Writers: we have this tendency to be perpetually short on time.
Do any of these describe you?
- Writer + Stay-at-home parent (a full-time job)
- Writer + Teacher (another full-time job!)
- Writer + Full-time wage-earner (elsewhere)
- Writer + Writer—that is, you have a second (bill-paying) writing career
- Writer + Caregiver (okay, all of these “second jobs” can be full time)
- Writer + Full-time volunteer
- Writer + _____________ (I’m sure there are other possibilities I haven’t mentioned, so please fill in the blank!)
I’m not sure whether it’s because we’re ADD, eternally optimistic, passionate about many topics, or simply because writing doesn’t always pay the best, but I don’t think I know a single writer who isn’t juggling more than one full-time endeavor.
This is on my mind because—you guessed it—I have so many terrific projects I want to write that I’m feeling the pain of reality. That is, that there are only 24 hours in a day and I have to sleep during a few of them.
Luckily, over the years of balancing fun work (writing!) with not-so-fun work (cleaning the bathroom), I’ve accumulated some time-saving tricks.
- Lower standards. I debated whether to include this one, because it’s kinda embarrassing.* But it’s also true. One of the greatest gifts I’ve given myself is the permission to be imperfect. The truth is that my family doesn’t care whether I serve macaroni & cheese once in a while. Neither do they care if the landscaping and decorating are perfect. If we each get 24 hours, I’ve decided to spend mine on the things I find most important—and writing ranks higher than housework.
- Pressure cooker. If you cook your own meals, consider investing in one of these wonder-devices. I finally broke down and bought a pressure cooker a little over a year ago, and have been using it nonstop ever since. It lets me create home-cooked dinners in less than half an hour and I only have one pot to clean afterward…satisfying both my desire to provide healthy victuals for the family and my desire to spend less time in the kitchen.
- Organization. As someone who isn’t naturally organized, this one’s a struggle for me—but if I *don’t* devote some time to organizing each week, I pay back the time five-fold later. Specifics include a go-to list of easy meals I keep on the refrig (for those days when I don’t know what to cook), a quickie meal plan for each week (to avoid those last-minute ingredient pit stops), and a weekly house meeting with my sweetheart-in-residence to make sure everything that’s *supposed* to be on my list actually *is* on my list.
- Google calendar. As my kids get older, I find it more and more difficult to track everyone’s activities. I set up a family calendar on Google, accessible from any computer with internet—and the result was even better than anticipated. I used to be in charge of updating calendars with activities, rehearsals, and so on; now, each person posts his or her own information. I used to spend time tracking down important details for each event; now, all info is collected in a single place. Plus the calendar eliminates all those “but you never told me that….” conversations!
- Delegation. If you take a hard look at where your time goes each day, you might discover that you’re doing work other people can—and perhaps should?—help with. One of my most effective time-savers is a list of household chores posted on the refrigerator coupled with a daily, 15 minute family “chore time.” Everyone pitches in, marking off completed tasks. It costs me five minutes to post the chart each week. It saves me two hours in chores that I’m no longer doing.
- The word “no”. You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating: we all get the same 24 hours, so be conscious of how you choose to use them. Although I don’t advocate being a hermit/writer (except, perhaps, for limited periods of time), avoid the other extreme as well. It’s easy to think of writing as self-indulgent, not “real” work, unimportant; but if you were writing for a boss other than yourself, would you let every request interrupt your work? Keep the word “no” in your writers’ toolbox. It comes in handy.
- Distraction-free writing zone. It’s so easy to find things to distract me from writing…getting coffee, checking email, hopping onto Twitter…I’ve found it a huge time-saver to limit my time online to a few distinct time slots. There are plenty of non-Internet distractions, too: remove them from your vicinity to reclaim disappearing time.
- Limit research. This is really a sub-category of a distraction-free writing zone—but some of us are really, really, really good at pretending our distraction of the day is actually work. Research is great—it can help you flesh out setting, build realistic characters, analyze markets, and more—but make sure not to overdo it. I give myself research limits to curb my tendency to follow my curiosity down every rabbit hole.
- Deadlines. When I’m on a deadline, the article that might take me three days to write gets compressed into an afternoon; I’ve found that my writing tasks tend to expand to fill the available time. Knowing this, I’ve starting imposing deadlines on myself—a bit of self-deception that ramps up my productivity.
- Exercise (& other important self-care crap). You know that old saying? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? It’s true. When I exercise, I have more energy for the rest of the day. When I take breaks, I avoid burnout. Just sayin’.
What strategies do you use to create more time to write? Please share!
*Plus, I believe that nothing tells your family “I love you” like a clean toilet to embrace when that nasty stomach bug makes its rounds.