How I Work Each Day As a Writer

I receive many questions about how I work, how I manage my time, and what my “systems” are for working as a writer and consultant.

I offer the following with this caveat: I’m still workin’ on it, and I don’t always follow the system perfectly. But each time I fall “off the wagon”, I get up, dust off my britches, and climb back on. So far it’s worked pretty well.

A “day in the life of Ray” is a busy one. Here are current projects I’m working on:

1. Private Client product launch.
This is for a new product that teaches a system of “workforce leverage”; this is a sophisticated product that is aimed squarely at real business owners, not “biz opp” seekers, and includes a robust web application. This one keeps me very busy; and it has huge potential. Of course I get a piece of the sales, so my hard work should pay off handsomely.

2. Private Consulting Client
. This relationship translates to weekly phone meetings, a small in-house launch every quarter or so, and reams of copy generated for upsells, ridealongs, retention, phone scripts, etc. This is a retainer + revenue deal, just like the one above.

3. Private Retainer Client. This client retains me strictly for two sales letters per month, for different products each month; again, I have a piece of revenue.

4. Private Client in the real estate market; we did a product launch together (for which I still receive royalties over a year later — than God for honest clients!), and we also work on periodic promotions. And, once again, I share in the revenue (detecting a theme?).

5. Inner Circle Program. This is a monthly “coaching club” I run for those who cannot necessarily afford to hire me but who want to learn from my work, get me input, and receive training from me each month.

6. Book Promotion. My new book on copywriting for the web will hit store shelves soon, and I’m working with my publisher on developing the sales promotion for this book.

7. Three books in progress. One is a business book (first draft completed), one is a book for Christ-followers on the importance and power of forgiveness (first draft about 75% complete), and one is a book I’m not ready to talk about publicly just yet (still in outlining phase).

8. Two monthly newsletters. I write one for my clients, and one for paying members of my inner circle.

9. Workshops. I have three scheduled for the next 4 months, each taking place in my offices in Spokane. These workshops are small, for 5 participants only, and focused on Strategic Writing for the purpose of Influence.

10. Copywriting Protege Program.
My students write for clients who either (a) can’t get on my schedule soon enough or (b) can’t afford my fees. My team writes your copy, I critique the drafts for re-writes, and then I approve the final work that is delivered to you. This means we can deliver affordable copy that still receives my “touch”. (To inquire about a project, please submit your request here: http://RayEdwards.com/contact )

The Big Question

How is it I’m able to juggle so many priorities and projects? Through careful conscious choice, and good systems.

And quite frankly: it’s a work in progress.

In order to deliver the very best work to my clients and partners, and to still leave room in my schedule for rejuvenation (sleep, family time, time with God, and time to just plain relax)… I have to guard my time vigorously. And I have to be on guard against what Dan Kennedy calls “Time Vampires”. Some tactics that work for me in my current system:

MSR
My Morning Success Ritual is vital to my most productive days. While I don’t manage to get this in every day, I’m getting better at it. My goal between now and the New Year is to achieve 95%+ compliance with this ritual every day.

The MSR is summed up by the acronym WWW B PREP, which stands for:

  • Wake
  • Water (16 oz. filtered)
  • Walk (at least 20 minutes)
  • Bible
  • Prayer
  • Eat
  • Plan (the day)

The days when I follow this MSR, starting the minute my feet hit the floor out of bed, are invariably my best days (most productive, most joyous, most satisfying). Probably because the most important things were done first – and when I’m still in the “NDZ”: No Distraction Zone (meaning no email, no voicemail, no phone calls, etc.)

Writing
The first thing I *must* do each day, after my MSR is complete (and after I have showered, driven to the office, etc.) is WRITING. I am primarily a writer. So this is my #1 Revenue Producing Activity (RPA). At this point my phone is off, I have still not checked email, not checked voicemail, etc. Still in the NDZ. I write for a large block of time at the beginning of the day — often 4 hours. NOTHING gets to interrupt the writing — including (and even especially) the clients for whom I may be writing.

Email
My auto-check feature in Apple Mail is turned OFF. I only get email when I press the “Check Mail” button. I check it twice per day, Monday thru Thursday. Usually around 11am Pacific and 4pm Pacific.  This is one of my policies that tends to be unpopular with those who are “urgency addicts”, and who want me to have a constant email discussion about minutia with them. I refuse to sacrifice my highest valued commodity (time) for the sake of what usually amounts to trivia. I suggest you adopt the same policy.

Meetings
Any meeting that lasts longer than 15 minutes is probably too long. Not always, but most of  the time. Any project that requires multiple meetings each week is probably in trouble. Long meetings = inefficiency at best, and postponement of the inevitable at worst. (As a sidebar: frequent short meetings are just a disguised way of having long meetings. HEAR ME: if you have “meeting-itis”, either you just want an excuse to talk about work instead of doing it, or something is wrong with the project … something another meeting won’t solve).

Phone Meetings / Conversations
Same as meetings, only worse. Conversations and phone meetings should be 15 minutes or less. Anything longer and you’re probably wasting time for at least some people in the group.

Instant Messenger
Just say no. The only time I use it is when I have SCHEDULED events on Skype (usually interviews). Also, I occasionally chat with family or friends — but again, this is SCHEDULED. I am NEVER “just available” to be interrupted. (If I was, that would mean that I was either doing something unimportant, or that I was doing NOTHING. If I’m doing something unimportant… WHY? And if I’m doing NOTHING, it’s a PLANNED nothing and it’s important that this not be interrupted!).

Office Hours
Yes, I have an office outside my home. I lease currently. I’m considering buying an office building. I keep regular business hours most of the time: Mon – Thurs, 8am – 5pm Pacific.

By the way, my office phone is answered by a LIVE HUMAN (not some stupid voicemail torture device) Monday – Saturday, 8am – 6pm Pacific time. Why do I have the phone covered even when I am out of the office? Because other members of my team keep different hours… and because emergencies DO happen, and I like to be available if a TRUE emergency arises. My  phone team knows how to reach me in those cases.

Why The Emphasis On Not Being Interrupted?

Interruptions cost you dearly.

As a writer, I know that allowing myself to be interrupted by a client or vendor (“Hey Ray – got a minute to talk about the new logo?”) can seem harmless… but it isn’t. That interruption costs me (a) the state of “flow” I was in while working, maybe impossible to recover, (b) the time of the interruption itself, and (c) the time it takes me to get back into the “zone” with what I was working on… minimum 20 minutes, maybe longer.

I can’t afford to let that happen.

My clients and customers can’t afford for me to let that happen.

I once had a client who loved to call me at 11pm at night and talk for two hours. I tried to tell him I worked set hours and was available at those times, but he didn’t seem to understand. When our first project was finished, I fired him. His dysfunction did not automatically become my problem. Be warned – people will WASTE your time if you let them. Will you let them? be polite, be loving… but don’t be a victim.

In the end, if you guard your time, you are being most respectful of other people. Think about it: if you allow yourself to be interrupted, or your time wasted when you should have been doing something else… who suffers? Your clients. Your customers. Your family (“Sorry honey, I have to stay late because I wasted 2 hours today listening to the web team make excuses…”).

You’re not serving anyone by being a poor steward of your time.

New Experiments In Time Management

I’m currently going through a re-vamping, refining, and re-evaluating phase and I thought it might be useful to you if I shared some ideas I’m trying out. While I’m sold on the stuff I mentioned previously, I’m telling you right now these next items are EXPERIMENTAL. If they prove successful, I’ll have more to say here in the future about them.

1.Three-Sentence Emails.
If you receive a lot of email, you know what it’s like to feel overloaded by it. This is a personal policy that all email responses regardless of recipient or subject will be three sentences or less. Read more at http://three.sentenc.es/

2. Fifteen Minute Meetings. Just like the above, only not quite so regimented. *Most* meetings will be 15 minutes or less. That’s my default meeting length. If it needs to be longer, we can negotiate in 15 minute blocks. If it needs to be longer than 45 minutes, we better be working on something like the Middle East Peace Talks.

3. Free Days. I used to cheat on this. I’m sorry to admit it. But no more. A “free day” is one in which there is NO business activity of any kind: no emails, no blogs, no IMs, no phone calls, no reading articles, no business books… NOTHING. Right now, I have at least one scheduled FREE DAY per week (Sundays). The purpose is to allow for real refreshing, rejuvenation, and creativity to arise. My goal is to eventually reach 3 FREE DAYS per week. This does not mean that I’ll be spending 3 days a week doing NOTHING… these days will be filled with family time, spiritual and charitable pursuits, and yes, even recreation. For more on this, see Dan Sullivan’s “The Time Breakthrough”.

This was a long post – I hope it was useful to you. If you have questions or want to add some ideas of your own, please do it below!

Ray Edwards is a world-renowned copywriter and communications strategist, writing for some of the most powerful voices in leadership and business including New York Times bestselling authors Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) and Tony Robbins. Ray is a sought-after speaker and author, hosts a popular weekly podcast, and blogs at RayEdwards.com.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Mark Henderson

    Excellent ideas Ray. The best ideas in the world quickly die without an action plan and the discipline to follow it.
    Keep on truckin….
    Mark Henderson

    • http://rayedwards.com Ray Edwards

      Thanks Mark… 10-4! ;-)

  • http://netslingers.com Andy

    Thanks for sharing this Ray. You’ve unknowingly helped me articulate to the woman in my life, on what a typical day can look like in my world as well! I simply forwarded this to her, and let her know that I also have three young children to love and care for, as a single dad.

    Mucho thanks! You just saved me hours of time to prepare and say what you just did!

    I subscribe to Mark Joyner’s free Simpleology 101 (http://netslingers.com/simple) as a means to master my own time, money and energy. Been using it now for over four years.

    Looking forward to updates on your systems tests… :)

    • http://rayedwards.com Ray Edwards

      Glad to know it was helpful Andy. I always wonder with these “me-centered” posts… are they helpful or hubris?

      • http://netslingers.com Andy

        I find these kinds of posts to be most helpful because it shows people, especially newbies, what things CAN look like, and they can see a possible picture of themselves doing that, or decide they want to do it differently or even better, or even not at all.

        Plus, it’s not like you write about yourself every day. A sprinkle of you is always good…in small doses! :)

        • http://rayedwards.com Ray Edwards

          Hey thanks Andy- not only for the nice words, but for giving the reasons that back them up.

  • Martin

    Your best effort (at least for me) yet, Ray!

    As you know, I am a HUGE fan of yours and read everything you post with my full attention because you never fail to offer good, practical, and useable words of wisdom in very concise formats. This post is definitely a keeper, and has inspired me to relook at my own “time management” system and how I structure my days. I thought I had a good system (and I do), but what you’ve outlined here tops what I have. Yes, I’ll have to make a few modifications to what you do, but the structure and framework will make it much easier for me to do.

    Recently, some events in my personal life have made me realize how limited our time on this planet is, and I’ve had to refocus on what and who is really important. Sadly, I’ve spent much of my 45 year work life on things that could and should have been further down the list in terms of importance, urgency, and priority. Thank you SO MUCH for this important post. I really appreciate your transparancy and exposure to your daily routine.

    • http://rayedwards.com Ray Edwards

      Martin, thanks for saying those things – you made my day!

  • Stevenewdell

    Hi Ray, http://www.BH2012.com

    This is a worthy post and I’d say everything about it is right.

    I had a friend who literally lost thousands of dollars per year because he spent too much time gabbing about politics. When he retired his lumber/construction business was too small to sell. He eventually rented the property for a pittance and retired to a tiny trailer in Nowhere, Arizona.

    Using your time wisely now determines your future.

    Dealing with difficult people gently is the way of Jesus and it’s the right way. My only difference with you is that we should keep the Sabbath for free time and that still is Friday night to Saturday night. But it’s ok to “do nothing” with your family Sunday too, and a lot of that time is allowing your mind to work over ideas, think up new strategies, and perhaps make a scribble in a note pad.

    IF I were as busy as you I might make a note that people who don’t expect a reply to their email should say so, or put an * at the end of a reply that fits into the subject line.

    ie: “Got your note. See you at noon lunch Friday. SN”* This reduces time opening mail to find nothing.

    I’m really just getting into your site. I like it.

    Best regards,
    SteveN good free stuff here: http://tinyurl.com/323caf9
    * no reply expected*

    • http://rayedwards.com Ray Edwards

      Great thoughts and I appreciate all your insights. I observe the Sabbath on Sunday – and I respect the right of others to observe it when they believe they should.

      I especially like your suggestion about making it clear no reply is expected to an email.

      Thanks!

  • Gregory Fort

    Hello Ray,

    I have been following your posts for quite some time now. This is one of your best. I am studying copy writing through John Carlton’s coaching program and now realize how important time management is and it’s close relationship to focusing.

    Best Regards,

    Gregory Fort

  • Carlos Juez

    Great article Ray, thank you very much!!!

    Have a great day!

    Carlos

  • Mia

    How thoroughly transparent, Ray…. it helps me put my own haphazard “schedule” in perspective. Thanks for taking the time to inspire us!!!

    • http://rayedwards.com Ray Edwards

      Thanks Mia. Much appreciated!

  • http://www.facebook.com/kirstynsierra Kirstyn Sierra

    My husband has been telling me for years to shut off iChat/google talk, to reply briefly to e-mails, to stop having my mail program check for mail every minute, to keep my meetings and phone conversations brief, etc.

    He rarely (never?) will listen when I have an e-mail to share with him, but this one caught his attention the moment I started reading (I targeted him by starting with the turning off the auto-check feature in Apple Mail) and he agreed with every point you made.

    My question to him… how do you develop relationships with people by applying this “system”? His response… “do you want to develop relationships or get work done”?

    I’ll have to balance my relationship building time with my work time, but I now realize the importance of brevity and uninterrupted time. January will mark 4 years online for me, and I have yet to make a profit (though I’ve helped many couples conceive the babies they long for, which is important work in and of itself).

    2011 should see a profit, especially if I can limit interruptions, and focus on brevity in communication. Ray – thank you for following the Lord’s prompting and posting this “self focused” but very helpful article.

    Best wishes,

    Kirstyn Sierra,
    Pregnancy Consultant

    • http://rayedwards.com Ray Edwards

      I appreciate the thoughts, and I appreciate the appreciation! :-)

  • http://www.ryanhealy.com/ Ryan Healy

    Ray – Just want to echo what a few others have said: This is one of your best posts, for sure.

    My biggest challenge is 3 young kids at home because I still work from home. Been considering getting an office space so I at least have a chance at maintaining a structured, uninterrupted writing schedule.

  • Mirian

    Thanks for sharing this Ray. I really need to learn how to plan my days. Actually my days are not so productive. I’m sure it happens because I don’t know how to lead with it.

    Best regards,

    Mirian

  • http://www.sethellsworth.com Seth Ellsworth

    Perfect post Ray. I’m in the revamp mode right now as well. Trying to figure out what exactly works for my MSR. Little things make a huge difference. Like Ryan, it’s hard when my little son comes and knocks on my door and screams for me :) Last week I finished “The Power of Full Engagement” by Tony Schwartz. Totally changed how I think about time management. It’s now in terms of “energy” as opposed to time. I used to work myself to death every day. Now I’m working on sudden bursts of massive productivity followed by recovery. Awesome way to look at things. Thanks for the post Ray. Definitely one of your best. This stuff is so important.

  • Carrie

    Excellent stuff Ray! Had a ‘free day’ with Kurt Christensen & David Frey this week and you came up :) And I’m working with Dan in Toronto this week as well…so this was timely and super important

    As someone who REFUSES to get an office outside of my (hey, I’m the Barefoot Executive, it’s why I do what I do) — I STILL have to be very protective of my time AND my little ones…so it’s a juggle for sure. Interestingly enough, I’m also reading Dan K’s book about the Time Vampires ;) (God rocks like that, giving me affirmation from several angles!)

    Love this post. Going to print it out and I am also spending the last part of Q4 revamping and restyling my work habits, etc.

    Appreciate you brother. Appreciate you sharing your authentic self so that we can evaluate, model and increase our own effectiveness!

    Carrie Wilkerson
    @Barefoot_Exec

    • http://rayedwards.com Ray Edwards

      Wow – thanks Carrie for the words of affirmation. The outside office was a big decision for me, but it has been very useful to me. That may change, but for now it works!

  • http://www.conorneill.com Conor

    Ray – thanks for the post. I threw away blackberry and iphone about 18 months ago and have been on a big “email reduction in my life” campaign… not fully successful, but now that I write more and more I realize quite how dangerous the “little” interruptions can be to my productivity. It was helpful to see how you have begun to discipline your day.

  • http://www.chrisluksha.com Chris

    Wow Ray – that was fabulous. I love the acronym, I REALLY love the free day. working on line is always hard for me to leave my laptop – at work or at the back door and not turn it on etc. Just today I had an ‘almost free’ day. I am here now doing some reading and writing – but I woke and did nothing work related- went on a day long date with my bride, did a church business meeting and then came home and relaxed a little and and now getting to online ‘stuff’

    It was a completely freeing day and I am pumped to get to work tomorrow b/c I am refreshed. Now if only I could enforce the twice a day email and 15 min or less phone calls. Oh to fire te client that calls me every couple hours because I turned of my IM a year ago :)

    Thanks and God Bless!
    Chris

    • http://rayedwards.com Ray Edwards

      Glad you found it helpful, and thanks for sharing!

  • Pingback: 4 Ways To Add More Time To Your Day()

  • Pingback: 4 Ways To Add More Time To Your Day | Time Management Tips & Everyday Tricks()

  • Dan Tredo

    I love a peek into the life of a successful man. Thanks Ray.