Before we even move onto being organised in your writing, we need to think about the bigger picture (awful cliché but sometimes the bad ones work best!).
What do I mean?
I mean your life, your home, your routine! Whether you are still in school or in the rat race there will be things that eat away at your time! Not all of them will be a burden, but they could all do with some organising. The idea is to gain as much time for your writing as possible while still getting things done outside of the story! Besides, we all have responsibilities that need our time and focus. (Annoying as that is)
It is frighteningly easy to find an excuse not to write because of a mountain of other things have crept up on you. Strangely enough I found myself doing this when I had LESS things going on!
When I started writing with a goal in mind I was at school, so that meant homework, coursework, projects, revision, chores, time with the family, time with friends, any extracurricular lessons like swimming or piano I was caught up in etc.
Yet my days were organised by timetables, scheduled meals and the like, so I got large chunks of writing done along with all this extra time-eating stuff.
Now being in the rat race I have a whole new set of responsibilities that make demands on my time such as work, housework, sorting the bills, sorting the car, vet appointments, doing favours for the family, general maintenance, maintaining the garden, being a taxi-service, making time to see friends and family, completing my courses/modules, running a business etc
Corral your time
To write you need time, some writers get up at 5am and write for 2 hours before their day really begins. Ouch! I doubt I could ever make that work. I have a very comfy bed and most days I am surprised I can get out of it to go to work!
One issue is that it’s hard to prioritise our writing, even more so when you get older and have greater responsibilities – suddenly paying the credit card bill, going grocery shopping and booking the car in for its MOT takes precedent.
It’s understandable that writers can sometimes end up seeing writing as just a past-time that can be put aside. Yet if it’s important, if it is your passion and hopefully one day your career you need to give it priority.
Shuffling the board
Giving priority to your writing does not mean skipping your homework so you can finish a chapter, or not doing your housework so you can start that new scene (although I did do this a lot when I was younger).
In everything you need to find some balance and to do that you need to shuffle the board!
The way I did this was to make a note of everything that needs to be done – daily chores, weekly to do’s, monthly meetings etc. You can type them into a spreadsheet, scribble them on paper, write them on a dry erase board just make sure you list them all.
Okay, let’s take chores as an example – if you ignore chores you can find yourself wasting a whole weekend getting through them when your house becomes unbearable.
Then, because you’ve used up so much time on them, you don’t want to do them for a while…so you leave them…and they build up again. Most people I’ve spoken to seem to suffer this.
The first bit of board shuffling I did was to organise the chore list. I wrote them all down, everything include things that need to be done fortnightly, monthly and even yearly.
First I listed the weekly items and put them over the days of the week. I also tailored them to relevant days. Such as emptying all the house bins on Tuesday because the bin collection happens on a Wednesday.
An example of some of my weekly chores
|Vacuum study & box room||Empty all bins||Update grocery list||Polish & dust|
|Wipe windowsills||Vac living room||Bring up bins||Do laundry|
|Do laundry||Sweep kitchen floor||Clean bathroom|
|Clean windows||Clean vestibule||Vac bedroom|
I also specifically didn’t put too many things on days when I had other requirements such as if I had tutorials.
Next I organised everything else over the weekends. I broke them down into 1st Saturday, 1st Sunday, 2nd Saturday etc. Here was where I included things to be done monthly like maintenance wash of the washing machine and dishwasher, cleaning the fishtank filter, tidying the garden etc.
Once all the chores had been allocated certain days, I then divided them up. As there are two of us in this house we each take a share of the chores. I then colour coordinated them for myself and my partner and put the chore list on the fridge. (Yes I am this pedantic)
Just by doing this I streamlined the system and there would be no more dithering around when it came to the chores. I knew what I needed to do and when and a few a day certainly takes no time at all!
Obviously homework, projects, requests for your time etc will pop up willy-nilly and cannot always be planned for. However you will be surprised how much time you lose doing nothing when you are meant to be doing something!
If you can get at least one aspect of your life organise such as the chores, then do it.
Stop the Dither & fill the dead time!
Dither is a huge time-waster! My partner is a bit of a ditherer at times and it can drive me a little crazy.
He will put on the kettle then stand around waiting for it to boil. Then he will stand around waiting again while the tea stews.
I on the other hand, will put on the kettle, get the cups ready, then empty/fill the dishwasher as needs be, straighten the kitchen, sweep the floor while it boils. Then when I am waiting for the tea to stew a little, I will fill the washing machine, feed the cats… whatever I can do in that dead time. It’s all about using dead time.
Here’s an example of dead time: You are vacuuming the living room and someone calls you – you shut off the vacuum and answer the phone, then stand there chatting for 10mins.
Okay so continuing to vacuum isn’t really possible because of the noise but what about grabbing the duster and wiping the mantle down, spraying the windows, sweeping the floor, straightening the bed, etc.
There are probably a dozen little jobs you could be doing at the same time as taking that call that don’t really need your full focus.
Don’t get caught out
Diaries and calendars are brilliant, they are nice easy ways to remind you what you need to do and when. At the beginning of every year I get a new diary and then using my old diary (because sometimes the memory gets a little fuzzy) I update all birthdays and anniversaries. I even put a note in a few days before stating “buy card/present for X”.
I then go through my car paperwork and note down when my car tax is going to be due, when my insurance (car and home) is expiring, when the MOT is due. This allows me to know which days I am going to lose time sorting tax paperwork, being without a car, having to use compare websites to get cheap quotes.
If we plan anything it goes in the diary or on the calendar. So we know that on X weekend we have tickets to go to a show. Add a note a week before, stating to check the tickets have arrived so no more running around on the night in a panic because the tickets never arrived and you forgot to check!
TO DO Lists
These are my downfall, I am a very “listy” person who usually has about 10 on the go at once. I have tried everything to manage this “habit” and only with a lot of perseverance on my partner’s behalf has helped me overcome (some) of my obsession with lists.
If you are a to do list maker, take a look at the list. How much of it do you really need? Are you adding things like chores to your to do list? If so, look at the above and create a chore organiser sheet to take care of all that.
I do like to keep my writing to do list separate so when I sit down to write I can see what needs my attention rather than trawling through pages of other rubbish before I get to my writing notes.
Sometimes we create to do lists to help us remember to do something which is good, but the list is like a magnet and other more random things appear.
The best way to keep a to do list succinct is to take the evening, maybe just before bed and take your Master To Do List and list maybe 6 things from it onto a separate sheet of paper. This will be what you can do tomorrow. The rule is, unless it’s time sensitive or an emergency, nothing else gets added to the daily to do list.
Anything new goes on the Master To Do list to be filtered off eventually. Again this will help to keep you focused and stop you spending way longer than you should reading through an ever growing list of to dos.
The Internet & other technology
The procrastinator’s dream, I can spend hours on the internet and at the end of it I can’t really give you a full account of what I did or what I read. I usually spend longer than I should on it and only when I shut down my machine do I remember I had a long list of things that I HAD to get done!
What to do about it? If I have tasks that need the internet, making booking, paying bills, checking emails, buying presents… I list them on a post-it and stick it on the front of my diary (that goes everywhere with me) and then I put the internet on when I have time to do them. I then do them quickly and first!
If I want to dither online I leave the odd evening free to just flit about through websites and web-comics without a plan.
Another good idea if you are an internet dither is get yourself a timer. Set it for an hour or just 30mins and then when it goes off. Walk away. You find anything you want to do, you suddenly become more focused and do it quicker.
My writing is done on a PC, upstairs in a spare bedroom where there are no phones, no stereos and no internet. Yes my PC has no connection to the internet, no Skype, no messenger or anything else that can steal my time and distract me.
Believe me, it will mess with your writing flow if you keep stopping to check email and facebook or have a messenger bleeping at you. I don’t even have my mobile phone on in this room because you feel obliged to check every message and answer every call.
On the other hand if I try and write downstairs on a laptop connected to the net, I get maybe 500 words maximum written before something catches my attention or I remember I need to check something (that does not need checking that instant but I just can’t help myself).
If you write on a shared machine or one that is connected, unhook the connection / shut off the wi-fi when you write. You will gain back oodles of time you never knew you were wasting!
Please Note: The above also goes with TV. While we do have a TV in the house we have not received broadcasted shows or had sky / cable / whatever, for over 9 years. Very early on we realised a) how much rubbish was on TV b) how you get hooked on watching this rubbish c) I didn’t want to cough up over £100 a year to pay for a TV license.
So we cancelled the TV license, unhooked the TV and instead treated ourselves to DVDs of movies we love and TV series’ we enjoy and go to the cinema more. It is scary the amount of time we found just by taking TV out of our lives.
Now I know most people would stand agog at the idea of giving up TV. In fact whenever anyone new finds out we don’t get TV broadcasts the usually question of “but what do you do!?” is sure to follow. Which sadly shows the fact that many people do very little….other than watch TV.
So, while you most likely won’t give up TV, try and limit the amount of time you watch it (if possible), do you find yourself sat staring at programmes you don’t even enjoy just because they are on? Or continually channel surfing not even really looking for anything specific to watch? These could all be times you choose to write instead.
Plan to write
Schedule time in your diary to write, let people know this is your writing time and switch the phone off (don’t put your mobile phone on silent because you will be tempted to keep “checking” it). Stick to the time if you can (unless an emergency comes up).
Maybe put a notice on your door stating you are writing and not to be disturbed.
It may seem like you are taking the fun out of writing but what you are attempting to do is create a discipline for writing. If you want to be a published writer, then you need to think like one. Once published writers often have deadlines to met so need to treat the writing as a job and be strict about getting it done.
Always remember that even the most organised of us can be tripped by a hurdle and suddenly all our time, our plans come crashing down. A simple illness steals days from us and then you are desperately trying to claw back time.
Not to mention the sudden appearance of things you didn’t even know you needed to do! Like an emergency vet appointment.
With this in mind, remember to be flexible. Plan your time yes, organise your chores and keep aware of what’s going on but be flexible enough to change it if needs be.
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Those are just some of my thoughts on getting your non-writing life a little more organised and using your time more wisely. It just makes you think about how you do things, how you plan things and all the dead time you might have that you never realised.
If you have any ideas for organising your non-writing life that you want to share with those who follow this blog, please leave a comment. ^.^
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