Time management step 3: Making the most of the time you have
525,600 minutes. A fixed amount of time each of us is given to accomplish all that we can in a given year. Time is unstoppable. Time is inevitable. But time is yours. So it’s important to make the most of it.
So far in this series, we have explored ways to prioritize activities and to align the things we choose to do with our time with the goals we have for our lives. In this article, we will examine ways to make minor adjustments to get even more out of the scarce amount of time available while maintaining a balance to life that improves efficiency and increases satisfaction with our writing practices.
Start with a plan
In the second article of this series, we discussed the significance of defining long-term goals and building productive habits to support the accomplishment of those goals. Without a plan, time that could be spent producing is wasted dreaming, worrying, or wondering what direction to head. Spend the time in advance creating a plan based on a defined goal, and then simply work the plan.
Whether it’s family, friends, phone calls, email, social media, or something else entirely, everyone has distractions in life. Although some are unavoidable, most can be eliminated. In order to take full advantage of the time you plan to write, you must do whatever possible to eliminate the distractions that consume you and your time.
Our physical environments are full of distractions. Perhaps the distraction is the laundry piling up that “really needs to be cleaned” or the pile of bills on the desk or an endless flow of email messages pushing through the mobile device chiming the arrival of each. Whatever distractions exist in the environment need to be removed. Or you need to find a getaway that removes you from the distractions. In other words, create a writing space. Identify a desk that is clear of other work or responsibilities and allows you to focus on the creative process at hand.
By creating a writing space, you may consequently reduce or eliminate personal distractions such as family, friends, social media, and more by way of a door, a silenced phone, and more, but that’s not always enough. To truly eliminate personal distractions, you need to value the time you need with yourself and your writing. If it helps, schedule time with yourself. Put it in the calendar in the same way you would schedule lunch with a friend – and then don’t stand yourself up. Once you are in that meeting, give your date the attention they deserve. Stay focused on the time you’ve committed, and when you’re writing, write.
Hold yourself accountable
In the next article in this series, we’ll discuss ways to deal with setbacks, but it’s important to hold yourself accountable to the schedule you set. If you’ve been following this series, you’ve already made efforts to cut the costly activities and strategically plan for habits and routines that move you in the direction of your long-term goals. When you get out of routine or cancel on yourself for scheduled activities, recognize those discretions and make amends. Certainly if you stood up your best friend for lunch, an apology would be in order. Make one to yourself. Then accept it and improve.
Once you find a more consistent practice to the new habits you implement, begin to look for places in your schedule where you can take advantage of moments rather than events. The habits are based on consistent events that are allocated some amount of time worthy of placing on a calendar. But these habits and the rest of life’s events are rarely without moments of downtime.
Most experts debunk the myth of multitasking claiming that, at most, we can perform a relatively automated task while attempting to perform anything more complex, but if we try to engage in two or more complex thought processes simultaneously, performance decreases. In order to “double up” and write in moments, we need to identify the places where you can walk and chew gum at the same time. One common suggestion for accomplishing this as writers is to carry a notebook with you so you can write whenever you can, especially at those unplanned downtimes in the waiting room or the checkout line.
Don’t forget to enjoy life
Taking advantage of downtime doesn’t always mean spending it writing. A more productive approach to downtime is to spend it doing something that you enjoy. Plan events into the schedule with friends, family, or even alone, that are rewarding and personally satisfying and enjoyable. For even greater motivation, consider tying these events to short-term writing goals. Might I suggest keeping a pint of ice cream in the freezer that can only be opened after the next ten pages have been written? The greater the accomplishment, the greater the reward, but find a balance that works for you and keeps you enjoying the results of your efforts.
So far in this series, we have identified ways to find and repurpose time in our schedules, to associate events with habits that propel us toward long-term accomplishments, and to make the most of the time we have. In the next article, Time Management: Dealing with setbacks, we explore ways to address, and recover from, setbacks that will occur along the way.