Time management is vitally important to every writer. Are you tempted to click away from this page because of that subject or are you interested in improving your productivity? We all have room to grow as writers, especially when it comes down to how we spend our time.
There are three lines of thought about time management:
- No! I hate it and I’m never going to go there.
- Oh, I love it and I couldn’t live without it.
- Yes, I know I need to do something, but it frustrates me.
There are variations on each response, but they pretty much tell the tale. Which group speaks for you?
What Is Your Problem?
Before we set sail on the sea of time management tips and tricks, it’s valuable to identify exactly what the problem is. Why look at how you spend your time? Because you can’t fix what you don’t recognize as broken.
From my experience both as a writer and from working with writers, the biggest battles that confront you fall into these categories:
- Juggling projects trying to complete something
- Trying to follow thoughts as they flit from one idea to another
- Setting unrealistic expectations on yourself and your work
- Being rigid and refusing to follow a creative flow or an effective plan
- Failing at doing more than one thing at a time
This is not an exhaustive list by any means. But it does pretty well describe the state of many writers today. Whether you are a new writer just starting out or a long-time writer with things not getting finished, time management is your friend!
Do you see yourself somewhere in this list of battles? What other battlegrounds can you see in yourself? Most of us fall into a combination of these struggles. But notice that, in each one, the clock is always ticking. Time is wasting and your project is not going anywhere.
So What Do I Do Now?
Time management for writers (or any other creative really) comes down to some basic elements. I wish I could give you a magic wand so you could just wave it over your project and it would instantly come together! Wow, I could sell a ton of those, couldn’t I!
Unfortunately, I’ll have to get rich another way. And you’ll have to deal with your time management skills, or lack of them. The good news is that learning to deal effectively with your time is not super difficult.
The first thing you must do is simply accept the FACT that you are not being as effective with your time as you could be and that it holds you back from achieving what you want.
That’s very important. Drop your war with time. You don’t need to fight it; you need to control it. And that is neither a bad thing nor a difficult thing.
Think about a concert or game or something that you really want to go to. What do you do? You plan for going. Then you buy tickets, invite friends, make dinner plans and travel plans. You might hire a babysitter for the evening. And you clear your calendar (which is a chart of time), get ready and go to that event!
Bring the same intentions to your writing. Treat it with love and respect and get excited to give it full expression. Imagine what it will feel like when that story or article is published, when that book hits the bookshelf, when you see your work on Amazon or wherever you want it to be. Find the joy in its completion just like you find the joy in attending that special event.
How To Control Your Time
There are countless tricks and tips to help you manage your time and increase your productivity. I think in terms of writers. I know that some of you are under the gun with multiple projects. All of them need to get finished in order for you to get paid by a client or get published for your own advancement. Hmm, no pressure there at all!
Time Management Tip #1: What Are YOUR Personal Time Wasters?
We all have them, but the only ones that really matter to you are the ones that trip you up and steal your time. Take a few moments to think about your writing sessions and list on paper the 5 things that trouble you the most.
It might be Facebook or television or the kids. Anything can be become a time waster. Identify what yours are. That is the next step in developing time management skills that work.
Time Management Tip #2: Get Rid Of All The Distractions
Based on #1 above, you’ve uncovered the main things that steal your time and make you ineffective in getting your writing done. Now, think about what needs to change in order for you to block all these time wasters and distractions.
Some distractions are not really a part of your time waster list; they just happen around you. An example of this is when the dog or cat demands your attention as you’re writing. Your pet may not be on your #1 list, but still distracts you. Close the door before you start to write. Give them treats and promise to play their favorite game when you’re finished! Whatever you have to do, deal with that distraction so it doesn’t keep you from your work.
The same is true for everything else around you, too. The name of the game is to clear away all the craziness so you freely focus on your writing. It’s not forever! The email, texts, social media will all be there when your writing session is finished. And you will have a couple hours or so of good work behind you. You can tweet or post about that!
Time Management Tip #3: Sort Your Tasks
You know what it feels like to have a jumble of unrelated tasks in your head and all the thoughts that go with them. It’s confusing and almost paralyzing; nothing gets done for thinking about all that needs to be done.
That’s why you must sort your tasks. Think of it as sorting laundry: shirts here, pants there, socks, etc. Do that with your daily tasks. It helps to move you through the day with more productivity. You accomplish more with less effort!
My daily tasks normally fall into 3 main types:
These groups are reflected on my daily planner/to-do list. I like to take care of my Administrative chores first thing in the morning to get them out of the way. I check email, pay bills, handle all the behind-the-scenes aspects of my life during this time.
Then, depending on what is more pressing as far as deadlines, I move into either working on my web presence or a client’s project. I find it quite effective to work on, say, my own project(s) in the morning and my client work after lunch. Or vice-versa.
By breaking the day into these related blocks of time, I hold my focus better and accomplish more in the average day.
Time Management Tip #4: You Gotta Have Goals!
Goals! That’s another word that sends some of you over the edge! But they are so useful in so many ways. The key, again, is to change your attitude toward them. Goals are your friends!
Setting a goal, particularly a SMART goal, and working toward it seriously is just really close to a guarantee of success. Remember, it’s not really a goal until you apply time to it.
This is a hugely important factor of time management. If you don’t know where you’re going or when you’re supposed to be there, how will you ever know if you get there and if you’re too late?
Time Management Tip #5: Break It Up!
No, I’m talking about a fight! Break up your time. The temptation comes always to sit down and work until you drop without a break. But it has been proven over and over that this is not the most effective way to manage your time.
Years ago, I found the Pomodoro Method for managing my work time. You can read about it here. Back in the day there was no charge for it, and I don’t know that there is now. The takeaway from using it was that by breaking up my work into small 25-minute periods with specific short breaks throughout, my mind stayed clear and my body stayed energized for a much longer time.
That resulted in my accomplishing much more writing or work in a day without sacrificing my energy or my sanity! That’s a great payoff for using a timer (we have them on our phones now) and making some check marks on my scratchpad!
Time Management Tip #6: Work From a Daily List
I’ve already mentioned it, but I always have a To-Do list in front of me when I’m writing. It takes just a few minutes to make it based on the priorities before me. The benefits far outweigh the time and effort to create it.
It keeps you on track with your goals. As you put a check beside each item as you finish it, you gain a tremendous sense of accomplishment that is energizing! While I don’t advocate getting overly infatuated with your list (some do), it is an effective tool for helping you focus while holding you to your goals and commitments.
Time Management Tip #7: Work At The Best Times For You
In a perfect world all of us would have amazing schedules that work exactly the way we need them to work with no conflicts anywhere. Pop! There goes that bubble!
The real world is filled with interruptions and conflicts that challenge even the most seasoned planners at times. What do you do about that?
To the best of your ability, choose the times when you work. Sometimes it helps to write when everyone else is working, too. They are less likely to call you or want to drag you off to do something. Still, sometimes it’s more productive to write “against” everyone else’s schedule. Work when they are not.
That is one I find most helpful, personally. I work from home, and many distractions pop in on me during the day. Some of them I can turn off, and do. But others, such as calls from clients, etc., are necessary.
Therefore, I tend to have a late night writing session (after all my friends and family who call in the evening are finished with me for the night). One of my favorite things to do is come into my writing studio after 9:00 in the evening and work away until midnight or so.
The point is, determine what time slots work best for you, and use them. Set yourself up for success in this way.
Time Management Tip #8: Do Yourself A Favor!
Yep, when you have a really good day and your productivity is high, reward yourself! It may be anything from going to a movie to having an ice cream cone to taking a bubble bath. Be kind to yourself. Celebrate every victory, large and small! It’s good for you, and it keeps you interested and passionate about your project.
Time Management Tip #9: Wrap It Up & Track It
When you end your writing day, this tip will help you in, oh, so many ways! It’s very simple and takes very little time to do.
- Take the last few minutes of your session to wrap up the day. Close things down. Mark your To Do List so you know where you are. Put away any files or research material that you are finished with. Tidy up.
- Keep track of what you’re accomplishing daily. That can be as simple as marking your daily list well and keeping them so you can look back and see what you’ve done.
This tip brings you a great sense of accomplishment and of moving forward.
So there you have it, my 9 tips for taming your fight with time management and taking control of the 24 hours in your day!
I hope these help you write more, write better, write now! Get out there and accomplish your projects. Be gentle with yourself along the way.
Thank you & God Bless!