Are a’Changing

With that title you’re probably expecting me to write about how electronic books are encroaching on traditional publishing’s turf.  (They are, but not that fast.  Only 1.6% of Tim Ferris’s bestseller The 4 Hour Work Week‘s sales come from ebooks.) But you’d be wrong.  No, today I’m talking about something more personal.

My husband is retiring in six weeks.  He’s young still, only fifty-five, but we’re both of the opinion that life can be short and the extra money from staying where he is isn’t worth enduring the aggravation of his workplace.  He’s had a long career (33 years) with the same company, and most of that time he’s enjoyed his work.  But the last few years, and especially this year, the environment has become toxic.  So sayonara, baby — he’s out of there.

I’m not worried about him being underfoot.  He’s got too many of his own interests for that.  What I’m worried about is that without all the stress he’s been carrying, he’ll revert to the fun guy I married.  I can see it happening already as the anticipation of freedom lights his face.  It’s only been two days since he set the date, but already he’s laughing more.

Where will I find the self-discipline to get my work done, with a happy, playful man around the house?


Filed under Life, writing

The Job of Writing, Part 2

This week I finished doing some niggling revisions on my romantic fantasy, Forbidden Talents, the second book in my Vinlander Saga.  (FT is the sequel to Dangerous Talents which is under submission to a New York publisher.  Keep your fingers crossed for me!)  Then I moved on to amping up the sensuality in my contemporary paranormal, Lightbringer.  (Jill Knowles, who writes erotic romance, is helping me with that — thanks Jill!)  I’m also struggling with the question of whether to add to/change/enrich some of the primary character motivations.

This is part of the job of writing.  (Not the fun part).  I have to decide if the book is strong enough as it is, or if it really needs to be rewritten and if this is a good use of my time.  Or would I be better off working on something entirely new?

Time management is a huge part of the business of writing. At the most basic level, we have to get our BIC (butt in chair) on a regular basis.  Then we have to decide how much time we should spend wearing each of our many hats.

I had a great conversation about this recently with Janni Simner, who has commented here before.  Her perspective on time is that it’s better spent writing or revising than doing almost anything else.  She believes that writing and submitting to traditional publishers (large or small) is the best business model.  I’m not as convinced, even though that is the path I’m pursuing at the moment.

Questions we both would like to see answers to:  1)  What percentage of manuscripts submitted to traditional publishers are purchased?  (Quality aside, what are your chances of selling?)  I’ve heard numbers ranging from less than one percent up to four percent (for small presses).  But what is the average?

2)  What percent of self-published manuscripts sell a thousand copies or more?  I recall reading that only three percent sell more than 500 copies, but I couldn’t swear to that.

If the results of #1 are less than the results of #2, or even close, is it still the better business model?  In other words, is it better to keep hoping that you’ll beat the odds and get that New York contract, or is it better to get a small amount of exposure (most likely), and make a very small amount of money by self-publishing?

Of course, in earlier blogs we already determined that money isn’t the only factor to take into account when deciding which publishing model to pursue.  So maybe we should ask a third question:

3)  What percent of authors following either model are satisfied with their experience?  And of the few who have done both, what do they think of each model?

Inquiring minds want to know. . . .


Filed under writing

Time management and other fairy-tales

No Virginia, there’s no such thing as time management.  Only self-management.

It took me a long time to figure this out.  I tried quite a few organizing tools, various tricks and planners, some of them were helpful, but none of them really helped me to become the miraculously organized person I thought I should be.

I grew up with a father who was career military, who believed if you weren’t ten minutes early you were late.  My mother grew up as local gentry in Texas and believed the party didn’t start until she got there.  It’s no wonder I have a split personality with regard to time.  I grew up believing I ought to be squared away, but resistant to being tightly scheduled — even when I’m the one making the schedule.  I like keeping my options open.

I finally figured out I was trying to put a square peg in a round hole.  Everybody has to find their own way.  What works for me is making a weekly list and from there, a daily list.  I’m always tempted to put more on the lists than I can possibly do.  Some things get pushed to the next day, week, or month.  But the three most important things are at the top of the list.  They become my deadlines, my must-do’s.  Doing this over and over and over is a clarifying experience.  It’s shown me that my priorities aren’t always what I think they are.  (How dirty does the house have to be before it moves to the top of the list?)


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