Tag Archives: writing time

Tips for Adulthood: Five Things I Learned From Keeping Track of My Time

keeping track of time

keeping track of timeOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

Like many of us, I wake up most days feeling like there’s more to do in the day/week/month than I can possibly accomplish. So I pile my To Do list high with a list of impossible goals, accomplish a few, and then – instead of feeling great about what I *did* get done  – feel lousy about what I failed to achieve. Sound familiar?

I resolved to do better this year. But there’s knowing and then there’s doing. How to actually execute this goal?

In her book, Entrepreneurial You, marketing and career development expert Dorie Clark suggests that when you find yourself overwhelmed by an impossibly long list of goals, try taking an inventory of your time. The idea is simple:  keep a log of everything you do in a workday that takes more than 15 minutes. Do this for two weeks, and then step back and examine the results.

I’ve been doing this for the past month, and it’s been highly illuminating.  The best thing about this method is that you don’t judge yourself. Instead, you go into data-collection mode and observe. That’s hard for a “do-er” like myself, but boy, is it useful.

Here’s what I learned when I studied my use of my time:

a. My writing is suffering. A while back, I committed to spending an hour every morning writing before I do anything else. I may not always be able to hit an hour, but most mornings, I am able to achieve this goal. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there is a trade-off in what I write. While I’m able to produce my target of one blog a week, my other writing – my book, my fiction, and any opinion pieces or personal essays I may wish to write – fall largely by the wayside. Which means that I’m really only achieving about half of my writing goals right now, possibly a third. And that’s not good enough. Of all the things I do in a day, writing is the one I enjoy most. It’s where I feel most authentic and most relaxed. Don’t get me wrong. I love blogging and I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world. But this experiment has shown me that I need to find a way to create more writing time in the day.

b. I need to clear time for “Admin time.”  Another thing that gets short shrift in my current life is “admin time.” On the personal end of things, admin time encompasses everything from scheduling my daughter’s 10,000 activities, to planning social events with friends, to collecting  interesting items for my monthly newsletter. On the work end, it involves things like answering emails, booking travel and keeping track of my finances. The latter is particularly vital for we self-employed types, because we’re always in a constant cycle of invoicing clients, chasing them for payments and keeping track of expenses. And yet, “admin time” is usually the first thing to drop when you hit a busy week. After a few weeks of ignoring all those niggling “to do’s,” you can easily find yourself doing nothing but answering emails for a day. My big revelation from doing this exercise was that I need to set aside two separate blocks of time for both types of admin:  the stuff that keeps my personal life going, as well as the stuff that keeps my business going.

c.  The time/money trade-off. In light of the above, it was also really useful to examine how I spend time with clients. Because my business has been in a growth mode over the past two years, I’ve never really stopped  to think about whether or not certain clients/activities were worth spending time on. I just kept saying “yes” to work. Now that I’m tracking my time carefully, however, I can clearly see that I need to be choosier in terms of how I spend time with clients. For instance, while I love writing coaching, I’ve come to the conclusion that most of that work needs to happen virtually, rather than face-to-face. Otherwise, I can easily spend half a day reading  a client’s work, coaching them in person, and commuting back and forth to that meeting. That simply isn’t an efficient use of my time from a cost-benefit standpoint. In other cases, if I really want to prioritise writing *and* make ends meet, I’m going to need to let go of certain clients unless they can pay more.

d. Prepare less. When I told my husband that I’m still struggling to work a normal, five- day work week, he immediately commented: “You need to prepare less.” I do tend to prepare a lot before I deliver a workshop. That’s partly so that I’ll go in knowing the material so well that I can relax and be myself. But it’s also driven by a crippling fear that I won’t wow the audience/be letter perfect/and or – egads! – only deliver a B+. So much like reducing the time I spend commuting to see coaching clients, I need also to reduce the time I prepare. For me, that’s like asking myself to deliver a workshop blindfolded. But I need to get more comfortable with it.

e. Make a change. It’s been extraordinarily useful to keep this log for the past month. I could happily study my schedule for the rest of my life. But I don’t want to get trapped in the paralysis of analysis. I need now to do the hard part, which is to make the changes in my schedule that will enable me to write a bit more and work a bit less, all while maintaining my target income. That’s going to be difficult for  me. Among other things, it will threaten my addiction to being busy. But it’s time to act.

How about you? Have you ever kept a log of your time? What did you learn?

Image:  212-365 (Year 7) by George Redgrave via Flickr

How I Maximized My Productivity as a Writer

cell phone

cell phoneIf you’re like me, you can’t read enough about how to maximize your productivity: Deep Work. The Hunter Method. No Meeting Wednesdays. While the optimal time for achieving your best work varies across individuals, there’s a consensus that you need to have laser focus while you’re doing it.

For a while now, I’ve been following that advice. As soon as I decided that I wanted to write a book, I started to devote 15 minutes a morning to doing just that. Over time, those 15 minutes blossomed into 30 and then 45. Once I was laid off, I began devoting several hours a day to my writing.

Even now that the book manuscript is finished (though still not sold – sniff!), I still write every morning. These days, it’s often fiction. Or a blog post. Or my newsletter.

But a month or so ago, I discovered a fatal flaw in my system. No matter how dutiful I was about prioritizing my writing, I did one thing when I first woke up that was absolutely deadly for my flow:  I checked my phone.

To be clear, it was really more of a scan than a deep dive:  I’d quickly scroll through my emails to see if there were any burning platforms…I’d look at any updates on assorted social media platforms…I’d check personal texts and chats.

I told myself that this mini “phone time” was essential. After all, my mother is now quite elderly. Perhaps something happened to her during the night. I’m in close “What’sApp” touch with various friends back in the States, and often miss out on threads that happen while I’m asleep. I’m also self-employed. So I’m always at the beck and call of clients.

But the problem wasn’t the length of time I spent on the phone. It was how distracting it proved.

Because once I’d digested the updates from assorted platforms, I couldn’t turn them off in my brain, even once I put the phone down. I’d find my mind darting back to a meeting I needed to prepare for later that day… a funny tweet I wanted to share on social media…a text I needed to send a friend. Which, of course, defeated the whole purpose of having dedicated writing time in the first place.

Before I knew  it, my  carefully constructed “laser focus” was gone. Or at least diminished.

Then I read this brilliant article by New York Times technology writer Kevin Roose about his cell phone addiction. Roose went so far as to hire a consultant to help him “break up with his phone.” This person encouraged him, for example, to change the lock screen on his phone so that it displayed three questions: “What for? Why now? What else?”

Brilliant.

I didn’t feel that my problem was that serious. But I did know that I had a problem.

So I instituted one tiny change: I no longer allow myself to check my phone until I’ve finished my writing and executed some of the other key markers of my morning routine like journaling, meditation, and stretching. In practice, that amounts to not looking at my phone for the first 1.5-2 hours of my day.

It was really hard at first. Like an addict, I’d find myself making excuses to sneak a peak. But after the first week or so, I began to find this digital detox a relief.

Postponing my phone time had two other benefits. First, I’m an extrovert, so I love being connected to the world through social media. But – much like my rules about dessert – the joy of checking my phone is now all the greater for putting it off. Second, my writing time is also now that much more focused and productive. A win-win, as they say.

I’ve always prided myself on being the consummate multi-tasker. But I’m coming to question whether that personality trait is really an asset for productivity. So I’m wondering: what small habit have you changed that had a much larger impact on your life?

Image: Apple Cell Phone Facebook Google by Tracy Le Blanc via Pexels

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