Time management is a skill often overlooked by writers, and oddly, many writers I’ve worked with not only lack time management skills, but take pride in their lack of time management skills. It seems to be a badge of honor among writers to be able to produce a good piece of writing at the last minute, fueled by deadline pressure and a near-lethal combination of caffeine, alcohol, and insomnia.
A former student told me recently that he loves that crazed feeling he gets when the deadline is looming and he just pounds out a draft in a few hours—he actually chases it, he said, like an addict chases down a fix. “But now that I’m getting older and am married and thinking about starting a family,” he confessed, “a less insane writing practice is becoming more attractive to me.”
Enter time management skills. I’ve had phenomenal results with David Allen’s Getting Things Done program and Julie Morgenstern’s Time Management from the Inside Out, but I think what matters more than the specific time management or productivity plan that you choose is that you choose one. Any one. Any plan is better than no plan.
For writers, I recommend the following as non-negotiable aspects of your time management plan:
- Keep a calendar. It doesn’t matter if it’s on your phone or computer or a hard copy. Don’t clog up your valuable brain space by trying to remember your schedule, deadlines, and appointments. You won’t.
- Break writing projects into small, measurable chunks. For example, “write story” can be broken down into sketching out particular characters and the setting, writing a shitty first draft, revising the shitty first draft, getting feedback from readers, and revising again. Plan a specific time to work on each chunk and put an appointment in your calendar to work on that chunk—and then, honor the appointment. Let me repeat that, because it’s crucial: honor the appointment.
- Keep a log of when and where you write, what you work on, and how productive you are. Every couple of weeks, look over the log for patterns, and then make changes to your habits based on the patterns you notice. For example, if you notice that you seem to be more productive at a certain time of the day, plan to write more during that time of day and less at other times. For some more information on keeping a writing log, read Pearl Luke’s “A Writing Log Marks You as a Professional.”