How to Find Time to Write and Still Have a Life

In my post concerning Jitter-Monkeys, I described ten ways to help you stay on track in your writing. Today, I am going to discuss a method that has worked for me, and I hope will work for you. In the past, when I went to do anything: writing, research, study, reading, or keeping up the website; I would feel stressed. Even with eighteen hours to work with, I would devolve into an indecisive funk that could last all day.

What was my problem? Surely eighteen hours is plenty of time to get everything I want done. Except, it's not when I don’t know what should take priority. One thing about working in a typical job is that they give me a delineated description of what takes precedence. Typically, someone higher on the food chain than me decides what tasks are more important and it became my job description. There is a small comfort in that: Decision already made. And, I go on with my work.

When working independently, however, I have to decide what task takes priority. As much freedom as that affords, you would think that it would come with a large measure of peace. But, it didn't. Instead, I would spin my wheels for up to an hour trying to figure out what order I should do things in and for how long. There are so many variables. And before I know it, my head is smoking, and I still didn’t have anything done.

Reading various tweets and Instagram posts this weekend, I gave it more thought, and came up with a method to better organize my time. I feel that you will be able to use this in tandem with the suggestions I made in the Jitter-Monkey post with success.

This is not my actual schedule. The spreadsheets throughout this post are listed only as examples. You can make your own templates based off of them.

My problem was that I was trying to reinvent the wheel each time I sat down to do anything in regards to writing. I needed a concrete system. Time management is what they call it in the business world. The first thing I needed to do was assign a priority to each of the tasks (see spreadsheet below.) I gave them a time value, in minutes. And, then I went about seeing what tasks I could combine together. Some such as exercise, audio-book, music, or videos are a natural fit.

Not everything can be combined, but it is crucial to know in order to make the most of the time you have. You’ll notice that I have an optional column. The X’s represent the tasks I can go without doing, if need be. Alternates are tasks that I could alternate between from one day to the next. It's good to throw in a measure of change from day to day to keep things fresh and on track.

Now, before any of you get funny; I do not consider hygiene to be 14th in priority. Its mandatory. As you will see in the following spreadsheets, there are items which are non-negotiable, but are there for relation to the other tasks. I do have to eat and bathe after all, just like any con-goer should. Say, for example, I was unable to do the task associated with 2,3,4, and 5. I would then consider 6,7,8, and 9 instead.

Inevitably, you won’t be able to get everything you wish to accomplish done in one day, especially if you work a regular eight hour job. In those cases, you should develop a system where tasks can either be done together, or alternate them from one day to the next. See the following diagram for an example:

Since my wife works a different shift, then of course I want to adjust my schedule accordingly so I can spend the most amount of time with her while she is off. Not everyone has a working spouse that needs different routines to manage. This might not apply to you, but it might be necessary for some, and so I included it here in case you needed it.

The next spreadsheet illustrates taking the above information and placing them into time slots. Don’t get stuck on the idea that this is your permanent schedule. Over time, priorities change, and your schedule should be updated according to what is most important. I suggest evaluating this quarterly to ensure you are getting the most out of your time.

For example, some might not be interested in devoting as much time to audio-books or studying writing craft. Others might not play video games or have a platform to maintain. Writers may need to adjust their schedules more than quarterly to meet their deadlines. Take time to reflect on your goals. Personalize your schedule to what will benefit you the most.

Also, I suggest making a separate routine for weekdays and the weekend. Weekends might give you more or less time, depending on your plans, but they definitely won’t look the same as weekdays. Saturday I leave completely open to spend time with my family. Sunday, I begin my morning around eight and take advantage of the extra time to get more accomplished.

Now comes the difficult part: adhering to the schedule. But, I can hear you wonder, how do I stick to a plan that might change every three months? Start small. Make a schedule that is simpler and easier to manage. Try to place the most important tasks at the same time of day, especially if they are creative in nature. This signals to the mind that, that time is when you write, and it will respond--kind of like Pavlov’s Dog. What’s important is that you come up with a schedule catered to your needs and works best for you. This might mean experimentation on your part.

So, what if something comes up? Say you get stuck in traffic, your cat is vomiting on the carpet, or your water heater decided to bust. One of the good things about blocking your time and assigning a priority is so you can make decisions after these obstacles have been dealt with. Can’t do your writing at 7:30 because friends are coming over unexpectedly? Move it up to the fiction reading or study slot. That way it becomes a living breathing schedule instead of something you feel a slave to.

Will working out a schedule guarantee that you will be published? No. Of course not. But, what it does guarantee is that you have an appointment with that chair and computer. And, sometimes that can make all the difference. Why not just make all blocks writing or editing? You could, if you wished. It's your schedule, after all. However, reading fiction, studying the craft, listening to audio-books, that is your mental preparation for when you do write. I would suggest leaving exercise in your block, somewhere. Without a healthy body, you can’t write at your most optimum. That is advice for myself as well.

The next question you might ask is, when I sit down to write, what goals should I have? I will be posting a blog in the future about writing goals. Right now, I think it's safe to say 2000 words, but if you only get 1000, don’t beat yourself up over it. If you find difficulty writing, refer to my Jitter-Monkey blog post. You might find that some of that advice helps.

Like my method for time management? Have a better one? Tell me about it in the comment section below. If you like this or my other blog posts, consider liking or sharing with your friends.

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