5 ways you probably mismanage your time

Reading time: About 3 minutes

It’s highly likely that you mismanage your time. We all do! But writing time is another matter entirely…

I protect my writing time the way a mother bear guards her cubs. I write first thing in the morning and I refuse to check my email (or Facebook or Twitter or phone messages) until I’ve written at least 500 words.

This practice is allowing me to write another book, while I maintain my regular roster of clients, manage a household of five and do significant volunteer work. I’m not bragging. I’m just saying it takes planning.

Here are five ways in which you’re probably mismanaging your own writing time:

1) You spend much of it with your fingers resting motionless on the keyboard, staring blankly into space. This is not writing — it’s wasting time. You’re staring off into space for one of two reasons: (i) You haven’t yet thought enough about what you’re going to write. If this is the case, get away from your desk and go do something else, thinking about your writing while you walk, ride your bike, swim or run. Take notes, afterwards. Better yet, do a mindmap.

Alternatively, if you’ve already done enough thinking, you may be (ii) suffering from the thoroughly incorrect notion that your first draft needs to be perfect. This is a crazy as thinking that sun revolves around the earth or that teenagers are ever going to vacuum the house voluntarily. No one is going to see the first draft apart from you. The first draft is your chance to be as kooky, immature, irrelevant and incorrect as you need to be. You will fix it later. But recognize this truth: you can’t edit a first draft until you have one.

2) You don’t recognize how long writing is going to take. I know I can write 500 words in roughly 30 minutes. This is extraordinarily valuable information to me in terms of making quotes for clients and in managing my own time. But note that this is writing time only. Depending on the type of writing, it may take me twice as long to edit. I thought of the whole issue of time this week when I saw an amusing video about Japanese synchronized walkers. I didn’t even know such a sport existed! But have a look at this video, especially at the 1.5 minute mark. Isn’t it amazing? I guarantee those walkers are devoting hours to their sport. Writing takes hours too. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking the hours are all in the writing. More of the hours should be in the editing.

3) You leave your writing until the last minute. This is the natural tendency of most college students and all procrastinators. The deadline has to be breathing its fire on your neck before you’re moved to start. But this dragon is easy to banish! Get a few words written (even really crappy ones) — fast —  so you aren’t faced with the horror of the blank page. I always feel heartened when I open a document with at least one paragraph on it. It allows me to know what I need to do next.

4) You let others control your schedule. I was meeting with one of my coaching clients this week and she told me that her workplace gave her no uninterrupted time. I was horrified. Her boss was addicted to Instant Messaging, and always expected an immediate response. I think she was a little surprised when I told her that this was partly her own fault. (If you always answer instantly, that becomes the standard your boss and coworkers expect. If you always take four hours to reply, that becomes a much more tenable standard.) We talked through the specifics of her workplace and she agreed that for part of the day they would allow her at least an hour to respond to messages. So, each day she is now spending the first hour writing, without turning on email or IM. I also suggested she get a pair of the biggest, ugliest headphones she could find so as to give her coworkers a visual clue that she should not be disturbed.

5) You fail to notice the techniques used by other writers. One of the best writing tricks I learned in the last five years was the art of the one-to-four word sentence. What do I mean? (See? I just did it there.) Super short sentences don’t suit every type of writing but they work for mine and I’m glad I learned this idea from another writer. If you want to learn more tricks like this, read widely,  and copy relentlessly.

Don’t be the writer asking yourself the Dr. Seuss question, “How did it get so late so soon?”

How do you manage your writing time? If you comment on my blog by Jan 31 you’ll be put in a draw for a copy of the delightful novel Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. (If you don’t see the comments box, click here and then scroll to the end.)