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August 24, 2012
Grab your cup of coffee or Diet Coke and read on!
“Get Creative on Demand” says “you have to be able to turn on your creativity like it’s a faucet. Why? Because most of us have other responsibilities in our lives that often interfere with our writing time. This means we must make the most of every minute we can steal away to do our writing.”
“How to Effectively Create More Time to Write” is something most of us need training in. “With an already packed schedule of work, family/social obligations, and that pesky to-do list that never seems to get any shorter, making time to write is not only difficult, but sometimes feels like an impossibility.” Where does your time go? You may be surprised.
“LendInk, Author Activism, and the Need for Critical Thinking” from Writer Beware highlights a recent Internet mess that we need to be aware of. “Ignorance and lack of investigation are also what lead writers into the arms of scammers.” ALSO read the whole post. The last half deals with another related subject that you need to take to heart. Her final paragraph says: “We live in highly polarized times. That’s as true in publishing as it is in politics–and, I think, as reflective of the fear of a future that, as much as we would like it to be clear and certain, offers no assurances but the certainty of upheaval. In such a situation, it’s more essential than ever to think critically, investigate carefully, and act deliberately. And to be wary of received wisdom, or anything masquerading as such.” [And that includes anything I say!]
“Are You Really Meant to Be a Writer?” gives some very practical ideas on how to hang onto your dreams during the wannabe-published years.
“Mette Ivie Harrison on How to Find Time to Write” will blow you away, so I saved this one till last. Read it and be inspired!
July 31, 2012
During 2012, I slowed down–a lot. My writing time seemed to disappear daily down a black hole. I had multiple projects outlined–but little written.
Mostly because of exhaustion, I’ve picked up some bad time (mis)management habits. Now that I feel better, I know I need to get control of my writing hours back.
It Isn’t Easy!
How do you get back on a writing schedule when life has derailed you for months? The answer is simple, although not necessarily easy.
You stop making default choices just because you’re out of the habit of thinking through your actions and consequences. And you stop letting others make “time choices” for you.
In short, you budget your time.
Time is Like Money: a Limited Resource
Think of time (a resource that isn’t unlimited) like your income (which is likely not unlimited either).
Most of us learned how to budget years ago, when first leaving home. We discovered that we didn’t have nearly enough money to do or buy all the things we wished we had. If you were lucky enough to grow up before credit cards, or you had parents like mine who taught you that you didn’t buy things until you had the money saved up, then budgeting comes naturally. It might never be fun, but you can do it.
Depending on your values and priorities, you will spend your income in a certain order. At our house, our tithes and offerings come out first. This is followed immediately by those things we don’t want to forfeit: a roof over our heads (mortgage), food on the table, electricity and water, etc. (And books!)
Only after the money is budgeted for necessities do we decide what to do with the discretionary money. That includes the “wants” we have that aren’t “needs,” like eating out, going to movies, and taking trips.
Money is limited, so we budget. We understand that. But time is limited too. And if you don’t budget time along the same principles (non-negotiable spending and discretionary spending), you won’t have time to write.
The Writing Time Budget: How-To
First, you must decide what is most important in your time allotment. If you have a day job or small children to care for, those are certainly non-negotiables. Look at your calendar and a detailed day planner of some kind (even a spreadsheet will work). Mark all those hours in your week and month that are NOT spoken for by things truly outside your control.
If you have other major commitments, the time you get to budget for writing may not be huge, but that’s okay. Mark all time that would be free to write if you chose to: evenings or weekend hours available, nap times, commute times, while the family sleeps, etc. Those hours are what you get to budget.
My family comes before my writing, so some of my hours go to babysitting grandkids (some weekly, others less often). Some time goes to my husband, some to my church, some to my neighborhood. I have gone overboard a bit in the past and had to cut back some, but they still come first.
Second, even though this sounds like it will ruin your time budget, you need to set aside time IN YOUR CALENDAR for yourself. I didn’t do this for years, but no one is indestructible. No one. And recovering from severe burnout can take months–many more hours than if you had taken care of yourself in the first place. Know your own limits. No two people are alike.
Know your own personality. If you’re an introvert like me, and need lots of solitude to recoup your energy, be sure you get it. And be sure to set aside some time right after particularly stressful seasons and events.
Know your best time of the day to write. Don’t bend to everyone else’s whims, then end up having no time to write except at 10 p.m. when you’re a morning person who can’t think clearly after 3 p.m.
Third, budget what is left for your writing. Mark those hours as “commitments.” Write it in your calendar and day planner at least four weeks (preferably six weeks) ahead. That’s about how far out people call and ask you to Tupperware parties and other events you may want to skip.
Then when someone calls to invite you to do lunch or shop or needs to talk, you can check your calendar and truthfully say you have a commitment at that hour–then suggest another more convenient hour. There are very few true emergencies that require you to give up your best writing hour of the day.
Remember: time is not an unlimited resource, although I have been acting like it this past year. It’s finite, and it goes by quickly.
It might not seem as serious as a money budget–I mean, you won’t end up out on the street starving if you watch TV instead of write. But you will get to the end of your writing year and be no closer to attaining your writing dreams.
I decided that’s not what I want this year–and there’s still enough of 2012 to do something about it! I hope you’ll join me.
June 22, 2012
Once we are refocused on our goals and have regained a clear vision, there’s one more step to take to get back on track.
It’s time to double-check our “creativity routines” and our time management. Then we can attain those writing goals.
Need some ideas that work?
Help is Right Here!
First, download this free ebook on “Time Management for Creative People.” I have been reading one short chapter each morning before I start work. It has definitely helped my productivity. Chapter Three alone has worked wonders.
This short article on “Routines, Systems, Spontaneity” talks about “the creative process,” which is really several interlocking processes. The magic happens at the point where they intersect. Here’s how to coordinate these three critical processes.
Maybe you totally embrace all these ideas, but your calendar is just too full! If that’s your issue, check out “Is It Time for Calendar Triage?” Here are some short, practical tips for cleaning out an over-stuffed calendar.
Focus + Time Management = Productivity
Don’t try to implement every tip you read about, at least not right away. Choose one to try for a week or two, until it’s a new habit. Then choose another one, and so on.
Do YOU have a writing habit you want to develop? What needs to change in your ability to manage your time? Be brave and share an example!
November 4, 2011
With that in mind, here are two websites to products I’ve been using recently that I love. The first one I’ve used for years, but recently bought the upgrade. The second is my solution to the time-consuming social marketing dilemma. I’d encourage you to check out both sites!
Work Smarter, Not Harder
Many years ago, I bought a CD of the earliest version of LifeJournal software for my computer. It is password protected, it sits on your computer privately (NOT an online journal), and has many features a journaler loves. I’ve loaded that CD onto half a dozen computers over the years because I wanted and needed a place to “dump” things that no one else would read. And unlike handwritten journals, it has an easy “tagging” system so that you can find what you’re looking for later. For example, after writing a daily entry, I might realize it would make a good blog post, or I tag spots where I thought of a good plot twist idea, or anything else I might want to remember. The new version has many additional features, including the ability to make templates (which I use a lot for frequent issues, morning and evening check-ins, writer’s block issues, etc.) and the option to buy additional modules for specific parts of your life (writers, emotional balance, creativity, and many more). At LifeJournal you can find a free trial version. If you buy it, I’d recommend spending the extra $10.00 and getting a CD as well as a download so that you’ll always have it and can load it onto all the computers you have now and will buy in the future. (And no, I’m not an affiliate of either of these recommendations. I just use them and love the products.)
SocialOomph is the answer I found to how long the social networking was taking me (Facebook, blogging, Twitter, etc.). I couldn’t keep up with it all. It was hard enough remembering all the passwords to three websites, three blogs, and three FB accounts. Now I only need to remember one: to SocialOomph, the answer to my griping about this. It’s a one-stop place to do your social marketing, and the services it supplies are phenomenal. The first week, just using the free version which is very good, I saved about five hours! And I got MORE social networking accomplished. It literally keeps track of everything for you, gives you a place to schedule your tweets and blogs (you set the schedule and SocialOomph does the rest.) Several times I was gone to a conference or busy with a family matter, but I still had posts going out three times a day to my FB and Twitter pages. I wasn’t even online during those times, but by being able to schedule everything in one spot, I generated a lot more traffic to my sites in so much less time. While you are using the free service, you will be given a one-week free trial to their professional service. This is where they hooked me. I have only begun to tap the abilities of this service. [I took on a two-day job for someone in order to pay for a year's worth of this service because it helps me accomplish so much more in so little time.] Check it out.
When you’re making out your Christmas list this year, you might want to put these products near the top!
August 19, 2011
Back in March, I wrote about pruning some things from life in order to have more time to write. (See my former post “The ‘Not To-Do’ List”.)
In order to make time for anything new in your life, it requires some necessary endings.
Help Is on the Way
So I was thrilled yesterday when my son-in-law loaned me a book by a favorite author of mine (Henry Cloud of Boundaries fame). It’s called Necessary Endings. It’s the best “how-to” on this “pruning” subject I’ve ever seen. It covers both personal/relationships and business. [Remember: if you're a writer, you're in business.]
I don’t know about you, but I have difficulty cutting things out of my life–even when doctors say, “Cut back or die!” (or the equivalent). This book has already helped me identify more clearly what needs to go. And, as Cloud shows, it all starts with having a clear idea of what you’re pruning toward (your goal or vision.) Only when you know that can you know what/who has to go.
You can download a free chapter from Necessary Endings called “Pruning: Growth Depends on Getting Rid of the Unwanted or the Superfluous.” Go to Facebook, do a search for “Henry Cloud (author)”, and you’ll find it. Just click the “Like” link, and you’ll have access to the free chapter and dozens of excellent short videos he’s posted.
Also, in the “Notes” section of his Facebook page, you’ll find a group study starting today on how to do this whole process of “necessary endings” in work, relationships, outside interests, and everything else (even good things) that keep us from being able to pursue the best things.
August 10, 2011
It’s easy to learn the LazyMeter system, it’s fun, and it has a great feature that lets you put a task on “pause”–which automatically moves it to the next day! Voila! Cleared list!
The colored “lazymeter” at the top of the page shows how many tasks you completed and how many tasks were pushed to the next day.
According to the creators of LazyMeter: “Our core belief is that productivity is not about how much you do, but how you feel at the end of the day. Other task managers create more work for users, and overwhelm them with an even longer to-do list. LazyMeter is designed to help you focus on one day at a time, and feel better at the end of the day.”
The LazyMeter blog answers many questions about their features and how to make the best use of this easy-to-understand time management system. Post a comment if you try this system and share your thoughts about it.
August 8, 2011
In the August edition of Randy Ingermanson’s free (wonderfully helpful) newsletter, there was a link to a free e-book describing a new time management system Randy is using. (For back issues of Randy’s newsletter, go here.)
Since “free” is one of my favorite words, and I’m always looking for ways to manage my time better, I downloaded it to skim.
Skimming quickly turned to reading carefully, and soon I’d read the whole 57-page e-book by Jim Stone called Clear Mind, Effective Action. It deals with the subject of “fractal planning.” Fractal has to do with breaking something large into smaller parts. (You can get the free e-book here.)
In some ways fractal planning is unique, and some parts are a combination of the best time management ideas from the past twenty years.
In the free e-book, the author explains how to implement his system on your own (on paper or spreadsheet or Word document), if you don’t want to subscribe to his service. (I’m using a Word doc–for now–to see how it goes. I have to admit that–so far–it has boosted my productivity and ability to focus significantly.) If you’d like to go directly to the Fractal Planner page and check out the features, you can do that here.
If you try the fractal planner or read the e-book, let me know. I’d like to hear about your experiences–plus or minus–if you try it out.
August 5, 2011
I hear it from writers almost on a daily basis. “I can’t find time or energy to write!” Or “If I take time to write, everything else falls apart!”
The idea of living balanced lives is popping up everywhere. It’s definitely a sign of the times and indicative that many feel out of balance. There are articles online for specific people (finding balance as a lawyer) and even websites for finding balance for your dog!
Take Time to Ponder
For your weekend reading pleasure and inspiration, here are some additional ideas and resources for rebalancing your life. [I'm not endorsing all these websites where I found the articles. Some are good, but some are not my cup of tea. The articles have merit though.]
- How to Live a Balanced Life has some good tips. I tried his “Five Golden Minutes” idea and found it very useful for something so simple.
- What is a Balanced Life? will make you think. I thought the teeter-totter example was good here (although we each must choose what to have at the center, or fulcrum, of our lives).
- When You Have No Margin Left: the Pathway to Burnout–the title tells it all!
- Balanced Lives at “Family Fountain” has some good reminders and tips, especially for people with children at home.
- Living with Less: the Importance of Margin gives the four areas where margin is critical.
- 5 Tips for Better Work-Life Balance has some good strategies! Tip #5 is a winner you can start today.
- Balanced Life website articles include ten articles on various aspects of living a balanced life. There’s even a 12-week e-course you can take for $25.
- Living in the Margin (Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3) is one woman’s experience of living on both sides of the fence and the radical changes in her life by adding margins. She’s a homeschool mom.
Enjoy the articles. Just remember, though, that nothing will change unless we actually put into practice the suggestions and ideas. Start small. Choose one idea and put it into practice for a week or a month. Then add another one.
Even if you only add one new small balancing habit per month, that would give you a dozen new “balanced living habits” in a year. That’s bound to make a difference!
August 3, 2011
Each person has his or her own set of priorities. However, remember that time is finite. It can’t be stretched, saved, or borrowed.
The time devoted to things must be balanced, for if we give too much in one area we neglect our duty in another important area.
Restore Balance Now
Here are Richard Swenson’s suggestions for restoring balance from his book, Margin.
First, you must cultivate the ability to say no. “In life, as in the buffet, our plates fill up sooner than we realize. In attempting to be sociable we try to accommodate everyone’s invitations. In attempting to be good parents we try to give our children more opportunities than we had. In attempting to be compassionate, we want to help with everyone’s problems.” Sometimes you will have to say no, even to some very good things.
Second, you must gain control over your own life. Sometimes your life and time are ruled by other people’s demands or crises. Sometimes your life is ruled by your own out-of-control behavior. Do what is necessary to regain control over your life.
Third, beware of trying to solve the problem of imbalance by becoming even more imbalanced. A doctor warned his patients that we tend to respond to our sense of imbalance by committing more time and energy to the area in which we feel deficient. But if you are already maxed out in time and energy, you can’t give added attention to one area unless you subtract from another area. (That sounds like common sense, but it’s still the mistake I usually make.)
Fourth, accept the no given to you by others. Give others the freedom to find balance in their own lives. Don’t put your expectations on other people.
Margin and Writing
In case anyone thinks I’ve lost the point of this blog–first aid for writers–I haven’t. These issues of finding margin (while maintaining your mental and emotional and relational health) have been the biggest struggles of my writing life for thirty years. Few of us are raised by mental health professionals or counselors, so we come to some of these principles later in life. But if you want to have a healthy writing career as well as a healthy life, these ideas will help you get there.
In last week’s and this week’s posts, I’ve barely skimmed the surface of the ideas, suggestions, and life-changing advice in Richard Swenson’s book, Margin. I hope you will find a copy for yourself. This is one book I would have dearly loved to have about twenty-five years ago.
August 1, 2011
In the Margin book, Richard Swenson, M.D. talked about the tug-of-war in our everyday lives and the challenge of finding balance.
The Balancing Act
I don’t know about you, but I feel a constant tug-of-war between choices. Should I work now, or relax a bit? Should I take action, or should I think about it more? Should I take the lead in this decision, or be a good follower? Should I speak up, or just listen? Should I keep studying and researching and learning, or is it time to apply what I know? Should I judge and confront, or should I give grace here? Should I say yes to this gathering, or retire in much-needed solitude?
It’s no wonder we have difficulty finding balance!
There are so many decisions to make, minute by minute sometimes. Added to that, we know that life requires both. We need to both work and rest. Sometimes we need to speak up, but sometimes we need to listen. We need to both study and apply what we know. We need the company of other people, but writers also require a lot of solitude.
These are not either/or questions. “Balance has always been necessary and will always be necessary. It is just becoming more difficult,” says the author of Margin.
Balance or Excellence?
I believe in high standards. I believe in doing things in an excellent way. In many ways, especially in the past, I’ve gone overboard into perfectionism.
“Much is made today of the virtues of excellence. But what does this mean? Often the excellence described is only in one narrow corridor of life,” says Swenson. He talks of musicians who are virtuosos, executives who live at the office, and other passionate high achievers. Many are not so successful in the rest of their lives though.
Many writers – including myself – have dreamed of the day when they would have time to be passionately high achieving writers. While my children were smaller and I was also teaching, I dreamed of the day when I would have the hours to be one of those high achieving writers I read about. I have met a few of them at conferences, and I admire them a great deal. But each time, when talking to them, I discovered something that I knew I didn’t want in my own life. I didn’t want to ignore my community, give up my ministry at church, lose close contact with grandchildren, or be unhealthy and out of shape. I wanted it all!
“While undivided devotion to one cause can bring great success and vault a person into prominence, such a priority structure often leaves the rest of that person’s life in a state of disorder,” says Swenson. You might excel at your career – like the famous surgeon or performer – yet fail as a parent or neglect personal health in order to achieve it.
I have found this to be true in my own life. I can push through when deadlines demand it. I can do it for months on end if necessary. But to my frustration, something always breaks down. Headaches get bad. I find that I’m out of touch with grown children or grandchildren. Or I put on five pounds because I stopped walking and feel like a slug.
What’s the Answer?
“Doing our best has limits,” says Swenson. “Our rush toward excellence in one quadrant of life must not be permitted to cause destruction in another.” Those who go “all out” for success in one area – even writing – risk failure in other important areas of life.
So what’s the answer? Come back Wednesday, and I’ll give you four tips for restoring balance in your life.Newer Posts »