Writing is hard. Its challenges don’t always come with simple solutions. But there’s a reason I always tell aspiring writers that one of the biggest keys to success is sticking with it long-term. The longer you do it, the better of a handle you’ll have on the parts of the process that are hardest for you.
I’ve been writing fairly consistently for a long time. (The college years were a bit iffy, but I came back from them stronger, so I consider them “growth years.”) I won’t exaggerate and say I have everything figured out. But I’ve overcome many writing roadblocks — especially when it comes to time management.
What works for me may not work for you. But I hope sharing what I’ve learned can help steer you in a decent direction.
Here’s how I make writing happen and stay sane.
I wake up at 5 a.m, but only because it works for me. I am the most productive between the hours of 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. And I am not very productive, writing-wise, within the first two hours of waking up. So I’ve done the best I can to structure my mornings to fit with that. I start my full-time job at 8 a.m. I do the best I can to write a blog post before that.
Make note of your ‘peak’ productivity hours as well as how soon after waking up you are mentally able to start writing. If you can write during even one of those peak hours, and do more mindless tasks before those hours hit, you should be able to accomplish more before lunch than the average person.
I journal and exercise first thing. A cup of coffee and a page of journaling always come first. These things prepare me for the physical and mental tasks ahead. Coffee is a habit, and journaling is how I deal with my anxiety. Then I go run a few miles, get ready for work, and play with my puppy until her morning snooze. By then, I’m ready to work.
Take time to mentally prepare for the day ahead. Some people write their to-do lists first thing so they know what they’re getting into before they dive in. Others meditate, go for a walk, or play a game on their phone. Spend at least the first 30 minutes of your day doing something that centers and calms you.
I’ve created a focus-friendly work environment. I’m very fortunate to have a remote job that gives me the freedom to write in the comfort of my home office. Some mornings, I can write over half my daily quota before lunch. Having a high-energy, social dog means that sometimes my focus is interrupted. Meetings break my flow as well. But I’ve done my best to train my brain to remember that when I step into my office, it’s time for work, not play.
During times of deep-focus writing, create the “right” environment. You’ll get the most — maybe even your best — writing done when you can sit down for a larger chunk of time and enter a “flow state.” Everyone has at least one hour of potentially uninterrupted time, even if they don’t think they do. Find it, si yourself in a corner, and do the writing things.
I write during my lunch break and when my puppy is asleep. Breaks are valuable, and I take plenty of them throughout the day. But I’ve found, through trial and error, that I don’t need an hour-long or even 30-minute lunch break to recharge for the afternoon’s endeavors. I just need the 15 minutes I have to heat up and eat leftovers or make and eat a salad or sandwich. My peak “rest” hours don’t fall during the day.
Keep your mid-day breaks short — trust me. Breaks are extremely important — so important that in many workplaces, your employer is required to give them to you. But it doesn’t take as long for your brain to “reset” as you might think. The shorter your breaks now, the more you’ll enjoy your rest time later. It’s exhausting. But for you, it might work in your favor.
I have set “work hours” after work. This is not for everyone, but for me, it’s a current necessity. From about 4 p.m. until 6 or 7, I alternate between freelance work, “fun” writing, and giving my puppy the attention she needs. You’re probably familiar with this disjointed balance of work-play if you have a needy pet or a tiny human. As long as I’m done working by 7, I’m good to go. It wouldn’t take as long if I didn’t have to stop every five minutes to give some belly rubs, but it’s the method that works best for now.
Make an effort to multitask. No, it’s not the best strategy when you’re trying to get more writing done. Most “productivity experts” will tell you never to multitask. But sometimes, you have to choose between getting enough done in a specified span of time and not getting done what you want/need to get done. Sacrifice comes in many forms. My fun writing isn’t always the best it could be. But at least I’m writing for fun.
Then I stop working and start playing. It’s been give or take 12 hours since I stopped thinking about work by this point in the day, even if I don’t spend all those hours actually working (because, you know, dog mom life). But now, the dog has started settling down, we’ve had dinner, most if not all of my writing is done for the day, and depending on the day, I only have a few hours left before I’ll need to go to sleep.
And this is where the fun begins. Some days, I’ll read. Others, I’ll FaceTime or text with a friend with a podcast or YouTube video playing in the background. And a few nights a week, I always try to fit in at least an hour of gaming before I fall asleep. All these things relax me, and I enjoy them. After a day filled with writing, I more than earn that time.
Regardless of your day job, you’re still in control of your time. I know it can seem like your relationships, your side hustles, your kids, and your diet/exercise routine take up all the time you could be spending writing. But there is always at least one hour you can have to yourself, even if you don’t get that hour every day. And you can always choose to spend at least some of that hour writing.
Here are a few takeaways from what I’ve written above:
- Work when you know you’re most productive and save the “mindless” tasks for when you aren’t.
- Mentally and physically prepare your body and mind before your work day starts.
- Create an environment that allows you to focus, but be prepared for that focus to break.
- Multitask if you have to. It’s not ideal, but writing a little is better than not writing at all.
- Take small breaks throughout the day so you can take a larger break at your day’s end.
- Always end your days with rest before sleeping. Winding down is essential.
Making the most of the time you have in a day is not an easy thing to do. But once you establish a schedule that works, I can guarantee you’ll get more writing done. You’re always going to have off days and days it’s not easy. That’s OK. Keep trying. Your best is the best you can do today. You can always do better tomorrow.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.