Strong, swift openings draw a reader in. So here’s Time Management for the Time-Impaired Writer summed up strongly and swiftly:

There’s always time.

However busy or hectic a lifestyle you lead, there’s always time. Do well to remember that, because I know I forget those three little words quite often, trapped under an avalanche of responsibility and commitment. There’s always time and that time exists because of simple ordered priorities.

Good preparation across the board = identified and ordered priorities = awesome and effective time management.

Okay, so in PART ONE – TIME HARD we talked about preparation, keeping a writing log using Excel, automating tasks that sap our time, and carving out a slice of your day solely for writing. We saved some time through better preparation and time management. Now let’s have a look at how to save a bit more. After all, writer’s block is merely mismanaged time. It’s not that hard to make the words flow. You’ll see a lot of good writers talking about time management in various forms all over this crazy internet town.

I’m going to keep a runny tally of just how many hours and minutes these tips could save. I’ll lowball the averages, so as not to make it seem too good to be true, but even a few extra hours a week can make a story happen. In the last part of this series we talked about automation. Automation is king! Praise be his name. Personally, automating my finances and not having to manually pay my bills, or check balances (balance cheques?) every day, has saved me about 25 minutes a week.

So our tally of time saved through better time management currently stands at:

Weekly:

25 minutes

Monthly:

1 hour and 40 minutes

Yearly:

20 hours

See that? Do you see that and appreciate what it means? One task that only eats at a few minutes a day can, over a year, absorb an entire day of your life. That right there is why time management matters. And you pay bills for, what, fifty or sixty years as an adult? Think long-term, because it won’t matter when you’re dead, but do you think you’ll look back in sixty years, as you lie withered on your hover-deathbed, sipping apple flavoured Ultradyne Nutrient Paste™, just how awesome it was that you spent sixty days of your life paying the fucking phone bill?

A first draft is born in less than two months.

Well, no sense dwelling on it now, so let’s be about our sordid business once more.

PART TWO – TIME HARDER

Trick #4: Food for Thought

How often do you have to nip out to the shops for a pint of milk? A forgotten loaf of bread? Oh shit, you’re out of butter again! Two times a week? Three? Even if the shop is only down the road, that’s at least half an hour a week you could have been writing. Two hours a month – twenty-four hours a year. A day wasted spent popping out of an evening or morning for simple staples. And never mind a big grocery shop, which could take hours, and you forgot to get sugar again, didn’t you? Well, it’ll only take ten minutes there and back…

What’s that day of wasted time worth to you? $20? $10? $1000? I live in Perth, Western Australia, the most expensive place in Australia and the eleventh most expensive city in the world, but I can get my grocery shopping delivered straight to my door from one of the major supermarkets, Woolworths or Coles, for $8 per delivery.

If you spend some time compiling a comprehensive online grocery list with the supermarket, you can ensure that every month you have exactly what you need—no cheeky extras or impulse buying in the store—and spend that extra time, an hour or two a week, you would have spent mundanely picking up groceries forging some awesome word slush instead. You will carve pristine story from white marble pages whilst sipping your home-delivered milk and laughing like the diabolical time management genius you are.

Compile more than one list, as well, depending on how well stocked your larder looks. The user dashboards for my nearest supermarket lets you store the lists for the future and can even generate lists based on past use. Hell, it even reminds me if I haven’t ordered something basic in a while, like paprika. I have two key lists. I do a big shop once a month and replace things running low, such as meat and frozen vegetables. They keep in the freezer. This list also contains milk and bread and other items that can quickly expire. A second list could comprise things that you need to replace every two months—spices, say, and sauces. The cost, of course, is $8 a delivery, but I imagine having actually gone to the store I may have burned through that with impulse purchases, fuel, even parking costs. Swings and roundabouts, you ken?

When I run short of perishables, milk and fruit, within the week, only then will I call into my local shop on my way home from work. Absurd to pay $8 just to get a pint of milk delivered, after all.

Time saved (again, I’m going to keep it low so as not to inflate the process beyond reasonable and into absurd – your situation will vary) grocery shopping:

Weekly:

1 hour

Monthly:

4 hours

Yearly:

48 hours

Holy heck—two days? How much could you write if you had two days worth of extra time? Should we look at the figures from our deathbed again, over the average of sixty years from 20 to 80? Pretty simple math, yeah…

2 days per year x 60 years = 120 days.

Four months spent mindlessly pushing a trolley—and you know that fucker has a dodgy wheel—up and down the aisles of a supermarket looking for chopsticks and breadcrumbs because one week they’re in Kitchen and the next Asian Foods. Christ, that’s depressing.

Let’s also add—just to rub salt in the wound—our sixty days spent paying bills. We now sit, just from two tasks that we all have to do every week, at 180 days of lost time over a lifetime. Your lifetime. My lifetime. That’s 6 months. Do you have a new appreciation for time management yet? You can live an extra six months of your life by automating just two tasks. We live on the cusp of a new age, ladies and gentlemen, a golden age of automation—so ride the wave or be left regretting all the wasted hours when you hit the shore, as we all must.

Trick #5: The To-Do List – Or How I Learned to Embrace the Value of A Schedule

Disclaimer: Before we proceed, a word about the to-do list. The to-do list is one of the keenest and most useful non-writing weapons in the writer’s arsenal. That said, it’s also a double-edged sword. Treat the to-do list with the utmost caution and, indeed, respect. A well-maintained and sharpened to-do list will cut through reams of paper. A rusty and ill kept list will give you tetanus and the numb, modern, indifferent cancer of the soul that seems to permeate our civilisation. Dramatic, I know, but we are playing with the finite seconds of our lives here. Just something to keep in mind.

So here’s my average weekday, which I keep track of on my to-do list schedule. Most of us use a smart phone that can sync our calendar between different machines and that will notify us of upcoming events. I heartily suggest utilising Google Calendar for this task. Here’s what my working week looks like in snapshot:

Calendar Capture

And the breakdown:

0500 – Wake Up/Shower

0530 – Breakfast/Internet

0615 – Commute to work

0700 – Work

1500 – Commute to home

1600 – Exercise

1645 – General internet/emails/calls/messages

1730Write (aiming for 2000 words)

1930 – Game over.

Within those blocks of time I also have scheduled little reminders, little to-do’s along the lines of ‘Email Jim re: business cards’, ‘Hire gardener’, ‘Fix dodgy hinge on bedroom door’, ‘Call Sarah re: WHY WON’T YOU RETURN MY TIME-MANAGED LOVE!?’, and so on. Account for everything and remain accountable, disciplined, to yourself for completing these tasks. Don’t let them pile up, don’t let the trickle become a flood that sweeps you away from filling that blank page with uncut crystal word slush. Unless I’m being physically restrained (and even then…) or in an unexpected meeting or something, I’ll complete those little tasks as they arise, so help me God.

Now, at 1930 of an average evening I clock off and have some dinner. Even if I’ve only managed a handful of crappy words in the last two hours of my scheduled writing time, it’s time to relax and recharge on the slow wind down to bedtime. It’s scotch o’clock, ladies and gentlemen, and the scotching is good. The day may have been a failure writing-wise, but sitting there trying to force square-shaped words through circle-shaped holes is a fool’s game. And, indeed, a waste of time.

So from 1930 to 2300 I have time for anything that doesn’t actually work toward achieving my goals. Those goals broadly: write more novels/work toward financial freedom. All work and no play makes Joe a shitty writer. I recommend, if you can schedule it, to have your writing time earlier in the day before you have your block of free time. For me, at least, I enjoy the free hours far more knowing the day is behind me and that I don’t have a two-hour task coming up later in the evening.

Note: Some will look at my daily schedule and call it busy, while others will think I’ve got it easy. However you view my average daily breakdown, just know that either way there are days that I don’t stick to the plan, days where my apathy and keen sense of razor-sharp laziness overwhelm my discipline. The trick is to minimise those days as much as possible. Resist the resistance.

This writing game isn’t a sprint—it’s a marathon through thickets of adverbs and adjectives, over mountains of ill prepared prose and plot, while wading across rivers of doubt and failure. Chin up, yeah? That’s the fun part.

Trick #6: GOOOAAALLL!

Now it’s all good and well having a vague and often fluid image of what you’re trying to achieve through better time management, but what’s your endgame? What are you striving toward? Do you even know? Does anyone?

There’s always time… until there isn’t. So pick a marker in the distance. It could be one year away or ten. Somewhere in between is nice – a five-year plan. What do you want to achieve by the time you reach this marker? I’m 25 heading toward 30. Whether I want them to or not, those five years between now and then are going to pass anyway. I want them to pass with purpose and resolve. I want to be goal-orientated and productive.

I want to be prepared and manage my time.

This is one of my tricks that doesn’t save you physical time like automating finances and groceries does, but it does provide clarity and sense of purpose, which empowers your writing and ties back to that numero uno tenet of effective time management:

Preparation.

A Summary of S(th)orts

Let’s review:

  • There’s always time. That time exists in preparation and prioritizing.
  • Automate, Automate, Automate. This part of the time management series explored cutting down time at the grocery store.
  • Organise your writing time as early in the day as possible, if you can. Time spent leading up to a task that you know will take some attention can often go to waste.
  • Try and create blocks of uninterrupted work. Group similar tasks.
  • Write in the time you have, be it half an hour a day or half a day! More work hours doesn’t necessarily mean greater productivity. Constraints on time do not have to be shackles!
  • Find a marker and set a goal.
  • Always prioritise.

Total Time Saved through Time-Management: 

Task

Weekly

Monthly

Annually

Automating Finances

25 mins

1 hour, 40 mins

20 hours

Grocery Shopping Delivery

1 hour

4 hours

48 hours

 

 

 

Total Time Saved:

1 hour, 25 mins

5 hours, 40 mins

68 hours

Just under 3 days a year saved through proper preparation and time management. How often have you wanted a few extra vacation days or time to write? Well, there you go, you’re looking at them.

And just because it adds much needed perspective…

Time Saved Lifetime: 2.9 days x 60 = 174 days

How many first drafts could you write given six spare months? I’ll leave Part Two here, but fear not, I’ve plenty more tips coming up. Would you leave me a comment or shoot me an email with your tips and tricks? Or what you’ve found helpful/impractical so far?

Cheers, you time-engineers,

Joe

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