This Writing Life – Time Management

Time Management sounds like a great idea, and it is, but I’ve discovered there’s another powerful force at play, which must be operating for Time Management to work.

In the beginning of April I checked my Goals for the year and was disappointed. Despite my word count being down by a couple of hundred each week, I still did not have anything substantial to show. By mid-April, all I had was a couple of unfinished short stories, three first chapters for my current work-in-progress, plenty of notes for the ideas folder and a monumental mess of papers to be filed from many on-line courses. This was not on the plan for April. I was way off track with my goals and could not work out a way to pull it back.

FACT: There’s only 24 hours in a day.

FACT: I am always running out of time.

FACT: I spend more time preparing to work than doing any work.

It had to stop.

I live by my yearly, monthly and weekly goals. I love nothing better than to sit down and write up “The Plan” and, I’m an expert. On January 2 of any given year, my yearly goals always look good – maybe a tad over ambitious, but achievable, if I put the time in and work on them. This I try to do – try being the operative word. I’m always trying, but not achieving what I know to be achievable. So, after a couple of frustrating weeks, I conclude –

FACT: It’s not happening.

FACT: I lose time by not committing.

FACT: I need to resolve to commit.

How? I decided to check out a few time management websites. Another afternoon was lost googling and checking out these websites. There are plenty about, all giving the same advice and I knew I didn’t need them. Something else was at play here. Each day I showed up at my desk at the appointed time, with my current story, but still nothing substantial to show. I felt as though I was pottering on the sidelines, and still not playing in the main game – unless it excited me.

When I thought about it, a few things were constant. I kept one eye on the clock and as soon as the appointed hour was up, I moved onto the next item on the list. It worked well, I was in a routine, on a roll of some sort, but still not happy with the finished product. Everything I worked on was ‘touched up’, added to, or re-edited over and over. The real business of writing, of moving the story forward came in small portions, with nothing substantial happening, apart from a few pages each week.

Then an uncomfortable and hidden truth struck me.

FACT: I show up physically.

FACT: My mind is all over the place.

FACT: I need to concentrate.

The process of learning to concentrate is not easy. I have found some simple techniques which work. Training my brain is a constant work-in-progress, and will be so, until concentrating becomes a habit. Now:

  • I tell my mind another five minutes when things get difficult. I find this gets me over a difficult patch;
  • When my mind starts to wander I do two things: write down the issue and deal with it later; or tell my mind to STOP and get back to work;
  • When I can’t get past a difficult issue and want to see it out – I let my eyes wander around the room, out the window and then re-focus on the page and I see it with new eyes – it works!
  • Bribery – not when all else fails, but when something must be finished I promise myself, at the end of that session, a treat.

I’ve learned that there is more to time management than turning up and ticking off the items on the ‘to-do’ list. It takes effort to keep my mind focused on one page at a time. I now focus one page at a time and am no longer looking at the bigger picture of my story – I have that slotted for later in the day. Right now, I’m concentrating on the matter at hand, at this page, on this blog and am fully engaged.

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6 thoughts on “This Writing Life – Time Management

  1. Very True, Linda. We are all exceptionally good at wasting time and making up lists and plans to manage our time better. There is only one simple answer. Ignore everything else, sit down and write, write, write. If only.

  2. Oooh, Linda, are you my clone? Some great advice here as well as some home truths for myself too. I like what you have said…look at the problem / writing at hand, that one page & stop worrying / thinking about the bigger picture. Thankyou for this very timely and effective post.

  3. This is so true Linda. It’s a real struggle to find the right balance of setting time aside to work on your writing and then making it productive when you do. You’ve got some great ideas. Thanks for sharing with us.

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