Time Management

It’s summer vacation and you have all the time in the world.  Or you’ve just retired.  Ditto.  Or the kids will be going to camp (or back to school).  Ditto.

Time: Not Waiting in the Wings

I’m here to share a dark and evil secret.

There is no such thing as “All the time in the world.”  As soon as those around you perceive you as “free,” they’re going to find uses for your “spare” time.   Forget about that novel you were going to finish or short story you were going to start or comic you were going to draw.

A couple of weeks ago, a writer friend of mine, recently retired from teaching full-time at UNM, asked if we could meet up.  She wanted to consult me regarding  how I managed my time and remained a productive writer.

I agreed to meet with her.  However, in a weird way, my agreement also contained my first answer to her question.  I was already booked for that week.  And the week after, I was taking care of my friend’s cats, so I wasn’t available.  And the week after that (that’s last week), my first free day was Thursday.

Wait!  Haven’t I said I’m self-employed?  Doesn’t that mean I don’t have anyone to answer to?  Deadlines are flexible.  Haven’t famous writers who shall remain nameless proven that?  And what if – like my recently retired friend – you don’t have any deadline that’s not self-imposed?  How can you possibly be “booked”?

Well, the difference is how you view being self-employed.

For me, being self-employed means I have the toughest boss there is.  My boss insists that the majority of my work day is spent doing something related to my job.  Writing new material is crucial, but there are additional writing-related activities like social media (such as this WW I’m writing right now), proofreading, editing, exploring markets, and various tasks related to getting my backlist (and some original fiction) self-published.

My boss does not accept “I’ll get around to it, I guess, but I need to read just one more chapter in this great novel” as an excuse.  Or, “I’m tired.  I’ll just play this video game for a while.”  Unreasonable?  Well,  no.  If I had a “real” boss, I can’t imagine that those would be considered acceptable excuses.

My number one time management tool is limiting my extracurricular activities to one per day.  That means if I know I’m taking a cat to the vet, I don’t schedule having lunch with a friend.  If I’ve scheduled a phone date with someone, I don’t also plan to go out and run a bunch of errands.  I belong to exactly one club, and that club meets once a month.

Remember the phone dates?  That’s another time management tool.  Several of my closest friends live out of state.  We schedule times to talk, just as we would set aside time if we were going to meet for lunch.   Furthermore, phone dates often double as chore time for me, because I can talk on a headset and take care of filing or chopping up veggies for dinner or other mindless tasks.

When I was taking care of my friend’s cats, that ate my free time for an entire week.  That was even with my taking work over to his house so that I could proofread while giving Alfie and Dexter the reassurance that there were humans available to cuddle them.

My newly–retired friend was surprised at how fiercely I protect my time.  She wanted to know how much of that time was spent actually writing.  I couldn’t give her a clear answer.  Either I write a couple of hours a day five days a week, or I write twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  The latter is actually closer to the truth.  I’ve fussed over a section of a story for hours, only to have the ideas come clear as I’m getting ready for bed.

What’s important is that I have time to think, time to muse, time to slide the bits around until everything tumbles so perfectly into place that it seems incredible I didn’t see how the story was developing from the first.

Does the level to which I preserve my time sound draconian?  It wouldn’t if I had a “real” job, and was at someone else’s beck and call nine to five, Monday to Friday.  Well, guess what?  I do have a real job.  Accepting that, and accepting my right to manage my work day to make sure that job gets done is the first and most important time management tool I know.

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3 Responses to “Time Management”

  1. Paul Says:

    This perspective is very helpful.

  2. fmrichter Says:

    As a writer with a 9 to 5, I find myself having to protect my time as well. I can definitely sympathize with people telling you that you should spend your time otherwise

    • janelindskold Says:

      I started making writing my “second job” when I finished my dissertation, so for the first six years of my writing career I fit writing in to the time I had to spare when teaching college — sometimes five courses, five preps. And it was all new to me, so unlike my colleagues who could pull out and update a syllabus and reading list, I had to make it all up from scratch.

      I definitely had to protect my writing time then,and that prepared me well for now.

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