Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Time Management Strategies (for people with no time)

Anybody who knows me well knows that I'm a world-class procrastinator.  If time can be wasted, I'm there.  I'll play every solitaire game on my computer to avoid getting to work on a project I know needs doing. I'll get sucked into a ball game between two teams I don't give a hoot about.  I've even been known to clean out drawers to avoid working on a book that's due before I can turn around twice.

I say all this to establish that when I talk about time management strategies for people who don't manage time well, I'm speaking from experience.

Time management is an important topic for writers in particular because so many of us have to keep working a day job while we try to establish a writing career in what little spare time we have.  I published my first book in 2006.  Since then, I've published twenty-one more books, plus three indie books. I've also written another indie book that will come out this fall and I have four more Harlequin Intrigues in the can, and I'm on chapter two of the next book.  By the end of 2015, I will have finished at least 39 books. That comes to an average of almost four books a year. And I've picked up my pace in the past few years after a slow start.

And did I mention I still work a full-time job outside of writing?

How do I do it?  That's the question I constantly hear from other people, writers and non-writer alike.  How can I possibly find the time to write so many books and work a day job, too?  And while the book nerd in me wishes I could answer, "Because I'm Harry Freakin' Potter," the truth is a lot more mundane. Accomplishing my writing goals come down to three basic concepts:  sacrifice, schedule-keeping and simple steps.


Sacrifice is a hard one.  It's the one nobody really wants to think about, because we want to have it all.  Well, guess what.  Unless you're as rich enough to hire people to take care of all the things your life entails, like laundry, carpool and cooking, you can't have it all. So something's got to give.

For me, one of the bigger sacrifices I've made is time spent watching TV. I know that seems pretty petty, but I love a good TV show.  I used to schedule my nights around the shows I loved, and I loved premiere season when I got to try out new shows to see if I'd love them, too.  For a while, before I was published, I used to excuse my TV addiction as research, since I went through a period of time when I wanted to write screenplays.  But now that my time is so much more limited, I've had to cut my TV viewing down drastically.

TV may not be the time-suck for you.  It may be shopping.  Or going out with friends.  Or spending a lot of time on the computer—something else I've had to cut way back on.  But when you're trying to set and reach goals, something has to give.  So figure out what you're willing to sacrifice and then commit yourself to doing it.  Make time for the work necessary to reach your goals.


I can hear some of your groaning right now.  I'm with you, believe me.  I do not like keeping a schedule.  But the hard truth is, if I don't set a schedule and do my best to keep to it, I don't get things done.  I need that accountability.  I need something written down, things to mark off as finished, or I will fall way behind on my deadlines.

Some people keep a big calendar.  I keep an Excel spreadsheet that outlines my daily writing schedule and spreads out the necessary pages as painlessly as possible over the time period in which I need to finish the manuscript to meet my deadline. I think about things like day of the week (I can write more on weekends), the actual date (holidays when I'm off work from my day job get assigned extra pages), and I even try to schedule my vacation time from the day job in order to correspond with deadlines, so that I can use that time off to get more accomplished.  I'm not a big traveler, so vacation for me means more writing time.  And since I love writing, I don't regret using my time off to do it. 

There's one other thing about the way I keep a writing schedule that helps me be more productive:  I try to walk the line between making a schedule that's not challenging and making one that's too challenging.  I write short books for Harlequin Intrigue, so I know I can write at least four to five books a year comfortably.  That's an average of 2-3 months per book, which is very doable.  More books than that a year would be too stressful.  But fewer books is much less lucrative, and I don't know about y'all, but I'm in this writing thing for more than the love of it. I want to make money at it, too.


That last point, about making a schedule that's challenging but not crazy-making, leads me right into my final point:  any goal worth setting is going to challenge you.  But if you take it in steps, rather than stressing yourself out over the enormity of what you've set out to accomplish, you will find it much easier to meet your goal.

Writing 60,000 words in two months sounds scary, doesn't it?  That's a lot of words and a short period of time, especially if you're working five days a week, 7-8 hours a day for each of those 9-10 weeks.  If I think about the task that way, I become paralyzed by the thought, overwhelmed by how much there is to do in such a short time.

So I don't think about it that way. Building on the schedule-keeping idea, I try to spread out my writing across several days, in small bites when I'm not going to have a lot of time, and bigger bites when I have more time to spare.  Most weekdays, I write 3-5 pages a day.  You can write 3 pages in a lunch hour. I do it every day. I don't write at night, for the most part.  Just my lunch hour and weekends.  That allows me to get to bed early and get plenty of rest, because when you work two jobs, you need your sleep.

What about weekends, when I may write 8 to 10 pages a day?  I break up those writing sessions, too.  Maybe I'll write five pages in the morning and five in the afternoon.  Or maybe I'll write in sprints.  On Twitter, my favorite social media outlet, writers often challenge each other to 1-hour writing sprints with the hash tag #1k1hr.  Not everybody can write 1,000 words in an hour.  But you can write 300. Or 500.  And if you can manage to get 1,000 or more words written in an hour, guess what?  That can add up to 5-7 pages of manuscript.  Two or three #1k1hr sprints per weekend day, and you've written a couple of chapters before you know it.

I don't know how many times I've said, "If only I had the time, I'd..."  I said it a lot when I was still a struggling writer, trying to figure out how to finish a book, never mind get published.  It took a while, but once I figured out the only way I'd ever have time was to make time, that's when my career started to take off for me. 

What's the thing you'd do if you had more time?  And what strategies do you have to give yourself the time you need to meet your goal?


bn100 said...

would read more books

bn100candg at hotmail dot com

Louisa Cornell said...

I would write more quickly and write more books! This is a fabulous post, Paula, and something I definitely needed to read! Thank you!

Shadow said...

Ha! Perfect post for me! lol Im definitely in that category too! Im constantly putting things off. I think id read more books, spend more time with my family, clean out my emails, etc. :) Oh! And finish a blanket ive been working on for the last 6 months. lol Thank you! Great post! I really enjoyed it!

Paula said...

bn100, I can agree with that! Reading more books is one of my constant goals. I find now that I put Nook for Android on my phone, I do a lot more reading than I used to.

Paula said...

Louisa, I hope it helps. Once I figured out how to break things down into simple steps, and stick to a schedule, I was able to produce so much more.

Paula said...

Glad you liked it, Shadow! You make blankets? I wish I were crafty like that. I don't seem to have the patience for hand-work, though. :(