I took a peek at the responses to our ongoing survey to find out what writers’ greatest frustrations are – and 23 percent of responses have to do with time – either finding it or managing it. For some, the challenge is finding time to write at all. For others, it’s being so busy with client work that their wanna-do projects – like writing that novel or adding a new area of expertise – keep getting shunted aside until later. But later never seems to arrive, so Chapter One never gets written.
If you find yourself falling into either of these time frustrations, try a few of the following remedies –
1. Set up auto-reply systems.
Use a telephone answering machine or voice mail app during your “business hours” to leave the following message:
“I am hard at work on a story right now, and cannot be reached until 1:00. Please call back then, or leave your name, number and message, and I’ll get back to you this afternoon.”
Set up a similar autoresponder in your email. Some email programs call them vacation responders. Not sure how to set yours up? Go to Google.com and search for “set up out of office reply in email” (without the quotes and replace email with the name of your email provider, such as Outlook 2013, Thunderbird, Gmail, iPhone, Yahoo mail, and so on.
Example: Gmail’s instructions are here — and you can limit who can see your vacation response, as explained on that page. Other services may offer similar options.
Caution: Read through the instructions to be sure the “begin” and “end” steps can quickly be implemented. You might give it a trial run during a 90-minute period over a weekend when you aren’t expecting much business-related email – just to be sure it works smoothly and you are satisfied with your auto-message.
2. Have a meeting of the minds with the significant people in your life.
Are continual non-emergency interruptions from family members your problem? Hold a meeting with your kids, and lay down the ground rules: in order to continue writing at home where you can take care of their emergencies, you need interruption-free time. For every 60 minutes they let you work in peace, you will give them 15 minutes of undivided attention. Suggest they save up those 15-minute periods until there is enough time to go to a movie or to the park or on a bike ride. Work out similar “deals” with adult family members if necessary.
3. Group or consolidate similar tasks.
Instead of making phone calls sporadically throughout the day (and while you’re “trying” to write), group and make outgoing phone calls at specific times each day. Frequent callers can also be informed that the best time to reach you is during certain hours.
Similarly, instead of checking email repeatedly and sporadically, set an alarm to check your email at the next scheduled time, and another alarm when your “email time” is up.
By moving such tasks away from your writing time block, you will be able to concentrate all your attention and effort on your writing project — especially helpful if you struggle to find time to write, so need to be as productive as possible when you do.
4. Tackle tough jobs first.
Start your day with the important work when your energy level is high, and work your way down your list of priorities. If time is available at the end of the day, the low priority items can be completed. And for your writing time, your “day” may start in the evening after the kids are in bed. Same principle – start by doing something that will move your writing project further ahead, then as you begin to tire, you can move to some of those “should-dos.”
5. Delegate and develop others.
There are certain chores (both within your writing business and within the home) that would be more effectively hired out or delegated. If you’re capable of earning even $25 an hour for your writing time, and you’re performing a task you could pay someone else $10 an hour to do, you’re not delegating effectively. It’s a case of being penny wise and dollar foolish. Delegate the task or chore, then use that freed-up time to write more.
6. Avoid cluttered desk syndrome.
If your desk is piled with papers and “stuff,” and you waste time looking for buried items, clear your desk of everything except items relevant to the story you intend to write today.
Similarly, clear your computer desktop of icons. File or trash them, then turn off desktop icons so you’ve now got a clutter-free desktop. (In Windows, you do this by right-clicking on desktop, then select View, then deselect “Show desktop icons.” — When you’re ready to bring back the icons, simply re-select “Show desktop icons.”)
Close unnecessary windows on the computer (especially solitaire or minesweeper or whatever your current distracter is). Now choose a nice, serene desktop picture.
You might also try using headphones if you have a problem with the ambient noise in your office area or coming in through the windows.
Now, with distractions minimized, focus on your writing task for the day. Don’t check email, don’t work on five projects at once, don’t check your Twitter or Facebook feeds. Work on that one task, and work on it with concentrated focus until you are done or your time slot is up.
Removing distractions from your work space so you can really focus on one task at a time will greatly increase your productivity – letting you accomplish in a short time period what otherwise might take you up to twice as long.
7. Trim your BIG project down to bite-sized chunks.
You say your book project is too daunting? Seems like it will take forever? Just break it up into smaller, more manageable tasks, and list each one separately on your daily “writing time” to-do list. Then knock them out in order, one at a time.
Example: If your big project is a nonfiction book, you won’t get it done in a day. So instead of putting “write book” as your writing task for the day, break it up into the individual tasks required – such as:
• Research statistics for xyz issue
• Track down experts to interview about xyz in chapter 6
• Write first draft for chapter 7
Make sense? Each of these is a doable task that takes you toward your completed book. They’re in the right order so your progress is clear, and as you cross them off your list, you can visually see how much closer you are to finishing the project.
What if your task isn’t so easy to break into smaller ordered steps? Let’s say “Write a novel” is your big project. Clearly this is not something you can do in a day, plus it’s not so easy to figure out Step 1, Step 2, and so on.
So erase “Write a novel,” and in its place put “Write 500 words of novel” instead. Five hundred words is doable. You don’t think so? OK, change it to “Focus on novel for 30 minutes.” Same project. Just a smaller, more doable chunk.
Even if you only write down a few character ideas, the basic plot overview, or get a few paragraphs done, you’ve made progress. You’ve started it. Or you’re continuing to work on it. You’re being productive. Rinse and repeat until novel complete!
8. Go offline.
The Internet is the biggest distraction ever invented – worse than television, because there are no programmed commercial breaks. It can keep you occupied – distracted and unproductive – for hours on end.
So whenever possible during your writing time, disconnect yourself from your Internet connection. Work offline as often as possible, and for as long as possible. If the Internet is integral to your project (such as when researching), allocate a specific time period for Internet research. Set an alarm to conduct your Web research, and another alarm when time is up.
When the timer goes off, unplug again until the next scheduled time. Only let yourself check your social media pages or surf the Web when you’ve gotten a certain amount done on your writing project. You’ll be amazed at how much work you’ll get done.
9. Use the Internet – to find an Accountability Buddy.
When you commit to something and you’re the only one who knows about it, and then you miss a deadline or even fail to start, it’s easy to let yourself off the hook.
“Well, I didn’t feel so good yesterday,” you tell yourself, “so I wasn’t able to work on the novel. And the kids had school projects I needed to help them with. And of course, when my critigue group friends called and invited me out to lunch on Tuesday, I had no way to know that would take all afternoon. It’s just been one of those weeks.”
“It’s OK,” yourself answers you. “You’ll do better tomorrow. Don’t worry about it.”
But when you commit to another person that you’re going to do something, you’re a lot less likely to drop the ball. Especially when that other person is counting on you.
If your boss is expecting that report by Friday morning, you make sure it’s done Thursday afternoon, don’t you?
If your biggest client is expecting her media kit copy by the end of the month, you don’t miss that deadline, do you?
If there’s no boss or big client to please, create the same situation with a peer. Tell your spouse, a sister, or a friend what you have committed to, and request that they ask you about it every day.
Better yet, find someone who also needs some accountability, and commit to each other to hold one another accountable.
You can accomplish the same thing with people you’ve never even met, if you announce publicly what your intentions are. Post what you’re doing on a writer’s forum or your social media feed. Include your daily writing goals, milestones and their due dates, and so on.
Include a reward you’ll give yourself when you stick to it, and a penalty you’ll submit to if you fail. Then post your results every day. If you’ve engaged enough interested people, they will happily encourage you to do your best.
Good accountability buddies cheer for your successes and offer some good natured teasing for your failures. They’ll rarely accept your excuses or let you slide.
10. Don’t break the chain.
Sometimes you can’t get to your writing project at the same time every day. But if you commit to doing it every day regardless of the time, you’ll still come out ahead.
Jerry Seinfeld once told an aspiring comic his secret to success. He had committed to writing one joke every single day when he was starting out as a comedian.
He put a big calendar on his wall showing every day of the year. At the top he put, “Write a Joke.” Then he would put an X through the day after he had written a joke.
The calendar was where he had to look at it every day. He wouldn’t go to bed until there was an X on the calendar for that day.
As the X’s added up, they started to form a chain. “It’s simple,” Seinfeld said. “Don’t break the chain.”
The calendar served as a constant reminder of his commitment. The X’s acted as visual reinforcement of his progress. Not breaking the chain became more than just a challenge. It became an obsession.
Find a full year calendar at your local office supply store. Or print one out from Free Printables:
Put it where you’ll see it every day. Name your current writing project at the top. Use a big red marker and start putting X’s on it.
And don’t break the chain.