Making Time to Write

Before you can hone your craft, you first have to master your time.

By Marcela Landres
Published on LatinoLA: February 7, 2013

Making Time to Write

Originally published at Latinidad. Republished by permission.

In continuation of my celebration of Latinidad's tenth anniversary, I am culling the best advice and advisors from back issues to help you get published.

Last month I discussed money money. This month's focus is on a commodity that is arguably more valuable than money--time. Writers tend to invest too little money and not enough time in their writing careers. While it is possible to make or save more money, it isn't possible to create more hours in a day. Before you can hone your craft, you first have to master your time.

To that end, read this month's Q&A with Karin Stewart, author of The 5-Minute Time Management Solution.


Karin Stewart, Ph.D., founder of Daily Mastery and author of The 5-Minute Time Management Solution, teaches busy people how to get more done, in less time, and most importantly without stress. From time management for the rest of us (those who don't have two days, or even two hours, to devote to setting up a time management system) to full life management, she teaches her clients simple, easy, yet highly effective solutions to their problems. Working by phone, she coaches individual clients, from stay-at-home mothers to busy executives, and frequently teaches seminars on the topic. Karin has spoken for multiple organizations, and has been quoted in media such as Newsday, msnbc.com, abcnews.com, the Boston Herald, and the Associated Press. To learn more, visit http://www.dailymastery.com/

Q: What are the three most common mistakes people make when managing their time?

A: 1. Being slaves to their technology. It's something I unfortunately see too often. Mostly, it comes in the form of an addiction to e-mail and phone; the person absolutely has to check what came in as soon as the e-mail alert or phone ringer starts. The word addiction was first used in jest for such people, but it turns out that, from a brain perspective, doing this is genuinely addictive. It's extraordinarily disruptive to concentration, focus, productivity, you name it. Thankfully, it's a lot easier to stop than other drugs.

2. Pushing through when their energy tank is on empty. The brain, just like a car, needs energy to run properly. Contrary to a car, which will stop when the tank is empty, the human brain has the capacity to keep going for a while. But the price we pay for doing this is steep: loss of creativity, slowness, shallow thinking, and sometimes outright burnout.

3. Letting other people's priorities dominate the day. We live in a world of interactions, collaborations, and immediacy, which is great, but presents some dangers. In particular, under the pressure of others' needs, it is very easy to forget our own needs and priorities. For a writer, this can come in the form of pushing back the start of writing time
because a friend wants to chat, and then regretting it because now you're too tired to work. The most frustrating part of it all is that, most often, what others present as priorities are anything but, such as in the case of this friend, who just wanted to share juicy gossip.

Q: Alternatively, what three steps can folks take today to improve their time management?

A: 1. The first step to reclaiming your mastery over your technology is to institute no-technology moments. In other words, at least once a day, turn all your electronics off (your cell phone, your landline, your e-mail client on your computer, etc.), and just get working for an hour or so. I think most writers already know to do this when they write, but do you know to do this when you're at your day job, too? It's amazing how much you can accomplish in an hour.

2. To avoid pushing your tank on empty, make sure that you always have "fuel" in your tank. The first step to doing this is to sleep enough. Did you know that sleeping for five hours the night before a day of work is the equivalent of drinking two margaritas before going to work? Or that, no matter how much or little you sleep every night, after two sixty-hour weeks, you would have accomplished just as much, if not more, working regular forty-hour weeks? More is not always better in the realm of time management.

3. An easy and quick way that people can keep track of their priorities is to--drum roll--write them down. I know it sounds basic, but it's incredibly valuable to do so. First, it fixes it in your mind. Then, it gives you a benchmark to compare what's coming in with what your priorities are. When you do this, it's much easier to say, "No" or to say, "Later" to someone.

Q: The vast majority of writers--even published ones--have day jobs. How can they carve out time around their workweek in order to write?

A: That's an important question, and I've had to deal with this while writing The 5-Minute Time Management Solution myself. After all, I still had clients, marketing, and business administration to do while writing. The short answer to this question is: Be ruthless with your time. Learn how to be as productive as you can be so you can leave work on time; eliminate from your non-work schedule everything that isn't something you truly want or need to do, so you can free up some time to write; and, finally, make writing a top priority. Do you know how I ended up writing The 5-Minute Time Management Solution? By deciding that I'd write one section every day, no matter what. It is possible to write (at least non-fiction) in fifteen-minutes-a-day increments.

Q: Many freelance writers find that family and friends make demands on their time because they work at home. What is the best way to delicately handle this situation?

A: That's another one I know all too well as I work from home, too. The first thing to do is to establish clear boundaries in your head. When are you working, and when are you not? What are acceptable exceptions to this rule? Will you change your schedule around for someone or something else, or not? If yes, with what kind of notice? It's hard for other people to know how to deal with you if you're not clear yourself. Guess what? When in doubt, they'll do what is most convenient for them. Say, "No" whenever they cross your boundaries. It's a lot easier to say than you think. For instance, tell them that you are on a tight deadline--everyone understands that.

Q: Time management can be especially challenging for writers with young children. What lessons have you learned from your own experience as a mom who runs a consulting business yet managed to find the time to write an e-book?

A: The first and most important lesson I've learned is to get babysitting a few hours a week. No matter your resources, you can do that, and there is no substitute to working in peace for a few hours a week. I personally had no family to help me, and very limited means when my son was young, so I had to be creative to get that alone time. One thing I did was befriend another mother and exchange babysitting times together. I would take both our children for a couple of hours twice a week, and then she would do the same for me. It was well worth it.

Another important thing to do is to determine which work simply cannot be done while the kids are in the house (creative writing, for instance), and what can be done with them in the house. I personally find that e-mailing and editing are activities that I can do with the kids around.

Finally, divide the work that you can do with the children around in ten to fifteen minute increments (paragraph by paragraph, keyword by keyword, whatever unit works for you). Whenever one of your children is asking for something, they will be able to wait for the few minutes until you're done, and they will be very willing to do so once they know that, once Mommy is done, Mommy will give them full attention. I've done many things by working for fifteen minutes, and then playing with my son for five. I'll be honest, Nick Jr. is also a great tool to have in your toolbox.

Q: Aside from your e-book, The 5-Minute Time Management Solution, what resources would you recommend to writers who want to learn more about time management?

A: The best books I've read on the topic are The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, The Secret Pulse of Time by Stefan Klein, and Brain Rules by John Medina. All three base everything they write on science, from psychology to neuroscience and sometimes even to physics, so they give advice that actually works, and give the framework that allows the people who want to, to figure out their own solutions. Of course, if you don't want to, or don't have the time to do that work, my e-book just gives you what to do step-by-step, in five-minute increments.

Q: Do you have upcoming projects that my readers should have on their radar?

A: I am always coming up with new ways to help my clients. Most recently, I created the Moving Mastery teleclass to teach people how to have a smooth and easy move (yes, it's possible). The recording and supporting material are available on my site. I also regularly run a live version of The 5-Minute Time Management Solution for those who prefer more hands-on help than a book.

Excerpted from Latinidad?« ?® 2003 by Marcela Landres

About Marcela Landres:
Marcela Landres is the author of the e-book How Editors Think. She is an Editorial Consultant who specializes in helping Latinos get published and was formerly an editor at Simon & Schuster.
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