I am a planner. I make lists for every occasion as well as every day, and I keep a set of calendars. Despite all this, I don’t consider myself to be regimented. I chafe under strict schedules and ironclad routines, but at the same time I find it helpful to put things like “water plants” and “deal with receipts” as weekly recurring items on my to-do list. (Things for Mac, if you’re interested — I cannot recommend it highly enough, and I don’t get paid for doing that.)
The key for me is planning with flexibility, because if there’s one thing I know in this world, it’s that shit happens, and you have to be at least a little prepared for the unexpected.
The unexpected is not necessarily bad. Good unexpected things can be the first truly beautiful spring day, an invitation to join a friend on a day trip, learning that the architectural salvage place you’ve heard about but is only open two days each year is opening tomorrow, and so on.
The unexpected could be what you usually think of, too: migraines, a sick niece whose mom has to work, a funeral to attend, a family crisis, a friend or family member in need, an accident, any number of things.
I have a couple of “rules” (I need a better name for those; time to call Metaphor Mouse) when I schedule my work.
- I rarely accept work with a deadline such that I have to drop absolutely everything and work on nothing but that nonstop up to the deadline to get it done well and on time. When I do, it is generally because I have absolutely nothing else going on, or the rush fee is too tempting, or it’s for a favorite client who understands just what she’s asking.
- I preview each project and schedule it in chunks, and those chunks are front-loaded. For example, I just did what I call prelims on a short new book project that came in yesterday. It is due a week from today. It has front matter, eight sections, and back matter. I scheduled the FM and sections 1–3 for today, sections 4–6 for tomorrow, and the rest of the book for Friday. This gives me Monday and Tuesday to do the second readthrough and final corrections (which will take only about half a day total). If something comes up that I have to take care of over the next couple of days, I can shift those plans a little bit.
- I learned the hard way a long time ago to be a pessimist about how much time things will take. I’ve been doing this job for more than twenty years now and have a pretty good handle on things, but I still pad my internal schedules. Any time of that padding I don’t have to use is bonus time that I can use to go do something fun.
- I almost never pack my schedule completely full. I leave at least one time chunk (a morning or afternoon) free each week so I can catch up on anything that might have taken longer than expected or do things like go to the grocery store or deal with the unexpected.