Making Productive Use of Your Time

Ever since I relocated from NYC down to Dixie, I’ve found myself with both large amounts of unexpected free time and not enough to do what I want to do, rather than the things I need to do. For the first couple of weeks here, I went about everything willy-nilly–errands, homemaking, jobs, editing/critiquing, and writing–before I finally broke down and made myself a schedule.

Now, I’m the sort of person who needs to have her day scheduled, from the time I wake up in the morning, to my meals, to my workouts, to my job, to bedtime, and of course, writing. While I know that not everyone operates in the way I do, I’ve made use of a few tips to boost my writing productivity, mostly drawing on study skills classes I was forced to take as a child. (I don’t know why my parents made me do this–during summer school, even!–as I was a good student before taking these classes.)

1. Have an agenda.

I am a huge fan of the agenda. I don’t necessarily mean a detailed calendar or planner, but I like to have goals. For me, my writing goal is to finish 1 scene per day. For others, it s a word count, or perhaps a time limit. Whatever it is, know what your limits are and set reasonable, attainable goals. No telling yourself you’ll write 5000 words in one session if you’re the sort of person (like myself) who plunks out 300 words a day.

2. Set a schedule.

I know a lot of writers immediately clam up at the thought of structure (I myself am a panster when it comes to writing–although I write linearly and in chronological order), but it helps to have consistency. Consistency breeds habit after all (something I’m coming to learn during my workouts), and the more you condition yourself to writing, the easier it is to get into it.

The schedule can be as strict or as lax as you need it to be (but make sure it’s not too lax, or you’ll let yourself off the hook!). Some people can write every day. Others can only write twice a week. Some people write in the mornings. Others late at night. You know your own habits and your own non-writing life schedule; work with that and figure out what is best for you. Make sure you stick to your schedule.

3. Try and write in as long, interrupted chunks of time as possible.

It’s not possible for everyone to devote 3 hours a day to writing, but if you could eek out at least a half-hour of uninterrupted writing time during your scheduled days, that would be ideal. Despite the complexity of our human brains, multitasking is a hindrance to writing, and one hour of distracted writing is really several chunks of 10 minutes of writing. In my study skills class, we were told that our brains concentrate at optimal performance 20 to 25 minutes at a time. (It takes about 5 minutes to “get into” the mindspace, so to speak.)

4. Take breaks!

Despite what I just said about uninterrupted writing sessions, it’s also crucial to take breaks during your scheduled time. That 20 to 25 minute optimal brain function thingy holds true for anything past half an hour. For every 25 minutes of uninterrupted work, take a 5 minute break. (Twitter is great for a 5 minute break.) Then get back into it for another 20 to 25 minutes. For every three periods of 2o to 25 minute sessions, take a 15 minutes break. And then start it over.

So let’s say you’ve managed to carve out 2 hours of writing time for yourself. Your writing schedule might look something like this:

  1. 0:00 to 25:00 Write
  2. 25:00 to 30:00 Break
  3. 30:00 to 55:00 Write
  4. 55:00 to 60:00 (one hour) Break
  5. 60:00 to 85:00 Write
  6. 85:00 to 100:00 Break
  7. 100:00 to 120:00 (two hours) Write

Taking short breaks prevents our brains from getting tired, mired in the same rut, or stubborn. A brief rest can refresh your juices when you get stuck.

5. Let yourself screw up every once in a while.

No one’s perfect. So you missed your time to write. So you didn’t hit your session goal. So you were just too tired, too depressed, too happy, too hungry, too whatever to write that day. Don’t beat yourself up over it–just pick up and do it again on your next scheduled day. What I’ve learned while working out is that punishing yourself for a missed workout by making it up or trying to overcompensate only leads to injury. It’s the same thing for writing. Just as long as you don’t give up, keep it up, and keep going, one (or a few) less-than-successful sessions is natural and perfectly okay.

So that’s it! Those are my tips for making the most productive use of your time. I know this isn’t for everyone, but for me, it works pretty well. What do you think?


4 Responses to Making Productive Use of Your Time

  1. Anna J. Boll Aug 26 2013 at 7:27 am #

    Love this post! The 20-25 minutes on schedule is what I tell my students to do and it works well for me too. Thanks for this.

  2. Dara the Writer Aug 27 2013 at 7:43 am #

    I love the work/break schedule! It’s very similiar to the Pomodoro Technique, which I LOVE (when I abide by it)!

    There’s a web version and also an app for smartphones, tablets, too, I think. Definitely check it out. I swear by it!

  3. Alexa Y. Aug 28 2013 at 2:44 pm #

    I adore this post! I like scheduling things as well, and this has given me fresh perspective and inspiration when it comes to scheduling my writing time.

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