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Time Management Tips, or How to Avoid Pulling an All-Nighter

I did something a few weeks ago that I've only done a handful of times since graduating from college with my MSW: I pulled an all-nighter in order to finish editing a manuscript. I got the work done, and I got it done well. The client was pleased.

I was less pleased with myself. The next day was a disaster. My hair stuck out in all directions no matter how many times I tried to brush it. I was almost late for my hospice job. I could barely keep my eyes open, let alone focus on what I needed to do.

When I got home, I worked on a few articles. They were so full of errors, I didn't trust myself to email them to my editor, even after proofreading them twice.

So, was my all-nighter productive? Aside from saving my relationship with my editing client, who probably won't have any more material for me to work on for at least six months, it was a bust.

If you, too, sometimes have to work overwhelming hours to complete one or more projects on time, it's probably a good idea to review some basic time management tips. Here are my favorites:

1. Don't over-commit. Especially when you're just starting out, it's tempting to say yes to every project that comes across your desk. Before you sign that contract, though, stop a moment to take stock of what's already on your plate. Do you have time for anything else right now?

2. Learn everything you can about a project before accepting it. Nail down the scope of the project, and make sure you and the client agree on which services you will be providing. I got into trouble on a recent project when "75 pages of proofreading" turned out to be 75 small-font, single-spaced pages with so many typos and grammar errors that I could barely understand the point the author was trying to make. The whole thing took ten times longer than I had expected, and I think I ended up making an average of a dollar an hour.

3. Schedule your time. This one's a no-brainer, but it's oh-so easy to forget when you're balancing multiple projects. If you have a large project coming up, break it down into small components and schedule a due date for each milestone. That way, you won't be caught off guard by a huge chunk of writing or editing coming due all at once.

4. Forgive yourself. Sometimes, things happen. If you've done your best, and there's still no way you can finish a project on time, let your client know as far in advance as possible. Apologize, and provide a realistic estimate of when the work will be ready. As long as you don't make it a habit, most clients are pretty forgiving of the occasional missed deadline.

Be smarter than I was. Practice basic time management so you don't end up dog tired.  

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