Keeping Track of Time

Nora Roberts has said she works an 8-hour day as a writer. Other famous writers such as Stephen King claim to work until they have their pages done, whether it takes 2 hours or 10. I’ve tried working both ways, and I’ve tried working just mornings, or only afternoons, or while my kids are napping and after they’ve gone to bed. I’ve also had to squeeze in writing first thing in the morning before work or last thing in the evening while trying to stay awake over a cup of coffee.

My schedule has depended mostly on whatever else is happening in my life, but that doesn’t stop me from imagining what the perfect writing schedule is. I, for instance, find that I can’t write for more than about 4 hours a day regularly without getting mentally exhausted. So my perfect full-time schedule might include a writing session in the morning until lunch followed by taking care of less mentally taxing business of writing tasks in the afternoon.

Now that the school year is done for me but my kids aren’t out of school yet, I’ve had a week to play around with my schedule to see what works. I’ve recently read (and re-read!) The Now Habit by Neil Fiore and am intrigued by his methods for eliminating procrastination and getting more done. His is the first book I’ve read that actually suggests real and plausible techniques for avoiding procrastination (a struggle every writer I know faces, and I don’t want to hear from you if you never deal with it…).

First, he suggests keeping a log of your every activity and exactly how much time you spend on it. This is supposed to show you how little time you really have in your life for getting the important work done.

Next he tells the reader to schedule in fun and pleasurable activities every day, creating what he calls the “unschedule.” The fun activities provide an incentive for getting work done. For instance, if you want to have lunch with a friend, pencil it in, but then work for at least a half hour before you go.

For work time, he suggests only writing in work time on your schedule AFTER you have completed at least 30 minutes of uninterrupted focused work. The key is staying focused for that short time and seeing what you can get done. I have been amazed at how much I can accomplish when I only have 30 minutes at a time. If I’m really rolling I will keep going longer than 30 minutes, but I always take at least a short break after an hour, because I need one by then.

So after 5 days of not trying very hard to get a lot done, I’ve logged in 9 hours spent producing good solid work. I was hoping for 20 hours, but like I said, I wasn’t trying very hard, and I’ve been doing household chores too. If you’d asked me last week whether I could accomplish a great deal in that short amount of time, I would have said no, but it’s been incredibly productive and fruitful time. I’ve made progress I truly thought I’d need 20 hours to make.

I can’t sum up the ideas in The Now Habit in a few paragraphs, so I’d recommend reading it yourself if you’re looking for tips on avoiding procrastination. The first few chapters are a bit slow going, but I appreciate his explanation of why we procrastinate, and the chapters on putting his ideas into practice are priceless. I’m off to create my unschedule for next week.

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