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! 😉