“Neglect Everything Else” – What Time Management Looks Like for Writers

If you’re a writer and you’re reading this post, then you know that being a writer is darn hard! Relying on yourself to set your own deadlines and priorities, and then to hold yourself to them, is no walk in the park. It’s hard to carve out your own time amongst all the other things life imposes on you. Grocery shopping, meal prep, laundry, balancing your budget, chauffeuring the kids here and there, cleaning… it never ends. And unfortunately, as just about every writer knows, it’s easy to push out your valuable writing time and let those other tasks creep in and take over.

For me (and I don’t think I’m alone here), there is another factor which makes being a writer hard. All of those tasks that I have to do in a day? They’re more or less mindless. I can fold laundry while Netflixing. I can balance my budget while chatting with my family. Writing, however, requires a hefty amount of brain energy. It takes a lot of mental focus to sit down and write, and I burn through a hell of a lot of neuron fuel doing it—so much so that sometimes doing these other mindless tasks becomes more palatable.

And yet, I cannot escape the fact that I can literally put a price on my writing time—that is, after all, how I make my living. You would think that would be enough of a motivator. Sadly, though, it’s a constant struggle. That’s not to say, however, that I haven’t developed strategies to overcome that struggle.

Neglect Everything Else

Joe Fassler, writing for Lithub, sums up the crux of that strategy well when he says “It starts with a simple fact: If you’re not making the time to write, no other advice can help you. Which is probably why so many of the writers I talk to seem preoccupied with time-management. ‘You probably have time to be a halfway decent parent and one other thing,’ David Mitchell, the author of Cloud Atlas, told me. That can mean mustering the grit to let other responsibilities languish. As he put it in short: ‘Neglect everything else.’”

Neglect everything else. Makes sense, but… what exactly does that mean? And how practical is it to do so?

Here’s how I interpret that piece of wisdom. Neglecting everything else does not mean letting your life fall apart around you and spending all your time writing. Instead, it’s identifying when your writing time is, and keeping it sacred. For me, that writing time is after breakfast. I have about two good hours in a day when my brain function is at its highest, and that is in the morning. It’s when my focus is laser sharp and my synapses are firing on all cylinders. So those approximate two hours in the morning are the time which I make sacred for writing. Without fail (well, almost; one never knows what wrench life will thrown in one’s schedule, after all).

Scheduling the Whole Day

To help me keep that writing time sacred, and to keep all other thoughts of all other stuff to do at bay, I have another strategy: I schedule the rest of my day around my writing. Those tasks and things and stuff and mindless busy-ness? I keep that time sacred, too. Planning out what I need to do and when I am going to do it makes it easier for me to digest that these things will get done in their appropriate time slot. I have a plan of action for tackling the “other” which allows me to focus on “primary” – i.e. writing – when it is time to do so.

Usually, I identify the other things I need to get done in a day the night before. Tomorrow, for example, there is not much demand on my time, but I do have laundry piling up. And I find that a good, definitive end to my writing time is marked by exercise. I’ve been at my desk, hunched over my computer for up to two hours. My body and my mind naturally need a stretch at that point. This is when I will go for a run, or do about an hour of strength training. After that, I will make lunch and have a bit of down time with YouTube. Next, I’ll sort the laundry and get it into the machine. While the laundry is going, I will work on my next blog post and my social media posts. That should take me up until about 4:30 or so, at which point I switch over to making dinner (which I also planned out the night before).

As you can see from this sample day, I know what it is I’m going to do, and I’ve blocked out the time to do it. I won’t be paying attention to all of the laundry that’s piled in our family’s multiple hampers, and I won’t be fretting about the writing I’m not doing while I’m keeping my family in clean clothes.

Obviously, my schedule changes day to day – and so does yours. Laundry gets replaced by grocery shopping, or a conference call, or yard work. There is always something. But by keeping that writing time sacred, you get your writing done without letting it overwhelm you, because you have all those other things slotted into their sacred time as well.

With that said, I leave on this quote by Peter De Vries which summarizes, in one eloquent paragraph, what I’ve just babbled on about in over 800 words…

“I only write when I’m inspired, so I see to it that I’m inspired every morning at nine o’clock.”

Do you make your writing time sacred? What tips and tricks do you have to help you?

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