Oh Susanna – How To Organize Time For Productive Writing?

Happy Monday, my friends!  I hope you all had a lovely weekend!  And now, here we are at the start of another fun-filled week!

Phyllis and friends 🙂
Before we get to our Oh Susanna question, I’d like to take just a second to update you on Phyllis’s tour!  Our furry young friend has been VERY busy!  Some of you may have missed her Friday stop in Chico, CA with Elizabeth – if you did, hop on over HERE and don’t miss her “brains before beauty” shot – it’s not every day you see a helmeted groundhog on a bike 🙂  Phyllis also spent a day with Darshana in the Silicon Valley, where she received quite an education on micro-chips and got to wear a bunny suit!  You can see that one HERE (and as you can see above, she also got to hang out with some critters that I’m pretty sure she’s distantly related to :))  She also visited Heather in Maine, and that post will be up today or tomorrow HERE – I can’t wait to see it!  AND (yes there’s more!) she is also in the UK and visited the standing stones at Avebury this weekend with Rebecca and her 7 children.  When Rebecca’s post goes up, you will be able to find it HERE and I can’t wait to see that one either!!!

I told you our little friend was busy!

Now then, let’s have a show of hands.  How many of you are doing the A To Z Challenge?  I am tempted to join (not that Laura anyone is putting any pressure on :)) but am not sure if I can pull off the challenge and still fit my regularly scheduled events in… so I am mulling… and trying to decide if I will be the only person in the blogosphere not doing it if I wimp out elect not to… and wondering if trying to do one more thing will mean the end of what’s left of my sanity… 🙂  So please, do let me know what y’all are doing!

Without further ado, here is today’s Oh Susanna question:

O, Susanna, HELP!!  I need assistance developing a better schedule for writing, brainstorming, studying, illustrating, researching, blogging, and following blogs and links,  and of course all the usual home related obligations.  Are there any formulas for beating the distractions and staying up to date w/resources and links and staying on goal? Do you do blogging on Monday, writing on Tuesday,  research on Wednesday, go crazy on Thursday????  I’m also part of the 12×12 group – and love all the interaction and resources–but it’s almost overwhelming to keep up. Please—I need ideas!  (side note:  Ghiardelli chocolate brownies work great as a goal reward for me  🙂  
I used to have a ‘regular job’ as a principal w/ specific hours, had an office w/ a door, and everyone understood I was ‘at work.’   But now, working at home I am often  interrupted by family, friends (often very pleasant and welcome), the phone (family & business-my husband’s a pastor), the internet magnet (for research, I promise!), housecleaning (so easy to get distracted  now that my office is my home), a beautiful day begging to be explored (after all, I am my own boss), and chasing____________________ (fill in the blank with a shiny object),  etc., etc.,  
I tried a Daily Goal Chart like we used at our school.  It’s worked for maybe 2 out of 5 days. Grrrrrr—-HELP me because I’m,
Three Days Late & Dollars Short

Dear Three Days Late,

I am glad you asked this question, because I’m betting almost everyone reading this struggles with the same problem.  You can take comfort in the fact that, at the very least, you are not struggling alone! 🙂

Working on your own at home sounds like a dream come true.  What could be better than the entire day, every day, stretching before you just waiting to be filled with your words and stories?

But it’s not as easy as it seems.

You may have trouble sitting down to work until the house is clean, and before you know it, half the day is gone.  Your friends and relations may not respect your work time because it seems like a hobby, or because you can set your own schedule and work some other time, so they show up for impromptu cups of coffee or call for a long chat… and before you know it, half the day is gone.  It’s far too easy, if you hit a snag in your writing, to say, “I’ll just go to the grocery store, because I have to do that anyway…” and before you know it, the day is over and that story isn’t a word further along than it was.

As you say, distractions are myriad, and some, like blogging or online research, are especially tough because they start out as legitimate work but it’s easy to get sucked in for WAY longer than you intended, or to stray from your original intent.

So how do you manage?

The answer to that is undoubtedly a bit different for everyone.  With a little trial and error you can come up with your own formula of what works for you, but I’m not sure anyone else can give you that formula.  Let’s give it a try, though 🙂

Before anything else, look at your day and your life and your personality.  What obligations do you have to your family and household day to day, and how much time will those take?  (You need a realistic approximation of your work time, and it’s probably never going to be all day every day.  Can you realistically devote 3 hours a day to work?  6?  2 1/2?  Or is it likely to change from day to day?)  Are you a person who is unable to imagine being able to concentrate on writing before the beds are made, the house vacuumed, and the grocery shopping done?  (Then get those things done first or you will be wasting your precious work time feeling fragmented and putting less than your full energy into your writing and it will take you 6 times as long to get anything done.)  Do you work well in short bursts of intense energy broken up by other tasks, or does it take you a while to hit your stride and once you do you like to stick with it with no interruptions of any kind?  (Plan your day accordingly.)  Do you need to exercise first thing in the morning to get your brain in gear, or is it more helpful to go later in the day when you need a break from the computer screen and a little time to let story problems work themselves out?

Asking yourself theses kinds of questions should help you have a realistic idea of how much time you actually have and how you will benefit most from arranging it.

Here are some other things to think about/try:

 – Respect your work and ask others to respect it.  Even if you work at home, even if you are your own boss, even if you’re not bringing in a regular paycheck, your writing is your work.  But if you want others to respect it and take it seriously, you must first do that yourself.

 – Impose your own hours.  Make a plan.  Say to yourself, “8 AM to noon [or whatever] is my work time.”  If the phone rings, you may check the caller ID and make sure it’s not your child’s school, or the ER calling to let you know someone broke their arm, but emergencies aside, let your voice mail answer while you’re working.  You can call back later, but if you answer, you will interrupt your flow, and who knows how much time you’ll lose while simultaneously sending the message to whoever it is that it’s OK for them to call and interrupt your work.  By the same token, let your friends and relations know that you are not available for impromptu tennis games or drop-in visits during your work hours and stick to it.  Firmly.

 – Identify the time of day you are most productive, and do your writing work then.  Some people work best first thing in the morning.  Others take time to get going and are better off answering emails and doing their blogging first, then writing in the afternoon.  Still others work best when the rest of the world is asleep.  Whatever your most productive time of day, use that for your writing and slot your other tasks in around it.  All of your work will flow more easily.

 – Some people find the internet a huge distraction.  If you are one of them, there are programs for both Mac and PC that will turn off your internet while you work.  You can set the amount of time, and then no email will pop up, no blog posts will lure you from your appointed tasks, and you won’t be able to surf around looking for a cute pair of shoes for that party this weekend.

 – Some people work better with encouragement/competition.  There are sites where you can sign up to work for half and hour (or your choice of time) and compare with other people how much you got done in that time.  There are other sites that work by word count, and you can aim for 1000 words (or whatever) and see how long it takes you.  In both cases, you’re kind of working with other people.  (And of course I should have the links for those sites, but since I haven’t used them myself I don’t know which to recommend.  Readers, please feel free to chip in your two cents about such sites you have used and liked!)

 – List your priorities and divvy up your time accordingly.  Most of us would agree that our actual writing should come first, so the biggest chunk of time should be devoted to that.  Does your story or nonfiction work require research before you can write it?  Then that needs a high priority too.  Do you have a manuscript ready for submission?  Then you might need to prioritize time for researching agents or potential publishers, or writing a query or cover letter.  Different stages of the writing process demand different priorities – there’s no point researching publishers before you’ve written your manuscript.

– Experiment a bit and see what works for you.  Some people set aside a couple hours on Sunday afternoon and write all their blog posts for the week.  Then that job is done, the posts scheduled, and you can check it off your list and forget about ’til until next Sunday.  Other people would rather put in half an hour at the crack of dawn Monday, Wednesday and Friday writing their posts when the time comes so that they can talk about whatever is first and foremost on their mind that day.  Some people read and comment on 5 blogs a day.  Others read and comment on blogs for half an hour a day.  Others only read other people’s blogs one or two days a week.  What works best for you?

– There’s an old adage that says something along the lines of, “A job will take as much time as you have to do it.”  If you think you have 4 hours to read and reply to all the email in your inbox and catch up with the 12×12 group, it will take you 4 hours.  But if you say to yourself, I have one hour to read and reply and catch up, you will be more efficient, and when that hour is up, be firm with yourself and move on to something else.

– There is nothing like a good old-fashioned kitchen timer!  Set it for 15 minutes or an hour or whatever amount you need, and do whatever task you allot yourself until the timer dings.  You can use it for both work time and break time.  Write for a measured hour, and then give yourself 15 minutes to check email, or read a couple blog posts, or read a section of your craft book on writing dialogue, or play Words With Friends or walk the dog – but when that timer dings and your 15 minutes is up, it’s time for the next thing.

– Some people work well with lists.  Either first thing when you sit down to work for the day, or last thing as you’re finishing up and planning for tomorrow, make a list of the things you need to accomplish.  Make the items measurable and attainable in the time you have, for example, write 1000 words of MG novel, or read and comment on 2 new blogs, or study chapter on school visits in XYZ book.

– Other people are oppressed by long to-do lists that may seem insurmountable.  If you’re one of them, write your list backwards – that is, make a list of the things you’ve accomplished as you’ve done them, for example, wrote my Perfect Picture Book Friday post for this week, read and commented on 3 blogs, added 2 more possible agents to my list, wrote first draft of new PB.

Working at home in any capacity is difficult because of the setting with all it’s attendant distractions and the fact that you’re your own boss and set your own schedule.  If the work you’re doing at home is writing, it’s exponentially harder.  Writing is HARD work.  Creativity takes enormous amounts of effort.  Pretty much everything else is easier, so we all find ourselves tempted by reading blogs and studying craft and making pretty new bookmarks to bring on school visits etc…  But ultimately, we are writers.  Writing is our work.  If we don’t write, we have nothing else – no reason to build a platform, or search out agents or publishers, or query about school visits, if we aren’t producing the book we’re going to promote.  It takes a lot of self-discipline, and we probably all have some days where we do better than others.  But I think the key is figuring out how much time you can devote to your work each day, how you want to divide that time up so you get to all the things you need to get to, and how to arrange your tasks in the order that best suits you so that you maximize your productivity.

I realize that was long-winded – sorry! – and I hope it answered your question at least somewhat.  Now, if we’re lucky, all the other talented writers out there will chime in with tips and advice and ideas of what works for them, and maybe you’ll get some gems from them 🙂

Please, everyone, chime in! 🙂

57 thoughts on “Oh Susanna – How To Organize Time For Productive Writing?

  1. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    You are right, Angela! Individual is the word I've been trying to think of for 2 days 🙂 Time management is very individual. As of A To Z, I could probably make it work in terms of the letters, somehow, but not in terms of the theme. I'd have to either half do it, or drop my usual posts for the month, which I'd have to plan ahead for. So I don't think I'll do it this year. Maybe next year… I'll look forward to yours though 🙂

  2. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    A pen and paper is ALWAYS a good idea – thanks for reminding us, Tracy! And the whole time management issue is a tough one, but it's kind of comforting to know we all seem to have these problems. If anyone were to comment that they've got it down to a science and never have to struggle I might have to kick them in the shins! (unless it was a sharable formula that I could be successful with too! :))

  3. patientdreamer says:

    I would say I am like Penny, and Joanna. I work full time 8hrs a day and spend between 1 to 3 hrs driving to and from work (one way) so am pretty tired when I get home. So very limited writing if any gets done during the week. Hence I make an effort and with hubby's help get up very early in the mornings… (it helps). I am not doing the A to Z this year mainly because I know I will not be able to do it justice and keep up even doing it in advance. Being able to become a published writer also means realising what you can and can't do and being realistic, learning to say “no” and being gentle on yourself.. things I have slowly come to learn over the past year and half. Thanks so much for the tips Susanna, they are excellent.

  4. Hannah Holt says:

    Susanna, I love your very practical and practicable suggestions. My schedule is dictated by children. Right now I have 1-2 hours (depending on when the babies wake) to catch up on blogs. Since I've been away for a while, my google reader is practically bursting. I'm sure I won't finish in time. It would help if you didn't write such interesting posts that make me want to stop and savor. 😉
    I find the middle of the day nap is a good time to catch up on social media, and then I do my own writing later at night when I have a better block of time to focus. Or at least that's what I try. My work life is in the slow lane at present, and that's OK.
    Great tips!

  5. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    We all have to travel at our own pace, Hannah, and you surely wouldn't want to write/blog/etc at the expense of time with your little ones. These childhood days pass by before you know it – you'll have more time for writing down the road – and the more you've enjoyed the time with your kids, the more you'll have to write about 🙂

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