We all have the same number of hours in the day. What we do with those hours can make the difference between getting our books written and only thinking about writing, as Katie Forrest explores in today's blog post.
At some point, you’ve probably heard the phrase time management or have wondered where all of the hours of your week have gone, and wished for more.
Time management isn’t the creation of additional hours (sadly!), but the act of maximizing how efficient you are with the time you have available.
It’s been a management buzzword for decades, which has often led to a sense that time management isn’t something that us creatives should worry about.
And yet, we’re creating whole worlds from our imaginations, often while also juggling a day job, children or other commitments. I’d say we need to understand time management as much as anyone else!
How To Get Started
When you’re already feeling stretched, understanding how to better manage your time can sound like one more thing you just don’t have time for. It can feel overwhelming and confusing – you may like the idea, but be unsure where to begin.
This post is designed to guide you, step-by-step, through beginning your time management journey.
Where Are You Now?
As with any other journey, you can’t map out your route without knowing your start point. The first thing you need to know in order to manage your time more effectively, is what your current reality is.
There are two ways of doing this. You can ask yourself some important questions:
- Where is your time being spent currently?
- In what areas are you most efficient?
- What distractions do you need to eliminate?
- When you’re working on your goals, how focused are you?
- What are your most productive times of day?
While these questions are valuable, they also rely on your memory and your understanding of your current time management. For many people, asking these questions alone won’t provide the full story.
That’s why I recommend that people keep a simple time log for a period of at least one week. The time log, split into 15-minute segments, should be filled in as often through the day as possible and should record, in sufficient detail, what you did with that time.
For example, filling in the slots from 9 am-5 pm with one word – ‘work’ – may be true but doesn’t provide much insight. Filling in each 15-minute slot with fuller descriptions can provide you a wealth of information to learn from.
Typical workday activities might include:
- Attended a meeting
- Struggled to concentrate so chatted to colleagues or surfed social media sites
- Checked emails (this one comes up a lot more often than people realize)
- Wrote a report
At the end of the week, you’ll have a full and accurate log of how you currently manage your time, and you can combine that with the questions above to build a strong understanding of where you’re at right now.
Where Are You Headed?
Next is working out your destination, and you can choose any particular goal or milestone that you have for your writing career. For lots of creatives, the destination is to become a full-time author. For those starting out, it may be to finish their first novel.
If you don’t have a milestone that comes to mind immediately, ask yourself what you want to achieve in the next six or twelve months. Do you want to publish two books, increase your income by a set amount, collaborate on a new project, etc?
This isn’t your final destination, of course, but when you’re working on improving your time management, you need to know what you’re aiming for.
If your goal is to finally finish your first novel, the story that has haunted you since you were a teenager and which has been in various draft stages for the last ten years, your time management will look very different to a person who has a huge backlist and is making the shift to becoming a small publisher themselves.
Time Management Tips
There’s no one-size-fits-all advice sheet for time management, but a good starting point is to review whether your current activity is what’s needed for you to achieve the milestone you’ve set.
Using the example of the first-time author who wants to finish their debut novel, the priority for this person will be to carve out as much writing time as possible.
That’s the big picture level of time management, but how about the specifics? How about tactics, and hacks?
The honest answer is that your specifics will be unique to your goals and your circumstances, but there are certainly some ideas I can share.
Take the ones that work for you, tweak any that you can, and discard the rest.
1. Get your words down first
This is the most common piece of time management advice I give writers who I work with. Make writing the first thing you do when you get up.
Having your words down on paper before the rest of the world starts making demands of you is a hugely powerful feeling.
2. Use your day job downtime
Most people are not working flat out during their time at the day job. They’re having sneaky Facebook breaks or wasting time on idle gossip with coworkers.
And, here’s the thing – your boss knows this. As long as your boss hasn’t raised concerns about your productivity levels of the amount of time you’re zoning out while on the clock, plan your downtime strategically and use it as pockets of time to manage your social media, do research, write your email newsletter, and more.
3. Batch similar activities
Take advantage of the momentum you’ll build when you’re working on a particular activity by doing more of it in one go.
You can record multiple podcast episodes on the same day, schedule a whole month’s social media, map out content topics for the year, or line up several email swaps or promotions for the coming months.
4. Say no
In order to say yes to the goals you want to achieve, you’ll probably have to start saying no to other things. It’s ok. And remember, as Oprah says, no is a complete sentence.
What are you currently doing that someone else could do? And remember, time saved in your personal life can create time for your writing, so this includes making sure that the people you share a home with are doing their fair share of the household management jobs.
6. Accept your limitations
There will be parts of your writing business that aren’t within your skill sets. Personally, I wouldn’t know where to start with designing covers. Maybe you can do that but don’t understand how to format your books.
If there’s something you are trying to do, only to spend a disproportionate amount of time for a subpar result, accept that from a time management point of view, that doesn’t make sense. Can you pay someone else to do it? If not, can you trade skills or services, or barter somehow?
7. Limit distractions
You’ll never remove distractions completely, even if you sell up and move to a remote Scottish island. But you can limit them.
First, identify them. Which distractions are you particularly affected by? Is it your family, the internet, group messages? How can you reduce them?
8. Change your smartphone notification settings
Two-thirds of people never change the notification settings on their smartphone, meaning they’re pulled out of focus constantly by updates from dozens of apps all day long.
If this is you, head into your settings and turn off any notifications that aren’t urgent. As an example, I only have push notifications for text messages, Whatsapp messages, and calls.
9. Check your email less
You probably check email more than you have to. If you feel particularly tied to your inbox because you have to be contactable for clients or colleagues, try setting an autoreply along the lines of:
“I check email twice a day, at 10 am and 3 pm. If your email is urgent and cannot wait until then, please call me on _________”
In my experience, the people who follow up an email with a call do it when you take more than five minutes to reply, so this autoreply won’t increase the calls you receive by much.
Hopefully, this article will have given you some pointers to begin reviewing your current time management and improving it.
What are your favorite ways to manage your time and make the most of it so that you can further your writing career? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Katie Forrest is the author of Time Management for Writers. You can download her 7 day time log at katieforrest.com/timelog and connect with her in her Facebook group, Time Management for Writers by Katie Forrest
She is an indie author, time management geek, director of a boutique law firm and mom to a daughter with complex additional needs. She loves reading, listening to the rain and is quite obsessed with cacti.
[Note from Joanna: For more on this subject, check out my book, Productivity for Authors.]