saving time and sanitySaving Time and Sanity

by Ann Harth


There are hundreds of theories and self-help articles concerned with time management when working from home:

Write a Book While Waiting for a Bus

How to Run a Business While Coaching the Under-Tens

Meeting Deadlines While Baby Sleeps

Taking Your Work With You, (the Vet Won't Mind)

We live in a busy society. Multi-tasking isn't an option. It just is. Think about it. How often do you do only one thing at a time?

  • You're cooking dinner and helping with homework and trying to keep up with world events.

  • You're walking the dog and talking on the phone and watching a wobbly child without training wheels.

Even in the car:

  • You're trying listen to the funny noise in the right rear tyre and avoiding the truck that's barrelling toward you on your side of the road and listening to a new swear word your preschooler learned at recess.

When you work at home, timesaving tips and multi-tasking are necessary.

Try this:

  • List the days of the week across the top of a piece of paper. Break the days into thirty-minute sections.

  • Now fill them in with your weekly/daily pastimes: Getting kids ready for school, driving to lessons, domestic duties, etc. Some people can clean a house in ten minutes; others are more thorough and take a couple of hours. I am of the ten minute-variety, but that's just me. Don't forget to include time spent with family and friends.

  • Once you have filled in your chart, count up the amount of time that you spend on each, including free time.

  • What you have left is how much time you can devote to your young business. You will find, when broken down this way, that you have much more time than you realised.

Once you understand that you really do have enough time to work, make the most of it. The following timesaving tips may help:

General time savers:

  • Write a to-do list. Keep it handy and prioritise your work. Complete your most important tasks when you are the most alert. Revise this list daily.

  • Be realistic about the time a project takes. An edit of a non-fiction picture book. 200 words. How long can it take? Half an hour? What about correspondence with the author? What about checking facts, bibliography?

  • An article due each week. Two hours? Have you allowed enough time for research, interviews, follow-ups and the dreaded brain block? Writing the article may take two hours, but the development and preparation of the article may take six.

  • Break your time into segments. By allotting specific tasks a certain amount of time, you will be more likely to focus completely on that one job for the prearranged time without allowing distractions. When you focus, you work well and more quickly.

  • Take your work with you. How many hours a week do you spend waiting? In line? In a doctor's office? At the bus stop? On the train? Don't waste that time. Plan ahead. Make sure you have pens, paper, an unfinished manuscript, an article to edit, a letter to draft or even a list of numbers and your phone. Don't get annoyed or stressed. You've been given an opportunity. Use it.

  • Clean up as you go. Return pens to the pen holder, white out goes into the top drawer. Files are filed, garbage is tossed. Leaving tools and papers where they land as you work means an extra half an hour at the end of the day to tidy up, or worse, an extra half hour in the morning before you start. It can also mean valuable lost time in the middle of a project. "Where's my…?


  • Use sparingly. Never use the phone when an email will do. A business call can easily take three to ten times longer than an email. 'On hold' is a killer (keep some work close to the phone) and chats can be pleasant, but can also last forever.

  • Be prepared. If you do have a business call to make, have a list of your questions, points and comments that must be addressed. Keep a pen and paper handy so that you can write down any pertinent information. This will remove the risk of another call to clarify what was said.

  • Don't answer. There seems to have been an increase in telephone soliciting lately. These calls are not only annoying, but also time-consuming. The callers are getting brazen enough that they actually argue with you when you say 'not interested'. Use an answering machine. Screen your calls. If it's solicitation, they'll hang up. If it's a friend for a chat, they'll call back (or you can call them after work). If it's an editor offering you a three-book deal … you may want to pick up.

  • Return to the scene. Even if you don't answer a call, it will distract you, at least momentarily. When the phone rings, scribble down some reminders so that you can pick up where you left off.

  • Talk to the machine. If you need to make a call and you get a machine, be ready with a short script. Name, number, reason you are calling and when you can be reached. Sometimes it's preferable to get a machine if you're merely supplying some information. There will be no return call necessary and you don't run the risk of getting a 'talker'.


Email is a great time saver as it nips the telephone-tangent chats in the bud. Beware! It can also waste minutes here and there and whittle away an entire morning.

  • Check email at specific times. Decide how often you need to check your emails. Once in the morning to make sure an offer from overseas hasn't arrived, once in the middle of the day and once before you log off. Unless you are expecting something urgent from a client or editor, three times a day should be plenty. Give yourself a half an hour in each session to answer urgent mail and file or delete others.

  • Deal with emails once. When you do check your mail, it's very easy to glance at an email and file it in the 'do later' box. Eventually, you will have to open it again, and very possibly delete it. This is called double handling, a big time-waster. Open an email and be realistic. Will you really enter that contest even though you've never written sci-fi before and the deadline is in a week? Doubt it … Delete it. Urgent mail, answer immediately. Still have time? Answer the emails that you must eventually answer. Still have some of your 30 minutes left? Read one of your marketing newsletters and add some guidelines to your list, read an article on agents, add your opinion to a discussion with one of your writing groups. Time's up. Move on…

  • Use your drafts folder. If you must send an email, compose the letter and place it in your drafts folder. When you check your emails at one of your designated times, go into your drafts and click send on each. You can deal with all of your correspondence at the same time and remove the risk of distraction.

  • Be Spam-free. Possibly the biggest time waster of all. Dozens of unwanted emails popping into your box each day. It takes precious time to delete and block all senders. Find a reliable spam filter and use it.


Take time now. Spend some time each week learning some shortcuts on your computer. Autotext and signatures can save hours. You can type a heading on a letter or a signature with the push of a button. Learn to use templates for invoices, CVs business letters, etc.

Clean your computer. Ensure that your computer is running at its best. This means faster performance. Each week perform a disk cleanup, defragment and error-check on your computer.


  • Start

  • My Computer

Right click:

  • Local disc (C:)


  • Properties

On the general tab click:

  • Disk cleanup

This should clear up some space on your computer.

On the tools tab you will find the error checker and the defragmenter. The error checker can be programmed to start up the next time you turn on your computer, but the defragmenter will start straight away. You can continue to work while defragmenting is in progress.

There are hundreds of timesaving tips and devices for home-workers. I haven't even touched the domestic timesavers like wiping the bathroom mirror as you're brushing your teeth or cleaning the shower tiles when you're conditioning your hair, making meals once a week and freezing them, and my personal favourite: getting the kids to do the laundry.

The main thing is to be focused, organised and realistic. It takes time to save time. Plan ahead.

Next month … Finding work

© copyright Ann Harth. Comments and suggestions for specific topics pertaining to writing, editing or working from home are welcome. Please contact me at

Ann Harth is a freelance manuscript assessor, copyeditor, proofreader and ghostwriter as well as a published author. She writes in all genres of children's fiction from picture books to young adult novels as well as adult fiction and non-fiction. She has successfully completed several text-editing projects for university students and authors, and is the assistant fiction editor of, a  literary on-line magazine. She is also on the creative writing staff of, a website for children.

More information on the freelance services that Ann Harth offers can be found on her website at


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