Reading time: About 4 minutes
Making enough time for writing challenges many people, even those who are deeply committed to their craft. Here are some practical ways to create more time for yourself….
Many of the writers I work with begin by telling me that they just “don’t have the time” to write.
I ask them how much time they think writing will take and most answer with a pretty big number — somewhere between 60 and 120 minutes per day. When I tell them that 15 minutes is enough to start, they are shocked.
Even more shocking is the news that the time poverty from which we all apparently suffer is as much a psychological principle as it is a real-life one. In fact, the problem relates to how we think about and value our hours.
In a survey by salary.com, 89 percent of respondents admitted to wasting time every day at work:
- 31 percent waste roughly 30 minutes daily
- 31 percent waste roughly one hour daily
- 16 percent waste roughly two hours daily
- 6 percent waste roughly three hours daily
- 2 percent waste roughly four hours daily
- 2 percent waste five or more hours daily
So how can we stop wasting time and start using it to accomplish what we want to do? Ashley Whillans, 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, is that most people fall into a series of six time traps.
Here’s how she summarizes them:
- 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 or look up that citation, 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 or dissertation (or even that long report).
- 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.
- We undervalue our time: It’s relatively 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- We think we’ll have more time tomorrow than we actually will: Also known as “magical thinking,” this belief holds that, somehow, we’ll have more time/intelligence/energy/focus tomorrow, even though we don’t have it 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, a full-length book or a dissertation — learn how to be smarter with your time.
Here’s what I suggest, starting first with what we shouldn’t do:
- Don’t put yourself last by letting others take control of your time: Learn how to say no. Don’t be on call 24/7. Stick to your own time-limits especially for chronic time-wasters like meetings.
- Don’t get sucked in by email or social media: We all crave the dopamine hit we get by reading an interesting email or spotting a particularly funny tweet. Break the habit of letting your cellphone control your life.
- Don’t worry about things you can’t control: It’s impossible for you to predict how readers are going to respond to your writing. No matter how much you want a positive response, accept that the outcome is completely out of your hands and write anyway.
- Don’t dwell on past mistakes: We all screw up from time to time. Accept that fact as a given and move on. Did you know that the chemist who made a fortune by inventing WD-40 had 39 failed attempts, first?
- Don’t focus on what other people are doing: You are the only person who can control your time and your actions. Don’t compare yourself to others. You are unique.
- Don’t confuse the urgent with the important: Always focus on what’s important, first. That urgent report you need to finish researching by the end of the day? Do your writing (on something else) before you do that research. As human beings, we are naturally inclined to give the urgent greater priority but that is always a mistake. Don’t let the planning fallacy be your undoing.
Now let’s pay attention to the positive side of the coin:
- Focus on the big picture and commit to your values: When our plans and activities align with our values we become almost unstoppable. Make sure that the way you spend your time reflects exactly what’s most important to you.
- Plan how you want to spend your days: I spend five to 10 minutes each morning time-blocking my day. This fast and easy-to-accomplish action has helped me more than double my productivity.
- Understand your strengths: We’re all good at some things and terrible at others (my inability with numbers and geography is legendary in my family; I’ve learned to leave those sorts of issues to my husband or kids.) But I’m really good at editing and great at understanding human motivation. I get more from focusing on what I’m good at than trying to become better at what eludes me.
- Set time limits for the tasks you undertake: This rule is particularly useful for mind-numbing, tedious tasks like handling email. Play “beat the clock” with yourself and your tiresome tasks will become much more interesting.
- Keep a time diary to see where you can do better: Spend a week keeping a diary of exactly how you spend your time. This record will not only allow you to see patterns and trends, it will also help you determine whether the way you spend your time matches your priorities and values.
- Do less but do it extraordinarily well: Don’t confuse busyness with productivity. Highly productive people are often less busy than those who are overworked and overwhelmed. Figure out your top priorities and say ‘yes’ to them while you say ‘no’ to anything else.
Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. The group is now full but there is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.
My video podcast last week gave tips on how to stop recording your interviews (which is way too time-consuming). Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.
How do you make enough time for writing? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by July 31/21 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!