I belong to a group of prolific, women writers with busy lives. Time management is a frequent topic of our conversation threads. Reading between the lines of posts suggesting tips, hints and technology for efficient time management I’m picking up on a lot of angst. I know this anxiety only too well—the feeling of overwhelm in the age of information and globalization. It’s enough to make me want to metaphorically stick my head in the sand, preferably in an island paradise where I can live out my days with nothing more pressing to accomplish than a daily walk on the beach and planning what’s for dinner.
Besides, simply checking email or popping into the social media site of choice can lead a writer with an inquisitive mind down the rabbit hole into a virtual world where a few minutes turns into a unproductive day. Time management and self-discipline are essential to getting my work done. I’m not immune to occasional wasted days which usually result in sleepless nights (worrying about deadlines), but I have found a few simple ways to keep them to a minimum.
- 1. Admitting my limits. There’s only so much I can read, watch or listen to—even when I’m researching. Creating reading lists has freed me from the guilt of not covering enough information (whatever enough might be). Instapaper is an app that lets you save anything and read it anywhere, even offline. I’ve found that when I have a block of time to catch up on my reading, much of what I’ve saved doesn’t seem as essential anymore; sometimes I can’t even remember why I wanted to read it.
- 2. To do lists. Written reminders of what I need to accomplish help keep me on track and have become necessary in my midlife. I’m a very visually oriented person, so the simplest method for me remains pen and paper. I generally have three lists going, work, social and household. I learned a long time ago there are never enough hours in the day to accomplish what I would like, so I just keep a running list. I find great satisfaction in crossing items off—if not as much in moving them to the next page, day, or week—but I instinctively prioritize this way and things get done. Bonus: Saving my lists and going back over them from time to time helps me see how much I really do accomplish. If you prefer an online options, I just discovered Remember the Milk, an online task management system that lets you manage tasks in any web browser.
- 3. Calendars. Choosing a single calendar or a system that worked for me was a long and sometimes costly process of elimination. Day-Timer and those like it are not my cup of tea. I’ll pass on anything that requires a class to learn how to use the complex system that was supposed to simplify my life. I like my calendar big and easy and that’s what I got with the app that came loaded on my iPad. It works across all my devices, even my (still PC) laptop by signing into iCloud. If you’re looking for an online calendar check out The 10 Best Calendar Aps at laptopmag.com to find one that works for you.
- 4. Calendar vs. time tracking. If you don’t know where the time goes when you’re working, you might benefit from a time tracker like RescueTime. It keeps track of where and how you spend your time, can alert you when you’ve spent too much time on Facebook (or wherever you spend too much time) and can even block distracting sites while you are working. The Light version is free and tracks your online time. You can track your off line time as well if you pay for the premium version.In my opinion. time tracking is hands down the best practice for managing your time. Fifteen years ago I purchased software for a calendar that included a tracking feature by allowing the user to enter several categories and color code each. Generated graphs showed me exactly how much time I was spending doing what. It was a huge eye opener for me, showing me exactly where and how often I wasted my time.
- 5. Keeping track of notes and ideas. This one is a real challenge for me. When ideas for articles or blog posts, story plots, dialogue and other bits and pieces of writing pop into my head, I know I’d better write them down or lose them. This means I have scraps of torn envelopes, napkins, backs of junk mail, and even note book pages with scribbled notes. In a pinch, I’ve written on my hand or arm or both depending on the length (of the notes, not my arm). I do my best to collect all my jottings into file folders (transcribing from flesh to paper when necessary). Evernote claims to be a powerful app for keeping all of these jottings in one place. In fact, there is a whole suite of available, complimentary apps for use along with Evernote. It also works with Remember the Milk (above). I’m going to give them both a try. I’ll let you know how it works out for me. I wonder if it will let me snap photos of my hand and arm?
- 6. Eliminate interruptions. A few years ago my supportive and generous husband gifted me with a studio separate from my house. When I really want to get some serious work done I don’t don’t bring my phone with me to the studio (unless I’m expecting a very important call). And, anybody who comes knocking on the door to my house has no idea I’m out in my studio; it’s just another outbuilding, a guesthouse or cute potting shed to the casual observer.Here’s the thing, if you want to work uninterrupted, lock your door, send your calls to voicemail, and silence email or other alerts on your computer. Pick a time frame to check for important messages—maybe every couple of hours. If none of that seems to work for you, get up two hours earlier in the morning, before the civilized world is making phone calls, sending emails or knocking on your door, and get some work done.
- 7. Procrastination. The interruptions or distractions I create myself are sometimes my biggest obstacle. Coming up with things I have to do, should be doing, or would rather do instead of getting down to writing is effortless. Even when the writing at hand is what I want to do, like my novel, a short story or a blog post I can’t wait to write, I still procrastinate; so what’s that about?I overcome my own procrastination with a two-step process. First I tell myself I only have to write for 30-minutes and set a timer. Second, when when the 30-minutes is up I reset the timer for an hour or two—or whatever seems a reasonable amount of time. See, once I’ve begun, it’s even more difficult to stop—as in I’ll writer through meals, social dates, needed sleep and even to the point of having to pee so bad making it to the bathroom on time is iffy (so far, I haven’t wet my pants or resorted to depends). This obsessive writing might explain my reluctance to get started—but that’s a deeper subject for another day.