From K.M. Weiland:
For many of us, writing is one of the most important things in our lives. And yet, it can be all too easy to let that “most important thing” end up at the bottom of our to-do list. If yet another day has passed in which you haven’t been able to write—or a day in which you did write but getting it done was a struggle—you’re not alone. Time management for writers is possibly one of the key skills of the lifestyle. This is true whether you write full-time or write around your full-time responsibilities.
I’ve always been a schedule hacker and someone who tries to make every minute count. I’ve also always been someone who constantly laments that there isn’t just one more hour in the day. Time management is something of an obsession for me, probably because it’s a game you never completely win. In years past, I’ve gone down the overachiever path of absolutely flying through my days and trying to cram in as much as possible. There are seasons in which that is effective or even unavoidable, but eventually it becomes unsustainable. I’ve also gone through seasons in which circumstances dictated I do as little as possible, but that too is unsustainable over the long term.
Inevitably, the sweet spot is found in balance. Each person’s balance is different, depending on personality, health, goals, obligations, and other factors. No matter what your lifestyle, the demands of the modern day keep us busy and distracted. This can be especially challenging for a creative who needs downtime to breathe and think and wander, as well as concentrated go-time in which to enforce discipline and actually get words on paper.
Recently, I received the following question from reader Joan Arc:
I enjoy reading your blog posts and I like the fact that you like suggestions from your fellow writers. But as I am engaged in school and trying to balance life whilst I study, I find it is becoming more difficult to devote the time to read them. I was wondering if in the near future, you could give some helpful hints about time management and how to balance a writing schedule that will stay even when life takes priority. This is a thing that I, along with many aspiring writers struggle with, and consequently, I lose inspiration for my book. Do you have any suggestions for this?
In today’s post, I’m going to review some of the do’s and don’ts of time management that I have found most supportive throughout my writing career. First, however, I will say a word about consistency in general. I’ve written before about the pros and cons of writing every day, ultimately landing on the view that it’s not important that you write “every” day. What is important is consistency—whatever that means to you—since consistency is what staves off that loss of inspiration Joan references.
8 Do’s of Time Management for Writers
The following eight “do’s” of time management for writers are all practical steps to take in aligning your daily schedule to your vision for your writing life. Note, that it’s important to start with your vision. Start by getting clear on your own goals, not just for writing but for other areas of your life as well. This will help you identify your ideal schedule, as well as what is achievable at the moment.
1. List Your To-Dos So You Can See Them All in One Place
If your day is anything like mine, then it is made up of a bazillion little to-dos. Many of them are so infinitesimal (emptying comment spam on the website) or ordinary (brushing my teeth) that I don’t always think of them as “to-dos.” And yet, they add up fast. When trying to get clear about how to streamline your schedule and create flow states throughout your day, take the time to analyze everything. Time management for writers isn’t just about writing. It isn’t even mostly about writing. It’s about optimizing the entire day so the writing time comes as easily as possible.
2. Create “Batches” of Related Tasks
Once you’ve created a list, group your tasks thematically. A personal motto that serves me well in some instances and not so well in others is “do whatever is in front of you.” Sometimes this is the single best method for moving forward through a large task or for creating momentum when you feel stuck. Other times, it just ends up scattering your focus all over the place. Instead of eating the elephant one bite at a time, you eat a little of the elephant and a little of the giraffe and a little of the hyena—and you end the day feeling you haven’t accomplished anything.
Batch your tasks, so you can focus on one thing at a time. For example, don’t check email throughout the day. Reserve a slot at an optimal time of the day when you can sort through and respond to all emails at once.
3. Multi-Task (With Care)
Multi-tasking is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can undeniably help you move through multiple projects at a quicker rate. On the other hand, the growing amount of research on the loss of productivity associated with multi-tasking is sobering. Even though all that busyness can make us feel super-productive, the actual metrics don’t always weigh out. Use caution and consciousness when adding multi-tasking to your schedule.
That said, there are times when multi-tasking takes everything to 2.0. For example, you might plan to listen to an audiobook or podcast whenever your hands are busy elsewhere (e.g., commuting, doing the dishes, or, for me, designing weekly social media graphics such as the Pinterest image at the top of my posts).
4. Schedule Downtime Relentlessly
When we think of time management for writers, what usually comes to mind are all the tasks we want to do. But particularly if you’re wanting or needing to cram a lot into your daily routines, one of the most important things you can schedule is downtime. Make downtime your priority. Except in situations in which you have no choice (e.g., your paycheck is on the line, your child has an emergency, etc.), the downtime on your schedule should be the last thing to take the hit. I’ve learned this the hard way. These days, I adamantly schedule “downtime” and self-care first thing in the morning. If I don’t do it first, I don’t do it, and because it is the most important part of my day, I prioritize it relentlessly.
5. Make a Commitment With Yourself
Making schedules is the easy part; sticking with them is where the road can get rough. There are two key pieces to sticking with a schedule. The first key is creating a schedule that works. This often requires trial and error, some degree of flexibility, and self-forgiveness.
The second key is discipline. Think of your schedule as a commitment to yourself. Not only are you committing to do all the tasks you’ve laid out for yourself, but when you show up to one of those tasks, you’re going to give it your full attention. This is true for every task on your list, but as a writer, it’s the writing time that should be particularly sacred.
It can be so easy to carve out an hour or two in your day for writing… and then spend half or more of that time twiddling it away. Now, sometimes twiddling is really just creative lollygagging or even dreamzoning, both of which are part of the creative process. But other times (and you know when those times are), the twiddling is just procrastination.
6. Schedule Writing Tasks and Writing-Related Tasks Separately
People often ask me if outlining, researching, and editing count as “writing time.” In my view, they do. However, when it comes to time management for writers, it can be valuable to schedule them separately. Depending on your preferences, the temptation to do a little of everything during “writing time” may end up being counter-productive. For example, if I’m trying to get myself into the headspace of flowing with a scene I want to write, I don’t want to interrupt that with the sudden urge to go research some tidbit. I try to schedule myself out of my distractions by penciling in a slot for researching or editing or whatever else at a different time from my writing.
7. Create a Quick Warm-Up Routine
After zooming through all the to-dos that fill the rest of your day, it can be tough to sit down at your desk and suddenly turn on your inspiration and creativity. And yet, you only have an hour, and you can’t afford to waste any of it!
One of the best tricks I’ve ever used for transitioning into my writing time is a personalized warm-up routine. At certain times in my life (when I’ve had more time), I’ve scheduled warm-ups as long as 30 minutes. These days, my warm-ups are usually quite short. I choose tasks that help ground me, pull me out of a mental space and into my deeper, body-oriented imagination—such as a quick grounding meditation, lighting a candle, breathing some essential oils, or taking a bite of chocolate or a sip of coffee. I may also read over what I wrote the day before or read a quick section from my research or character notes, to help pull myself back into the mindset of my story.
8. Write in Fifteen-Minute Spurts
There you are, sitting at your desk right on schedule, ready to write. And… the words just aren’t coming. The urge to twiddle is strong. You look at the clock and suddenly this precious hour seems like for…ev…er. Before you know it, fifteen minutes have passed and you’ve rewritten the same sentence a total of three times.
The brain hack I like to use is writing in fifteen-minute spurts. I tell myself I’m going to write 500 words (or whatever) in fifteen minutes. Writing 2,000 words in an hour seems overwhelming, but 500 in fifteen minutes? I can do that! Then… when the fifteen minutes is up, I take another drink of coffee or a bite of chocolate, and do it again.
Link to the rest at K.M. Weiland
For PG, reading advice about becoming more efficient with time is usually worth his time. That said, the time management strategies that are effective for one person are not necessarily the best way for another person to reach a high degree of efficiency.
Sometimes, the types of strategies included in the OP can be helpful for PG, but at other times, he needs to think deeply over an extended period of time to prepare himself to do something well. At other times, it’s more efficient for him to close his eyes and let his mind wander.
It’s not like his brain forgets what he needs to figure out, but relaxing and mentally wandering reduces the pressure PG has been putting on himself to get a mental task accomplished.
When the pressure is reduced by not focusing on a task to obsession, the less conscious and less logical parts of his brain present a solution that his logicbrain would never have considered.
There’s nothing particularly original or groundbreaking to what PG’s brain does and doesn’t do, but a conscious brain hack isn’t the best way for him to get mental tasks done. Sometimes the best recipe for success is no real recipe at all.