What I Learned from Offline October

Those of you who follow this blog (may blessing rain upon you for making a writer happy) might remember that, at the start of October, I decided to try to go light on the internet during that month.

Specifically, the idea was to limit online time to an hour per day, so as to have time to engage in offline pursuits that ‘fill the well’ of creativity, partly to inform NaNoWriMo in November.

As far as the stated aim of an hour a day went, I would have to say it was a colossal failure.  (I appreciate you keeping the laughs down to a polite tittering.  Your manners are valued.)

But, as an exercise in working out where the time goes and making  a plan for the future, it has been, I think, very successful.

Here’s what I discovered:

There are three main ways that I lose time to the internet.  The first is when I am avoiding jobs that I think are going to be difficult, scary or boring – or classic procrastination, in other words.  The second is in genuine work, which needs to be done, either for business, personal or volunteer reasons.  The third is in due to the fundamentally interconnected, diffuse and non-focussed nature of the way I interact with it.

So, how can I deal with these issues?

The first is perhaps the most important one, because this is the one where time is a-wasting and when important things, like the next book, do not get done.

The issue here is fear and inertia, not the internet itself.  I’m quite capable of procrastinating in other ways, like watching tv, reading, or even, if I am feeling particularly guilty, housework.  So the way to deal with this is just to allocate X amount of time (or X goal) to those scary tasks each day and make spending that time a habit.

Sounds simple, no?  But in a way, it is.  It’s just about making priorities non-negotiable.

In my case, this means that I need to set myself a word count goal each day, much as I have avoided that in the past.  Word count, or X amount of time, whichever comes first.  I know this is a system that has worked well for many writers and it is past time for me to use it.  And because my days inevitably get more complicated as they progress, that time and word count needs to be done first thing, before anything else.  My participation in NaNoWriMo is partly to help me make this habit – one which I hope plan will continue long past November!

The second one was illuminating to track.  It appears quite a lot of the time I had thought was wasted tooling around the ‘net, was actually spent in legitimate pursuits.  In this area, it’s not whether I can spend the time, but whether I can spend it TODAY that is the issue.

This is easy enough to handle.  It’s just a matter of keeping track of the time spent as I’m spending it and limiting/prioritising the use of that time.  To that end, I’ve downloaded a simple timer for my desktop (one that rings!) and, before I start a job, setting it for the length of time I have available at that moment.  Then when it rings, I stop – or give it a few more minutes it that’s all it takes.  It’s amazing how much a time limit can increase focus and productivity and knowing how long things take is important when you’re running a business – which any writer, as a self-employed person, is.

The last one is the trickiest, because the problem is also the pleasure.  By interconnectedness, I mean, you hop onto twitter for a quick catchup, then you follow a link and read an article, then you get into a conversation about it and you go and check out the person you’re talking to and you find they’re friends with a writer you’ve always liked and… time can fly.  In fact, glaciers can melt and continents can shift in the time one can lose that way.  It’s all good stuff, that’s the problem – but there are only so many hours in the day.  Through a process of trial and error, I’ve discovered that it’s very difficult to avoid this sort of connected carry-on and it take the fun out of social media to try.

So for this, I have also called on my trusty timer.  I set it for 15 minutes when I get onto Twitter and Facebook and the like and when it goes off, I stop.  Then I come back later in the day for another 15.  It may not sound like long, but you’d be amazed how much you can do in 15 minutes if you know that’s all you have!

So, in short, what I’m doing is prioritising firmly and managing time-suck activities, work-related and social, with a timer.  Not rocket science, as time-management goes, but I think it will work for me.  My word count at the end of this month will be a litmus test!

So, in the interests of keeping myself honest, my NaNoWriMo word count to date is 3000 words.  Not a huge one, but I am hoping to do some more today.

How do you manage time-drains?  Do you need to?  Or are you a naturally controlled individual?  And if you’re NaNo-ing, how’s it going?
PS: the picture above is my dog.  No, I don’t really know what she has to do with anything either, except that she never seems to worry about time management! 😉

19 thoughts on “What I Learned from Offline October

  1. Hi Imelda
    Offline October was good for me too as I did start to prioritise stuff and was very aware of everything I did online. I did run amok for the first couple of days of November but have cut it down again.
    Well done on Nano. I am excited by what I have achieved so far. I was close to giving the whole idea away and then I bought Kate Grenville’s ‘The Writing Book’ and have been working my way through and following her exercises to get the words flowing and it is working at the moment! It’s all about getting into a regular writing habit and I too am a procrastination expert. Your timer idea is a good one. I might try that too.
    I love your very relaxed dog. We should learn from our pets!

    • I like the sound of that book, Kerry. But it’s for AFTER November! 😉
      Good on you for giving it a go. I’ve come full circle on NaNo. I used to think it was silly, but if I can use it as a yearly re-invigorating exercise, especially at a busy time of year, I think it will be great. It’s all about the habit. Procrastination is a habit too! thanks for commenting!

  2. Your dog is a cutie. I’m trying to be more disciplined. Less of the “oh I’ll just pop on and check…” nonsense. Fact is, it can all wait. And everytime you stop and start you’re messing with your flow. It slows you right down. IT CAN WAIT. So I’m attempting regular breaks for checks as opposed to every three minutes. Good luck with it, mate.

    • It’s the flow I need to get back, Kylie. You’ve put your finger right on it. It’s that place you get to once you push through the hard and you don’t get it if you can weaken every 15 minutes (or when it gets hard, roughly!). I can check in maybe three times a day, but I need to do the word count, or the hours, in a clump. I’m thinking of using the coffee shop with no wifi as a venue again, to keep me honest, while I get into the swing.

  3. I also think that it’s important to work out your most creative times of day so your writing can occur in that time window. I’ve surprised myself by learning that early morning is actually better for me–I’ve always been a night owl; you know, the one in college who got up late and stayed up later. If I stray into the ‘just gonna check the emails before I start writing’ now, that’s it–I’m gone! And today I’ve started back at work–hit the ground running in fact, so it’s going to be even harder to regulate because I’ll be tired and just wanting to vege out on the net. So…if I want to produce anything creative in the next four weeks, I need early morning DISCIPLINE! Hi, kookaburras–just me, rising with the larks.

    • I hear you! I used to be a night owl too and I used to do good work at night. But that was before I had responsibilities that got me out of bed reliably at 6.30 in the morning. I’m dedicating my hours straight after school bus drop off to getting those words down. I can concentrate enough to do the ‘bitty’ things later, but not well enough to create well. I’m going to be upping my exercise too, because I’m sure being fitter would help the brain processes – but that’s a post for next week! 😉 Good luck!

  4. Hi Imelda, a very pertinent post, one which we can all identify with! I have a toddler and write when she sleeps, which means the housework takes a back seat and nags at the back of my mind – I hate a messy house! Then when I try to catch up on chores, my daughter wants me to play with her shape sorter or have a cuddle with a book (she is currently pulling on my trouser leg to play with stacking rings!). Time is precious so we have to utilise it to the best of our ability and energy. I’m doing NaNoWriMo too and am at just over 5000 words. Got some catching up to do today! Thank you for sharing your tips and giving us some insight and good luck with your word count. 🙂

    • Congratulations for getting so many words done with a toddler! I’m very impressed! For you, you need to grab those half hours and 15 minutes whenever you can – I remember it well. What I remember most is having to let go of the idea that I would ever have large chunks of time to do anything and learning to be satisfied with whatever I could get in. In your case, the timer might be a way to carve out some time for both of you. If you tell your girl that you will play with her when the timer goes off, if she plays quietly in the meantime, you might be able to train her to give you short bursts of concentrating time. That way, you get to do a chore or some writing AND play with her. I know that this system has worked for other people. If it worked for Pavlov it can work for the jobbing mum/writer! Best of luck with it!

  5. Well done, madame! I’ve kept off the NahMaamWireMoo website, to be honest, as you can guarantee some git will have stormed off to 40,000 words already. I’m on 5,000 – I do about 1,000 a night after work. I also have a Chinese Dwarf Hamster to cater for. Life is so hard, at times. My story will be a just and true account of this personal strife. Best of luck to yee!

    • I don’t need the gittery, either, it must be said! But 1,000 per night is an excellent total. If you did that five nights a week, you’d have more than a full-length novel in 6 months. Sometimes I think it’s good to do the maths – it can make sense and progress out of what can seem like small numbers. One word in front of another, into the breach, my old!

    • In a way I envy you your job, Resa. I was the same when I was editing a magazine. When you’re in that white-hot time-limited job headspace, focus is easy – because otherwise you drown. It’s keeping up the work levels when the deadline pressure isn’t on that I find hard, especially with creative work – hence the need for tricks and strategems. It’s all a work in progress, isn’t it?

  6. Time management vs online is always an issue. I’ve deliberately limited myself to a blog and Twitter for that reason. I suppose I shouid look at Facebook. But then there’s Pinterest. And Stumbleupon – and – and (sigh)…

    • Oh, I hear you, Matthew! People tell me I ‘should’ be on Pinterest, because my audience is there. But there are only so many hours in the day and you have to draw the line somewhere. Not to mention the copyright scruples I have about Pinterest. I think it’s better to do a couple of things well than everything half-arsedly. I have enough trouble with carving out the writing time as it is!

  7. Your dog is funny! Well as you know, I’m doing the NaNo. I struggle to find time to write and with the “just write concept” without editing. But I’m quite excited as I write, I can see my characters and the plot of the story getting more defined.

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