Writers: how to be smarter with your time

Reading time: Less than 2 minutes

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a TED talk about how to be smarter with your time….

As the end of 2020 nears and when thoughts of New Year’s resolutions inevitably start to emerge, it’s probably a good idea to consider how you’re spending your time.

Many of the writers I work with frequently tell me that they just “don’t have the time” to write.

Ashley Whillans, (pictured above), an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, and a leading figure in time and happiness research, has some thoughtful suggestions that can help all of us become smarter with our time.

The big challenge, she suggests in a 12-minute TED talk on the subject, is that most people fall into a series of six time traps. Here’s how she summarizes them:

  1. Technology interruptions break our hours into confetti: The concept of “time confetti” is a powerful one. Sure it’s going to take you only 30 seconds to respond to that simple email but the sheer volume of such tasks tends to fragment both our working time and our leisure time. If your time has been shredded into confetti, you will never believe you have enough time to write a book.
  2. We focus too much on money: And money does not buy happiness. If anything, once people make a lot of money — $105,000/year in the US — they start thinking they are doing worse in life. When we become rich, we begin to compare our lives to people even richer than we are.
  3. We undervalue our time: It’s easy to measure money (check your bank balance) but much harder to measure time. As a result, many of us make unhelpful decisions — like planning to take a holiday with a lot of connecting flights, adding a day’s worth of travel time to our trip. We tend not to think about the stress and fatigue such a decision will bring on because we focus only on the money.
  4. We regard busyness as a status symbol: With our self-identity so wrapped up in work and productivity, the social appearance of being busy makes us feel good about ourselves.
  5. We have an aversion to idleness: The most obvious sign of this reality? Our obsession with our phones.  Being constantly connected to our devices prevents the brain from recovering, keeps our stress levels elevated and takes us out of the present.
  6.  We think we have more time tomorrow than we actually do: We mistakenly believe that we will have more time tomorrow than we do today.

As Whillans puts it: “No matter what time affluence looks like for you, the happiest and most time affluent among us are deliberate with their free time.” If you want to create enough time for writing — whether your project is a weekly blog post or a full-length book —  learn how to be smarter with your time.

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