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Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Best Time Management Tip Ever

In addition to writing, I do a lot of public speaking on topics ranging from healthy habits to stress management to time management and goal-setting. Managing my time as efficiently as I can helps me make a fulltime living while putting in part-time hours, so I'm always looking for time-saving measures like working when I'm not really working.

In the world of time management, there are two basic schools of thought when it comes to what you should do first each day. One school says to prioritize your tasks, and do the most important task first, then the second most important, and so on. The other school suggests starting with something relatively easy to do; by checking off the first thing on your to-do list, you build momentum for the rest of the day.

I say both are wrong. As I shared at my speech on 10 ways to thrive as a freelancer today at CWIP, the first thing you should do is eliminate the ugliest. In other words, do the thing that you most do not want to do first.

There are several compelling reasons why. First, when you start your morning with the worst thing you must do (whether it's writing the draft of a complicated article, finally revising a book chapter, or calling an editor to request some contract changes), your day can only get better, right?

Second, when you have something you don't want to do and you don't do it right away, you spend a good part of your workday coming up with compelling (and increasingly more creative) reasons why you cannot do that thing right now. You promise yourself you'll do it after you have some coffee. No, you'll do it before lunch. Wait, your blood sugar is flagging--you'll do it after lunch. Then you put it off until 3 p.m.--and nothing gets done at 3 p.m. Eventually you run out of steam, and you run out of work time, and you promise yourself you'll do the dreaded task--tomorrow.

Here's the thing. First off, the dreaded thing did not get done! That's bad enough. But second, consider how much time and mental energy you wasted throughout your day, coming up with excuses (oops, I mean reasons) why you couldn't do it right at that moment. That's not only a waste of time, it's a drain on your emotional energy and leeches your productivity.

That's why I end every work day identifying the thing I most do not want to do the next morning--and start every work day tackling that task. Eliminate the ugliest, whatever your personal "ugly" thing may be, and watch your productivity climb.

How else do I make the most of my time? By specializing. If you're a new to freelancing, check out Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create your own Writing Specialty and Make More Money (Kindle edition). You'll find 20 queries that sold, advice from more than 50 successful freelancers, and hundreds of resources to help you break into 10 lucrative nonfiction writing specialties.


  1. awesome! thanks for sharing this time management tip...

    I always enjoy reading articles such as this's never a waste of time.. =)

  2. Nice post! I try to do that myself. Brian Tracy calls it "eating the frog" in his book Eat That Frog. It definitely helps get your day off to a positive start.

  3. Thanks, Macky, and Linda!

    Linda, I'm going to have to check out Brian Tracy's book. And for the record, I've already eliminated my ugliest thing this morning...woo hoo! :)

  4. It's a good book...I recommend it!

  5. I've heard of the "eating the frog" strategy, but I think I'd heard it called "eating the elephant" instead.

    Kelly, since you're into time management, I bet you'd enjoy Laura Vanderkam's book, "168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think." I'm about halfway through, and it's really changed the way I view and manage my time. Highly recommended and it's fun to read, too.

  6. OK, I'm adding both to my reading lists! :) Thanks for both suggestions.

  7. Hi Kelly! I just started reading (as I just started as a freelance writer) and I am interested in learning more about how you first launched yourself onto the public speaking circuit. I've got a niche (building credibility slowly and surely) and would love to learn more about ways to expand.

  8. Hi, Emily--

    Hope you find the blog helpful, first off! I'll cover speaking in a future post; thanks for the questions.

    All my best,

  9. Good idea, I hadn't thought about it that way. I've been doing an easier task first as a warm up, and I agree, saving the least pleasant task for later does drain productivity.

  10. Thanks for your post, Eric! I will admit that sometimes I will do another form of writing (say, a blog post or a letter to a friend, etc) to get "warmed up" before I tackle a particularly challenge piece. But usually I stick to eliminating the ugliest. :)