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Friday, January 14, 2011

Guest blogger: Liz Fredericks

Our guest today is Liz Fredericks. Liz is an efficiency and employee development consultant who works with public and nonprofit organizations. She has published numerous books and articles on management trends, and recently took up romance writing. After hearing her speak on Value-Driven Time Management, we asked her to share her professional expertise with our readers. Welcome, Liz!

Thank you Lady Scribes for inviting me to guest blog. In my ‘day job’, I’m a professor specializing in public and nonprofit management. This is my first blog attempt as a fiction writer and I’m thrilled at the opportunity. During the past couple of years, I’ve been delving into a long-term personal goal of writing stories under the pen name of Liz Fredericks. Despite having published nonfiction over the past two decades, I consider myself a fiction newbie and am sometimes overwhelmed at how much there is to learn. Shhh - don’t tell on me, but I have a confession. Writing my dissertation was cake compared to drafting a novel with active pacing, an original voice, a consistent point of view, fresh dialogue, a compelling theme, and riveting storyline -- yikes!

Though the nuances of the romance writing profession are daunting, I’ve relied upon superb commentary from this blog along with advice from my local RWA chapter and critique partners. An important message from these wise women and men is to ‘write what you know.’ What I know in a professional sense (strategic planning, performance measurement, and employee development and discipline) has helped me shoulder through manuscript drafts, and mountains of technical information on the art, craft and business of writing while balancing work, family and – argh – healthy lifestyle changes.

Today, I’d like to share a big scary secret about time management – it’s impossible to manage time, but we can manage our priorities. And if you understand your true bone-deep priorities, then you can carve out a little guilt-free flexibility in your day. Facing our own priorities can be frightening. It means that we should look at what we value as an end, and consider the values we use to shape the process – the how of our lives not just the result.

Years ago, Milton Rokeach, a brilliant social psychologist, developed a list of thirty-six values and divided this list between eighteen ‘terminal values’ (the end result) and eighteen ‘instrumental values’ (the process). He argued that these values transcend culture because people differ most in terms of how we prioritize the relative importance of each value. The rank of values will shift as we redefine our lives with new experiences and opportunities. Most of us cannot control certain external demands on our time, but we can control our own responses. And we can, upon reflection, be deliberate about our priorities.

In a given year, we have 8,760 hours. On January 1, we face a new year and consider all that we hope to accomplish. So much is possible. But those thousands of hours boil down to 168 hours each week and 24 hours each day. If you do an internet search on ‘time management’, you’ll pull almost 500 million hits in a tenth of a second. Most of the tips rest upon the importance of setting specific goals, prioritizing those goals, and setting up a mechanism to evaluate your progress. Sound easy? Maybe, but we all know there are as many ways to self-sabotage as there are types of candy in the world. Not that this is an issue for me. Ahem.

Now, you can find costly calendars and training modules designed to shepherd you through these activities, but I’ve adapted a process designed for large-scale organizational change projects to use for my students and myself. I don’t distinguish between professional and personal goals because success on all fronts comes from my ability to leverage – to mesh being a mom, a wife, an academic, and, more recently, a story-teller and writer.

Use three categories – ‘healthy to’, ‘have to’, and ‘hanker to’. For the year, list a few goals or wishes within each of the three categories, but consider blending ‘what to accomplish’ value-based goals with ‘how to accomplish’ goals.

Next, divide the year into three-month blocks and each month into approximately three ten day blocks. Please avoid using the familiar seven day week. I’ve found that people (and organizations) start to drop off performance unconsciously after Wednesday. A ten day (or so) block ‘tricks’ my subconscious into maintaining momentum.

Then work backwards. Perhaps you can’t devote a major effort towards a goal every day. However, you can commit to doing something to facilitate each goal during every ten-day block. If I diversify those small steps toward a larger goal (e.g., different approaches, but the same path), then I don’t get bored with repeating the same action, but still make measurable progress. The point is that not getting to something during a particular day or hour shouldn’t discourage you from continuing the quest. You’re keeping your focus on a larger block of time.

Finally, you need to evaluate your progress. Rather than do this at the end of the year when it’s a little too late to make amends, I like to review my ten-day block with a more detailed assessment at every third month. Where did the glitches come up that skewed my good intentions? Were there points where I lost sight of a bigger goal as I paid more attention to technique than purpose? Did I ignore my goals about process in deference to an unplanned end?

Thank you for letting me share these thoughts. Would you return the favor? What approaches have worked in achieving your writing goals? What strategies have helped you balance writing with other obligations in your lives? And what’s the secret to writing a novel with active pacing, an original voice, a consistent point of view, fresh dialogue, a compelling theme, and riveting storyline -- yikes!


  1. Hi Liz! Thanks for guest blogging on the Lady Scribes. I have been using your 10-day block scheduling for a week now and I love it. I have a much more balanced world view and have even managed to work in some exercise time. (Gotta check off those 'healthy to's') No more guilt, less annoyance at intrusions. Thanks a million.
    As for the rest? The secret to writing is writing.

  2. This is great. I really like the part about "managing your priorities" rather than trying to manage time. What a lightbulb moment!

    I always feel like time is standing around with its arms crossed, glaring at me with a "what do you want ME to do?" expression. And I'm flittering and frittering, wondering why the day is over and I've done less than the previous day. LOL

    Thanks for sharing, and good luck with your fiction writing endeavors!

  3. Thanks for joining us today at Lady Scribes, Liz. And what a great topic, considering the last couple of blogs we've had. (You might think we planned it this way. We didn't. LOL.)

    I can completely understand how writing your dissertation was easier than writing fiction. I've assisted doctoral students in writing and revising their dissertations and masters students working on their theses. I can't put into words how much easier doing that is than writing a piece of fiction that someone else might want to pick up and read.

    I'm going to have to try your ten-day blocks. Great suggestion. And as to the secret to great writing? Practice. You're going to write a lot of not-so-great writing before you write something great. I've read that you've got to write a million words before you're going to write something (fiction) worthwhile. Not sure I believe that, but I do think we need to fail before we can learn to succeed. I've got full manuscripts and two half manuscripts tucked away in a drawer, that will never see the light of day. They were my stepping stools. The key? Keep writing.

  4. Breaking the month into three ten day blocks has to be the most creative and ingenious time management tool I've heard of. I am definitely giving that one a try!
    Thanks LIz!

  5. Thanks again for this opportunity! I’ve benefited a great deal from wandering through the Lady Scribe archives so it’s nice to contribute. Clarissa, your advice to write and continuing honing the craft resonates for me. Diligence in what can be a solitary activity is tough, but my critique partners keep me on task. I’m glad the 10-day block is working for you. I do hope that everyone who tries it keeps me posted. Liz_Fredericks@yahoo.com

    One of my goals is to fine-tune these micro-systems. Like writing, priority management is a continuous improvement loop.

    Donna, I love your words ‘flittering and frittering’ – simply fabulous to read what people can do with language. I picture a dance with time – maybe you just have to seduce this glaring, arms crossed alpha male figure into taking a spin around the day with you. Thinking in terms of managing priorities was a flashpoint for me. It’s much easier to say ‘no’ to unimportant things when you think in terms of what counts most in your life. It’s also easier to give yourself a hug when you have one of those flit/frit days. After all, you’ve space to get things done in the next block and you may just be fulfilling an as-of-yet unconscious priority.

    Catherine, you made my day! I’m sure I’m at a million words clustered into not-so-great stories, so improvement is just around the corner . . .or in my next 10 day block. I suspect that plenty of people will disagree with me, but I do think fiction is the most challenging writing - vulnerability and creativity in one package. I’d argue that romantic elements complicate it further. Failure certainly makes us appreciate success. I think that your advice on progress for success is important in writing, but also in this general topic of time management. We should cut ourselves some slack when we don’t hit every goal with perfection.

    Eileen, you’re so kind. I’m going to be floating on the words ‘creative and ingenious’ all day long. Thank you!

  6. I really like the idea of ten day blocks vs. the seven...I'm going to give it a shot. I also prioritize each day into what I HAVE to get done vs. what I'd LIKE to get done. That helps me a bit. :)

  7. I hope the ten-day block works for you, Rebecca. It's all about priorities and sometimes urgent situations crop up. What I sometimes struggle with is differentiating between my 'like to' and 'have to' categories. Too often, my 'have to' items have simply been with me so long that I no long question their rank or existence. I was reminded of this the other day, when my 8 year old son politely pointed out that I don't 'have to' tell him what clothes are available for a given day. He's started folding and putting away his own, so - he explained with compassion - he's got it under control, so I could 'go write something' if I wanted. And bless his heart, I did as he suggested. I was in a mommy loop and here I am reminding people to live with deliberation. ;-)

  8. Wow Liz, what a fresh and exciting way of looking at things and setting goals. Something I'd sure like to try this year. Thanks for sharing.

  9. I wish I was so well organized about setting goals. I set them but then something comes up and messes up my whole system.

  10. Liz,

    Great post - very nuts and bolts, which I love. For the first time ever this year, I wrote down a list of goals and added one last one to the mix: re-evaluate the resolutions on Feb 1 and make adjustments as needed. I put it as a recurring appointment on my calendar, actually, so I'm much *more* likely to keep my goals in the foreground, not look back next December and go, "Whoops!" I like your 10-day block concept and will try it out. Thanks for sharing and thanks to the Lady Scribes for inviting you!