I’ve been writing books for over ten years now, and during all of that time I’ve repeatedly fielded the question of “how do you do it? How do you juggle all the stuff you’ve got going on? Do you have some sort of 36 hour day that the rest of us don’t?”
It’s a legitimate question and the purpose of this blog is to give you some time management tips and tricks for making time work for you..without the need of a magic watch that stops the clock so that you can play catch-up. (And, yes, there’s an assignment for you at the bottom for taking your first step!)
I’m not saying that I’ve managed perfectly—boy, am I not saying that!—but I’ve learned a few things over the years including how to adapt to change and how to get back on the rails when you fall off. This post, and others in the same topic, will share what I’ve learned.
What makes me qualified to yammer on about this topic, and why did (and do) folks tease me about all I’ve got going on? Well, when I first started writing, I was writing full time as an attorney, which you probably know isn’t a traditional 9-5 job. After I got published, I had, oh, about a year before I got pregnant. I was fortunate in that right off the bat I had multiple contracts, and for the first few years of my career I was writing anywhere from three to five books each year, something that (I’m happy to say) has continued, although I don’t always have that many come out in a year (see 2011) because of the back-to-back publishing thing that skews the work to one end and the publication to another.
But pregnancy was not a time of rest and relaxation. No, I was still writing (books and briefs) and speaking (writing conferences and courtrooms). And sleeping. There was much sleeping.
After my daughter, things didn’t get easier time-wise. First, I had a job (lawyering) and a baby and another job (writing). Then I quit to write full time (yay!) and had a period of about zero-point-seven seconds wherein I had a kid-free house and full-time for writing (thank you pre-school daycare).
Actually, even during the day-care days, we already knew we were going to homeschool, so that was just a brief respite since school at age 4 doesn’t entail putting in a lot of hours.
Then she turned kindergarten age and we adopted her sister and suddenly my house was full of kidlets and my life was back to overflowing. In a good way, but most definitely overflowing. Now I had kids at home for school and no lawyer salary, which meant that I had to write books–and that meant I needed that precious commodity of time. I had to figure out how to make it all work.
No matter what your job is (writer, homeschooler, stay-at-home parent, account executive, lawyer, baker, candlestick maker…) you probably find yourself searching for extra hours in the day. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for turning 24 hours into 36. I really wish there was! You, however, can make it seem like you’ve managed that amazing feat. How? By not trying to do everything.
I’m not saying you’re going to ignore everything forever, but you can’t do everything in one day. Sorry, you just can’t. Get over it.
Yes, I hear you. Or, if not you, then your inner-perfectionist.
Figure out what needs to be done, and focus on the pieces of making that project happen.
Easier said than done, right? Hey, it’s all about taking steps. And step number one is figuring out what’s on your plate to begin with.
That’s today’s Time Management 101 Action Item: Identification and Prioritization
If you want to be more organized in how you use your time, you need to first identify what you need your time for.
How do you do that? You need to get all the mush out of your head and put it somewhere else. Your head needs room to be creative. To think about stories and plots and characters (or schooling or childrearing or banking or stockbrokering or whatever your personal ‘-ing’ is). If your day is packed, you don’t have time for that creativity to flow. And if your mind is packed, then even if you did have the time, there’s still no room for the muse to run free.
Free your poor, shackled muse!
I’m serious about that muse thing. I recently read a fascinating blog post by Terry Castle about how over-scheduled college kids are. The jumping off point for that post was an article by Craig Lambert in the Harvard alumni magazine entitled “Nonstop: Today’s Superhero Undergraduates Do ‘3000 Things at 150 Percent.'”
In that article (according to blog author Castle) Lambert quotes Jean Renoir’s observation that “the foundation of all civilization is loitering.” From that, he wonders if “unstructured chunks of time” aren’t necessary for creativity.
So our goal is to not be so minutely scheduled that we’re like those college kids (sorry dudes!). Downtime is good. Recharge time is essential. How essential is the topic of another post, but let’s just say that having time when your head isn’t full and your minute isn’t scheduled is key. Trust me on that.
We’ll go into more detail in later posts, but for now, you can start the process by writing down every project you can think of that’s on your plate. Mine is incredibly long, but some snippets might be:
1) Do and fold laundry
2) Hang pictures
3) Clean kitchen (every freaking day!)
4) Revise C’s grammar curriculum
5) Organize school materials
6) weed and mulch NE corner of lawn
7) Finish galleys
8 ) New proposal-brainstorm and draft
9) Do school
10) Post info re contest
11) Social media stuff
12) Clear a path through the garage
13) Take bulldozer to the game room
Etc. Etc. Etc.
These are Big and Broad, as you can see, but once they’re on paper, the need to constantly think about them is out of my head. (We’ll free our minds even more with a later time management blog, where we write down the teeny tiny things that help make up the big things).
You can organize your Big Ticket Action Items however you want. Personally, I like to use Todo, which is an app that syncs across iPhone, iPad and Mac. But you can also use a notebook. I don’t recommend a dry erase board because you want something you can keep with you.
Now, figure out what HAS to be done.
My galleys, for example, have a deadline. They are a Today Priority.
School has to get done. It’s a Today Priority (this is a drill-down item, with sub-tasks, and we’ll talk more about prioritizing within projects in the next time management post).
My laundry does not have to get done today (no matter what the voice of my mom may whisper in my ear.)
As for the contest, that needs to happen before my Release Date for When Passion Lies, so I need to get that finalized and up asap. That’s a today item, too, though the contest page may not post until tomorrow.
As for the kitchen…it’s what I’m going to call a personal red flag zone. I cannot concentrate on other stuff if there are gross dishes in the skin. So even though I could leave the kitchen a mess, I won’t. For me, having a reasonably tidy kitchen clears my head. So it’s an action item, too.
Today’s priorities, therefore, are:
School (today that includes going out into the world for speech and piano)
Now that I’ve identified the big things, my day has a focus. Get those things done, and I can either tackle another big project … or I can guilt-free spend some downtime either with the kids or letting the creative juices flow.
I realize this post lacks a level of specificity, but if you’re starting from crazy disorganization (and I’m just going to assume that you are), we want to move at a reasonable pace…and I don’t want to write a novel’s worth of info in one post!
So today’s assignment for you:
1) Find a notebook (electronic or paper) that you can keep with you.
2) List the big projects that are occupying your mind. (Don’t worry about forgetting some; you can always add to the list).
3) Review the list and note the things that MUST be accomplished today.
4) Focus on those things.
5)Relax and enjoy the rest of the day knowing that the stuff that had to get done got done…and that there are more hours coming tomorrow to tackle the rest!
And congratulations. You’ve just taken your first step toward prioritizing your life and managing your time!
(Lots of upcoming subjects including refining the above plan for action, but also the more esoteric writer-time-management issues that bump up against the question of how to urge your muse into action when you only have a tiny window of writing time. Don’t worry…it can be done!)
I’m intending this to be a regular feature of the blog, getting more specific with future posts. I’d love your feedback! Were these time management tips helpful? Do you have particular time management issues you’d like addressed? Let me know!