The Benefits of Working in Short Time Blocks: Part 1

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog post on how freelancers can tackle projects like a software developer using a trend in software development called “Agile”, which calls for compressing development projects into short pieces.

Well I found another article, this time at The 99%, that calls for the benefits of working in small time blocks. Do you put off starting a project because you are waiting for the perfect time to do so? Guess what? There is no perfect time! Putting off starting a project in this way is procrastination, plain and simple. And procrastinating is never a good idea—in my humble opinion anyway.

I recently read a story in Elle magazine where writer, Bliss Broyard (author of One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life—A Story of Race and Family Secrets) hires a life coach who chides her on not being able to find the three hours a day Bliss wants to sit down and write. What does Bliss do instead? Clean the house, wash the dishes, mope.

“A project I’d been working on for a long time and fully expected to be favorably received was rejected. I was given a few months to ‘turn the ship around,’ but it felt as if I’d found myself in the cockpit of a 747 and had just been told that I was going to land the thing myself.” —Elle

Broyard’s life coach gave her a week to wallow in her feelings of anger, self doubt, and sadness. Come Monday, Broyard was to get back on track. But she couldn’t.

“I kept falling short on my time commitment to work; I couldn’t get any traction for restarting my project. The truth was, I was paralyzed in the face of hard work, of the chance I wouldn’t succeed.” —Elle

I’ve been there.

When I’ve been disappointed, upset, or angry, I give myself a day or two to live my feelings. Then I move on to do what needs to be done. Because you have to move on.

And one of the most effective ways I’ve gotten back in the saddle is to organize my time in little chunks.

Make a List

I start with creating a list. Putting things down on paper really helps me gain perspective. And you must put it on paper—making a list in your head doesn’t count. There is something so satisfying in crossing something off of a list that makes me feel elated. I make lists for everything.

I make this list and include all the steps I need to complete to get the job done. The article on The 99% says not to worry about whether the list is in order or not—but I try to go in order. If you find you have forgotten something along the way, add it to the master list.  Keep this list in plain sight. I have a cork board near my desk that I pin my list to. That way it’s easily retrieved when I’m ready to cross something off.

Move Forward

Start at the top of your list, or, if your list isn’t in order, somewhere in the middle. I set aside time to tackle this item—be it 15 minutes to a half an hour. NO LONGER! Get yourself a timer if you have to. Disable the Internet on your computer if you have to. Turn off the ringer on your phone. Shut the door and get down to business.

The point is to set aside a short enough block of time that you can commit to it without feelings of anxiety or hesitation about your ability to follow through. —

Creating short term goals for yourself will move you forward without the anxiety of having to tackle the entire project at once. When you really think about it, a project includes so many little pieces that don’t need to be tackled all in one day.

For example: If you are a freelance photographer and you have just completed your shoot, download the photos onto your computer and give yourself blocks of time to edit them. There is no reason you need to tackle all 900 photos at once—unless you want to. If you have other work that needs to be done, discern what your priority is and create blocks of time to tackle multiple projects at once.

As a writer/editor/blogger, I have multiple things going on at the same time, all the time. I have categories for my writing projects and dealing with other peoples’ projects.


Here’s what a daily list for me might look like:

  • Transcribe tape from Interview X
  • Start writing feature story on Y
  • Edit freelance stories for health section of magazine
  • Work on calendar of events for next month
  • Find stock photos to go with story Z

Look for Part 2 of this blog post tomorrow, where I will continue with describing the process and talk about the benefits freelancers can have working this way.

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by xilius.

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