How would YOU clear this schedule?

Help?I’m swamped enough that the migraines are back, and I’m putting this in front of my readers hoping someone will see a way for me to clear a lot of stuff out of my schedule quickly. I’ll be honest. I’ve got nothing. I can come up with ideas for books and courses all day long, but when things get this backlogged, I get stressed. I’ve been focusing on doing just three things a day, and doing them well, but even that is not clearing things.

Here’s the schedule:



Publish books and stories for which I own rights that are simply sitting on my hard drive

  • Talyn
  • Minerva Wakes
  • Midnight Rain
  • Last Girl Dancing
  • I See You
  • Night Echoes
  • Last Thorsday Night
  • >>—4EVR—>

Copyedits, Corrections, New Covers, Republish

  • Fire in the Mist (Have commissioned cover art, need to put it together)
  • Bones of the Past (Have commissioned cover art, need to put it together)
  • Mind of the Magic (Have commissioned cover art, need to put it together)
  • Hunting The Corrigan’s Blood (Cover needs new text only)
  • Warpaint (Cover needs new text only)
  • Light Through Fog
  • Rewind
  • Strange Arrivals
  • Sympathy for the Devil
  • The Devil and Dan Cooley
  • Hell On High

New Fiction

  • Cadence Drake Three: The Wishbone Conspiracy
  • Korre Three: Redbird
  • Rest of the Cadence Drake series
  • More Longview stuff
  • More short stories
  • Just more fiction…lots and lots more fiction.


How To Revise Your Novel Expansion

  • Revise Talysmana
  • Add step-by-step demo to the course


How To Think Sideways Walkthrough

  • Moon and Sun Three: The Emerald Sun (Book for the How to Think Sideways Walkthrough)
  • Plan: Write the book in one hard push, then
  • Put together the walkthrough in the same fashion

ADDED LATER: How To Think Sideways Quick Fixes

  • 10 remaining

How to Think Sideways

  • Weekly email with new HTTS Live Discussion link
  • Set up weekly Discussion Classroom Page
  • Set up weekly Discussion in forum
  • Comment in weekly discussion.
  • Monthly chat: Four remaining
  • Personal bonuses for students who received them: As scheduled

How to Write A Series

  • Finish The Philosopher Gambit (copyedit, formatting, cover copy, and uploading, and product setup on three systems remain)
  • Post the story in class
  • Put up all revised versions of Longview 1 & 2 on Amazon, B&N, and my shop
  • Start writing Longview 4: The Vipers’ Nest
  • Start teaching MODULE 4 in the classroom
  • Finish and publish Longview 4
  • Finish MODULE 4
  • Start writing Longview 5
  • Start teaching MODULE 5 in the classroom
  • Finish Longview 5
  • Finish MODULE 5
  • Start writing Longview 6
  • Start teaching MODULE 6
  • Finish Longview 6 and the series
  • Finish MODULE 6
  • Survey the class for the bonus course
  • Write the bonus course
  • Set it up in the software

Ugly Baby / Ugly Workshop / Ugly Mastermind

  • Survey class for next module
  • Create Ugly Baby module
  • Create Ugly Workshop module
  • Do fiction launch post-mortem email for Launch Observers List
  • Do fiction launch forum post-mortem with Tom Vetter in UW and UMM
  • Do fiction launch, emails, post-mortem with Cat Gerlach
  • Do fiction launch, emails, post-mortem with Volunteer 3
  • Do fiction launch, emails, post-mortem with Volunteer 4
  • Do fiction launch, emails, post-mortem with Volunteer 5
  • Do fiction launch, emails, post-mortem with Volunteer 6
  • Decide if the process in reliable enough to set up a fiction launch class

Yarnlings MM

  • Check in before they think I’m dead
  • Do regular monthly updates on what I’m doing and how it’s working


Copyedit and correct every single page of every single writing course, and every single page of my sites. More than a million words.


Website Development for Holly Lisle Online Writing School/ Readers Meet Writers/ OneStep Writing Website Dev

  • Build “what-it-needs-to-do/ how-it-needs-to-work/ how-I-want-to-use-it” wireframes for Dan (a lot of these are already done)
  • Daily updates and brainstorming on what we’re doing

Community Posts

  • Minimum one daily until I get through this backlog

This Blog

  • At least once a week

Writing Tips Newsletter

  • 2 new tips a month

Fiction Newsletter

  • Build SOMETHING…my readers are just hanging there with nothing cool happening whatsoever

Other Mailing List emails as needed

  • I mail something to at least one list about twice a week, and try not to overlap

Help Desk

  • Monday-Friday Daily



Personal emails

  • Monday-Friday Daily (after clearing a lot of subscriptions, these are down to about 250-300 a day, so that’s MUCH better)

So there it is.

I am wide open for suggestions.

Everything on this list is important. It all has to be done. It’s all stuff I love doing, it’s all stuff I’m excited about, but my two long-term goals are:

  1. Spend more time writing fiction
  2. Spend more time actually talking to my readers and working with my students


I’ve read every word posted to this point. And the first thing that jumps out at me is this:

1.) How the hell did I never think of INTERNS?

I didn’t want to ask for volunteers, but I will happily trade writing courses in exchange for things like bug hunting, copy editing, and help with reformatting courses.

2.) Nobody writes my words but me. So ghostwriting is out.

Having readers and writers contribute guest posts, tips, and discussion ideas is in, though. I like that idea.

3.) The organizational tips are enormously helpful.

As stuff piled up, Calendar (the Mac software) stopped being quite as useful as it initially was. The reminders are good, but getting everything ON the calendar is a mess.

4.) Because of the migraines, I’ve been doing the relaxation, meditation, and exercise all along.

At this point, my issues are in actually clearing the load. I see a light, though, in how I can do that.



I now have the better part of a plan of action for the next few weeks. Thank you, ALL of you, for every single comment here. I’ll continue reading comments tomorrow, but right now, I’m sitting down to set priorities and clear out everything that can be delegated.

I’ll be back to the blog when I have some internships to offer, and when I have a clear picture of what the next few months are going to look like for me.

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147 responses to “How would YOU clear this schedule?”

  1. Ted Baker Avatar
    Ted Baker

    How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time.

    I was in a similar spot about 6 months ago. I had something like a 256 man-day backlog of work and at the pace I was going it would take me over 2 years to get close to finishing the list and no one was willing to help me out.

    And just like you I had other things I had to do every day while trying to make this list smaller. I couldn’t spend all my time on one thing each day so came up with a cunning plan! I took my list of everything I had to do and went through it and looked for the easy and relatively quick things to do to just get them off my list. The idea was to do one of them each day and soon a good number of them vanished off the list within a few days. You have some covers that need finishing, right? Wouldn’t they only take a few hours or minutes and then would be done and gone?

    Then look at the stuff that happens each day/week: your emails and your discussions and such. Lay out some time during each week or even each day and do them immediately each day scheduled. Just like the small things first – it gets them off your list for the day or for the week or at least until you have to do them again.

    Then delegate, delegate, delegate! If you know and trust someone that can do one (or more) of those things on your list then ask them (threaten them, bribe them, seduce them, etc.) to do them. Even if you might have to go back and look over what they have done – isn’t it better to spend 2 hours reviewing what someone else has done instead of doing the work and take 10 hours to do it?

    Now that was the easy part. Now we have to sit down and really figure out how to eat this whale. Before we were taking little kiddy bites and just nibbling at it here and there. Now you have to go and start taking large bites out of this shark!

    Do this by taking that list and grabbing something on it that is one of the most important things to do and work on it. Set apart a period of time to do it and do it until it is done. Do you set aside entire days (minus the time you spend on email and such) or just a portion of each and work on multiple things at once? Do whatever you think works. Maybe it is one fiction and one non-fiction or web side development at a time… good. Do it.

    And when that one thing is done (or number of things done) then look at your list again, re-evaluate what are the most important things to do and pick them.

    The important thing is to not re-evaluate your list until something on that list is finished. Other things might get in the way and slow down your work on the things you picked – but you have to finish them before picking another or you will end up with more unfinished things.

    You might also find that items on your list change each time you finish something. That is okay – it took you some time to finish one item and maybe because that item is done the other’s change their position in the work queue. And that is another reason why you only adjust the list after something is finished – it allows you time to work on something without second guessing if you picked the proper one.

    And that would be my plan if I needed to work on your list of things. My list was originally 56+ different items or various amount of time spent on each. Now about 6 or 8 months later my list is about 18 in length but getting harder to knock each out because they do take more time to finish.

    Oh – and one last suggestion. Never half-ass anything. If you start something – finish it so that it is gone and you do not have to worry about it any more.

    Hope this helps.


  2. C Avatar

    Hi Holly, we’ve spoken before. =) In email. And I have the exact same problem. I was going to write you an email, but figured it’s ok to answer here.

    I get the migraines as well.

    You aren’t going to like the answer. But I’ll say it anyways. Because I value you and the truth is good.

    The truth is you can’t do it all. You have to let go of the creating computer stuff from scratch and start using what’s already available that works with tweaks instead.

    And concentrate on what got you here, the writing and the seminars etc…it’s really what you love and you have to stay close to what you love.

    You are going to say well, but I want to do those things and create something different, from scratch and I promised to.

    But the reality is it’s you and the teaching that people need and want most. Not the other stuff. Something readily available and customizable is preferable if it keeps you sane and healthy and helping people.

    I know you don’t want to hear this and I’ll probably get plastered for saying it, but true is true.

    And you’ll find this out. Heck I have to go in a dark room for eight hours when I get a migraine.

    I’ve seen it suck the life and livelihood out of people. You must get simpler. Not more complex. block out the things you don’t love. It really is the only way.

    Feel free to drop me an email, I run the same gamut. And I’m actually going less complicated, more simple.

    I could give you organizational tips and things to lessen the stress and time consumption. If you want. But it will come down to what you love and what you don’t.

    Feel free to drop me a note and I can tell you how I do it. Although my book load is less, two series now, my computer load is probably more.



    Note: Interns while great, are only a short term fix. But you know that. They can’t do what you do.

    On the software, if you won’t follow my advice and do and follow what you love, then I’d open source the software as a learning tool and get a bunch of open source programmers to buy in and help you for free.

    Maybe getting help there is the only way to put that third leg on the table before it falls off. But again that doesn’t solve the problem.

    You’ll do great if you follow your heart.

  3. Jeanette Raleigh Avatar
    Jeanette Raleigh

    To wade through the projects, ask two questions.
    1) What have you already committed to? (not to yourself personally, but to readers or students)
    2)Where will you reap the greatest results?

    Go through the list and cross off anything that has not been committed to someone else or does not meet with your two stated goals.

    For example, I would completely cross out the project “Copyedit and correct every single page of every single writing course” because it doesn’t support either goal and would not affect a commitment

    Blogging/Newsletter is part of marketing, but you could slow it down this month or email writer friends for help with guest blogging.

    The hardest thing we do to ourselves is make internal agreements and then we can’t break our own pattern, even if necessary. For example, “I must write one blog post a week.”

  4. Marshia James Avatar
    Marshia James

    Do you have family or really supportive friends who live near by? Have them do your laundry, cook, clean and run your errands. Dump all activities of daily living to free up your time. You know it’s temporary, but having a sandwich slid in front of you at lunchtime on a paper plate saves you time. For now, dump all out of work commitments, no girls night or club meetings, no belly dancing class. Cancel Dr appointments, etc. Reschedule when you catch up and have a realistic life again. Make sure all of your work environment is conducive to productivity. Keep all things organized and together. Take non essential stuff and box it up to store for now. Play music you love in the bathroom. Eat the healthiest meals you can tolerate. Keep protein shakes and bars, juice and your favorite comfort snack easily accessible. Go outside for five or ten minutes every hour or two. Remind yourself how much you’ve gotten done, and be kind.

  5. Karin Hernandez Avatar
    Karin Hernandez

    Holly, I found your site and started plowing thru all of your books that I could get my hands on. I have been DYING to take one of your big classes but money is an issue. At the moment I have a YA fantasy series struggling mightily to get out. I WOULD DO ANYTHING that you could use help on.I can copyediting, I can compile, I can organize, I can do Social Media. I have been a Project Manager for GM advertising. Just holler.


  6. Elle Avatar

    Lots of great advice here. I don’t know about you, but I find writing fiction first thing in the morning energises me for whatever else I have to do the rest of the day. Even half-an-hour of fiction before you crack open the rest of the to-do list will mean you’re gradually getting those stories done upon which some of the courses hinge. When I worked full-time, I used to stumble out of bed and straight in front of the computer, before my eyes were even properly open, and just typed until my allocated time was up.

  7. Tom Avatar

    Holly, thanks for being so transparent. You have always appeared to me to be bulletproof and on top of everything and you still are. How else could you offer and do everything you do? I realize your list only covers half of your waking moments making your day even busier than what it shows. From and outside point of view, to me it seems you have three categories: PLACE THE ABOVE ON HOLD; PRIORITIZE ABOVE TO DO BY HOLLY; or DELEGATE THE ABOVE, FINAL REVIEW BY HOLLY.
    I took the liberty of categorizing your list below. There are many excellent suggestions on delegating and organizing your work in other comments. I know you already have a clear and effective method of working, otherwise you wouldn’t be as accomplished as you are.
    I keep remembering the hunting preparation method of getting things done you have as a tip and seems very effective. The other is to always have a deadline, it’s surprising how much gets done in those final moments. Scheduling a major and expensive vacation also seems to work. The week before the flight, the work of an army gets done by one person. Good luck!


    Publish books and stories for which I own rights that are simply sitting on my hard drive

    Minerva Wakes
    Midnight Rain
    Last Girl Dancing
    I See You
    Night Echoes
    Last Thorsday Night

    Copyedits, Corrections, New Covers, Republish

    Fire in the Mist (Have commissioned cover art, need to put it together)
    Bones of the Past (Have commissioned cover art, need to put it together)
    Mind of the Magic (Have commissioned cover art, need to put it together)
    Hunting The Corrigan’s Blood (Cover needs new text only)
    Warpaint (Cover needs new text only)

    Light Through Fog
    Strange Arrivals
    Sympathy for the Devil
    The Devil and Dan Cooley
    Hell On High
    New Fiction
    Cadence Drake Three: The Wishbone Conspiracy
    Korre Three: Redbird
    Rest of the Cadence Drake series
    More Longview stuff
    More short stories
    Just more fiction…lots and lots more fiction.

    How To Revise Your Novel Expansion
    Revise Talysmana
    Add step-by-step demo to the course

    How To Think Sideways Walkthrough
    Moon and Sun Three: The Emerald Sun (Book for the How to Think Sideways Walkthrough)
    Plan: Write the book in one hard push, then
    Put together the walkthrough in the same fashion
    ADDED LATER: How To Think Sideways Quick Fixes
    10 remaining

    How to Think Sideways

    Weekly email with new HTTS Live Discussion link

    Set up weekly Discussion Classroom Page
    Set up weekly Discussion in forum

    Comment in weekly discussion.
    Monthly chat: Four remaining
    Personal bonuses for students who received them: As scheduled

    How to Write A Series
    Finish The Philosopher Gambit (copyedit, formatting, cover copy, and uploading, and product setup on three systems remain)
    Post the story in class
    Put up all revised versions of Longview 1 & 2 on Amazon, B&N, and my shop

    Start writing Longview 4: The Vipers’ Nest
    Start teaching MODULE 4 in the classroom
    Finish and publish Longview 4
    Finish MODULE 4
    Start writing Longview 5
    Start teaching MODULE 5 in the classroom
    Finish Longview 5
    Finish MODULE 5
    Start writing Longview 6
    Start teaching MODULE 6
    Finish Longview 6 and the series
    Finish MODULE 6

    Survey the class for the bonus course

    Write the bonus course

    Set it up in the software

    Ugly Baby / Ugly Workshop / Ugly Mastermind

    Survey class for next module

    Create Ugly Baby module
    Create Ugly Workshop module

    Do fiction launch post-mortem email for Launch Observers List
    Do fiction launch forum post-mortem with Tom Vetter in UW and UMM
    Do fiction launch, emails, post-mortem with Cat Gerlach
    Do fiction launch, emails, post-mortem with Volunteer 3
    Do fiction launch, emails, post-mortem with Volunteer 4
    Do fiction launch, emails, post-mortem with Volunteer 5
    Do fiction launch, emails, post-mortem with Volunteer 6

    Decide if the process in reliable enough to set up a fiction launch class

    Yarnlings MM

    Check in before they think I’m dead
    Do regular monthly updates on what I’m doing and how it’s working


    Copyedit and correct every single page of every single writing course, and every single page of my sites. More than a million words.


    Website Development for Holly Lisle Online Writing School/ Readers Meet Writers/ OneStep Writing Website Dev

    Build “what-it-needs-to-do/ how-it-needs-to-work/ how-I-want-to-use-it” wireframes for Dan (a lot of these are already done)

    Daily updates and brainstorming on what we’re doing

    Community Posts

    Minimum one daily until I get through this backlog

    This Blog

    At least once a week
    Writing Tips Newsletter

    2 new tips a month
    Fiction Newsletter

    Build SOMETHING…my readers are just hanging there with nothing cool happening whatsoever
    Other Mailing List emails as needed

    I mail something to at least one list about twice a week, and try not to overlap
    Help Desk

    Monday-Friday Daily


    Personal emails

    Monday-Friday Daily (after clearing a lot of subscriptions, these are down to about 250-300 a day, so that’s MUCH better)

  8. Anthony Avatar

    Hi Holly,
    I manage a very busy workload using the Urgent/Important model.

    Divide a page (landscape) into four quadrants.
    Upper left: Important but not urgent
    Upper right: important and urgent
    Lower left: urgent but not important
    Lower right: neither urgent or important.

    Sort your tasks each into one of the boxes.

    Baby crying in the next room = urgent and important
    Phone ringing = feels urgent but probably isn’t important
    Working on a project that will generate future revenues = important but not urgent
    Most emails = neither urgent nor important.

    You now have an order of attack
    1. Important and urgent
    2. Important but not urgent
    3. Urgent but not important
    4. Neither urgent nor important.

    Giving the important high priority helps to focus on what really matters rather than what is clamoring for attention.

    The neither urgent nor important can probably be ignored.

    Using this model allows you to focus down on the smaller groups in boxes 1 & 2. This usually means focusing on box 2 because you’ll inevitably do box 1 right away anyway.

    This model was developed by the late Stephen Covey, is called “Quadrant 2 Time Management”, and is widely used in the corporate world as it’s a simple tool that ensures you are putting your time towards the right activities.

    Hope that helps,

  9. Amy Keeley Avatar

    I realize I’m coming late to the discussion, but I would like to say just one thing.

    I would be more than willing to copyedit/Bug Hunt as a way of saying thank you for all the help you’ve given the Keeley family, even though you’ve never met us.

  10. Tamara Avatar

    First, read your post but did not read all of the comments. No time.

    Time management: I use on my iPhone and only allow top 5 things in the TODAY category.

    Interns or an exchange program for copy edits and proofing of your courses is a great idea. Some of us can’t help but see those little things.

    Two books that need cover text only changed–just knock those out! Get them off your list this week. Channel Nike and Just Do It!

    Books you own rights to and need to get up… Could you spend 15 minutes a day to prep one and then toss it in with the launch stuff? Kill two birds with one stone in 2-4 months?

    Newsletters and emails–I’d consolidate. Too many emails a week can be just as bad as too few. I got 3 emails from you today alone. Yes, I signed up for each one. I understand that and I also understand that you want to focus your emails to specific groups. I’d hazard a guess that most writers involved with you and your courses routinely signup for nearly everything you offer–in which case consolidation for your sanity makes perfect sense. Just keep reader only stuff separate.

  11. Nashira Avatar

    Fewer email newsletters/updates. I love hearing from you, but I’m on several of your project lists and there is so much information coming at me, it is overwhelming. I would rather have a bite of high-quality chocolate than a pound of grocery-store stuff. 🙂

    Follow your teachings – write your fiction first every day and let the rest follow. AND Do Not Make an Additional Professional Commitment for the Rest of the Year. Maybe two.

    And barter. Or exchange. Find someone of Fiverr to do your covers if you must. Ask students to send found errata on the website and in coursework to a dedicated email address staffed only by your interns. Don’t even look at it. Have the interns read and organize the information.

    1. Stavroula Avatar

      I’ll second the idea for less updates. I wouldn’t mind getting a writing tip every 2 weeks. I’m on various mailing lists (besides all of yours :p) and I find it impossible to read everything I receive. 7 days is a short time so I get writing tips more often than I can manage to read and integrate them. About 30% of the time I don’t read the email update because I’m pressed for time. Don’t know how the majority of your subscribers feel about the weekly rate though!

  12. Patricia Bell Avatar
    Patricia Bell

    I wouldn’t mind proofreading your stuff. What I really hate is to read a book where there are numerous misspelled words or the wrong word in a sentence. Everyone can use spellcheck, but from and form are two different words spelled correctly with very different meanings.

    As for a vacation, you probably need one, but would it be at all relaxing knowing that the work was piling up?

    I too suffer from migraines. They are no fun! Is your body trying to tell you something? Well maybe. But I have tried many different things suggested by a specialist and so far I still have migraines. Somethings I have tried have been Mentholatum, magnesium supplements, ice packs, and of course medicine. A pharmacist told my husband a prescription drug that really worked for her, but it didn’t for me (I had actually tried it before she had told my husband). What works for some doesn’t work for all.

  13. Steve Pinney Avatar
    Steve Pinney

    It’s no wonder you have migraines with all that you have going. I would like to suggest that you add a Tai Chi session to your physical workout routines. It does not require much space, it is not physically demanding, and it is easy to learn. Someone probably holds free classes in your area and there are books and DVDs that can get you started as well. The biggest benefit of doing a 5 minute Tai Chi session is that it is a form of meditation and will give your very busy mind a short rest. Physically, it helps keep your joints working correctly and keeps them loose. Always a good thing as we inevitably grow older.

    On another note, if you or your computer guy have computer-related tasks that can be farmed out, I would be happy to help. I’m retired and have 30 years experience working with all areas of computers, hardware and software.

    Keep up the good works.

  14. Francine Avatar

    Maybe others have said this but you might consider treating this like money owed from regular bills and credit cards run up. Look at what you have that you can put the most time on to clear up soonest. Shave 5 minutes off 3 other bigger jobs each day and put the extra 15 on the job you’re trying to get done soonest. If you do it every day you will add almost 8 hours on that job in the week. When that finite job is done, start doing the same on the next one. Just a thought.

  15. Robert Avatar

    I’ll be brief: I can help with editing. And I’m cheap.

    Wait; maybe I should rephrase that …

  16. Elaine Menendez Avatar
    Elaine Menendez

    Your list would be a “to do” list for three lifetimes for me…

    In my perpetual state of never catching up, I’ve found one thing that helps more than anything else. I delegate the work I am miserably, painfully, slow and incredibly inaccurate doing, which in my case is data entry/clerical type tasks, to someone else.

    Is there anything you aren’t especially efficient at that you could hand off to someone else?

    If simple video editing could help you with preparing materials for classes or presentations, I’d be glad to contribute.

  17. Helen Parker-Drabble Avatar
    Helen Parker-Drabble

    Be kind to yourself, be a good role model and give yourself permission to press pause on everything you possibly can and tackle the crucial. (By everything I include the course I am doing with you now How to Think Sideways. For any of us not overcommitted there is plenty to do with the lessons you have already shared.) Then slow it down some. Life is just too short. Everyone will still win : )

  18. Stephanie Avatar


    My thought would be trade (Something you have of value…classes/knowledge/etc) for someone to do some of your list. Obviously NOT the writing. But the formatting, getting stuff bundled and READY to publish? That, I’d trade for someone else to do for me.

    Then you’d just need to do a quality check on that person’s work before uploading it. And if you have a checklist YOU follow, be no big thing to add that to the materials they’d be combining into packages ready to pub. That would give you some more time to write maybe? Or designate say one day a week to do the format upload publish on the backlist and use the rest for the other stuff?

    Regardless, good luck in cutting this down to a manageable level.

  19. Lydia Avatar

    Dear Holly,

    did you try low carb diet against your migraine attacks? I know two persons who are able to reduces their attacks from (bi)weekly frequency to one (light) attack one month or another.
    It depends on the cause for your migraines. Low carb does not help (or perhaps with less success) if your attacks were triggered by some allergens.
    If you want to give it a try, reduce your carbs to 6-9 bread units per day (à 12 g pure carbohydrates) and 2-3 bread units per meal with min 3 hours between meals.
    Replace carbohydrates by proteins (eggs, cheese, meat, fish), fat and vegetables. Be prepared to feel realy hungry for the first one-two weeks (even if you will eat a lot of proteins, fat and vegetables). This is the time, where you could have more migraines, because you body needs time to switch from burning carbohydrates to burning fat.
    Pay attention to “hidden” carbohydrate sources like fruits (apples), cerials, potatoes, drinks (even fruit juices).
    I know it looks hard (did it myself) but it is doable. And it is worth a try.
    One warning, though: Despite the word “diet” in its name it is not a time-limeted diet after which you could switch to your previous habits. It is a diet in the original meaning of this word. You should stick with it.
    I hope, I could help you. Foremost I wish you less pain. If you wish some more info drop me an email. I am by no means a doctor or a healer. I am just someone who tried a lot.
    Best wishes,


    P.S.: sorry for such a long entry but I had to write a long comment because I wasn’t able to make it short (I forgot who said it)

    1. Holly Lisle Avatar
      Holly Lisle

      I eat paleo. The migraines are a side effect from a combination of scoliosis undiagnosed until I was 53—though almost certainly present since I was about seven—and BPPV (benign paroxysmal postural vertigo) that struck about six years ago. It’s gotten somewhat better, but stress certainly encourages its reappearance.

  20. Katja Avatar

    Hi Holly,

    I won’t write a whole page of advice just three things
    1 get the stuff published that makes you money right now.
    2 use that money to hire a real life assistant at least parttime to help with the grunt work.
    3 see a doctor or perhaps a classic homeopathy therapist -that’s what I do- for help with your migraines.
    My empathy and well wishes,
    Ps. If I can help in any other way please mail

  21. LauraL Avatar

    The submit button was covered up, so I thought I would reply here:

    Since you’re asking – consider doing two things – Prioritize the work, and set them into workable categories. You’ll probably need 2 sets of categories.

    Your priorities need to be set by what absolutely needs to be done, followed by what SHOULD be done, followed by the stuff you’d like to get to. I wouldn’t go any deeper than 3 levels on this.

    For the first set of categories try going by type of work – blogging, revisions, new novels, whatever you like.

    For the second set of categories, consider grouping them by the time each one will take. Again, I would go more than 3 deep – a long time, a middling amount of time, a quick thing.

    I would then consider doing the MUST be done LONG time thing at the time of day when you are most productive, Followed by a MUST be done that takes a middling amount of time when you start to slow down.
    Lastly, kick out one or two quick time things that need to get done.

    For that last category – types of work – let me explain my thinking – I was a chef in millennium past and in cooking there is a concept of Mis-en-place or everything in its place. The idea is to get and cut/prep all of your ingredients first and then get down to the business of cooking. What I found is that it cuts down on time if you do like things all at the same time. Now I don’t know if this is a concept that can be passed on to the schedule, but if you get your head into a “put together my artwork” frame of mind, it may be better to stick with that until you need to move onto something else.

    The long items are going to take a long time – there’s simply no helping that. Going through he middling-time items will get you started making real progress. The short items have a chance of giving you that feeling of success and are a great boost of confidence and in the belief that you are actually getting somewhere.

    The other thing I might suggest is to dole out the stuff you really like and really want to do so you have something to look forward to. Maybe do one a week if there is no rush on them.

    I hope you can find something useful in all of this!! Good Luck!!

  22. Sandra Avatar

    Challenge your premise.

    All the suggestions about priorities and interns and so on are great but consider starting with your one “No.” No dropping tasks.

    Are you meeting all your commitments today? Can life get worse? If you adopt even 30% of the suggestions are you setting yourself up for getting into the same over-committed and mega stressed state?

    Managing interns and “help” is a very different mindset from doing it yourself. You’ve managed people in the past so you know it’s going to take time and patience to make good use of the help while you are desperately trying to meet your existing commitments.

    It’s not about ‘can’ you do everything. You already know you are able to do any of these tasks; the challenge is with doing ALL of these tasks within an unreasonable amount of time.

    You are a tremendously talented and generous individual. No matter what you knock off your list, you’re going to come up with two or three or ten brilliant ideas to add on. It’s how you’re wired.

    You’ve identified your two top priorities as writing more fiction and being more attentive to readers and students. How about the rest of your life? Hanging with the family, getting out in the weather, domestic goddess stuff?

    I’ve worked as a professional software quality assurance and process engineering manager for years–there’s always really important stuff that just doesn’t make it out when we want it to. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, it never gets done…and yet the sun still rises every morning.

    You know your priorities: pay the bills, keep promises, honor commitments.

    Add another: allow for reasonable change.

    Postpone every commitment except those related to pay the bills and keep promises to family and friends (the people who deal with you when you’re stressed). Nobody in a class is going to croak because you delay updating a course.

    For everything you put on hold (not the same as tossing it out), determine a date for a date. Give yourself a month or three to come up with realistic dates. Only book 50% of your calendar for the next six to twelve months. Things will come up and you don’t want to slide dates over and over.

    When it comes to priorities don’t over analyze. You’ve identified your top two. Triage every other task against those two. For a lot of the tasks, the priority should be “not now” or “doesn’t relate.” “Not nows” get a date for a date and “doesn’t relates” go into a slush pile to review after a margarita or three. (When you have time for three margaritas, you’ll have time to consider new projects and priorities).

    You’re very close to your task list. Ask someone you are not regularly involved with to walk through the list with you and challenge you about the relative importance of any given task. Hearing unbiased questions helps diffuse emotional attachment to your decisions–important when you are deciding which items to postpone or *gasp* smote.

    Thanks for all the wonderful advice you provide–I promise I’ll still appreciate your wonderfulness even if you don’t update a course or create new ones for a long time 😉

  23. Elanor Avatar

    Wow, you have a lot on your plate!

    I’m sure it’s already been mentioned somewhere, but I’d make a timeline for myself in this situation -> Figure out a couple of fixed points and fit the rest of the stuff in around them.

    I’d also split my day into sections so that I could work on similar tasks in chunks. For example, you have a few “Have commissioned cover art, need to put it together” items. You could do those all in a row so that your brain doesn’t have to flip back and forth between that mindset and the mindset needed for, say “Create Ugly Baby module.” Once each Work Type Chunk is done, I’d take a break of 30 min or so to refresh my brain (assuming the Work Type Chunk took 2-3 hrs).

    When you’re planning out daily stuff to do, make sure to give yourself one short task that you absolutely know you will be able to do and that will not tax your brain… and leave it for the last thing you do at night. That way, you leave your work with a sense of completion instead of thinking of the bajillion things you left unfinished. 😉

  24. Stavroula Avatar

    Hi Holly 🙂
    It’s bizarre but I read your list twice and when I read it from the bottom to the top, it sounded pretty doable. 😀

    My initial thoughts while reading this were:
    – Migraines need to be taken care of (I don’t know what works for you better: stay hydrated, don’t skip meals, sip tea, rest more, stretching, soothing music, medication) But pushing yourself while in pain will just drain the energy you need to work. The body comes first whether we accept this or not.
    – Second, there are no listed deadlines for your activities. So I can’t tell you what tasks you ought to prioritize nor how often to schedule them. I’m sure within each category certain elements need to come first. Your schedule can be set to take into account what HAS to be done this week, this month, etc. See how much time you will allocate to those projects each week, and see how much extra time that leaves you for other goals.

    Instead of juggling too much at once, you can choose one project for example Ugly Baby or The Philosopher Gambit or whatever floats the Lisle boat and work at it for several days. Within a few weeks and then within a couple of months you’ll be surprised how many things will be completed. One at a time. You can balance your time between one fiction writing project and one class-related project until their completion.

    Like someone else said: No More commitments for you, young lady!!!! If you can delegate, do so. For example someone else can help you with website and class corrections.

    Copyedit and correct every single page of every single writing course, and every single page of my sites. More than a million words.”
    Well, this has to go to the bottom of your to-do list. It’d take too much time to complete, isn’t all that necessary, and wouldn’t compare to seeing other fresh goals being met.

    Also, how about keeping this schedule-list on your site and marking off the completed tasks publicly? It’ll be fun to cheer you on and it might motivate you to tackle the goals that can be completed faster first, just to mark them as done.
    And of course you can prepare a buffer of blog posts (oldies being re-posted is a great idea), and a buffer of newsletter tips so you don’t have to worry about writing them that often.

    Cheers, love, and best of luck.

  25. Nicole Montgomery Avatar

    The only thing I can add to the many great suggestions is you might look at Todoist task/organization app. It works on all computers/mobile platforms, integrates with Google Calendar and is the easiest to use of several I tried. Even the free version is great, but the inexpensive paid version adds a few nice options.

    Heavens, good luck! And great sympathy for migraines on top of all that! 🙂

  26. Mande Matthews Avatar

    Hi Holly,
    First off, I didn’t have time to read through all the wonderful responses, or I wouldn’t get anything done. 😉

    Second, I came up with this after taking your motivation course as I had been stuck for a very long time, and I need to give you a huge thanks for that. It was just what I needed to break through a lifetime of low self-esteem.

    And absolutely on interns as already suggested.
    So, here’s what I’ve been doing and it’s making marked improvement in my productivity.

    First, I use this specific pomodoro timer as it allows you to program it to a specific time to work and a time for breaks.

    For breaks, I do neck stretches as I am prone to headaches and terrible neck pain from lack of neck curvature (and the enormous amount of time I’ve spent on the computer over the decades).

    I didn’t think these would work, but after a week I realized I had gone the entire week without a headache and that was huge for me. Using the timer helps me remember I have to take time to stretch. At first I thought the enforced break would be annoying – I don’t like to be interrupted, but it actually makes me more productive because I’m not getting pain. I use the timer with the smaller time allotment tasks so I’m not taking the break during writing time, or design time, where I can get pretty focused and grumpy when interrupted.

    I’m also taking the SamE supplement and that’s helped enormously with both mood and pain.

    Now, for dividing out my day. I had a bunch of to do lists for different areas of my day. I’m a cover designer (pays the bills with steady income) and writer (pays bills as well though fluctuates wildly). There’s an enormous amount of work for each. But what I found was my biggest problem was getting NEW WORD COUNT. When I analyzed my day, I lumped all the development, editing, production, and platform work that went into getting a story ready for publication into my actual writing time, and thus, I’ve produced very little over the past four years. I was actually getting very little writing time in the year when I looked at it from this angle and a big fat no wonder why I’m not getting books online. So I divided out NEW WORDS into its own category. I am assuming you’re stressed about not getting to write your new stories with everything else that’s on your plate. I might be wrong, but this was my biggest stress, so I’m assuming this is a universal writer stress, especially when writing money is temperamental. So making sure new words got it’s own time allotment was huge for me. Then I have another daily category that is story development and editing. And a third “writing” category that is platform and book production. For my design business, I allot that a specific amount of time during the day as well. So my day looks like this:
    • 3 hours – New Word Writing Time
    • 2 30 minute intervals with five minute stretches – Story Development/Editing Time (this covers outlines, development, copyediting, brainstorming, etc. It assures that when I am finished with first draft in my new word writing time, the story comes over to this times slot and a story that is developed and ready to write goes into the first time allotment. It assures that I don’t waste precious writing time on development, editing or production.)
    • 3 hours – Design work
    • 1 30 minute interval with 5 minute stretch break – Platform & Production
    It’s a descent days work with time for lunch and errands and any other misc that needs doing.
    The bulk of my day is writing and design. The smaller allotments are for development/editing and platform as they take less time, but x minutes on each every single day makes for a serious dent in that giant to do list.
    So I would suggest to organize your To Dos into must do categories, then prioritize each bullet point on each list, from highest priority to lowest. Divide your day into your categories and assign a time allotment to each category, given its priority in your life. Then you’ll be working on each general category daily, without sacrificing any must do category. You only have so much time in the day, but by dividing it out, you assure you’ll be working toward completion of each list within your given time.
    This really helped me, and though I know I’m not flying through any one project, I know that over a period of time, nothing will be neglected.
    Hope it helps.

  27. Kate Avatar

    Hi, Holly.
    I am working on four or five projects, including building a ‘ultra beginner’s writing course’ for the capstone of my Master’s degree which involves designing curriculum that use technology to aid in the teaching and learning process. My course is ultra basic, nothing like what you do, just a course to help true beginners learn to write stories as one teacher was horrified her nine year olds did not know how to tell stories at all.
    Since I am a writer, I thought this would be a good focus for me.
    in addition to that, I in HTTS preparing this week to outline Magic’s Grace, revising two stories, one for series expansion, one a sci-fi I started before I discovered you but used plot clinic to finish, waiting for final edits on a novel I finished revision on, the third in my Guild Mysteries and working on anthology of short stories as well as doing cover design for certain books.
    when I get overwhelmed, I take the most pressing on each list if I have more than one thing, and focus critically on those three or four of five most pressing things.
    Sometimes I designate a day for each thing, I know we all need more than seven days and 24 hours, but that is how I handle overload.

    What I need is an eighth day to find the guts to write a book on how growing up an undiagnosed autistic affected me.
    sorry, I ramble…
    but anyhow, you asked what I would do, that’s it. I would put my critical focus on the things that are most important to the moment.
    other than that, I think volunteers and interns for edits would be a good idea.
    Thank you for giving me the courage to write…

  28. Margaret Avatar

    There are too many comments already, so if I’m duplicating someone, just take it as a seconding ;). I definitely second the work against overwhelm angle, and you have a resource in your courses and books that solves the barter problem (because the time for you has already been spent while the value is still high for your recipients).

    However, my possibly unique solution (and this depends on how your brain works) is to look at layering.

    Let me explain:

    Some tasks require X part of your brain or even just your hands. Other tasks require Y parts. Sometimes those can work together.

    One of my edit passes for all my new releases is an audio pass. While I cannot read email, write, or do other similar tasks while listening, I can do things like cover art or hobbies like quilting, and it ends up focusing me more, rather than less because the odd things stand out further.

    So, on your list, see if you can marry some of the cover art tasks with converting one of the copyediting/proofing tasks converted to an audio pass to see if that works for you. Minimum, you’ll get a cover art task out of the way. Ideally, you’ll find the audio pass effective as well.

    How I do an audio pass is using the text read aloud feature in Word. It’s based on the OS voice so I’m guessing Mac has something similar. I highlight a page (about what my memory buffer can hold), kick it off, go back to the cover art, and listen with half my attention. Sure, the mechanical voice is jarring and messes up some words that are correct, but the ones that are not stand out enough to catch my attention so I can fix them and move on.

    Regardless, good luck with finding balance. As some others have said, there are only so many hours in a day. You have two choices: 1) drop things (which you already nixed) and 2) recognize it’ll take some time to get through all of this so you cannot add anything more to the stack (this last bit is key. Your stack is so high it’s teetering. Don’t promise anything more (to yourself or others) until it’s at a reasonable level again).


  29. Gwen Tanner Avatar

    Hi Holly!! I want to thank you for sharing this post. I’m currently working on an online course to help creative entrepreneurs tackle this exact problem (project management for right-brainers!) -thank you and all the commenters for validating it’s a true need. Of course working on that course is taking me away from HTTS – I haven’t even finished week 1 🙁 I’m very familiar with this kind of long list (I personally have 15 projects I’m working on!)

    You’ve gotten a lot of good advice and creative ideas for helping to tackle this list. I can only suggest you first figure out which of these are ongoing or routine tasks (like your blog posts)….and which ones are projects (like your books and new website) and then build your schedule, prioritizing your projects by your overall personal goal. For me, I would prioritize by which projects will bring in the money the fastest (i.e. the ones I can get done the quickest that will bring in cash). Your goal might be which project will serve your students will be the highest priority or which projects will get your new writing platform out the quickest.
    Please keep updating how you are tackling this!!

  30. Anna Payne Avatar

    Thank you for posting this, several of the comments will help me in my whole gigantic list of things to do. They are nothing compared to your list, but daunting just the same.

    I agree with the intern thing, I loved the muse vs you list of things to do, and the easy – get things that take less time off the list. Those things made me feel better.

    Writing is your first love and playing with your muse probably is very relaxing. I notice that I get crabby and tense when I don’t write. It is what I need to live. I’m sure you know that. And we, your readers and students, give you permission to do that!

    Thank you again for your honesty. I’m excited to see your plans!


  31. Tuff Gartin Avatar
    Tuff Gartin


    I feel for you. I will share my experience and how I deal with it. I pray it helps you.
    I’m the father of 5 children. My real job is really 2 real jobs due to the size of our department (I’m department head AND lead computer programmer). I am typically working a part-time job on the side to get additional income to pay for college (put 2 of them through already, the 3rd is now a freshman, and the last 2 are in high school). I have to take care of the honey-do list at home. And I absolutely love writing so try to fit that in as much as possible too. Here’s what I did to make it through (and still do to make it through):

    1) Categories/lists: Every item you have must be placed into a Category. The fewer categories the better, even if that final category is “miscellaneous”. Then, prioritize every single item in each category from 1 to N, ranked in the order of most important (you determine the criteria for “most important”). That gives you a ranked list in each category. VERY IMPORTANT: You cannot have multiple items with the same ranking. This will not work. If they truly are the same ranking, then they belong together as a single task (which will get broken down later anyway – continue reading).

    2) Detailed schedule: Setup a detailed daily/weekly schedule as to when you will work on each Category. Example: Mondays 6am – 11am: Publishing existing works category. Mondays Noon – 4pm: New Fiction category. Tuesdays…etc. You will have to mess around with this to get the right mix. I did. I found I always wanted a full day of closely related things and then the next day would be totally different things, but others may prefer to switch it up during the day. Whatever works best for you. ABIDE BY THE TIME WINDOWS!!! In the above, at 11am on Monday you STOP working on Publishing existing works. Jot down notes as to what is next with that area and move on.

    I schedule the tasks that are less “creative” in the mornings…mundane work…emails…things I knew I could get finished in a specific amount of time and would not have an issue cutting it off at lunch time. My writing stuff always occurred after lunch so that the window could be extended a bit if necessary (my muse was just delivering like crazy and I needed to keep going – since I had nothing left to work on the rest of that day, I could treat myself to additional writing if my muse was providing that. HOWEVER, you don’t want to make a habit of that. Abide by the times as much as possible. Eating, sleeping, exercising all have to be done too. This aspect alleviated so much stress for me. I, too, suffer from migraines when I’m totally stressed. Breaking my tasks down to very detailed items caused me to focus on the trees and not the forest. It’s the forest that stresses you out. Cut down that forest one tree at a time.

    3)As you get the highest rated item in the Category that you are working on, the FIRST thing you do is break that item down into as many smaller tasks as you can. That way, when you come across a really large tree, you may have to focus on the limbs first to tackle the tree that resides in the forest. Document those tasks. Do not keep it in your head. You are really trying to make everything as “robotic” as possible, so that you end up with just a bunch of tasks you need to check off. As you do so, you’ll start feeling like you are accomplishing quite a bit, and it gives you the added benefit of staying organized. DO NOT waste time breaking down items ranked beyond #1. You tackle one item at a time, breaking it down into many smaller tasks, then once all of those small tasks are completed (or you need to move one or two of them further back into the priority), THEN you move on to the next item on the list – the new #1.

    4) As you get new ideas, those get placed into the appropriate Category and ranked compared with the existing items.

    To this day I still operate this way in everything I do. If it isn’t on a list, it probably isn’t going to get done. Also, you don’t necessarily have to have the exact same daily schedule for every single week. Sometimes other obligations will dictate your schedule (for me it was meetings or kid duty or whatever). Be flexible and be willing to move things around if necessary, BUT try not to make that the norm. Or, you end up back in the same position looking at the forest instead of the limbs and trees. It’s all about organizing into very small tasks. Don’t get bogged down with the entire forest. You just have to discipline yourself not to do that. Oh, you will from time to time – but train yourself to STOP IT:) Focus on the tasks at hand and eventually you’ll notice that forest getting smaller and smaller.

    Hope that helps!


  32. Michelle Miles Avatar

    I was going to totally suggest interns and I would happily volunteer formatting books for you because I’M AWESOME AT WORD. (It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it *grin*). I’m glad you got some useful tips. I’m late to the party, AS USUAL, but hopefully you’ve found some help that will get some of these tasks off your to do list. 🙂

  33. Laraine Avatar

    Honestly, Holly, if you don’t slow down you are going to become seriously ill. Work out which are the most important tasks (to you) and drop the least important. When you have so much work you need 48 hours in your day, something has got to give. For goodness’ sake don’t let it be your health.

  34. Pedar Avatar

    One of my heroes, for his work–he had some problems with life–was Frank LLoyd Wright.

    He solved the problem by taking on students who paid him to be his assistants. His first students actually did the brick and mortar building of the school–and paid him. Architectural. Made sense for him.

    It is evident that if you divide your tasks by time, it is impossible to do all of that yourself unless you parcel some of it out, or spread out your timeline, or both.

    To get more of it done sooner requires parceling it out. To do more of it yourself requires extending it into your timeline in the future. I guess the third alternative would be do a few minutes on each thing each day. That isn’t really a solution.

    A practical way to do some of it is through roll definition and job description parceled out to helpers.

    In organizational consulting, the first thing I generally suggest is to take the twofer projects that are time sinks and yet that are not necessary for the principals to conduct, and parcel them out first.

    That gives immediate maneuvering room in the schedule to begin isolating other roles, producing job descriptions, and moving those functions out to yet others.

    One thing that is hard for people to get is that if you cannot do it all yourself, watering down of your input is a necessary dilemma, and adjustment of work standards a necessary initial problem until other workers can be instructed and the standards become institutionalized.

    AS SOON as there is maneuvering room in the schedule of creative people, they tend to fill it with something else. So, gotta prioritize and schedule out into the future, and not begin adding new creative ideas to the task list. I imagine you are in the higher echelon of creative people–from the size and ambition in your current task list–and that as soon as this present list is in hand you will have an explosion of new ideas to fill the created space. That puts you back in square one unless you have a discipline in place to protect you. Assistants. The right ones, as I’m sure you already know, will make you more productive.

    One quick way to force a decision in prioritization is to list all of the items along both the top and side of some graph paper (so the same list is duplicated across the top and the side). Vote each issue against each other in turn (writing is more important than the newsletter. Writing score is 1, newsletter is 0). Total the results. If there are 80 items, the high score will be 80 and the low score 1. That doesn’t always happen, because on one pass you may vote writing as a win against newsletter, and reverse the order when they appear farther down in the list. What does happen, though, is you get a very good picture of where items fall overall. Totals usually clearly show the must-dos and the ones you may slide into the future, or take off the table for a while. With a list like yours, I would guess you have tabled items on it anyway.

    Income producing items usually come in first by necessity.

    Starting out new interns or paying students as assistants is kind of similar to the PLF thing in that if you have not done it before, the first ones are the Guinea pigs where there is no shortage of mistakes.

    Lots of people avoid that solution because of how many mistakes are made up front. They run into that mistake load and assume that it is because the idea itself doesn’t work. In my experience, it works very well in the long run, but is very messy in the beginning.

    I would imagine that you could split off parts of your workload to assistants in a similar way. e.g., you are very highly esteemed by your students. It is not a stretch to imagine that you could take your outbound messaging–newsletters, blog posts, other similar responses–and train a team to take over most of those responsibilities, subject to your editorial oversight. Oversight deceases as the team becomes trained and experienced in developing the product you want. You have students who would be thrilled to be on that team, and an audience who understands your need to do so, and will accept that change in the outflow of information because they like you and are your fans. You can move a bit into the background and do pieces with less frequency, have your team do interviews of you–easier to talk and say such-and-such than to write it all down, clean it, update the website,…. You keep the outbound messaging but reduce your workflow as time goes by. An additional aspect is the JV value of having other writers in those positions who will no doubt add to overall traffic through their participation.

    A similar approach could be applied to course creation and monitoring.

    Thanks for all of the things you have done and the courses and newsletters you have offered. I would not have had a book without that.

    Best Wishes

  35. Shirley Avatar

    Hi Holly, As others have said, group your list, perhaps into urgent, important, and nice to haves, with time frames allocated to each. The important list is the one you want to deal with and devote time to. All the books that are unpublished are important (hugely important), though they aren’t urgent now, and these need set time allocated to them to finish them. Try to also see if there are any tasks that depend on each other, for example, you need to edit books before they can be published, or you need to structure course content to make it easy for subscribers to find so they won’t ask so many questions.

    Finished books are the goal of a writer because no-one can read what’s on your hard drive. I suggest tackling one book of your works in progress at a time, three at the most, and getting them done that way. One at a time might seem slow, but it’s the way books are written, and people might appreciate getting a new book from you once every six months, rather than a few all at once. It’s better to have one finished book a year, than ten unfinished books in that same period.

    Admin is probably taking up a lot of time. Emails may seem urgent, but many may be asking support questions for which material is already published, and the goal is to let the web site be a self service portal. Analysing your emails might help identify trends and where you need to make changes to your process. Perhaps change your contact method, so that people can select topics to contact you about in a drop down list, e.g. user-id doesn’t work, screen error, and other only as a last resort, and then for those specific drop down subjects, put a few possible answers right there for people to tick off before they submit a ticket, e.g. have you checked your caps lock, restart we browser, clear cookies, etc. etc. People don’t always search the help beforehand, and having suggestions for what might be wrong right there, before someone sends off a query, might stop some tickets. lets you hire people for as little as $5, and you could even find people who will make a book cover for you for $5, if you need any, or who will reformat a book into CreateSpace Format etc. I don’t necessarily agree with cheap labour, because we all want to earn money, but it is available.

    I hope I haven’t repeated too much of what others have said, and I hope what I have said is relevant.

  36. mary jo sides Avatar
    mary jo sides

    A member of our writers’ group “couldn’t write until she had cleaned her house.” We suggested that she vowed not to “clean her house until she had written at least one page.”


  37. L R Davis Avatar

    Not much to add to the brilliant posts above, save I think many of these posts could become one of your daily blogs/newsletter columns…on time management. Copy and paste and give the deserving contributor credit on a course or something.
    So many of these posts can apply to all of us, as we juggle home/work/family/avocation-writing etc. Having a chance to reread them one at a time, instead of a shotgun blast of them, would be helpful, too.
    Interns jumped out at me, as a brilliant alternative to hire staff without having to fork out money.
    Thanks for sharing. Awesome. **I AM NOT WORTHY** (emoticon)

  38. Ruth L. Harding Avatar
    Ruth L. Harding

    I signed up to your latest Think Sideways course but I haven’t started it yet as I need to finish a book I am working on. Perhaps there are MANY of your students who are in the same boat across all of your promised tasks.
    Can you ask US, your students & clients, where you can ‘give’ a little. If you have two or three tasks that we are just fine with a delayed delivery that might give you enough breathing room to get the priorities dealt with. Don’t forget that we have lives as well and some people stress terribly about trying to keep up with your delivery.

  39. Judy French Avatar
    Judy French

    WOW! You’ve got a lot of excellent suggestions here. Make sure you schedule yourself enough time for sleep that you feel rested most days. A rested mind and body can get a lot more done because you’re more efficient. I can’t really add anything else to all the wonderful suggestions given. Good luck!
    Ps. Don’t know that I’ll ever be a writer, but your enthusiasm and creativity has only been an inspiration for me to spend more time doing my woodcarving that I love. The creative process that you teach works for it in many ways.
    Thank you for all that you do.

  40. Joanie Raisovich Avatar
    Joanie Raisovich

    I think you need to take a project management perspective.

    Divide your list into projects. Do any have fixed deadlines you MUST meet? Note those first.

    Pull out your dailies and routine items, like editing the site, help desk, weekly blog posts, etc. List those and how often they MUST be done.

    Now, look at the projects that are left – those without hard deadlines. Maybe those get pushed back until you’ve completed the projects with deadlines. If you feel strongly that one or two of these needs to go on the table now, OK…

    I think you’re trying to focus on way too many things at once to be effective. I think you’d do better to work on one thing, even if you set aside a week or two to finish one story, prep one book to publish, etc. That way, you get one item finished and get the satisfaction of crossing it off your list.

    I agree that doing some sort of trade makes sense – access to your courses in exchange for editing, technical help, help desk, etc.

    Good luck!

  41. Ellen Avatar

    The answer you’re likely to listen to:
    * The only variable you’ve willing to leave on the table is time. So spread out and push back the deadlines on everything that’s flexible.

    The answers you’re not going to listen to but that I can’t not give you:

    * That isn’t the to-do list of one person. It’s the to-do list of three. There is a reason there are publishing houses and web development companies; they provide services for authors so authors can write.

    * Take a two-week vacation in which you do nothing. HA! No, the joke here is that I am not joking. Your body is trying to tell you something with the migraines and YOU ARE REFUSING TO LISTEN. Keep this intensity up and it will try other, more serious ways to get your attention. So.

    1. Take a vacation (okay, ONE week, although I don’t think that’s long enough) someplace WITHOUT a computer or internet access. Take someone you love with you. Do fun stuff. Do relaxing stuff. Laugh. Get your mind completely off every project you have. Every time you think “oh! I should…”or “damn, I want to…”or “it’s killing me I can’t…” “I would love to..” DO NOT get up and start work. WRITE IT DOWN. *Exactly* as you think it, and put an urgency rating on it. And then get back to that pina colada/bike ride.

    2. After you unpack from your vacation, sit down with that list.
    – Add up all the times you thought the “shoulds/musts” (I owe other people words) and all the times you thought the “it’s killing me not to” or other “I must do this for myself” urgency phrases.
    – Add up the urgency ratings for each of those things.
    – This is not your priority list, but it can influence it, because this is what you are obsessing about. Compare it to your priority list (which having read your stuff I know you have pretty clear in your head). Tweak your to-do list so you’re getting your obsessive needs out of the way quickly.

    (By the way, this is not the point of the vacation. The point of the vacation is to give your mind and body a break, and I doubt you can do that without some touchstone to your work, so the point of the list is to give you that touchstone).

    3. Now that you’re refreshed and not overwhelmed…
    PUSH BACK all your deadlines and HALVE your commitments (blog posts every other month instead of once a month. Bi-weekly or monthly lesson emails instead of weekly emails). DO NOT ADD ANYTHING ELSE. DO NOT FILL IN WITH READING OR POSTING ON YOUR FORUMS. Read other people’s writing, garden, double your meditation time, or JUST BE. Daydream. Cook. Do things with your hands that give your brain free rein.
    – Give yourself six months at that pace.
    – Please try this. I swear, you WILL discover how much better your writing and your teaching is when you have mental breathing room.

    4. Why? Because you can’t teach if you’re in the hospital. Take care of you.

    What would *I* do in your shoes? Seriously, facing that list and the emotional urgency you have looking at it? Have a stroke or end up a useless blog sobbing on the couch. I’m not kidding.

    We are limitless souls given bodies to teach us how to function within limits. My limits are considerably smaller than yours, but you are trying to ignore your mind and body’s limits. I’ve had the emotional breakdowns that results from that, and the ensuing months of mental and emotional healing in which I could have barely tackled one of the things on your list. I do not recommend that as a learning tool.


    1. Ellen Avatar

      No. 4 should read “You cannot write books or teach if…”

  42. Alicia Avatar

    Not a tip, just an encouragement– YOU ARE AWESOME!!

    I’ve browsed through a lot of different writing courses and sites over the years, and yours is BY FAR the most thorough, helpful, knowledgeable, and INSPIRING. Thank you for everything you do for us. I hope you feel so incredibly proud of what you’ve accomplished, and try not to drown in the stress of what you still want to get done. As much as I want everything on this list in my hands right now, it is definitely worth the wait. As they say, life is a marathon, not a sprint– and we want you to be creating amazing fiction and nonfiction for years to come! 🙂

    And just to reiterate– because I feel it that strongly– YOU ARE AWESOME!!

  43. Chris Olson Avatar
    Chris Olson

    Well, might I suggest looking into “Getting Things Done”?

    Go through all of you tasks and divide them into three piles: 1) Must do now (your writing)
    2) Must do soon
    3) Can wait for later

    Then go through each item in each pile and assign them some amount of time for each to complete, a guess is ok.

    When that is done, go through and mark up minimum time for each (so if a book will take you 80 hours to complete, but you can work on it in 1 hr sprints …)

    Now take each of the piles and put them in priority order.

    Put this list where you can find it easily (desktop is a good place, print it out, etc.)

    Here is the important parts:

    At the start of a week, decide how many hours you have to work. Make a separate list and fill in 2/3 of the time with pile 1, 2/3 of that’s left with pile 2, and the rest of the time from pile 3. These are rough numbers.

    Put this list where you can find it (same place as the master list).

    Now each day, make a list from this second list. Same rules. Work the list during the day. If you get through the entire list, grab more stuff from the list above it. At the end of the day, update the second list with what you got done. Make a note (mentally or on paper) of where you succeeded and where you failed.

    Repeat each day. At the end of the week, do the same for the second list as well. The master list is revisited monthly. It takes a lot of self discipline, but it pays off.

    You can see you are making progress. You spend less time running from place to place trying to figure out what to do next, and you can see progress toward your goals.

    Oh, and delegate stuff you can from the bottom of the list. It’s low priority to you, so give it to others to do.

    Chris Olson

    PS> I’m a software developer. I can code anything on anything in anything. I am that good. I write scripting languages for fun. I love to write, I am a terrible copy editor. I can easily reformat things, though. Consider me for internship!

    1. Joanie Raisovich Avatar
      Joanie Raisovich

      Seconded!! Getting Things Done has helped me manage many more projects than I ever thought I could keep juggling at once.

  44. Eryn Avatar

    I will gleefully apply to be an intern. I do bug hunting and copy editing on Scribophile anyway.
    Beyond that, the way that I’ve always tackled big To-Do lists is to start with the easiest/ closest to done items and get those out of the way, working up to the harder/ more time consuming items.

  45. Athena Grayson Avatar

    Holly, your list seems long, but you can slim it down. You can help yourself by first understanding where your tasks fall within YOUR priority list, and where they fall in the list of the priorities you perceive the public to have. Protip: Your priorities come first. The tasks that fall to your first personal priority should be the ones you’re spending most time on.

    Next, take a look at your DELIVERABLES. Your fiction and your coursework seem to be intertwined, so you should keep those on similar schedule. They are also the tasks where you’d likely need the largest blocks of uninterrupted time. Put them on your schedule first, then fill in shorter tasks around them later.

    You have some RECURRING tasks, too. Based on personal experience, I have found that my writing and large-block tasks tend to suffer when I have the weight of recurring responsibilities eating at me. My suggestion to you is to block off one day per week where you fulfill your recurring obligations. Let this be a consistent thing you do. Even if you finish your recurring stuff, you can always front-load future newsletters, blog posts, etc. Schedule what you can, using those social media managers. Don’t be afraid to call on friends and colleagues for guest posts, and schedule “blast from the past” posts to refresh content in readers’ minds. Remember, new people discover you every day, and there’s a lot in your blog that is evergreen. You wouldn’t shy away from re-selling a short story to another market, so treat your blog as a “market” for your posts and re-issue popular content.

    Next, identify your one-off tasks and fill them in around your long-block tasks of writing and course development. With the tasks like your cover stuff, you might choose to slice off a day out of the month where you work on all the covers at once (based on your description, it sounds as though these are related tasks and might save you some time doing them together.

    Finally, let someone else filter your email for you. I’m sure you get a metric buttload of email every day. An intern or work-in-trade assistant can help you with that by filtering and tagging your emails into “critical/helpdesk” that you address once or twice a day, “requires attention” that you address every few days, “feelgood” which you read at your leisure and when you need a pick-me-up, and “do not read without flameproof undies” which you can either shitcan without reading, or read ONLY when you are in a prepared state of mind and have the time. Let someone else filter it so you can keep your focus on what’s important.

    And last (really last, this time), do not be afraid to say NO to more tasks, even if the suggestion comes from yourself. You can always kick the can down the road and pick it up later. Good luck!

  46. Ashley Avatar

    Lurker here, but I’ve been a fan of your work since the late 90s and am looking forward to taking one of your classes in the future. I agree with those who’ve said you should delegate some of the tasks that you don’t need to do personally–things like copyediting books and the website, converting books to ebooks, designing draft covers for approval, maybe inputting corrections if you’re comfortable with that. Others have mentioned potentially reaching out to creative writing students, but there’s also the technical communication field–students there learn about editing, design, communicating with different audiences, working with websites and multimedia, etc. I’ve been working for seven years as a technical editor and just finished my M.S. in technical communication, and the “delegatable” tasks you’re describing are exactly the sort of thing that I’m generally happy to do for the sake of using my existing skills on something new or building new skills that I might need at future jobs.

    Also, you’ve got a lot of social media going on–the blog, forum posts, the mailing lists, etc. A social media plan might help with that. For instance, you can say that Mondays you’ll work on the blog, Wednesday you’ll work on the newsletters, Friday you’ll work on forum posts, and you can schedule two hours on each of those days to work on that particular thing. But you can take it a step further by drawing on a list of specific ideas and topics that you want to write about and scheduling those for the next few months (or further out). For instance, the first and last Wednesday of the month you send out writing tips, the last Monday of every month you post an update on what you’re working on, that forum post you really need to make comes off the “I’ll get to it someday list” and gets scheduled for this Friday, that specific idea for a blog post that you’ve been kicking around gets scheduled for May 4, etc. This is another thing that an intern might be able to help you with–not by actually writing the content, but by figuring out which of your content delivery methods are effective and which are redundant and can be combined with something else or eliminated, by setting up a good schedule for when you’re going to post to what platform and what general topic you’re going to post about, etc.

  47. Julie Duffy Avatar
    Julie Duffy

    Definitely interns.

    Trade the publishing-of-back-catalogue work for access to your experience/direction in getting books self-published. Everyone wants to know how to do that. Going through it eight time with your books would be a masterclass.

    Have an intern for the customer-service/polling stuff. They get insight into how to run a customer-focused web community. You get free time and the knowledge it’s being taken care of (arrange a time once a day/every few days when you two will talk ON THE PHONE) to answer question and assign work.

    Copyediting the million words up here is probably a, low priority and b, something you have to do yourself. However, an intern could look for obvious typos, broken links/picture, categorize posts properly, flag posts that are outdated or badly needly upgraded.

    etc. etc.

  48. Charlotte Babb Avatar

    Cut your expectations. Spread out the monthly chats to every other month. Farm out or recycle tips and get a volunteer/intern to manage that.

    Make notes when you get ideas for stuff, and then file them where you can find them.

    I am experienced with book layout and design, both covers and interiors. I would be very happy to help with some of that publication work in exchange for classes or coaching.

    See my amazon page for samples of my work. ( I did not do the cover of Maven, but I did the interior layout. I did not do the Thing children’s book.

  49. Heather Renee Wittman Avatar
    Heather Renee Wittman

    Asking for fans who would trade work on your projects (copy editing, formatting, etc.) for class credits or book credits seems the most reasonable suggestion I’ve seen in your comments. It’s not something I can do to help you, but I’m sure you have fans with these skill sets.

    Otherwise? Prioritize your writing FIRST. That’s what you’ve told us is most important to you, so treat it like it’s the most important part of your day. 🙂 Set three or four hours (I’d suggest it being the very first thing you do, but that’s because I write best in the early morning) as a permanent commitment and scheduled time to write.

    There are many suggestions for breaking things up into blocks on this day and task lists and such that seem very workable, so one might work for you. I find that breaking a task into many small pieces really helps encourage me because I get to check them off. I love to check things off. 😉

    I’m rooting for you! 😀

  50. Kathy Avatar

    Lots of good suggestions above. I believe these suggestions were stated already, but I’ll say them again, just in case.

    I think you need a Virtual Assistant. I realize that you don’t want to hire someone, but this could be where you use the intern idea. The person/s that you choose get some experience working with a world-class expert (that’s you!) and you get help. As with anything, it takes a bit of time up front. And coordination/management also takes time – so you want to add your interns gradually – and not have turnover too quickly.

    As for your websites and pages and such, it depends on just what you want. I’m sure there are many of us who find it relaxing to fix things like links, typos, etc. So, for that, I think a list of what you expect would help you and prospective helper/interns figure out the best match.

    I don’t think you should have any ghost writers for your fiction or non-fiction. But guest blogs, posts, articles are a good idea.

    Get some technical people to help out with the website/s Tech Support. Once again, you can trade their time for your products and learning how things work.

    And last, don’t forget this important thing about interns – if it’s not working out, for whatever reason (time, communication issues, bad match, etc.), then end the internship early. There is, of course, an adjustment period. But often your gut will tell you when something is not working out. That goes for the intern, too. They should let you know if they think they’re over their head, life changed on them (so they don’t have the time), etc.

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