The key to achieving those New Year's writing resolutions—or any writing goals, for that matter—is to make the most of the time you have. Student writer J.J. Hanna explains how to build productive writing habits and improve your time management.
“What can I help you with?” my advisor asked as I sat across from her.
“Can you make time appear out of thin air?”
The answer was yes. As we looked at my schedule, a schedule with a maximum of ten minutes between events, she was able to pull hours out of my breaks by encouraging me to try something new.
This isn’t a new struggle. Most writers never feel like they have enough time. I’ve been blessed to not have to pull an all-nighter… yet. Part of our problem comes from getting distracted by the shiny new projects, the new ideas that sound more fun than the old ideas. This is how we end up with five novels started and none being edited. But this can change, without changing much in our current schedules.
Evaluate Your Priorities
What is the most important thing in your life? What are the commitments you’ve made that you can’t back out of? Figure out where your time is going and then figure out how to tweak your life to make all of your commitments work together. Priorities set the rhythm of your life. What you find to be most important will dictate the choices you make about everything from the food you eat and the entertainment you enjoy to the ways you spend your time. Once you know what you care most about, you can make a plan that keeps your commitments safe while protecting time for your writing.
My schedule was packed from 9:00 in the morning until 8:00 at night, I had hours of reading to do, and I value keeping a healthy sleep schedule. Though my options were limited, I could either write into the night or wake up early to write in the morning.
In the past, I’d always been a night owl. Waking up early was not how I preferred to live my life. But, when I tried to stay up late to finish the work, I found I was always tired. This was not a long-term solution. So I went to my advisor, and she spoke aloud the other option I had that I’d been wanting to avoid: try something new by waking up early.
As it turns out, when it comes to writing, I enjoy the work more when I wake up at 7 a.m. and slowly greet the day with a cup of coffee. I still wouldn’t call myself a morning person, but I did manage to pull three hours out of the day without losing rest.
Stick to the Plan
Having a plan and knowing what I needed to do would get me nowhere if I didn’t follow through. Good intentions don’t get you where you want to go. Good intentions won’t get your book written—only sitting down and writing can do that. Make sure you follow through on your plan.
Utilize 5-Minute Windows
We hear it all the time—smartphones and social media remove hours from our days in the short five minute segments where we pull them out of our pockets. In order to maintain my priorities, I had to limit the things that consumed small amounts of time so I could use those moments for something more productive. For example, those five minutes were much better spent in the pages of a book on writing than on my social media.
Alternatively, you could spend those five minutes writing down as many ideas you can think of for your next book, article, or scene in a pocket-sized notebook or in the notes section of your phone. It only takes a few moments to brainstorm, and the five minutes while you wait for the bus or a meeting to start is as good a time as any.
Automate and Delegate What You Can
When it comes down to it, a simple way to get more time is to work ahead and let robots help run your life. Get a timer for your coffee pot and refill the grounds and water the night before so when you walk into the kitchen in the morning, all you need to do is grab a mug. Spend an hour on a day when you’re less busy scheduling social media posts to build your platform throughout the week. Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr all allow you to schedule posts. By not having to worry about generating content as it happens, your brain is free to think about other things.
Delegate to others the tasks you don’t need to do yourself. Buy a Roomba so you don’t have to spend time vacuuming. Pay the neighbor’s kid to mow your lawn. Pay a friend to pick up your dry cleaning. If you have the funds, you will find that you gain moments every day by delegating or automating tasks that don’t require your personal attention.
Activate Your Travel Time
If you commute to a day job, you have time to listen to writing podcasts. If you ride the bus or the train, you have time to be working on your novel on the ride home. You could call this multitasking if you want to. Exercise and feed your mind. Go home and get work done. Keep up with publishing trends on your way to work. If you can wear headphones so your hands are free, you can continue to work on your craft and do what’s required of you without losing time.
Time is fleeting, and it takes intense focus to wrangle it into a schedule that lets you get your work done most efficiently. So, if the old ways aren’t working for you, you may benefit from trying something new.
J. J. Hanna is a Professional Writing major at Taylor University. In her spare time, she makes YouTube videos and comics, and practices Karate at a local dojo. She began writing in middle school and hasn’t stopped since, going to college with the focus of honing her craft. She can often be found curled up cuddling a cat and reading crime fiction or thrillers.
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