Going Low-Tech for More Flexible, Fulfilling Schedules

If you’re going to work as a freelance writer, you need to learn how to manage time well. I don’t have a boss who stops by my desk throughout the day to make sure I’m on task. I have to take responsibility for meeting deadlines.

I’m Done With These Disappointing Management Apps

Over the last decade-plus that I’ve managed my clients and projects, I’ve tried several productivity apps. You may have tried them, too, since many of them promise to organize your life for little or no money.

Apps that come to mind include:

  • ToDoist
  • Evernote
  • Asana

None of these have impressed me. ToDoist has a habit of rewarding me for tasks that I completed weeks ago. That’s more annoying than motivating.

Evernote made it easy to record ideas quickly, but I couldn’t access the features I wanted without paying a membership fee. It didn’t feel like it was worth $8 per month.

I recently tried to work with a client that used Asana. I hated it from the beginning because the excessive notifications only wasted my time.

Also, people often used the platform to link to Google Documents. I didn’t see the point. If I can’t add documents within the app, then why do I want to use the app at all?

Asana was the proverbial straw. After that, I decided to go low-tech. Apps weren’t helping. Maybe something basic would.

Making an Ideal Schedule (And Trying to Follow It)

Laura Vanderkam’s podcast Before Breakfast introduced me to the idea of making ideal schedules for the day, week, and month.

On Friday evening, I dutifully sat down at my desk, opened a notebook, and wrote down what I wanted to accomplish the following week. I don’t know exactly what my workload will look like next week, but I’ve been writing long enough to approximate how many projects will come my way.

My ideal weekly schedule included items for my personal goals, relationships, and career goals. Under personal goals I jotted:

  • Finish reading Blood Meridian.
  • Brew some beer with my brother.
  • Get some seedlings started for this year’s garden.
  • Go downtown to update my (already late) car registration.

Under career, I had:

  • Write fiction at a cafe with friends.
  • Volunteer at the Nature Center.
  • Communicate with new client.

After that, I had a bunch of blank pages that I could fill out as assignments came in.

The relationship section included things like:

  • Going to see a play with my wife.
  • Seeing a movie with an old friend.
  • Having dinner with my parents.

I liked the idea of creating an ideal schedule. I looked at my notebook, thinking about how I could organize my week to accomplish all of these things.

Then the week happened, and my plans went awry. My friend’s kid got sick, so we didn’t see the movie. I didn’t have the time or willpower to go downtown. Blood Meridian’s gruesomeness wore on me so much that could only slog through 20 or so pages a day.

When it came to work, I discovered that I experience more interruptions than I thought. Deadlines change; clients want to increase word counts; editors forget to confirm completed tasks.

I learned a lot by making an ideal schedule. It’s a technique that I still use. Now, though, I take a more flexible approach.

Making the Ideal More Flexible

When I write schedules in a notebook, everything turns into a mess. Looking over the pages now, I see why I stopped using the notebook. I also why I adopted a new system that made it easier for me to add flexibility to my schedule.

My new approach to time and project management consists of a metal board and magnetic stickers.

Each Friday, I arrange next week’s stickers on the metal board. As things change, I move the stickers to new positions.

Someone cancels a project? No big deal. I just wipe off the sticker.

I don’t have time to make it to the gym today? OK, then I’ll move the “gym” sticker to tomorrow morning.

Sure, I could do this with most project management apps. This way, though, I have a physical reminder of what I want to accomplish. I also have an adjustable map that shows me how to get where I want to go. It hangs on my office wall, so I can’t ignore it. It forces me to find a new time slot when I don’t finish a task.

Metal and magnets are holding me more accountable than apps ever did. And I don’t have the frustrating of trying to read a messy notebook.

I love technology, but I’m managing myself in the most low-tech way I could find. So far, it has given me great results. I might even get my car registered this week.