It's that time of year again, when summer is ending, the season is changing, and kids are heading back to school. For those of us who are writers with children, back to school can require a significant change in organization in order for us to continue to find time to write. For all creatives, though, it is important to learn time management skills. This can be an essential skill to have if you are a writer who is selling a novel with a time schedule to meet or even just attempting to finish a draft.
Here are some ways for writers to develop time management skills.
1. Evaluate your values and priorities.
People have different priorities in life. Those priorities will determine how you spend your time. We have to juggle and try to balance the list of time-consumers which fill our lives. Things like spouses, children, God, friends, work, cleaning, sleeping, working out, creativity and many other items all take time from our lives and our days. Take a moment to sit down and honestly assess what is most important to you. Don't just think in terms of tangibles like those listed above. Really think about the intangibles, too. Things like perfection, flexibility, joy, health, balance... etcetera.
Think in terms of a pie chart. How much of the pie is taken up with your daily actions -- and do the percentages reflect the things which matter most to you? If not, it is time to make some changes in your behavior.
2. Define your goals
Once you know what matters to you, it is time to make some goals for your writing. Make them as realistic as you can. If you have young children and a full-time job, it's probably not realistic to say you will write for three hours every day. Don't set yourself up for failure by setting yourself a goal which is just not a realistic match for your stage of life. This will only frustrate you, make you miss out on the pleasure of the stage of life you are in, and will tempt you to simply quit altogether.
3. Create a schedule
Your schedule can be as loose or as formal as you choose, but it is a good idea to have it actually written down. There is something very satisfying about having a target you can actually check off as completed. You could create your schedule through time blocking, where from 9:00-10:00 every morning you write. Or, you could be more flexible, and create a goal that on Monday I will spend an hour writing at some point. Whichever style works best for your personality is fine, just know that you will not always meet your goals -- and that is okay. If you commit to trying, you will ultimately meet them more often than not, and will form habits which keep you writing in the process.
4. Learn to say "No."
Hey, this can be easier said than done, especially when what you are saying no to involves other people. Just remember, you have a goal, an endgame, and it is worthy of being a priority in your life. Sometimes saying yes to yourself means saying no to someone else. You completely deserve to say yes to what matters to you. This is your life. If you don't run it, someone else gladly will.
5. Stop time wasters.
All of us waste time throughout the day. Some of us more so than others. That little moment on Facebook which turns into twenty minutes. That favorite TV show which becomes an all-night Netflix binge. There are always places where we can tighten up our lives.
The thing is, once you figure out where you are wasting time, you should probably take a moment to assess why. Ask yourself that whole Dr Phil question - what are you getting out of this behavior? Maybe you actually need that consciousness break which social media can provide.
The question to ask yourself is this: If I need a mental break, is there a better way to get the same need met? Could I go for a jog? That would simultaneously give me down time and also meet my need for exercise. Then I could be recharged when I return to my writing and not have to carve out additional time to fulfill another one of my daily goals.
6. Organize - work smarter not harder.
This is a whole article unto itself. What little ways can you organize your physical surroundings for efficiency? What ways can you organize the events of your day to minimize the wasted time in between tasks. For example, if you need to book a grocery shopping trip and a dentist appointment, can you do them right after one another on the same day? That would minimize your driving time. Or, can you multi-task in some way? I tend to only watch tv when I am doing dishes. I listen to podcasts while I am driving. That type of thing.
7. Periodically re-evaluate.
You've figured out your values, set your goals, and eliminated time wasters. Things are going great. Or, are they? It's always smart to take that moment to reassess your strategies and see what is working and what is not. Sometimes it is even good to talk things over with an accountability partner. An outsider point of view can be an amazing help in assessing the way we live our lives.
You might be the type of person who likes to have every minute of every day regimented and accounted for, but I am not. One of my high values is flexibility. I can be completely happy sitting at the computer for fourteen hours straight one day, but then I might only want to work for two hours the next day. For me, that works. It creates an overall sense of meeting goals while also giving me the autonomy to decide when and where and for how long.
The key is knowing yourself well enough to know what will work for you. The only way to learn that is through trial and error. As you experiment with making and re-making schedules which give you room to pursue your passions, just remember to treat yourself with kindness and love in the process. There will be days you just don't get as much done as you hoped. In the end, though, fifteen minutes writing is better than no minutes at all. This creative journey is not a race, and it is not a competition. It is an individualized daily practice, and the only person to compare yourself to is you.