Excel … lent Way To Manage Time

Clickety-click clickety-click clickety-click…

“Dah-dah!”

Another word for disaster?

“Yes, sweet pea?”

“Ehwika take crowns, I poopy, an Kahwua take banky …”

Don’t these things have an off switch? Sigh…

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Tori the Terrible

With Halloween in the rear-view mirror and two more holidays facing us down, my waistline is increasing faster than my novel! I have always loved Halloweeen, and there is something wonderful about roast turkey at Thanksgiving, but why does it all have to be washed down with sweets? Don’t the Holiday Spirits know I have a sweet tooth?

Now that the white stuff is flying outside, I can finally teach you how to use Microsoft Excel to manage your writing. The spreadsheet, once only the domain of accountants and bookkeepers, is now a regular part of the American vernacular. We are, after all, a country driven by lists. Get the groceries, get the kids, record Fringe, feed the dog, etc, etc, etc.

So how do we manage it all? Well, I have chosen the spreadsheet to manage my time and tasks, and Microsoft Excel is one of the best on the market. It also comes with Microsoft Office, so most people already have it on their computer. If you are not familiar with it, then by all means, fire that puppy up and give it a test drive!

Now, once you are done kicking the tires and looking under the hood, you are ready to begin using this powerful product for your writing. First, download the template spreadsheet from my web site and save it to your Author folder, naming it something catchy like, MyDreams.xls or MyWriting.xls. If you’re boring, simply call it WritingTasks.xls.

If you are using Microsoft Office 2007, then it will want to create a file with the extension .xlsx. Feel free to permit the conversion, although I honestly haven’t seen any difference in the product from the previous version. Having worked at Microsoft for several years, I can assure you they release a new version of the tools every three years whether they have changed anything or not. Usually the changes are relatively superficial, like the new interface in 2007.

Start Microsoft Excel and load the template spreadsheet. Usually, you can simply double-click the file name in Windows Explorer and the program will automatically start and load the document. When done, you should see something like the following, depending on what version of Excel you are running.

Spreadsheet Template

Don’t be overwhelmed, but this spreadsheet contains more than just our task management. In fact, it is much more than that and a glass of milk! This spreadsheet encapsulates all the different processes I have discussed since starting this blog. On the bottom of the worksheet, yes, each page is called a worksheet, you will notice four (4) tabs titled:

  • Weekly Appointment
  • One Goal
  • Task Decomposition
  • Document

These are the basis for beginning your path to authordom. We will walk through each tab to prepare you for your journey to fulfilling your writing dreams.

Click on the tab titled Weekly Appointment and enter your appointment to write. Remember, if it is important enough to pursue, then it is important enough to have a weekly appointment, or two. I personally work three (3-4) days a week now, a couple hours each time. For me, Saturday and Sunday morning coupled with Tuesday and Thursday afternoon/evening seems to be the right fit. If I miss one or more of these appointments due to family obligations, I still have two more to target for that week. You pick based on your work habits and schedule. It should look like this when done.

Appointment to Write

Perhaps you noticed that when you entered the number of hours for each appointment, the total number of hours changed. This is because that cell has been filled with a formula that adds up all the hours entered above it. Go ahead, play around and see how it changes each time. However, be careful not to delete that cell’s content or this feature will be gone;(

Great, you have recorded your Weekly Appointment to Write which you will keep religiously like church or a doctor’s appointment. Now, let’s move on to the real meat of this exercise, the work you will perform during this appointment. If you haven’t done so already, click on the One Goal tab to record your overarching goal for your writing. This should be something tangible, like Write Novel X or Write Poem Y. When the goal is completed, you should be able to hold something in your hands that is the product of completing that goal.

One Goal

As you may note in my version of the spreadsheet above, I have put the title of my fourth book in my Onyalum Series, Galactic Checkmate. The title of the book or poem is a powerful reminder of what will be produced once you have completed this goal. In the Description field, simply write the following: Write and publish my first book. Simple, yes, but very powerful!

I remember my first book as though it were yesterday. I created my spreadsheet and entered these powerful yet simple words. At the time, it seemed an impossible dream to write and publish a book. But it was my dream and nothing would stop me from it. I started keeping my appointments and eighteen months later my goal was complete. Now, I am currently two-thirds done with my fifth book in total. Don’t give up!

Okay, you have your One Goal, now we must decompose that into chunks that you can spend your Weekly Appointment working on. This is called Task Decomposition, so click on that tab at the bottom to begin. Take each writing goal and begin to chop it into smaller pieces, assigning the number of your Appointments to Write as you believe it will be necessary to complete the task. Don’t get too granular, break down into things that can be accomplished with one or more appointments. After all, it makes more sense to Write chapter 1 as opposed to Write first sentence!

Task Decomposition

I have entered good samples of the kinds of tasks you can expect to perform to write and publish a novel. Obviously, there are more tasks to it than that, but this is a good working draft you can modify to fit your needs. Next, we have to actually enter the tasks that we will perform during our Weekly Appointment in the order that we will perform them (schedule). Click on the tab titled Document to begin.

This worksheet is the true meat of the process and will be used throughout your pursuit of your One Goal. Within this worksheet, you will record your accomplishments while maintaining a road map of where you are going and when. The column headers within this worksheet have been used by me for many years and provides a basic time management system that is powerful yet simple.

Let’s look at each of these column headers in detail to gain a better understanding of their purpose and use:

  • Book – Your goal.
  • Area – What aspect of your writing is the task?
  • Task – Duh.
  • Status – Not Started, Inprogress, Done.
  • Target – When will it be completed? Base on appointments.
  • Comments – Hey, add links if necessary (research, etc.).

Some people like to use a start and end date, but I find having only the end date (Target) is more than adequate when the tasks are ordered properly. Also, managing less fields is far easier, especially when you have to adjust it based on time slips or gains. Yes, you may actually get ahead of schedule!

Enter all your tasks from the Task Decomposition table, filling in the appropriate field value for each one. When done, you will have a nice list of what you will do during your Weekly Appointment to Write. Not only does it outline what must be done, but it informs you in what order it must be done in. Be sure to adjust the Target based on the end of the previous task and the duration you specified for that task. These should be tied to your Weekly Appointment, so if you require four (4) appointments, with two appointments per week, then the Target should reflect two weeks after the Target of the previous task.

Whew! That may seem like a lot of work, but the upfront cost will be far outweighed by the successful completion of your One Goal. Next month, I will walk you through the process of using this spreadsheet to manage your time effectively. However, if you don’t keep your Weekly Appointment to Write, you will never complete the tasks on this list. But, if you do keep your appointments, then the last Target date should be when you can expect to have accomplished your dream!

All right, another diaper change. God, I love parenthood😉

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