Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Time, like mischief, should be managed

As a young/novice/aspiring author, I have a lot of other things on my plate that aren’t strictly writing-related. I work full-time at a job I really care about and want to do well in. I’m trying to get my stuff together to apply to grad school at the end of this year to start attending next fall. I have reading goals, and fitness goals, and savings goals. I’m in a long-term relationship. I’m trying to be a better friend.

A lot of young/novice/aspiring authors like me have the same or similar strains on their time.

So where does writing fit in? How are we expected to make progress in our careers if we have all of these other things we have to balance? And how are we supposed to get better at writing at all?

There are lots of books and methods and theories on time management, and it can take a long time to find the right one for you. What follows is a list of what I do to make time for writing and all the things surrounding it. Take what you need, and feel free to leave a comment on what you do to manage your time!

The way I manage my time is by establishing a routine.

One of my favorite things on the internet is an infographic1 showing the daily routines of famous creatives. While I don’t believe they followed these routines to the hour for every day of their adult life (or even when they were at their most prolific in their creative work), they probably followed these patterns to a close enough approximation.

Looking at these charts, many of these famous creatives had the benefit of long, uninterrupted time to work on their creative pursuits. After all, for many of them, it was their career. They were professional creative people. Young/novice/aspiring authors often don’t have that benefit, unless they have the resources to go to a writing retreat for an extended period of time or are in an MFA program. (And even in an MFA program, teaching and classes can quickly eat up time.)

But there are no excuses: A writer has to take (or make) the time to write.

There isn’t a magical formula. As you can see from these charts, these famous creatives had very different ways of living. Franz Kafka kept weird hours and did most of his creative work at night. Charles Dickens took long walks around London. Maya Angelou blocked off her afternoons and evenings with her husband. A decent number of these people had day jobs (and many of them did some kind of teaching).

But they all have a chart. They all have a basic outline for how a day would go and stuck to it.

Data gathering is an important step to putting together a routine that will work.

I had a Passion Planner2 for a while, and though it ultimately ended up not meshing well with my organization style, I did make use of the hour-by-hour breakdown for each day. It was useful to block off the time I had to spend at my full-time job, and then figure out how the rest of my goals fit in around it.

At the beginning of the week I would write in my expected time commitments for each day. Every time something changed, I changed it in my Passion Planner, but I would still keep what the original expectation was. Did I expect to work 10-6 but instead worked from 9:30 to 7? Did I take my lunch break at 1pm like I planned, or at 2 instead? Did I exercise that day? If I did, was it at the time I slotted for it?

After a few weeks of this, I was able to see some general patterns emerge. I can pretty reliably get up to work out in the morning, but if I’m not out the door by 5:30am then I’m probably not going to exercise that day. Most days I prefer taking my lunch at 1:30 or 2, and I’ll typically take a longer lunch break so that I can have a solid chunk of writing time. As a result, I’ll stay at the office a little bit longer. My commute is the longest part of my day, and also the most variable. Some days I’ll spend 20 minutes door-to-door, and other days the trains will be delayed and it’ll take me 40 minutes.

Once I figured out my natural inclinations, I was able to create a pretty solid routine that I could stick to.

But still, that initial routine I created a few months ago doesn’t actually apply anymore.

It’s important to build in flexibility and allow the routine to change.

My routine now looks something like this:

My routine
Light Blue = Sleep; Yellow = Leisure; Red = Creative Work; Green = Day Job/Administrative; Dark Blue = Exercise; Grey = Other

My exercise happens a bit later in the day now because I’m running with my boyfriend, who is definitely not a morning person. I’m still writing during my lunch break, but since the weather has been nicer I can write in one of the many outdoor seating areas around my office. I no longer have to walk to the Barnes & Noble several blocks away, so I don’t have to take quite as long of a break.

And I’m sure this schedule will change once again. It’s all a matter regularly reviewing what my expectations are for my time and examining what the reality is.

Time tracking can be a great motivator.

One thing I struggle with is actually taking the time to write and edit fiction. I write a lot, and fill in every crack and crevice of my day with writing, but a lot of that is journaling or planning, and not actually putting effort into fiction writing.

So I appealed to the data nerd aspect of my personality.

For several months I’ve been tracking my time with Gleeo Time Tracker3 on my phone. I started using a time tracker when I switched jobs last year and needed a way to keep track of how many hours I worked in a day. Because the tool itself is quite flexible, I decided to use it to keep track of my writing as well.

I created categories for the five kinds of writing I do: Journaling, Blogging, Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry. Then I broke these down into even simpler tasks, i.e. Planning, Editing, Writing.

From there it was a matter of being rigorous with actually tracking the time. I kept my phone screen on throughout my writing sessions and anytime I would switch tasks (from editing a short story to starting in on a new draft of a story, for example), I would switch my time tracker. I also have a category for administrative tasks, like submitting to journals, organizing the writing on my computer, and compiling my time charts themselves.

At the end of each month I plug the data into Google Sheets and make some charts:

Did I actually spend enough time writing and editing fiction? How does that compare to my other types of writing? And do I feel satisfied with the amount of work that I’ve put in?

What it ultimately comes down to is rigorously and honestly examining my writing life, and how it fits into the rest of life.

My system isn’t perfect yet. Hell, it’s hardly a system, really, and more an amalgam of time tracking, productivity, and data-gathering techniques I’ve learned over the (very short) years of my life. But every month I can answer, with solid evidence, two questions:

  1. Did I write?
  2. Was it enough?

And I solemnly swear that the answers go pretty far.


This post was written as part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop organized by the human dynamo, Raimey Gallant. Every month, authors at all stages of their career blog about specific resources/learning opportunities for fellow writers. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, click here.

Notes:

[1] The Daily Routines of Famous Creative People, https://podio.com/site/creative-routines
[2] Passion Planner, http://www.passionplanner.com/
[3] Gleeo Time Tracker, https://gleeo.com/index.php/en/

Header image from Pixabay.

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47 Replies to “Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Time, like mischief, should be managed”

  1. What a great blog! I agree time/planning is SO important. Lately, mine has gotten a bit off kilter. I may need to sit down and plan out a schedule too to see if that helps get me back on track!

    1. Thanks for your comment! If you feel your time is getting away from you, definitely try sculpting out a schedule. Even if it’s as simple as having one chunk of time that you designate “absolutely mandatory” (say, chunk out your writing time and say that “this must happen at this time” πŸ™‚ ), then that can help structure the rest of your day.

      Best of luck! And thanks for stopping by!

  2. Wow you are so organised with your time management! I wish I was that organised, I definitely need to take some of your tips. I don’t currently track how much time I spend writing, I tend to focus on word count, but of course I’m more prolific on some days than others, so it’s not a fair assessment of my time. I also work full time and my commute is an hour each way driving so I can’t even open my laptop or read a book, but I downloaded the Audible app and listen to audiobooks on my commute so I’m still making the most of my time. I tend to write a bit here and there on evenings and weekends, and then really smash my projects out during NaNoWriMo, which I’m sure isn’t the most effective use of my time, but it works for me right now. I love that you amend your schedule according to your circumstances, it’s so important to make sure it fits into your life as well as all your other important responsibilities. Thanks for the tips Caroliena!

    1. Thanks for your comment! I find that, unless I’m working on NaNoWriMo, word count is difficult for me to track. Especially since I’m currently editing a WIP and it’s a weird combination of adding/subtracting words. How do I track that? Time just seemed to be the easiest solution in this regard. But hey! Different strokes for different folks πŸ™‚

      I love the idea of listening to audiobooks on the commute! I do something similar where I download lectures from OpenYale to listen to on the train. What are some really good audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. “It’s important to build in flexibility and allow the routine to change.” I agree: as the seasons (and responsibilities for the new season) change, everything in my daily routine has to change. As long as I make sure that I actually write in my scheduled writing time (and not get distracted by social media), it’s a productive writing day πŸ™‚ We all struggle with finding the time to actually write, but as long as we get to it, we are writers.

    1. Thanks for your comment! Distraction by social media is definitely a struggle. And yes, the seasons changing is quite challenging for a schedule. But! Flexibility is key πŸ™‚

      Thanks for stopping by! Keep on writing! πŸ™‚

  4. I love this! I could see time tracking working really well to help me schedule freelancing time as well as fiction-writing time. I’m totally trying this! Great post!

    1. Thanks for your comment! Definitely try tracking your writing time and see how it all shakes out. I was surprised one month by how things really changed to skew more towards fiction writing for me once I started tracking. Let me know how it goes! πŸ™‚

  5. This is a timely post for me. I just started bullet journaling for tracking my time to determine what portion of my days are being spent where. I want to develop a more regimented routine so I can make the time for what is really important, including writing. Thanks for sharing, I will definitely be checking out some of the tools you listed.

    1. Thanks for your comment! I love bullet journaling! It’s a great way to get organized and definitely has that flexibility factor that’s hard to find. Let me know how it goes! I’d be interested to see the results of your efforts πŸ™‚

      Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Wow — what an impressive and earnest effort to figure out the days and priorities! LOVE the flexibility and spirit to find the way that works for you. Things are always in tumult, stuff always happens at the wrong time, but with your writing a major priority, trust that it will get done — even if it’s just a quick jot on a scrap of paper or sitting someplace quietly eavesdropping for character development or playing “what’s their story?” as you walk down the street. Good luck — it does ultimately come down to the most simple of questions: Did I write? Was it enough?

    1. Thanks for your comment! Sometimes it feels like scheduling and planning is a full-time commitment in itself, but it gets easier with time. I’ve actually been thinking a lot about how I’m at this stage where I’m not worried about writing and whether I’ll get any done in a given day. I trust myself enough to know that I’ll make time for it. I trust that it will get done πŸ™‚

  7. Great post! I wish I was as organized as you >.< I've been thinking of getting something to help with managing my time, so thanks for the links!

    1. Thanks for your comment! I’ve honestly never been this organized in my life, but I’ve always been the self-reflection type. That makes it easier to work around my personal organizational pitfalls, I suppose.

      Best of luck with organizing! Hopefully the tools help, and definitely let me know how it all goes!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  8. I love what you’re doing, and I plan to take a few pages from your book, so to speak!

    I’ve always looked at my writing progress by wordcount. This month, I’m trying out time goals instead because most of my writing time is actually editing time right now.

    I spend too much time on social media. It’s paying off a little in terms of building a platform, but I need to find ways to do more platform building with less time. And when I’m working on social media it’s way too easy to start playing instead.

    1. Thanks for your comment! I hope that you found something helpful. I agree that with editing work, time goals rather than word count goals are probably a better way to track.

      And for social media platform building, there’s certainly a fair amount of work that has to go into building that platform, but having fun and playing is also important, too! Just remember to not let that play time bleed into writing time πŸ˜‰

      Best of luck, and let me know how it all shakes out with planning! I’m curious to know how things change!

  9. Hi! Great post πŸ™‚ Have you heard of the Kitchen Timer method? I read about it in Lauren Graham’s book haha. But it’s great and it’s got me keeping to dedicated writing time. I also love the “gray-other” category! πŸ™‚ My life is full of “gray-other”!
    My Post
    Leslie

    1. Thanks for your comment! And yes! I love the kitchen timer method (and Lauren Graham! I actually stood in line to get a picture with her when “Talking As Fast As I Can” came out because my older sister and I are huge Gilmore Girls nerds). I typically use it as a way to sprint during NaNoWriMo.

      And yes, gray-other can often take over. In the case of my chart, gray-other is my commute, since I’m not entirely sure how else to categorize it πŸ™‚

      Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Nice post! I appreciated the Harry Potter reference πŸ™‚
    I have never seen anyone so organised, it’s amazing that you fit everything into one day!
    I tried to schedule my time in a similar way, but I always tend to take more time when it comes to social media (It’s really distracting!)

    1. Thanks for your comment! And yes to Harry Potter! I wanted to make the rest of the post more Potter-y (though really, more Marauders-y πŸ™‚ ) but didn’t have enough time to edit that all in. Next time!

      I’m glad that it seems like I’m organized from the outside. On the inside it gets a little more chaotic. But good for you for trying out scheduling! I agree that social media can be a huge distraction. Maybe try giving yourself designated chunks for social media, like, give yourself however much time you need to get it out of your system, and make that a regular thing so that it never builds up? I’m not sure; the social media distractions are things I still struggle with as well πŸ™‚

      Best of luck, and thanks for stopping by!

      1. I love the Marauders, I would have dearly loved a prequel with just them!
        That’s a great idea regarding social media! I’ve been giving myself an hour to get through emails, blog and social media, but it never seems to be enough: Perhaps if I time how long it actually takes, and allow more time if necessary, I will feel like I am keeping to a schedule better πŸ™‚

  11. I love all your graphs! And yes, a schedule works best. I started out with one like you back in my college days and now it’s internally ingrained. My time to write is typically 4 a.m. during the work week and on the weekends 5 a.m. But I probably need to stick to the 4 a.m. thing when I have my two young ones. All the best of luck to you. πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks for your comment! And wow, 4AM to write! That’s amazing! I’m not nearly cognitively aware enough that early in the morning to do writing. Good for you!

      Thanks for stopping by! πŸ™‚

  12. I’ve always found time management to be mystifying. I seem to spend more time trying to organize my time than I actually spend doing the tasks I’m trying to organize. And those people will the artfully decorated planners? Clearly they have so much free time, they don’t need planners. lol
    I’m glad you found a system that works for you. thanks for sharing

    1. Thanks for your comment! Time management is a nebulous thing. And I have such serious planner envy whenever I see pretty layouts on social media. When do they have time??? Haha.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  13. *hides in face of time management guru* You are amazing! I think for me, the takeaway is not necessarily to track all my commitments, but to learn from your experiences. I found your plotted day very helpful, as it made me visualize my own. And I loved, LOVED the graph of famous creatives’ day breakdowns. How did they even get that information? Crazy. It makes me feel like they were real people too, with real lives that interfered with their creative time. Gleeo is an interesting tool that I could have used in prior jobs, and I’ll keep it in mind for future uses, so thanks for that as well. And thanks for sharing of your experiences. It’s important for us newbie authors to realize that when we’re feeling overwhelmed, we’re not the only ones.

    1. * curtsies * Thanks, but I’m no guru! I’m glad that the timeline helps, and I’m glad you enjoyed the famous creative timelines! I think that since these creatives kept track of their days via a diary, or else their biographers pieced together their days, that’s where these charts come from.

      I’m glad that you enjoyed the post and were able to get something out of it! πŸ™‚

  14. I loved your line graph. I need an hour more sleep than you do, or I can’t write at all! I also need exercise. I find running first thing in the morning helps inspires me to write. Thanks for sharing your tips.

    1. Thanks for your comment! Exercising in the morning is also really nice, and early morning runs are great because the city is so quiet then. I miss it sometimes, but running in the evenings works, too. As long as there’s exercise happening sometime!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  15. I really need to try to plan out my time better again. I always start a new system, but the one day it fails me I abandon it! Then, a month or so late come up with a new strategy, which works for a week, then I miss it a few days and give up. I need to be okay with not sticking to the plan a few days here and there and pick it up again instead of getting frustrated and giving up on the schedule altogether.

    1. Thanks for your comment! Being able to bounce back after a few days missed is certainly super important. Last year I switched jobs, and in the first few weeks of that job I let every single habit/time tracker fall to the wayside. But I eventually pieced something back together and got back on track. Let me know how planning again works out! I’d be curious to know what you learn/observe this time around.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  16. I’m going to have to try Gleeo. I don’t have a full time job, and I think I write full time, but I know I’m kidding myself. Hours go by, the day is done, and nothing gets written. How is that possible?
    Thanks for the tip!

    1. Thanks for your comment! Gleeo is certainly very helpful, but there are also other, similar programs that have more functionalities (like a desktop version, online storage, etc.), but Gleeo is good because I always have my phone on me anyway.

      Best of luck! And keep on writing! πŸ™‚

  17. It may not seem like a system to you, but this is certainly more detailed than what I have! My brain tends to rebel any time I try to actually force it into a routine.

    1. Thanks for your comment! I’m glad that this all seems put together from the outside. I think for me, it’s not quite forcing my brain into a routine, but more taking advantage of the natural patterns that emerge. Maybe a weekly routine would work better for others, rather than a daily one. But also, not having a routine is perfectly fine, as long as things get done!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  18. Great post! I’m probably going to re-read it and steal some of your methods. I’m in the process of applying to grad school while doing freelance work so keeping a schedule is such a task. My bullet journal helps but I’ll have to continue to work on my schedule and actually doing what I’ve written down.

    1. Thanks for your comment! Bullet journaling has certainly been a revelation for me, especially when it comes to organizing my work information. Best of luck with grad school applications! Hope it all works out! πŸ™‚

  19. Great post! To be honest, I’ve been trying to find a way to manage my time for a very, very long time, but my life is far too crazy to try and fit it into a box. I think I’ll give your strategies a go, though!

  20. I haven’t been that great about scheduling things lately so that’s something I should maybe put on my To-Do list for next month.
    And I totally agree with the idea of listening to audiobooks. Since you’re a Harry Potter fan, I’d recommend the ones read by Jim Dale. I think he’s actually in the Guiness book of records for the number of distinct voices he did for Order of the Phoenix.

    1. Thanks for your comment! Definitely try giving scheduling another go, and let me know what’s changed for you/what you observe about scheduling again if you get to it. I’d be interested to know!

      And thanks for the recommendation! I’ve listened to bits and pieces of the Stephen Fry versions and really enjoy those, but I’ll give the Jim Dale ones a listen.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  21. Time management is hard. I have a physical planner, along with one on my computer and one on my phone. Without all three I wouldn’t function. I wouldn’t write. I also wouldn’t get any laundry done. πŸ™‚

    Good job and thanks for the solid advice.

    PS: I love the Harry Potter references!

    1. Thanks for your comment! I do the same thing, where I have my physical planner, my computer calendar, and keep track of some dates on my phone. I think that redundancies can be extremely beneficial; at least this way nothing really falls through the cracks!

      And yes! Harry Potter! I think I mentioned this in a reply above, but I meant to make this more Harry Potter/Marauders-y. But I’m glad that you enjoyed it nonetheless!

      Thanks for stopping by!

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