If we’re going to get serious about our writing, then we have to make time for it. If we’re going to make time for it, then we need to guard that writing time diligently.
If this were an article on managing money, you’d probably be asked to document where every penny goes throughout the month so you can make changes. If this were an article on nutrition and weight loss, you may be asked to document every calorie that you consume so you can recognize bad habits and create new ones. Since this is a time management article, we’re going to do the same thing with the way you spend your time.
“What I failed to realize is that time is like space”
So what does happen to you hour by hour and moment by moment? Do you view your time as a big, broad force that will eventually get you to where you are going? Or do you look at it as a set of small increments that will build on each other to make you productive and effective? (If you are a proponent of writing in ten-minute increments, then you know how small habits can make a big difference.)
Where does our time go? What changes do we need to make?
In the name of definition and boundaries, let’s break down your life into five separate categories and write out your goals.
What really happens in each of these five areas in your average week?
You’ll need a spreadsheet for this exercise, one that breaks down the seven-day week into hourly increments. If you’re feeling whimsical, color-code the five areas. And then, as you mark off time spent, have it coordinate with the corresponding part of your life. For example, when you mark off when you sleep, you can make it purple. Your day job is marked green. The time you cook and clean up from dinner is red. The advantage of using colors is you will be able to see at a glance how balanced you are. Not sure if something should be in one color or another? Don’t worry about it. Just choose a color that makes the most sense to you and keep it consistent.
I have listed seven exercises below that will help you mark up your calendar.
Take your time with each task. Be honest. If you put yourself to bed at 10, but you don’t actually sleep until 11:30 because you read, then mark them separately.
1. Mark off the time in purple that you sleep.
2. Mark off the times in purple that you usually eat.
3. Mark off the time in green that you are at your outside-the-home job, including time for your commute.
4. Mark any other outside obligations in green next.
5. Is there anything else that you do on a regular basis that needs to be marked? Do that now. This could be doctor’s appointments, meetings, my weekly Twitter chat. Anything.
6. Do you see any glaring gaps that are unaccounted for? Say, 7 to 10 pm most weeknights? Be honest with yourself about how you spend that time. Now it’s time to ask the hard questions:
- Which of the five areas need changing?
- What areas need to be bumped up higher on the priority list? (Like getting more sleep, for example.)
- What areas do you need to cut way back on? (Like reducing your entertainment activity. Netflix is great, but for every episode of The Gilmore Girls you watch, that’s another 42 minutes that you’re not writing or sleeping.)
Are you effective with the time that you do have?
Your time is going to be used up whether you spend it productively or not, so use this tool. Think about where you can squeeze in another 10-minute increment. You’ll be glad you did.
This is an excerpt from When The Timer Dings: Organizing Your Life To Make The Most of 10 Minute Increments.