Monday, June 11, 2012
Avoid Time Sinks: Ways to be a More Productive Writer, Part 6
Today is the final tip in the series, and it's a bit of a round up. There are so many things in our lives that tempt us from our writing. Some are truly important and have to be dealt with right away, but others are things that can easily wait until we're ready to focus on them. I never realized how much time I wasted until I started keeping track of what I did all day.
So far in the series we've had finding the right time and place to write, then all about preparation, stopping in the middle, not re-reading too much of the previous session, and leaving yourself notes. Today in my "Be a More Productive Writer" series, it's all about wasting time.
Tip number six on being a more productive writer:
Avoid the time sinks that rob you of your writing time.
I went through a period where I was busy all the time and never seemed to get anything done. I couldn't figure out what was going on and it was extremely frustrating. So I started keeping track. Nothing fancy, just an open Notepad file on my desktop, and for a week, I wrote down what and when I did something.
The results were enlightening. (and a bit scary)
That "quick check" of my email? Not so quick. Neither were those phone calls to writer friends, or checking social media, or reading blogs. Stopping my writing to research or look up something also took chunks away. Usually the blocks were small, but stopping six times a day for twenty minutes is two hours of lost time. When I lost those two hours in the mornings, I got very little writing time, even though in my mind I wrote all morning.
Everyone will have their own time sinks, but these are very likely some areas where you're spending more time than you need to.
Maybe you're the kind of person who can glance at your email and then ignore it, but if my email is open, I'm going to look at it. A glance at the screen doesn't sound like much, but if it breaks your concentration and you have to take another minute to get back into the flow, the writing suffers. The only way I can focus is to keep it turned off when I'm writing.
Some days Twitter and Facebook are a quick read, other days I can lose hours. And if you happen to use Pinterest, then you might lose the day (I've stayed away from this after hearing so many talk about its addictive properties) I've carved out small blocks of time during the day for these, and it helps knowing that at X time, I can take a social media breaks. And when the time is up, I close the browser. (Set a timer if you need to. You can even use ones online)
Chatting With Friends
When I get stuck on a scene (or if I'm excited about something I just wrote) I'll call a writer pal. Problem is, we usually don't end the conversation after the news is spread or the scene is fixed. These days, when I need to write I stay away from the phone and ignore those urges to take a quick break "just to chat" for a minute. It's never just a minute. If you're easily drawn into conversations with friends (be it the phone, texting, or online messaging) resist the urge to chat during your writing time. Try using that as a reward for getting your writing done.
Doing "Writerly" Stuff
Some days I need to spend a few hours doing research or plotting or the myriad of non-writing writing tasks. But they also steal my time if I use them to procrastinate. Doing research online is a great way to kill a few hours, so is reading or looking things up and making notes for the future. Ask yourself if you really need to do this now or if you're just delaying putting fingers to the keyboard. Days when you're not feeling creative are great days to spend doing non-writing tasks.
It feels like working, because you're writing, right? But if you're tweaking old prose and not writing new words, you're not getting any closer to finishing that novel. Save the edits for days when you have editing planned.
Getting Your Time Back
For a week, keep track of what you do during your writing time (or even the whole day if you prefer). When you start, when you end, what else you do during those allotted periods. Even if it's just notes on a pad beside you, identifying where you spend the most time really helps you see where that time goes. You might discover you're spending more time on small things than you realized.
Plus, the act of paying attention for a week will make you more aware and you'll reconsider those time sinks when they tempt you to stray.
Little things do add up, and they're the ones you don't always notice. Once you see where your time goes, you'll be able to better schedule what you need for your day and find other places for them to go. Maybe you set aside an hour every day for email and social media, or fifteen minutes three times a day. Whatever works for you. The goal is to organize your activities to make the most of your writing time.
And who knows. You might decide to do this for your whole day and see where all your time goes. A little organization could even find you more time to write.
This tip's challenge:
Spend a week keeping track of what you do and where your time goes. What are some of your time sinks? How many can you eliminate?
As for last tip's challenge... Did you leave yourself notes? Did it help keep your momentum going?
This wraps up the Ways to Be a More Productive Writer series. I hope you've found these tips helpful and you're writing more now than you did two months ago.