Every job and teaching position I’ve held has had one common denominator: when it comes to evaluation and assessment, my superiors all said the same thing: Elisa needs to improve time management skills.
Don’t think I haven’t tried over the years. I’ve kept fancy datebooks and planners. Used alarm clocks. Read books on the subject. I have success for a week or two, and then everything falls apart. I like to use my Italian heritage as an excuse—we’re stereotypically poor planners and organizers. But regardless of the cause, it’s something I’ve simply come to accept about myself.
That doesn’t mean I don’t want to keep trying to improve, however.
It’s been even more of a challenge since becoming a full-time novelist. Never one for a traditional nine-to-five schedule, I don’t keep “regular” hours, meaning sometimes I put in a few hours of writing at night, and sometimes I take weekdays off and work through the weekend. It’s especially easy to succumb to distractions from people who either don’t realize or who take advantage of the fact that just because you’re home doesn’t mean you’re not busy working. And I confess that I like to schedule certain appointments and socializing during prime work hours because it’s simply more pleasant and convenient.
In the quest for better time management, I’ve come to accept some things along the way. One is that multitasking is overrated. If you Google the subject, you’ll find that the research agrees with this. The other is that less is more. I no longer attempt to check off all twenty-four items on my to-do list. Rather, I find the most important tasks and do my best to complete them. Usually, this is no more than one or two tasks per day.
But sometimes even completing those two tasks is a challenge when I’m faced with distractions, family responsibilities, and migraines.
Of those things, the one that’s most within my power to change is distractions. So I took a step last week and kept a time journal.
How? The same way you might keep a food or spending journal. I made just about every minute of the day accountable—mealtimes, showering and dressing, running errands, and—the one almost everyone doesn’t want to admit to—time spent using my phone for Facebook, Twitter, texting, etc.
I kept this journal for one week, and what I discovered was eye-opening:
In short, I spent more time on social media and/or email than I did writing.
On one hand, I can make a case for this. For instance, last week I ran a special promotion for Duran Duran Appreciation Day and my memoir, Friends of Mine, that required me to interact quite a bit on social media. Thus, on August 10, social media was my job and my priority, and I’d planned accordingly. Also, as a novelist, part of my job requires marketing and promotion, and that involves social media and email campaigns. Creating graphics, drafting and revising emails or media posts, and interaction (I like to follow up and connect with readers) all falls under that umbrella and can be time-consuming.
But, as I learned the hard way earlier this year, if I spend all my time on social media (even if it’s directed) and little to no time on writing, then I’ll have nothing to market or promote. What I had realized was that writing always needs to come first.
And yet, when it comes to the clock, I still haven’t made it the priority it needs to be.
The time journal is, I hope, the first step toward my making changes. Here’s what I think needs to happen:
1. Abandon my phone during meals
(Especially when my husband and I are together). Doing that alone would free up 10-20 minutes per day. Think that’s not a lot? Set a timer for twenty minutes, write non-stop, and see what your word count is at the end!
2. Check emails after the first task is completed or after lunch
I already failed this one yesterday because my first task involved an email. Once again I allowed myself to get sucked into my inbox rather than wait until I either finished my first task or my lunch. Not only that, but I want to allot myself a limited amount of time to respond to email. I think up to one hour is reasonable. That means no checking the inbox after that hour is up until the second task is complete.
This is a concept I learned after reading The ONE Thing. I have yet to make it a habit, but when I time-block—two hours uninterrupted (that means door closed, phone off, and no internet access) goes a long way. For example, I can get up to 3,000 words written in a manuscript when I time-block those two hours. If I could schedule two 2-hour time blocks per workday, imagine the possibilities! If I devote both to writing, that’s up to 6,000 words. If I devote one to writing and the other to marketing, website maintenance, email campaigns, etc., then I still come out ahead.
Finally, the most difficult change I’ve had to make is:
4. Get out of bed earlier
Those who know me well know I am not a morning person (my husband, on the other hand, is quite chipper at the crack of dawn; it makes for a lot of cursing on my side of the bed). Last week my husband and I recommitted to going to the gym. I knew that if we did, then I wouldn’t be able to stay in bed until 8:00, which was my happy rise-and-shine time. I considered how important exercising was to us, and made that commitment. I still curse and complain in the morning, but seeing how exercising gives me the energy I need for the rest of my day, it’s worth losing the extra minutes of comfort in bed, and it’s prompted me to power down and go to bed earlier.
And that’s really what you need to ask yourself when it comes to your writing goals:
How important is this to me?
The ONE Thing says any action or behavior change requires 66 consecutive days of practice before it becomes a habit. I have yet to achieve this, but I’ve made it my new goal. How important is it to me? Very.
So, if you think you can’t find or don’t have the time to write, think again! Start by keep a time journal for one week–in fact, make it this week’s Writer’s Habit Activity. Log everything, from minutes spent checking your phone, checking email, social media, running errands, rise and sleep times, meals, and work-related tasks. . I’ll bet you’ll be surprised at what you find.