This is the fourth installment on developing key strategies for effective mindful writing. Please check out the following previous articles:
- Orient, Organize, and Prioritize
- Establishing Initial Disciplines
- Establishing Consistent Daily Disciplines
Where does one begin? We are not talking about writing. This is about developing a structured, efficient, and effective strategy to enhance our ability to maintain focus and discipline for writing. To make the best use of our time we want to take inventory of a realistic understanding of how we spend our time day-to-day. Without understanding how we spend our time – it may prove difficult for a writer to establish daily commitment to writing. It may lead to frustration, disappointment, and abandonment of one’s talent and passion. The most precious commodity we have is time. Once it is wasted, we are not able to get it back. So, what is a writer to do? Where does a writer begin? I am glad you asked.
This week’s focus will be on how to take inventory of where you spend your time, ways to incorporate at least 60-minutes for focused and mindful writing, and to be motivated and committed to writing daily. It is a worthy challenge to make the best use of the time we have.
And, why are we wanting to focus on the importance of time management? It helps us focus and decrease our impulsive need to procrastinate. It keeps us focused on meeting established deadlines without feeling overwhelmed and rushed. Places us in a position to work smarter and not harder when it comes to our craft and talent. And, effective and efficient time management helps manage stress and keeps us in a place of calm and relaxed. This is true when we engage in maintaining a healthy and mindful practice.
Take Personal Inventory of Your Time
Katie Forrest has some really good insights over at the Creative Pen with her article: Productivity: 9 Time Management Tips for Writers. She recommends taking some time and keeping a Time log of where you spend your time. She also recommends to break them up in 15-minute segments. This includes work related responsibilities and not just block out an 8-hour day with the word WORK:
That’s why I recommend that people keep a simple time log for a period of at least one week. The time log, split into 15-minute segments, should be filled in as often through the day as possible and should record, in sufficient detail, what you did with that time.
For example, filling in the slots from 9 am-5 pm with one word – ‘work’ – may be true but doesn’t provide much insight. Filling in each 15-minute slot with fuller descriptions can provide you a wealth of information to learn from.
Keeping a time log for a week may sound overwhelming. However, if you are wanting to succeed in making a significant impact and influence through your writing, taking the time to inventory where you spend your time lays the foundation for managing it more effectively. Being as detailed as possible will help identify the following:
- Where time is being wasted
- Realistic understanding of how time is being spent
- Helps with answering questions on how efficient and effective you are with time management
Forrest recommends to do this first and then answer the following questions:
- Where is your time being spent currently?
- In what areas are you most efficient?
- What distractions do you need to eliminate?
- When you’re working on your goals, how focused are you?
- What are your most productive times of day?
My recommendation is that this part be incorporated when you are working to orient, organize, and prioritize for greater effectiveness.
Establish S.M.A.R.T Goals to Wisely Manage Time
Establishing and maintaining goals is the definitive strategy for effective and efficient time management. Without goals, there is no vision, purpose, intent, or direction. These goals are not vague pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking. They are:
- Strategic and Meaningful
- Based on personal values and beliefs
- Realistic outcomes
- Empowers progression and growth
- Empowers healthy boundaries
Utilizing the concept of writing down goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound moves a writer into a position to attain greater success in their writing style, voice, commitment, motivation, and engaging influence and impact on their readers. We do not want to be rushed to meet a specific deadline. Neither do we want to take on more than we are capable of doing.
Another aspect of this is how these goals move us toward planning ahead and prioritizing what tasks need to be completed. Maintain a healthy boundary between multiple writing projects. And, giving us the allowance to focus our undivided attention on each writing task necessary to move toward fulfilling our established goals. Establishing SMART Goals moves us toward feeling productive compared to feeling busy.
Tackling our Weaknesses and Vulnerabilities
Tackling our craft requires focused attention and minimization of distractions. How we do this may vary from one person to another. Yet, there are some strategies we are suggested to take in order to utilize our time efficiently. Michelle V. Rafter published her article on May 1, 2014 at Word Count – Future of Freelancing. There, she shares insights freelance writer’s struggle with.
- Staying Focused
Understanding the challenges we face, as writers, we are able to come to a place where we may be able to prioritize our time wisely. These suggestions came from those who participated in a twitter chat.
- Turn off and Minimize Distractions
- Set a Timer
- Use a Goal Buddy
- Set Goals
- Reward Yourself
- Break up the Day in Chunks
- Follow a Formal Productivity Regime
- Use To-Do or Task List
- Work when Nobody Else is
- Work when you are “on”
- Tackle the Hardest tasks first
- Hire Help
These are good suggestions. However…they may not work for all of us. Now, we do not want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. What we want to do is examine some of these strategies to see how effective and efficient they allow us in managing our time. The one I see, that is beneficial, for establishing effective time management is minimizing distractions.
Depending on the type of writer you see yourself as – distractions are the number one downfall in time management. These distractions range from having your phone nearby and responding to text messages, instant messaging chats, checking Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets. How we minimize and turn off those distractions sets the foundation for how we approach our time in focusing on writing.
One strategy I have started doing is placing my phone across the room from where my writing space is. Having some distance between my smartphone and my writing space helps minimize the impulsive need to pick it up and check my social media, chats, emails, and text messages. When my notifications go off, I am not as prone to get up and check to see what type of alert it is.
The second strategy is to ensure that my own personal writing space is not in a common area. This is helpful because my space is in my own room (I live in a shared housing so this helps with lessening the amount of distractions). Whether it is a designated room in the home, ensure that it is comfortable and inspirational to focus on writing. If it happens to be in a common area, set healthy boundaries and stick with them.
A third strategy that may help turn off and minimize distraction is to not establish your writing space on the bed. It is easy to get too comfortable and be distracted from writing.
Fourth, while it is okay to have some white noise (I listen to Jazz or some Instrumental on my Pandora), it is not conducive to have the television on. Television becomes a great distraction when we lose focus on our writing.
The final, and most important, distraction is the internet. Utilizing a computer that has access to the internet sets us up to get lost in the social media frenzy. However, it is also a two-edged sword. Having the internet allows for a writer to access information and engage in research. It comes down to personal discipline and accountability.
Utilize Schedulers or Planners
For me, when it comes to time management (this is not an affiliate and I do not receive any compensation for this) is the Covey-Franklin Day Planner. This is a great tool and resource. If you are not familiar with how this planning system works – check out the 5 Essential Elements of a Planning System.
I typically get the yearly – two-page daily filler. How I personally use this system is this:
- Plan out the tasks and prioritize them (it has a legend on how to use the symbols)
- Write in the appointments for that day (down side is that my day job starts at 5 am and the planner starts at 7)
- On the other side, I keep track of short notes regarding my scheduled appointments throughout the day
- Keep notes of the completed tasks and movement of those tasks that are still in the process of being completed
- Main monthly calendars are used to identify content topics and categories for my three different websites
- Monthly Task List for things to focus on for the month
- Track daily budget and expenditures
- Set up for future planning regarding specific goals (for main employment, writing, and other aspects)
This has proven quite effective for me. However, especially if money is tight, it may not be the right system. One other benefit I get from using this system (compared to keeping a notebook or on a computer in digital format) is that I am writing down information. It is there for me to look at and keep track of. Helps me track my progress that I am making. Something, I personally feel, is missed when using digital formats.
Generally, people have access to calendars through Google or Microsoft that have the same types of features. Some find these just as effective. Other’s may simply go down to the local dollar store and purchase some notebooks and keep track of their tasks, goals, and scheduled time.
Time management is fluid and flexible and is not a cookie-cutter strategy. The challenge is to find the one system that is going to work for you in the long run. However, to get it going, one needs to focus on the foundational discipline of establishing effective time management. As a writer, we want to invest in ourselves the most important commodity. Take the time to inventory how you spend your time. Establish SMART goals to help maintain active discipline in managing time effectively and efficiently. Utilize schedulers or planners to help you track progress and keep a record of how you are managing your time. Do these things and the level of stress may decrease when it comes to settling down to write.
Multitasking is Counter-Productive to Effective and Efficient Time Management
If you are scratching your head on this one – I do not blame you. After all, isn’t the ability to manage time inclusive of one’s ability to be flexible and multitask? Multitasking is a different form of distraction. And, there are many who thrive when they are able to manage multiple projects and deadlines. However, the idea of multitasking being effective and efficient is more counter-productive than it is productive.
Patrick J. Skerrett wrote the following article (published at Harvard Health Blog ) regarding the medical and mental hazard of multitasking. He writes:
I spoke with Dr. Paul Hammerness and Margaret Moore, authors of Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life, a new book from Harvard Health Publishing. They said that multitasking increases the chances of making mistakes and missing important information and cues. Multitaskers are also less likely to retain information in working memory, which can hinder problem solving and creativity.
Instead of trying to do several things at once—and often none of them well—Hammerness and Moore suggest what they call set shifting. This means consciously and completely shifting your attention from one task to the next, and focusing on the task at hand. Giving your full attention to what you are doing will help you do it better, with more creativity and fewer mistakes or missed connections. Set shifting is a sign of brain fitness and agility, say the authors.
While we are not doctors or nurses in the medical field, our craft demands mental focus and agility for proper creative prowess. It is when we take on multiple projects at a time that we end up making mistakes, miss important information and cues. For instance, I have three websites I develop content for. Each one geared toward specific audiences. If I were to sit down and write out three different contents, for three different types of audiences, at the same time, I may lose my sense of purpose, intent, ability to engage and influence, and make mistakes. Instead, I focus on one content at a time. Giving my undivided attention to the information needing to be conveyed.
This does not mean we ignore ideas and inspirations. I keep a notebook next to me and as I write and discover information that may not be relevant for the content I am developing, I write that information down. This keeps ideas fresh and new. Helps develop ongoing content. To the average person, it may look disorganized – however, helps me keep track of where I am at.
Guy Winch, Ph.D. also writes on how harmful multitasking is for our mental health and wellness. His post was published at the Psychology Today Website where he writes on the 10 real risks of Multitasking to our mind and body. Of the ten real risks, I only mention the following as potential real risks for us writers:
- Harmful to our brains when it comes to motivation and cognition
- Memory problems as it pertains to working and long-term memory
- Prone to behavioral distractibility
- Increases chronic stress and impacts relationships
- Increases depression and anxiety
- Increase in being less productive, focused, and less efficient
What the take away here is that the less we engage in multitasking, the better chance of our increase in being more productive, efficient, and effective in maintaining active and healthy time management strategies. It also goes back to ensuring that we establish and sustain healthy boundaries. This includes our ability to say no to certain projects. Having too many irons in the fire will debilitate the effectiveness of our message and influence.
Come share your thoughts on how this helps you establish a healthier relationship with time management. What strategies do you find that are helpful that you’d like to share. In what ways do you struggle with managing time and balancing life, work, and writing?