“Most serious writers work slowly and thus miss deadlines, sometimes several deadlines; publishers’ deadlines, that is. A serious writer cannot have any deadlines but his own.”
~ MERLE MILLER
Can you say “responsibility,” boys and girls? Because you don’t know what responsibility is until you’ve been cut loose from any form of controls on your minute-to-minute activities. Five days ago marked 22 months of retirement for me. I love to Xbox, I love to read, boardgames with the fam are nice, and there are those home maintenance projects to do. Wifey and I enjoy old movies, and binge-watching classic television. I haven’t mentioned going out with her to explore the eateries and back country because I’ve loaned by car to my son, thereby saving his employment, and I’ll get it back when he’s able to get a car of his own. I’m in no hurry for it because when that happens, there’ll be a whole buttload of new things I’m going to have to juggle and organize. And in the midst of all that, there is the fact that the Muse has deserted me. I don’t want to not be a writer, but I’m also enjoying the mornings I have free to watch YouTube videos, or gun down everything from aliens to zombies on the 55″ flatscreen my kids got me for my XBox adventures. Yes sirree, Bob, a talent for organization and administration has become vital in ways that I never dreamed it would if I ever did retire!
All of which brings me to the point of this article: Management of time. I suspect that most of my readers are also writers, and many of us have jobs, some of us more than one. When I was working, I had my days off, which were all over the calendar because my work schedule was randomly assigned by a computer. Twenty-five years of this floating schedule has given me an amazing proclivity for balancing the time for this, and time for that. The difficulty now is, what approach do I use, and these can be boiled down to shotgun or rifle.
A shotgun spews out from a dozen to a score or more little lead balls, and the shooter has only the most general control over what gets hit. A few go here, a few go there, and very little is hit thoroughly. The shotgun approach for me constitutes dividing up my day and saying that for the first two hours, I write, after which I’m going to do an hour of yardwork, followed by an hour answering my e-mail, then two hours on the Xbox, and so forth. Everything gets hit, but not with much.
The rifle approach is that each day is earmarked for one activity. Today I write reviews. Tomorrow I work on my WIP. Friday is a board game date with my family. I prefer the rifle approach, but I often burn out on the one activity before the day is done, so maybe a buck-and-ball approach in which the first six hours are given over to one project, and then the rest of the day is divided between this and that.
What does your day look like? As I said, most of you are probably writers. Most of you have full-times jobs to manage, and the time you have left over has to be spread between everything else in your life, fun or un. How do you subdivide those hours to get the most out of them? Oh, I don’t need you to tell me, although if you have a working system you’d like to share as a comment to help others who might be at sea on this issue, by all means, share it! The point of this article is that you can easily waste more time than you utilize just thinking about what you want or need to do next. If you work out some reasonable schedule for your leisure time and put the things on it that you want to see accomplished, they’ll get done. I know, you’re thinking that your boss, your job, your business structures all your work time for you, so you want your leisure time to be free from that. I get it, but think of it this way: Structure is not inherently evil, and your boss structures your day because businesses have learned that structure produces results. If you are applying the structure to your free time out of a love of getting results, is that bad? The best way to lose the lion’s share of your leisure time is to sit staring out the window wondering what you ought to do next, or almost as bad, to just do the first thing that comes to mind in a sort of knee-jerk reaction. Lots of things await your attention. What could be wrong with giving priority to what’s the most important?
And on that note, I’ll bid you go forth and conquer. If you find your free time to be a chaotic blur, and are always headed back to work regretting what you didn’t get done, try making a little list of wants and needs, and assigning a hierarchy of importance to them. Then swing back by in a week or two and let us know how it’s working. You might find a little structure is just the ticket!