Guest Post: Tackling the Big Gorilla by Cheryl Malandrinos

Tackling the Big Gorilla – How to Add a Large Project to Your Schedule and Still Be Stress-free around the Holidays*

Copyright Cheryl C. Malandrinos - All Rights Reserved.

Once October starts, the rest of the year flies by. In addition to writing projects, the kids’ schedules get busier and my volunteer activities increase. 

It has been three years since I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I hesitated to join in because I know how busy this time of the year always is for me. I sat down and asked myself a very important question:

Can I work NaNoWriMo into my jam-packed schedule?

To answer this question I had to consider what commitments I already made, and figure out where I was wasting time so I could create a realistic schedule that would allow me to add in a sizable project like NaNoWriMo. This schedule also needs to leave me a bit of room for the unexpected and not make me feel overwhelmed and exhausted.

You can create a schedule that will work for you too.  Here’s how!

The first thing to do is take out a piece of paper or fire up your computer—I go the paperless route because it’s one less thing to lose—and make three columns:  family/home, work, volunteering.

Under each heading, list all you have to do for the next two months, noting deadlines where necessary. Then the real work begins.

Review each item on your to-do list to see if it’s something you must work on, can delegate, or change the deadline on. You must also discipline yourself by eliminating distractions and interruptions, and also consider if you have the time to dedicate to volunteering.

Let’s talk more about all of these and see how to create that realistic schedule you’re looking for.

Delegate What You Can

The easiest way to remove things from your to-do list is to delegate what you can. 

Gasp!  You mean I am expected to allow someone else to handle things I only trust myself to do? 

I know how tough it is to give up control of things because I struggle with it every day; but unless you want the entire holiday season to pass you by without enjoying a minute of it, you need to ask for help. Household chores, errands, even meal preparation can be delegated to other members of your household. Even small children can assist in keeping the living areas of your home clean by picking up their messes before bedtime. Yeah, people might gripe when you ask, but they will enjoy a less stressed you and appreciate spending more time together during the holidays.

Are These Firm Deadlines?

If a large writing project comes your way that you want to add to your already jam-packed schedule, it might mean you have to consider changing deadlines on smaller projects.

This should not be done without giving it a great deal of thought.  Some things to consider are:

  • What is the impact to my relationship with this client if I ask for an extension?
  • Have I asked this client for an extension in the past?
  • What is the impact to my overall business if I can’t meet this deadline?
  • What is the overall impact to my business if I take on this larger project?

Once you’ve damaged a relationship, it takes a tremendous amount of work to repair it, if the client even allows you that opportunity. Constantly asking for extensions gives the impression that this client isn’t important to you.

On the flip side, if a large project will have a significant positive impact on your overall career, it is worth finding ways to make it happen.

Going with less than five hours of sleep for a month is not the right way!

Talk to your clients, always keeping them informed of your progress on their projects—if that is what they request. If it becomes necessary to move a deadline, let them know in plenty of time and be ready to offer them a new “firm” deadline for the completion of the project.

Planning Ahead

Planning ahead is vital to creating that realistic writing schedule you’re looking for. Some ways you can plan ahead before tackling that new project are:

·        Spend a few hours preparing menus for each week of November and December, including your holiday menus.
·        If your holidays usually include baking, prepare cookie dough ahead of time and freeze it.
·        Shop in bulk so that you can cut back on the number of errands to pick up food, household items, and office supplies.
·        Shop online. becomes my best friend during the holiday season. Over 90% of my holiday shopping is done online, and I take advantage of free gift wrapping services when they are available.
·        Consider having your holiday cards and envelopes pre-printed. Remember, your time is also worth something!
·        If you’ll be entertaining during the holidays, ask friends and family if they would be willing to bring a food dish.

Many of these suggestions will work anytime of the year.

Distractions, Interruptions, and Time Wasters, Oh my!

Distractions, interruptions and time wasters can threaten any project, no matter the size. It is especially important when approaching a large project during the holiday season to eliminate any and all things that steal time away from your writing.

Setting aside a time during the day to return phone messages and emails will help keep your writing time focused. It is important, especially when you’re juggling multiple projects and family or volunteer activities, that you discipline yourself not to check email or surf the Internet when you should be writing.

Don’t fool yourself by saying that it will only take a few seconds. It rarely takes a few seconds.  And as you train yourself, you can train your family to respect your writing time and not interrupt you when you’re working.

Now that school is back in session, it seems the girls have a sniffle every other week. With the fear of Swine Flu, parents are encouraged to keep their kids home even for what might seem like minor ailments. That means more days at home for them and less writing time for you.

While you never know when your child will be home from school, if you have items readily available to entertain her you’ll still be able to get work done: books, crafts, and even an hour’s worth of television or video games will help. Since my office is upstairs, I often carry my laptop downstairs to be with the girls if they’re home, but they also have small foldable couches that can be moved into my office if I need to be upstairs.

Do I Have Time for Volunteering?

We all like to give back to our community. It sets an excellent example for our children and makes us feel good about ourselves. The problem is we find it hard to say no even when we don’t have the time.

Look at your list and see how many items are under the Volunteering column, then ask yourself if it is realistic to be involved in those activities when you’ve just committed to a large writing project and the holidays are quickly approaching.

My work schedule and my daughters’ activities keep me very busy all year long, but especially around the holidays. I knew I had to cut back. I dropped out of one committee and cut back slightly at church. I’ve made a point not to commit to any new volunteer efforts until well after the first of the year.

That two-letter word, “no” can be difficult to say, but remember, you’re not saying no forever, just for now.

Rest Up

One thing that will help keep you stress-free around the holidays is getting the right amount of rest. Burning the candles at both ends helps no one, and certainly not your writing.

Do you want to be miserable and irritable during the holiday season or do you want to enjoy spending fun times with your family and friends?

Get the required amount of sleep each night so that you’ll be ready with a well rested mind to tackle your writing and anything unexpected that comes your way.

I’m excited about participating in NaNoWriMo this year. You can be excited about your next big project too, even if it comes around the holidays, as long as you do what it takes to create a realistic schedule that allows you to balance your family, your writing, and your volunteer efforts.

About the Author: Cheryl C. Malandrinos is a freelancer who specializes in helping writers increase productivity through time management and organization. She has also written articles on everyday life in the 1800’s, gardening, parenting, and women’s health issues.  Cheryl is also a virtual book tour coordinator for Pump Up Your Book and the editor of Musing Our Children’s quarterly newsletter, Pages & Pens.  Her first children’s book, Little Shepherd, was released in August 2010.  You can find out more about Cheryl by visiting her website at

*This article originally appeared at the Writer2Writer website in October 2009.


  1. Thanks for posting this article, Jo. I hope your readers find it helpful.



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