Productivity For Authors. Fighting Overwhelm And How I Am Refocusing My Workload

To be a successful indie author means wearing many different hats.

hatsIndeed, to be successful at anything involves wearing many hats! But sometimes, we can look up from the mountainous To Do list and wonder what the hell is going on!

I have been feeling this way lately (again!) and two things have helped me to refocus.

a) The brilliant interview on strategy with Charlie Gilkey, when I asked about outsourcing and Charlie suggested elimination first, as well as focusing more on the primary goal

b) My game changing experiences at London Book Fair, where I recommitted to my growth as a fiction writer

I have also spent a lot of time writing in my journals with a strategic focus, trying to decide what I want to achieve over the next 5 years, both as a creative and a business-woman. I can’t keep doing what I doing and expecting a different result. I have to change what I’m doing in order to reach my goals.

In this article, I explain what I am doing to refocus my workload. This list is not meant to be a recommendation for you, it’s merely my own response to overwhelm, and it’s based on where I am in the author journey. But I am keen to hear your thoughts in the comments section!

(1) Focus on writing more books and creating more products

I’ve talked about the magic of rights before, how one manuscript can be turned into multiple products and multiple streams of income. But at LBF 2014, I saw my potential future in the Indie Bestseller group. I’ve known how this process should work intellectually for a long time, but I don’t think I have had the confidence in my own writing to think I could get to that point until now.

I’ve just written ‘Day of the Vikings,’ (currently with my editor) and I loved writing it and surprisingly, it was much easier than previous books. The first draft was also a lot cleaner than usual, because I think the fundamentals of story may have become more embedded in my brain. I still do all my research, which is super fun, but the actual first draft writing is a quicker process. So I will be writing more books, and also focusing on turning those into multiple products – publishing direct on the main platforms in ebook and print, as well as focusing on audiobooks, foreign translations and other country markets.

To make time for this, I do have to eliminate certain things.

(2) No more guest posts on the blog

Guest posts take up a lot of my time in terms of coordination and scheduling, often rewriting articles as well as sharing. I have always done it in order to help out other authors with traffic to their projects, but the time it takes is too much these days. I also need to slow down my content production and the site is established enough to get away with that now.

When I started this blog, there were very few people talking about self-publishing and so this site was original. Nowadays, self-publishing is mainstream and there are so many blogs about it, that last year, I said I would be changing the focus to more graduate level posts on marketing and the author-entrepreneur side of things.

joanna penn grin

You’ll be hearing more from me! Credit: Jason Moon Photography

Now I need to go further, because the only thing that makes any of us original is our voice. We are all unique. I hope you come to this site primarily because you want to join me on my journey. So it’s going to be MY voice you hear from now on, and maybe the occasional amazing guest article, but very rarely. Of course, I will be continuing to bring other people to you via the podcast and also my YouTube channel, as well as sharing people’s work on Twitter and Google Plus, so it won’t be all ‘me-me-me’! But it will be more me than it has been :)

(3) Reading more books and fewer RSS feeds

I took email off my phone months ago now and don’t miss it at all. But I had replaced the email checking with RSS feed checking, which is just as disruptive!

I’ve been subscribed to ~400 blogs for the last 5 years, which have fuelled my twitterholism and my sharing, but the other day I went through and culled ~370 of them. It was interesting to visit the list as so many had just stopped months or years ago. Most blogs don’t last long, because people lose interest or focus, or wonder why they are doing it. I’ve had 3 other blogs that didn’t last, so I understand that impetus. I got rid of any without a strong voice and kept the best ones, with the focus on what I want to continue sharing online.

I want to write about books more on the blog. I read a lot and have notes I want to share with you, but because guest posts have been scheduled 3/4 months in advance, I just haven’t been able to share what I want even on my own blog! That’s crazy! I also want to read more books and fewer RSS feeds, so culling the masses was a good idea in general.

(4) Outsourcing specific jobs

Indie authors are control freaks!

That’s partly why we love doing everything associated with our books, but I am getting to a point where I need help with things that aren’t my core focus.

I have just started using a fantastic Virtual Assistant (who I will introduce at some point!) and she is doing author-related things e.g. researching for book reviews. I am also using for specific jobs, and using specialists per job, rather than trying to find one person to do everything.

I’ve had a new HTML newsletter designed, my ePub files for Nook fixed and a visual presentation for ‘How to Market a Book’ which will go up on Slideshare soon. Because the tasks have to be clearly specified on PeoplePerHour, it helps me to write down exactly what I need, and several times I have read my own task and then deleted it. Elimination, rather than outsourcing, is sometimes the better option, as Charlie says in the strategy interview!

I’m also using a transcriber for my podcasts and thriller author interviews, which saves me the need to write show notes and watch the video all over again, halving my time on a significant task. Thanks Liz at Libroediting!

(5) Saying ‘no’ more

I get hundreds of emails a week asking for help with things, as well as people pitching me with publishing startups which seem to have proliferated recently. I used to reply to everything, but it is getting to the point of overwhelm, and some emails are clearly lazy in their approach. For example, I still get emails that ask “How do I self-publish?” or “How do I sell more books?” Clearly, I have answered that a gazillion times on this site, and also have links to the key resources here.

I love to hear from people who have spent the time searching the site for answers (see the Search bar on the right!) and who have a genuine question. I also love to hear success stories, so please do continue to contact me if you have sincere questions or queries about interviews and speaking opportunities:)

(6) Giving up Facebook (almost) and doubling down on Twitter and G+

Social media can be one of those time sucks if you don’t utilize your time well, so I am a massive fan of incorporating marketing into real life. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it! Twitter is my real social network, as well as my ‘marketing,’ and I am increasingly enjoying Google Plus.

BUT/ I haven’t been enjoying Facebook for a long time, and the tipping point has really been their algorithm change so the reach of any post is so much smaller. Paying to Boost is the only way for people who have already opted in to see your updates, and I’ve spent ~$100 doing that since Nov with some good results – BUT I resent it, as do many disgruntled Page owners. I put a comment on Twitter about potentially leaving Facebook – here are a few of the results, and there were many more.

leaving facebook

I love Twitter and G+, particularly the serendipity of connecting with people who are not already in your circle. Facebook increasingly feels like pain to me, and I don’t like pain! I also hung out with my 17 year old god-daughter this week, and she said that her age group have left Facebook and use Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter. She didn’t even remember mySpace :) Times change, social networks rise and fall, and we have to be nimble and adapt accordingly.

I still haven’t made the big jump to leave Facebook entirely, but I am certainly pulling back, and focusing more on Twitter as well as G+, and my core ‘social’ uses of blogging, podcasting and video through YouTube.

How do you manage your time? What steps are you taking to manage your overwhelm? Are there things you’re considering eliminating? Any thoughts on leaving Facebook as a business tool? I’d love to know what you think about all this in the comments below.

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons hats by arbyreed

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  1. says

    Good for you. I have recently started a limit of half an hour to 1 hour only on social media, and most other tasks. It works really well as it stops 2 hours going by without me noticing and I don’t get bored and frustrated.
    I like Facebook to keep in touch with people round the world, but I find it is limited in terms of networking.
    You are a wonderful resource to so many of us and I look forward to hearing more from you only. And yes,we can look at all your links as all the information is there for us.
    Happy writing

    • says

      Thanks Sherry – and I use OfficeTime app on my iPhone to keep a timesheet. I have Email & Social as one block and monitor it carefully. You’re right, it’s so easy for everything to slide :)

  2. says

    I am so relieved to hear you say that about Facebook. I was trying to figure out how in the world FB was useful (figured I just wasn’t getting it). I am currently drafting a blog post about podcasts that were instrumental in my growth process as an indie author. The Creative Penn is number one on my list. This won’t be the first time I’ve mentioned you in a blog post, and always with deep gratitude for all that you have done for the writing community. You have certainly paid it forward in terms of your generosity to the self-publishers. I started buying everything you ever wrote as a way to say thank you. Now I just buy all of your books because they’re brilliant!

    • says

      oh, THANK YOU so much Gabrielle. Buying my books as a thank you is wonderful of you, and how I hope people might feel (although I never like to ask!) I’m thrilled you like the podcast as well, and that will definitely be continuing, as I find it continues to help me learn. Thanks for the mention!

  3. says

    I eliminated posting on writing forums. There were two I was participating in. But I read several blog posts by Rusch, and I realized that a lot of the how-to advice I was seeing was for the people who have the goal of one book — not a full-time job. And it was messing me up! Further, I’m a pantser (I don’t outline), and outlining techniques pollute nearly every piece of how-to advice out there, and that was messing me up, too. By eliminating the two forums, it helped me control the information flow better. I can still look at blog posts or how-to-books and screen out techniques I know I shouldn’t pay attention to.

  4. says

    I’m a diehard FB fan. I never liked Twitter. I have an account, but rarely use it. Just for an occasional picture or blog post link. I haven’t quite figured out Google + yet, though have considered trying it. It seems like it’ll be the next big social media site.

    I AM trying to eliminate, or at least streamline, some of my time hogs, though. Or multi-task. Like, listening to your podcast while I clean my room and fold laundry! I’ve only started doing that in the last two weeks, or so, so I’m still fuddling around with it. Not too successful yet.

    Right now my marketing seems to be interfering with my writing time, and that’s just not good. At this rate, it’ll take me two years just to get a first draft done!

    • says

      Hi Valerie, I listen to podcasts when I am cleaning, cooking or walking :) definitely the way to go with listening things. For marketing before writing, many people will say it’s not worth it. I oscillate on my opinion on that – but the book should definitely be #1 focus :) All the best!

  5. says

    Your post brought to ignition some things that have been on my mind for a while. I’m in my third year as a full-time author, and it’s time to look at where I can eliminate some things and improve focus on others.

    There are some parts of my business where I’m cutting back so I can go all in where it matters most. Most of this Friday has been spent looking at everything from your blog post and my financials, to making lots of notes on changes to my blog, social media presences, and how much I’m writing for others versus writing for myself.

    Seeing your notes about Facebook was really encouraging. I’ve never liked Facebook (really, I joined because when my wife and I got engaged, she said she wanted to be able to say she was engaged to me, not just that she was engaged). I’ve tolerated FB over the years, found it useful some for engaging with fans, but with all the changes they’ve made, it’s just less and less useful. And as you said, I have a problem with paying for access to people who’ve already said they wanted to see my posts.

    Excited to see how The Creative Penn keeps evolving, Joanna—and how during 2014 I evolve my business too.

    • says

      Thanks Anthony, and I think the 3 year point is a good one to make some changes. That’s where I am too :)
      If you do make changes and blog about it, please do link back here as I am really interested in how people are shifting their business practices.

  6. says

    Kudos to you!

    I just wrote a blog about “Discipline and the Internet Age” and called it an oxymoron. In an attempt to declutter and focus more on my writing, I’ve done a few things: Unsubscribed from tons of emails that were clogging my pipeline… Deleted half of my bookmarks… and Discovered the on-off switch. What a concept. I CAN shut down my mail and browser for a few hours, and when I log back on, you know what? Nothing has really changed.

    But those are the easy fixes. Am interested in what others are doing to reclaim their attention spans and focus. I need to do it as well.

    • says

      Hi Libby,
      “Nothing has really changed.”
      Great point – and why we got rid of our TV 6 years ago now. I used to watch the news avidly, but nothing really changes there, and now I just skim headlines on my Guardian app once a day.
      It’s interesting that this seems to be a movement right now – the mind decluttering thing … so it will be interesting to see how that changes the way marketing is done. I think everyone will just become more and more niche, and learn from a few select influencers or curators – but that these may be individuals rather than companies. That’s how I am changing anyhow!

  7. says

    Great post. I’ve been listening to your podcast for a long time now.

    I’ve been thinking about the whole social media thing for a while. I like Google + a lot and use it to interact with other writers and people in general. What irks me about Twitter is I never know if I’m talking to a real person or a robot. I’ve been on Facebook for a while, but it’s mostly used for connecting with old friends. I thought of just putting up a page as another avenue for a reader to engage me with.

    • says

      Thanks Ken – I don’t know many ‘bots’ on twitter :) Check feeds for @ replies and personal comments and pics, rather than just links – that will help you decide. But Twitter isn’t for everyone, for sure :)

  8. says

    As a long time follow of your work, I’m inspired by you, yet again. I’ve been doing a lot of ‘platform’ building this year and I’m ready to pick up my fiction and get to work. Finding a balance can be very challenging and I respect and admire you for taking a step back from some of the social media circus to focus on your writing. Think I’ll do the same 😉 – Shelina

    • says

      Thanks :) and yes, picking up the fiction should be at the top of the list!
      It is hard to get clarity in this crazy fast world, but I think we all need to have the digital fast approach, or the digital Sabbath, and get some space for perspective!

  9. says

    I used to have a Facebook page for my blog, but then I deleted it. It wasn’t doing anything for me except sucking time, so now I’m spending more time on Twitter (which I LOVE) and Google+ (which I didn’t know how to use, but I love it now that I’ve learned it). I have a personal Facebook account but that’s for keeping up with my friends who refuse to do email and/or can’t text me because they live abroad.

    Anyway, good for you for paring down time-sucking stuff in your life! I admit, I will greatly miss the guest posts here on The Creative Penn (unlike other blogs I’ve read, you always had such high quality ones that helped me discover other cool indie authors). I’m looking forward to seeing the new direction you take this blog in. You’ve come a long way since you blogged about writing your NaNoWriMo novel years ago! :)

    • says

      Thanks Natalie – and oh my goodness, that NaNoWriMo was such a turning point, although I didn’t know it at the time :)
      Blogging is such a great way to capture the journey and changes along the way.
      I will still be doing video interviews and podcasts with interesting people, so I hope to still introduce new indies. I also review indie books, and other books, at Goodreads :)
      At some point, I will bite the bullet as you have done and delete FB!

  10. says

    Hi Jo

    You’ve been an inspiration and support to me, and to many who haven’t had the pleasure, as I have, of meeting you.

    Your relentless drive to earn a living as a writer has spurred me on many times.

    I’m inspired by the clarity of your vision and purpose and, once again with this post you’ve given me massive food-for-thought not only with your ideas, but your willingness and generosity in sharing how you’ve thought them through, and what steps you’re taking to implement that thinking.

    As a fellow author-entrepreneur, I salute and thank you!

    Enjoy your new focus and here’s to more writing time.

    Jody x

    • says

      Thanks so much Jody, that’s very sweet of you to say!

      I do have ‘relentless drive’ and someone asked me where it came from the other day :) I think I was born with a % of it, and also my Mum has always been a crazy busy example of workaholism (in a good way). I think after spending 13 years in a job I hated and resented, I am now driven to make this work – and show people that creativity can be the basis for a financially viable living, as well as a soul-satisfying life :)

      Thanks also for all you do for women out there :)

  11. says

    Joanna, as always, thank you. I sat nodding in agreement as I read this post. Facebook is, for me, strictly for friends and family, especially those living far away. Twitter is my natural home for sharing all things writing and reading. Your advice and thoughts make so much sense. Instead of being swamped by social media, it’s time to take control of it. If it’s working for you – great. If not – get rid. All the best.

  12. says

    Hello! Honestly, I haven’t paid *too* much attention to social media, re: what works and doesn’t because I’m lazy (lol!) and because I use Hootsuite to post my statuses, articles, and more.

    Hootsuite is such a time saver, and it allows me to stay the heck away from getting sucked into the social media vortex. I just “post and go”, so to speak.

    I do have to say though that Facebook has been invaluable for me, but only in terms of finding FB groups of likeminded people, i.e. nerdy sci-fi groups, fellow writers, and more, who’d be interested in swapping and sharing content. A lot of my networking opportunities have come from engaging in these FB groups, and a few authors and I are even coming together to do a sci-fi box set! Joining groups has been the best use of FB in my opinion, though.

    I do have to say that I’m in LOVE with Google+, especially since the developers are making improvements on G+’s nifty little features every day. It’s also a lot easier to connect with folks on there as well. Just my opinion! Happy writing, Joanna!

  13. says

    Ooh, P.S. Much like you, Joanna, I’ve been bitten by the “gotta get more product out” bug. I’ve been following other authors in my genre that I adore, like Morgan Rice & SM Reine (both urban fantasy, paranormal fiction, and sci-fi / fantasy writers), and they are getting MASSIVE amounts of success simply because they have so much material out.

    And guess what? They BARELY blog. (Huge lesson for me.) For their readers, it’s all about the material. So, I like to emulate the success of those I admire (and you are one of those, Ms. Penn), and I’m hitting the keyboard way harder this year. Best of luck to you with your productivity as well! You’re already doing great!

  14. says

    Intrigued about so I checked it out. Sadly, just like etc – jokers posting derisory rates for projects and expecting quality work.

    Appreciate the value in outsourcing some work, but these work sites seem to encourage a race to the bottom price-wise, which I think ultimately devalues us all.

    Analogy might be a reader refusing to pay more than 10p for your novel, on the grounds that other novels are available for 9p, so why should they pay the extra penny for yours?

    Any thoughts?

  15. says

    FANTASTIC POST! like you, I’m finding myself overwhelmed by how much time I give to everything and everyone,when I should be writing. I wrote more when I didn’t have a author page/Facebook /twitter ect, now I find myself sitting like a zombie replying and being present on these sites when I need to crack on with my writing. I’ve been thinking of taking twitter and face book off my phone as the distractions lead me away from doing some work!. I’m slowly getting through your back catalogue of interviews and great advice, I’m upto date on ssp and better off undave, among other things. We all follow one another on twitter, you me, Johnny saun and date, so no doubt I’ll see you there, but I’ll try my best to check your updates, though I have a demanding cat who likes tuna. :-)

  16. says

    I appreciate this post. I’ve been dealing a lot with this myself, where am I willing to give myself up at and where am I going to focus my energy. It means I’ve regimented my schedule out to almost minute by minute. I wake up at 3:30, meditate, begin marketing/reading on the publishing industry, write for two hours, then head off to the day job. I write for an hour during lunch, finish up my time at the job, then head home. An hour of exercise, an hour and a half dinner and talking with the wife, then to bed where I read. No down time, but I think–in the beginning at least–that kind of dedication is needed.


  1. […] posts that deal with making such choices: What Learning to Say No Really Means by Alexis Grant, and Fighting Overwhelm: How I am Learning to Refocus My Workload by Joanna Penn. Both talk about managing workload, about focusing your time, about giving up some […]

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