One of the questions I’m asked most often is, “How do you find the time to write?” Lack of time seems to be a shared problem among both professional and aspiring writers. We’re all busy these days and it can be difficult to find time to do the things that are important to us. The bottom line, though, is that if something is important to us, it’s important enough to carve out time to pursue. Yes, that may mean giving up something else, but that’s the price to be paid. If you want to pursue one thing, you have to put it ahead of something else. Harsh, but true. This holds true whether you want to write, fly kites, or learn to make origami swans.
There are ways to find time to write (or do anything else), though, and while many of them require prioritizing writing above other things, some simply require you to be aware of your time and make better use of it. Here are sixteen suggestions for finding the time to write (or make those origami swans).
- Give up TV. Or whatever else is sucking away big chunks of your time. It could be video games, the internet, or other activities. These are all fine in moderation but you have to cut them down or out if you want to be a productive writer. TV is usually the worst offender. Do you really have to watch the news twice a day? Do you have to keep up with whatever dramas or reality shows your coworkers are watching? Do you have to watch every sporting event in its entirety? Probably not. Inventory your viewing/playing/surfing habits and cut down to the bare minimum required to keep you happy.
- Give up the idea of writing in large chunks. Many people feel that they can’t write unless they can sit down for two or three hours and write uninterrupted. How nice that would be. This isn’t an option for many of us. Kids, jobs, pets, and other interruptions mean that we often can’t write for more than a few minutes at time. This isn’t an insurmountable problem. You just have to train your brain to quickly focus, write, and then be able to come back to the project when you have another chance. Practice will make this easier.
- Say, “No,” often. Stop taking on so many obligations. There are some things you cannot get out of, but a good bit of what takes up our time is optional. Get comfortable saying, “No” to demands on your time.
- Get up earlier. If you want an extra half hour a day, you may have to simply get up earlier so you can write while the rest of the world is asleep.
- Stay up later. If getting up earlier isn’t for you, you can try staying up to write after everyone else has gone to bed. Experiment with your body clock to find out if you’re more a morning or evening person.
- Subject everything to the “Priority Test.” Whenever you find yourself with a decision about how to spend your time, subject your choices to the Priority Test. Ask yourself which is more important: Working on your writing, or whatever other thing it is you’re about to do. If writing is important to you, it should win out most of the time over things like social media, web surfing, TV watching, cleaning, and talking on the phone. If writing isn’t winning these battles, then you either have a serious problem with procrastination or you need to ask yourself if you really want to be a writer.
- Learn to live with more dirt. We spend a lot of time cleaning, even when things don’t need to be cleaned (or can be cleaned less often). Free up time in your schedule by getting comfortable with a little more dirt. No, you don’t have to become like one of those houses on Hoarders, but see if you can get by with a bit less cleaning. Change the sheets less often. Give the counters a quick wipe down instead of a deep scrubbing every week. Let the vacuuming go for another day. Chances are that even if you clean a bit less, you still won’t end up living in complete filth.
- Get rid of the little “Time Wasters.” While we’re all guilty of wasting large chunks of time on things like TV and the internet, we all also have smaller time wasters that we might not even notice. Things like constant phone calls or social media updates, errands, solicitors, and inefficient daily chores all eat up our time. There are lots of ways to streamline your daily life, however. Look at your daily routine and figure out how you can make things more efficient.
- Schedule the time. If you work better when everything is scheduled down to the minute, then be sure to schedule your writing time. Make it a recurring event on your calendar. If you see it there everyday as something that has to be done, you may be less likely to blow it off.
- Depend on it. When you depend on the income from your writing to pay the bills, it gets pretty darn easy to find the time to write. While I’m not saying that you should quit your day job if you have one (starvation and eviction aren’t appealing options), at least try to act like you need to get paid from your writing. Set a long term goal like a great vacation or a new car and then try to fund it with only money you make writing. “Needing” that money will suddenly make writing a priority for you.
- Use those random hours. Lunch hour. Your commute on the bus. The kid is napping. You’re waiting for Junior’s basketball practice to end. Waiting at the airport for a friend to arrive. Waiting in the doctor’s office or for your car to be repaired. We all have chunks of time in our day that are kind of random. With all of the mobile technologies available (and even good old pen and paper), there’s no reason these times can’t be used to eke out a few words.
- Get your family on board. Talk to your kids, spouse, or partner and explain how important writing is to you. Explain that you need their help to cut down on interruptions and deal with things around the house. You don’t have to dump everything on them, but get them to help you with daily chores, let your spouse help with transportation for the kids, and make them understand that writing time can only be interrupted for life threatening emergencies. Set expectations up front and be grateful when they help out. Your family may be more receptive to helping you if they feel like their contribution is valued.
- Stop multitasking. You think you’re being productive by writing and doing something else at the same time, but really you’re doing neither task well. Studies have shown that your brain can’t really do two things at once; it only switches back and forth between activities, reducing your concentration on both activities. Multitasking is another word for half-assing your work. Instead of writing while you watch TV, cook dinner, surf the internet, or help the kids with their homework, do one or the other. If you choose writing, that time, however short it may be, will be more productive than twice the time spent trying to multitask.
- Write in your head. If you find yourself with time where your mind can wander but you cannot physically write, write in your head. If you have a physical job that doesn’t require much brain power or you’re bored out of your mind at a conference, outline your stories and articles in your head. Then, when you do have time to write, you can make that time super productive because you’ve already got a draft worked out in your head.
- Audit your activities. List everything that you do. Clubs, volunteer work, social obligations, church, activities at your kid’s school, your job/second job, recreational activities, etc. Now ask yourself how many of those things are sill fun, meaningful, necessary, or relevant to your life today. Drop anything that no longer holds value or interest for you. It’s surprising how many things we do just because we’ve always done them, not because they are still important or required. It may be painful to let some things go (and you may meet some resistance), but it’s for the best if they’re no longer worthwhile.
- Delegate and outsource. If you have others in your family who can help with chores, delegate some activities. If there are other members of your group or club who can help organize an activity, get them working. If you have the money, pay other people to do things like lawn maintenance or housecleaning. You don’t have to do everything yourself.
The time to write is out there, you just have to take the initiative to capture it. We all have chunks of wasted time or silly obligations that we can cut out. We just have to identify them and then do the hard work of prioritizing writing over those other things.
(Photo courtesy of pippalou)