Building a writing career is time consuming which makes time management strategies like goal setting, brain-dumping, and prioritizing so important in order to keep your focus on the right things at the right time. Here are the next steps.
Tool #4: Create habit chains, or be deliberate about the ones you already have. Do you already have a morning ritual? A bedtime routine? Do you always hit the snooze button exactly once, wash your face before brushing your teeth, get dressed before putting on your makeup in a certain order, and make your bed before leaving the room? Is there always coffee brewing, a time for journaling, a date with the treadmill, and a habit of tossing a load of laundry into the washer before driving the kids to school?
We all have routines where the ordinary (and important) stuff in life gets done in the same order and way every day like a string of habits. However, if we are deliberate about creating or slowly adding to those existing routines, we can catch all the little stuff that nags in the back of our minds that we really should spend time with the family or journal or drink more water or do a few squats for every hour we sit at our desks or visit with an old friend while folding laundry. Rather than put reminder sticky notes up all over your house and even more items on your to-do list, simply link these into an existing habit chain. A word of caution should be noted: go slow and only add one new thing at a time until it becomes so automatic that you feel like something is missing if you skip it. If you try to add to many changes all at once, you’ll end up with the common New-Year’s-Resolution-Burn-Out-Syndrome followed by a heaping dose of guilt.
The beauty of a routine is that healthy habits for a well-rounded and balanced life can be created and eventually be put on auto-pilot with only the occasional tweaking needed. Once automatic, your brain is now freed up to think about and focus on other things…like the next chapter of your book.
Tool #5: Set aside blocks of time for intense focus. Research is now finding that multitasking is actually a bad thing. Not only do our brains bounce inefficiently from one thing to the next and back creating a hamster wheel of mental energy that gets nowhere, but along the way we forget how to focus. Research has also shown that people who know how to focus—how to do the “deep work”—get more done in less time with unparalleled results. Of course, it takes time to learn how to put aside the distractions and sink deep into a zone of creativity, but that begins with scheduled times for focus and a strategy to deal with the other stuff that could try to steal our attention.
We should strive for a balance between the various areas of our life and yet—like a gymnast on a beam—balance involves a constant stream of adjustments since we are only truly balanced for an instant. That means it’s okay to focus on one thing at a time before moving on to the next. Between the previous dreaming and capturing of ideas, prioritizing tasks within areas and creating chains of habits, we can know that all those nagging little things won’t be forgotten and will get their due attention at the proper time…thereby freeing up our minds to devote a block of time to a creative task.
There may be times where you choose to use this block of time to batch a group of similar tasks like emails, phone calls, graphics creation, or even scheduling social media posts ahead. However, the best use of a focus time is to dive into the creative zone. The more you do this, the easier it is to get focused and the longer you can stay focused. In fact, your single focus time per day may soon become two or three with breaks in between to check email, exercise, or run through a habit chain. Extreme focus takes energy so you’ll probably need to work yourself up to longer stretches as this mental muscle develops.
Once you have time set aside and the discipline to begin to focus without distraction, the obvious next question becomes what to focus on. I have a teacher friend who has two personal writing times per day and thinks of them like the class periods of her students with one “subject” or project in the early morning hours and another in the evening. Another writing friend chooses to use her blocks of focus time to work on a new book three days a week, for marketing preparation one day, and to prepare teaching lessons for her business the fifth day.
Others have found even this jumping around from project to project to be a distraction and would rather pour all their energy and thoughts into one key project until it is done. This singular focus produces momentum and the feeling of a quick win which in turn inspires progress on the next goal. If you’re interested in pursuing a single big goal for a season, I recommend checking out The Freedom Journal which helps hold your hand through a 100 day journey to achieve your number one goal. After helping you to define the big goal in realistic and measurable terms, this journal provides twice-daily check-ins, ten day sprints, and even more accountability when you reach the quarter, half, and three-quarters points along the way. That big goal could be to write the next book or it might be planning a successful book launch.