Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Time in a Battle, Part 1

Sharon Wildwind

No, that’s not a misquote of song lyrics by Jim Croche. It’s about the battle all writers fight: too many things to do, too little time.

When I talk with writers about time management, I start by acknowledging that some people face horrendous time battles. “I’ll get to writing when my addiction is under control … when my health is better … when my parents’ don’t need so much of my time … when I’m out of this abusive relationship … when I know if my son is going to jail.”

I don’t pretend to deal with that problems of that severity, other than to suggest that people seek whatever help they can accept, and to do that as soon as they can.

“I am so busy … work … commuting … taking kids to soccer, ballet, music lessons, play dates … the housework … chairing the home/school committee … walking the dog … going to the gym. I’m not getting anything writing done, but I promise I’ll start being a better person next week.”

Can you spot the flaw in that logic? How about those words “better person?” Being consumed by daily life is not a moral failing or a question of being a good, bad or indifferent person.

How about these little gems?
Busy people find the time to do what really matters.
If you want something done, ask a busy person.
The more things you do, the more things you can do.
You never saw a very busy person who was unhappy.

They all imply that if you pull up your socks, stop complaining, and start working you will accomplish tons more than you’re do now. After reading quotes like that what I feel mostly is tired.

Many years ago, I knew a woman who was a shining light in her profession. She was constantly invited to national conferences; her publication list was longer than my arm. I just knew she would win big awards, have a building wing named after her, or become a presidential advisor.

One day I noticed that she’d gotten a very short—very attractive—hair cut. The little voice inside of me groaned, “She’s got all this talent and now she has nice hair, too. Life isn’t fair.”

When I complimented her on the new style she said, “I had it cut because I calculated how many minutes I spent each week washing and brushing my hair. With shorter hair, I can cut that time in half, and use those free minutes to write more papers.”

That was when I decided maybe I didn’t want to be her when I grew up.

How about this one: “This is the way I do things, but my way may not work for you. Do what feels right; do what works for you.”

That advice is supposed to help how?

Today and on the next two Tuesdays, I’m going to walk you through three exercises related to how to examine what “feeling right” or what “works.”

This week’s homework: Track how you spend your time

Use paper and pencil to track all of your time for at least one week. Unlike the woman above who probably wrote 0714 to 0716: brushing hair, you can group activities.

0700 Get up
0700 to 0830 Morning ritual (that covers activities like personal hygiene, making and eating breakfast, dressing, letting the dog out, making the kids’ lunches, letting the dog in, pouring coffee into travel mug, etc.)
0830 to 0915 Drive to work

Writing down all of your activities works better than just thinking about it. Write every day. Write every activity. It’s only for seven days. Deal with it.

At the end of seven days, get some colored doo-dads (crayons, pencils, or markers) or use the highlight feature on your computer and color-code the activities. There are 10 categories, so instead of a basic box of 8 crayons, you might have to upgrade to a box of 16 colors. If you’re a crayon freak like I am, that won’t be a hardship. Using any color you want, color each entry you made.
1. Sleep
2. Exercise (not going to and from the gym, but how long you spend shaking your booty and sweating)
3. Preparing food, eating, and cleaning up after eating (Coffee and tea breaks count as eating.)
4. Domestic economy (I love that old term. It means anything you do to keep the household running: cleaning, grocery shopping, laundry, picking up dry cleaning, taking the car to be serviced, dealing with the hot water heater exploding, etc.)
5. Travel time (Going to and from work, taking the kids to their events, taking your mother to the doctor, going to and from the gym.)
6. Rituals, be they daily, weekly, or monthly (see the morning ritual example a few paragraphs earlier)
7. Work, school, religious/spiritual activities, and volunteer time
8. Down time (reading, television, movies, staring out of the window, playing solitaire on the computer, surfing the net. Yes, include intimate relations in this category. And no comments about that being up time instead of down time.)
9. The thing you really want to do, whether it be writing, art, dance, climbing Mt. Everest, etc.
10. Other (just in case we missed anything)

Don’t waffle. “This wasn’t a good week to do this because the hot water heater exploded and I had to deal with the plumber on two days,” or “Normally I get more exercise than this.” aren’t important. We’ll see why next week when we talk about the next great time battle: our values versus the clock.

Quote for the week:
Who forces time is pushed back by time; who yields to time finds time on his side.
~The Talmud


Sandra Parshall said...

If I kept a record of how I spend my time, I would be horrified, I'm sure. No, thanks! :-) Maybe when I'm braver, or more desperate to get my current work in progress completed.

kathy d. said...

How about paying bills, and dealing with insurance companies, not only for yourself but an elderly parent, where lots of time is spent on the phone arguing with insurers, especially for her?

Also, as I always told an office manager years ago, if I spent so much time keeping track of how much time I spent on each task and how long it took, I would have less time to do anything. That task would become another time-consuming task. Would rather read a mystery, frankly.

Sharon Wildwind said...

Kathy, as long as you're consistent about how you categorize activities like that, the exact category doesn't matter. I'd probably lump them under work. It might not be work for pay, but it's certainly not play.

Sandra, I agree, tracking time works better when we're desperate. And all of us get desperate at one time or another.