A Non-Overwhelming Writing Routine To Gain Control Of Your Endless To-Do List

Writing is one of those activities where, no matter if you do it full time or crammed into lunch breaks, there’s a never-ending to-do list attached.

You’ve got to fill in plot holes, plan character arcs, script whole conversations, research how to poison people without drawing the attention of authorities, and then find the time to put words into sentences that sound good and have a little magic to them.

Being organized helps, but even the best planner in the world can get overwhelmed when the to-do list feels endless.

Recently I’ve felt this way; realizing I have so much to do and being overwhelmed by it. It seemed easier to put the writing off—but spoiler alert—binge-watching The Umbrella Academy makes zero progress towards my own writing goals (who knew, right?).

Getting organized is one way to get back on track. A writing routine is another. An organized writing routine that’s not overwhelming is the ultimate goal, one I’m trialing as written below.

What You’ll Need

  • A Calendar/Planner.
  • Time.
  • Patience.
  • The Will To Live.

What To Do

Make A Specific To-Do List

While listing “write”, “edit”, “blog”, or “read” in your planner will give you an idea about the tasks you need to get done, being so general isn’t as productive as you think.

I could easily say I wrote today because I hammered out two sentences and that fulfilled my “write” task. But if I’m more specific and make the goal, “write five hundred words”, or “write chapter three of the current WIP”, I have a specific goal to achieve and a more productive task to tick off.

Whatever your goals are for the week, be as specific as possible, and realistic too. Writing chapter three looks easy on paper, but the actual writing might take all week and you need to allow for that.

Plan Your Time

Pick a day of the week to do all your planning. I like to do this on a Sunday but sometimes that bleeds into a Monday if I’ve had a busy weekend. Use this time to look at your upcoming week, get out your planner and…

  • Mark off the times/days you can’t write.
  • Mark out the specific days/times you can write.
  • Pencil in your specific tasks.

When you have a decent block of time, whole mornings/afternoons/evenings/lunch breaks/commutes or days—save that chunk of time for the most important task of the week.

Eliminate Multi-Tasking

I used to always multi-task, trying to cram as many jobs in as I could. It was supposed to mark more things off my list, but all it did was feel like the work was never-ending—and funnily enough—that I was making no progress.

Focusing on just one task a day and making that a priority is less stressful and means I do that one task better than if I was doing it and five other things.

Create Focus Days

Something I’m tinkering with at the moment is dedicating whole days to focus on certain tasks. That looks a little something like this:

  • Mondays – rewrites on book two of my YA series, Blackbirch.
  • Tuesdays – writing blog posts.
  • Wednesdays – writing or editing.
  • Thursday – putting blogs together (editing in ProWritingAid, formatting in WordPress, creating graphics in Canva).
  • Friday – publishing and sharing my latest blog post and a catch-all day (more below).
  • On weekends I like to read (either books from my TBR pile or betas I’m reading for fellow writers), binge-watch all the TV shows, and be social with family/friends.

This changes with what I have to work on. If I’m in between drafts and looking for distance from my WIP, I might spend my allocated writing time for that week working on blogs, reading, or researching instead of writing or editing my MS.

I’ve also found that setting a focus day eliminates writer-guilt. Previously when I was trying to do three different things on any given day, if I didn’t get a task done, I’d feel bad about it. Now, if all I manage to do on a Monday is work on my WIP for half an hour, I see that as a win and not as if I’ve failed. It was the only writing task I had for the day, and I worked on it for the time I had. Give focus days a try and see if it helps you.

Designate A Catch-All Day

A catch-all day is when you set aside time at the end of the week to look at what you didn’t accomplish and try to get it done then.

You can reserve this for the most important tasks, or the smaller jobs that will mean you can get stuck into that important task first thing next week.

If you’re looking at your to-do list and the catch-all day still isn’t enough time to get everything done, use the time instead to split up or organize how you’ll get the task done next week so you can then cross it off your list.

And there you have my non-overwhelming writing routine. It may work for you as is, or you might want to tweak it. Is this the perfect system? Probably not, but it’s working for me and I hope it’ll work for you too if you decide to give it a try.

Just remember to keep it simple; narrow down what you need to work on, dedicate a specific day to it, and follow that plan as best you can. Hopefully, you’ll feel more productive, more in control, not as stressed, and organized enough to make a dent in your endless to-do list and ultimately get more writing done. Good luck!

— K.M. Allan

You can find me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

40 thoughts on “A Non-Overwhelming Writing Routine To Gain Control Of Your Endless To-Do List

  1. Jackie Zonneveld

    I really needed this! I’m a shocker for trying to multitask, and it’s always the writing that comes off second best. I definitely need more organisation 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ruth Miranda

    I never do lists because the mere thought of looking at a to-do list is enough to trigger me with endless anxiety and get me feeling overwhelmed. But then again, seeing that writing is my main occupation, I find that I’m pretty much organised in my work, and with a routine established that is easy to follow through and tweak around when necessary. I tend to have certain times when my mind is easily distracted and the writing doesn’t come as it should – and when in one of those moods, I know I need to NOT write, because it’ll be a waste of time: come edits and I’ll be wasting hours of my day trying to fix something I wrote because I felt I must stick to my routines and that I knew all along was a huge piece of crap! Those days I use to play around Canva and make teasers for my novels, which is actually something I never schedule (like telling myself I NEED TO MAKE SOME GRAPHICS, I should but I never do whompwhomp) and only tackle when I’m in the mood. I’m pretty disorganised, actually, but find that it works better for me where it comes to stress, because as I said to-do lists and weekly plans give me anxiety ehehehh

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Keeping it simple is key. I always try to handle the projects that are bugging me the most. When they’re complete I am less stressed and feel a lot better about myself.

    Thanks for doing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Laureen

    Ha! I feel you. Writing isn’t quite the most motivating job one can get and it takes a very strong will to live to do it:)

    Have a beautiful Friday

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes, yes, and yes. I can’t say how often I see writers complaining about never being able to write. Time management is my best friend. I know I won’t write a lot during the work week, so I don’t plan on it. Saturday, though, is my day to write. Like right now.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The non-overwhelming routine is what I need the most and the progress report for there are so many things that we need to accomplish daily, right from work to exercise and going out for meetings. I like how you answered the questions we face, right from planning to execution or failing to wrap things up. Thanks Allan.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. These are all such great tips, Kate! I especially like the idea of a focus day where if you can accomplish one thing you feel great, and then a catch-all day where you get done what you didn’t. I’m starting to learn that it’s important to give yourself more time than you think and less things to do because life happens, stuff comes up, and things just don’t get done the way you think they will. Great post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Madeline! That’s what I discovered too, that you should give yourself more time than you think to get something done. It definitely cuts down on the stress of trying to finish everything in unrealistic timeframes.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post and a topic I’m struggling with the last couple of weeks.
    I’m going to try the catch all day on Saturday.
    I also think it’s clever to write a blog post one day and edit on another. I try to do it on the same day,which can get overwhelming.
    I laughed at this line, ‘research how to poison people without drawing the attention of authorities,’ so funny.
    I also loved Umbrella Academy, we have great taste in tv shows. 👊

    Liked by 1 person

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