Lawyer, Mother, Novelist: The Productivity Secret Of A Master Multitasker

With a heavy dose of time management, lawyer-turned-novelist Koethi Zan released her first book earlier this month. How’d she do it? By getting up before her kids–and setting a massively motivational, slightly terrifying condition.

Lawyer, Mother, Novelist: The Productivity Secret Of A Master Multitasker

Lawyer. Mom. Author.


Each of these jobs provide more than enough work for one person, but Koethi Zan decided to try all three. At once.

While enjoying a successful career as an entertainment lawyer, and having two daughters at home, Zan decided to pursue a lifelong dream: writing her own novel. Just a short time later and her debut novel, The Never List, was finished. It hit the stands early this month.

So how did Zan do the impossible? An intrepid display of time management, and adhering to strict deadlines.

The wife of Slate‘s Stephen Metcalf, Zan recently appeared on his weekly podcast, Cultural Gabfest, to shed some light on her creative process.

“I’d always been a big fan of crime fiction, and had the idea in the back of my mind that one day I would write a crime novel,” she said. “If I was going to do it, I just needed to stop talking about it as something to happen in the future and just do it.”

“So I set aside an hour an hour every day from 5 to 6 in the morning before the kids got up, and I set up my word limit. I had to write 500 words a day. I just sort of forced myself to do it.”


It’s no surprise that waking up early (read, super early) can provide a massive boost to your productivity. But what Yan did was a little different. Anticipating the decline in enthusiasm that most of us would experience in such an energy-intensive project, she gave herself incentive to overshoot her target, and a punishment if she didn’t.

If she reached her goal of 10,000 words in one month, she got a break.

If she missed a morning of writing, the project was dead.

“The thing is, I had this feeling that if I ever failed to hit my word count, I’d abandon the book altogether,” she said. “It was that fear of not finishing the project that drove me to never ever miss a deadline.”

So the next time you’re looking to start a novel, or want to finish a passion project that you haven’t had the time for, employ some good old fashioned time management to meet your goals.

What did Metcalf think of his wife’s insane dedication to her craft?


“Can you just admit now, that the reason you wrote this book was to crush me like a little bug?”

If you’re looking for more tips like these, check out our list of 9 easy-to-steal habits of the super successful (hint: one is to wake up super early).

Listen to the whole interview below and skip to 36:00 for the interview with Zan.

[Image: Flickr user Madii Grace]

About the author

Former Editorial Assistant Miles Kohrman helped run Fast Company's homepage and completed miscellaneous tasks around the newsroom. He is a 2013 graduate of The New School.