A Crash Course in Time Management

Hands down, my greatest weakness when it comes to creative ventures is time management. I usually have at least two projects underway at any given moment and am always plotting at least one more, but I rarely complete any of them in a timely manner. Yes, I work full time on top of these passion projects, but I should still have some time left over to focus on making stuff, right?

On average, I work eight or nine hours a day and sleep about seven, so that’s sixteen out of twenty-four hours down the drain right from the start. Yes, that’s a lot of lost time, but that still leaves eight hours to carve out time to create. Oh, to have eight full hours a day to work on ANYTHING! You and I both know that’s not a likely scenario. What about making and eating dinner? The dog’s getting restless, time for a walk. Dishes are piling up, laundry needs done, gotta get to the grocery store, have some bills to sort out, oh and how about we avoid alienating everyone important in our lives? Eight hours becomes about an hour divided into inconvenient intervals just like that, and I don’t even have kids! Creative parents, I don’t know how you do it, and I salute you.

Now that we’ve identified how precious and fleeting our time is, we need to make some adjustments and mold an itinerary that works for us. A few years back, my work schedule changed from a 6:00 AM start time to 8:00 AM, and I decided I’d just keep getting up around 5:00 and try to utilize that uncluttered morning-brain to work on writing and editing. I was already on the schedule, so it didn’t feel like a seismic shift in my day to day, but it made a massive impact on my productivity, and I still get up way too early every work day. Well… almost every work day. I’ve never been a morning person, but I was surprised to find out how much I’m able to accomplish in this seemingly insignificant window. I highly recommend adding an hour to your morning routine if you find yourself struggling with deadlines or project completions If not for these morning sessions, I think my LetterWorks associates would’ve kicked me to the curb for not keeping up with the workload!

That’s a little over one hour per day that I’ve wrangled for myself, but I still needed more. I started reading time management tips and blogs, and decided to look into auditing my time. I downloaded the Toggl app and have been dutifully logging my activities for about a week now. It seems strange to record everything you do over the course of the day, but since I always have my phone handy, I can update it as an alternative to checking social media. This comes with the added bonus of sparing myself the shot of existential dread from watching society collapse in real time, so it’s already worth it! I haven’t logged my social media use specifically, but using the Screen Time app, I’ve got a few hours per week that I could at very least use for reading, organizing, or otherwise planning something related to my creative endeavors. If you’re interested in auditing your time but don’t think an app is right for you, here’s a handy printable chart you can use!

As expected, the majority of my pie chart is eaten by work and sleep, but I do have moments here and there to lock into tasks that don’t require the full focus of editing or writing, like catching up on emails. I’ve squeaked in time between getting ready for work and actually leaving (fifteen minutes on Monday!), while dinner is cooking, and then of course in the evening after my other life-essential tasks are done.

You may find as I did, that evenings are not as easy to schedule productivity into as I had assumed. There are the usual day to day activities, but then we also have our loved ones to consider. I have no desire to just abandon my girlfriend between dinner and bedtime, and generally will not unless I have a pressing deadline. I can, however, work on layout, website updates, project promotion, writing emails, or other mission-adjacent tasks when we sit down to watch TV. This doesn’t always happen, but as I continue to monitor my time usage, I get better at spotting windows like this that I can utilize.

Another thing I’ve discovered is that simply scheduling and logging time doesn’t always lead to results. In these cases, I’ve been careful to note what variables are at play so I can try to either plan around them or prepare for them in the event that I can’t reschedule. Sometimes this means skipping an early morning session in favor of sleep after a particularly long or grueling day at work.

Setting goals for each session has been helpful as well. Whether I set a word or page count for a specified period of time, or set a time limit to complete a task, I find that goals are good motivators. This would’ve been utter speculation had I attempted it before keeping track of my productivity, but now I have an idea how long it takes me to write and edit a blog post, or how much of a magazine layout I can get done in an hour. And speaking of motivators, logging milestones and completed projects is a great way to see that you’re making progress and your efforts are paying off!

Here are some helpful links to get you off and running with your own personalized time management regimen!

https://observer.com/2015/06/how-to-be-efficient-dan-arielys-6-new-secrets-to-managing-your-time/
This one is particularly helpful to anyone feeling like society is conspiring to hijack our free time.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnrampton/2018/05/01/manipulate-time-with-these-powerful-20-time-management-tips/#5f72a4c757ab
This Forbes article caters more to the business-minded than creative types, but still contains some solid points. Plus, most writers are basically one-person businesses!

https://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/making-time-to-write-time-management-for-screenwriters
Here’s one for screenwriters, but applies to anyone looking to string more words together.

https://toggl.com/time-management-tips/
The aforementioned app, Toggl has some ideas on how it should be done as well.

I’ll leave you with some words of wisdom from the always fantastic Kameron Hurley:

“Time management has been high on my list of things to fix this year, and if I was going to get all the work done that I needed to get done, something had to go. That something was engaging with the internet. When people pop into my Twitter mentions now with a passive-aggressive response or angry point of disagreement, I just mute them. Folks forget that they are talking to a Real Human Being here, with a shitbrick of work to do and no time for their nonsense. I’ve reminded myself over and over this year that the purpose of most abuse you get online for speaking your mind (especially if you don’t present as a Generic White Dude), is done to steal your time. People want to wear you down, to break you, to silence you. And in order to keep working, I’ve had to make some changes to how I interact (or not) in online spaces. Most of the bloviating circle-jerking stuff is just not worth my time. I engage when it matters, not just in reaction to somebody being dumb and wanting me to waste my time bloviating a “response” to something patently ridiculous like “women shouldn’t vote” or “periods make women dumb.” I’m too fucking busy getting shit done over here.”

Source: https://www.kameronhurley.com/the-calm-before-the-storm/

Shame on Who? Taking the Shame Out of Self-Promotion

“Shameless self-promotion.” The phrase alone inspires dread in some, and often for good reason. Around every corner of the web, from social media to your favorite podcast, someone’s got something to shill, but does it always have to be such a cringe-worthy endeavor?

Let’s start by exploring where shame enters the picture. Does this shamelessness imply that you are incessantly slapping everyone in the face with your work regardless of interest or context? If so, it’s time for a new approach. No one wants to invest in a friendship or working relationship with a perpetual solicitor.

There’s also this lingering perception that creators should be ashamed of themselves for promoting their work. If you find yourself feeling this way, take a step back and ask yourself why you embarked on the project in the first place. Ask yourself why you followed it through to completion. Are you proud of the work you’ve done, or do you think it was all a big waste of time and energy? Was it a labor of love, or a financial necessity? Most writers take on less-than-glamorous gigs to pay the bills, and no one here will judge you for that, but it may be a better use of energy to save the sharing for projects that better represent you. If you can hold your work up proudly, then your promotion should be shame-free as long as you don’t overdo it.

While it can certainly be beneficial to plug your work online, your posts can quickly become tiresome, and the people you’re hoping to engage with will scroll right on by as soon as they see your name. Many creators view social media sites as nothing more than free advertising platforms, but without the genuine connectivity that keeps social networks going, your profile will not draw readers. Don’t assume people aren’t buying your thing explicitly because they are unaware of it. Writers tend to see a bump in sales when they mention their books about once a week online, but these are also people who already have a following, post frequently on multiple topics and engage in various conversations. There is no set scale for how much to self-promote, but less is more here. If you are able to curate interesting discussions, people will explore your other posts, find your books, and either buy them outright or at least ask you about them! Whether you’re worried about posting too much or not enough, a pinned post can serve as a passive billboard that can take some of that pressure off.

One approach that I see frequently is using a separate “author” page in addition to your main social media profile. I understand the attractiveness of keeping everything neatly compartmentalized, but I have my doubts as to whether or not this method is very effective. Writing is intensely personal, so even if you’re not writing memoirs, you are putting yourself on the page. Readers are often as interested in the writer as they are the story, which means you’re often selling yourself as much as the book, so this dissociation seems counterproductive. I feel similarly about adding the word “Author” to your name on social media accounts. There’s nothing explicitly wrong with it, but it comes off as performative, and like Amanda said, “Stop Aspiring to Be an Author and Just Be One!” Though the blogosphere is not as prominent these days, an alternative is to keep a blog or a Tumblr (a hybrid blog/social media site) to contain all your writing news and info that you can occasionally link to on your main social media profiles.

What about face-to-face promotion in the real world? Can you talk to people about your books without coming off like a pretentious ass? It’s possible as long as it’s not forced. No matter how incredible and life-changing your book may be, you can’t generate interest by shoehorning it into every conversation. What you can do is be conscious. It’s your book, you know it inside and out, so if a legitimate opportunity arises, you’ll be ready to discuss it. Always put the conversation first and never try to steer it towards a sale, people can sense that, and nothing puts them off faster. Once again, having confidence in your work without being arrogant will take you a long way!