While you don’t have to be the most organised person to be a writer, I swear that it is DOES help to be able to manage your time efficiently.
Before we even move on to being organised in your writing, we need to think about the bigger picture (awful cliché but sometimes the bad ones work best!).
What do I mean by the Bigger Picture?
I mean your life, your home, your routine. Whether you are still in school or in the rat race there will be things that eat away at your time.
Not all of them will be a burden, but they could all do with some organising. The idea is to gain as much time for your writing as possible while still getting things done outside of the story.
It is easy to find an excuse not to write because of a mountain of other things have crept up on you.
When I started writing with a goal in mind I was at school, so that meant homework, coursework, projects, revision, chores, time with the family, time with friends, any extracurricular lessons like swimming or piano all ate my time.
Yet my days were organised by timetables, scheduled meals and the like, so I got large chunks of writing done along with all this extra time-eating stuff.
Now being in the rat race, I have a whole new set of responsibilities that make demands on my time such as work, housework, sorting the bills, sorting the car, vet appointments, doing favours for the family, general maintenance, maintaining the garden, being a taxi-service, making time to see friends and family, completing my courses/modules, running a business etc.
Corral your time
To write you need time, some writers get up at 5am and write for 2 hours before their day really begins. Ouch!
I doubt I could ever make that work. I have a very comfy bed and most days I am surprised I can get out of it to go to work.
One issue is that it’s hard to prioritise our writing, even more so when you get older and have greater responsibilities.
Suddenly paying the credit card bill, going grocery shopping and booking the car in for its MOT takes precedent.
Shuffling the board
Giving priority to your writing does not mean skipping your homework so you can finish a chapter, or not doing your housework so you can start that new scene. In everything you need to find some balance and to do that you need to shuffle the board.
The way I did this was to make a note of everything that needs to be done – daily chores, weekly to do’s, monthly meetings etc.
Example – Chores
If you ignore daily chores you can find yourself wasting a whole weekend getting through them when your house becomes unbearable.
Then, because you’ve used up so much time on them, you don’t want to do them for a while…so you leave them…and they build up again. Most people I’ve spoken to seem to suffer this.
The first bit of board shuffling I did was to organise the chore list. I wrote them all down, everything includes things that need to be done fortnightly, monthly and even yearly.
First I listed the weekly items and put them over the days of the week. I also tailored them to relevant days. Such as emptying all the house bins on Tuesday because the bin collection happens on a Wednesday.
An example of some of my weekly chores
I also specifically didn’t put too many things on days when I had other requirements such as if I had tutorials.
Next, I organised everything else over the weekends. I broke them down into 1st Saturday, 1st Sunday, 2nd Saturday etc.
Here was were I included things to be done monthly like maintenance of the washing machine and dishwasher, cleaning the fish tank filter, tidying the garden etc.
Once all the chores had been allocated certain days, I then divided them up. As there are two of us in this house we each take a share of the chores. I then colour coordinated them for myself and my partner and put the chore list on the fridge.
Just by doing this, I streamlined the system and I knew what needed doing and when.
Obviously, homework, projects, requests for your time etc will pop up willy-nilly and cannot always be planned for. However, you’ll be surprised how much time you lose doing nothing when you are meant to be doing something.
If you can get at least one aspect of your life to organise such as the chores, then do it.
Stop the Dither & fill the Dead Time
Dither is a huge time-waster. My partner is a bit of a ditherer at times. He will put on the kettle then stand around waiting for it to boil. Then he will stand around waiting again while the tea stews.
I, on the other hand, will put on the kettle, get the cups ready, then empty/fill the dishwasher if necessary, straighten the kitchen, sweep the floor while it boils. Then when I am waiting for the tea to stew, I will fill the washing machine, feed the cats etc.
Another example of dead time: You are vacuuming the living room and someone calls you, so you shut off the vacuum and answer the phone, then stand there chatting for 10mins.
Okay so continuing to vacuum isn’t really possible but what about grabbing the duster and wiping the mantle down, spraying the windows, sweeping the floor, straightening the bed, etc.
There are probably a dozen little jobs you could be doing at the same time as taking that call that doesn’t need your full focus.
Don’t get caught out
Diaries and calendars are brilliant, they are nice easy ways to remind you what you need to do and when.
At the beginning of every year I get a new diary and then using my old diary, I update all birthdays and anniversaries. I even put a note in a few days before stating “buy a card/present for X”.
I then go through my car paperwork and note down when my car tax is going to be due when my insurance is expiring when the MOT is due.
This allows me to know which days I am going to lose time sorting tax paperwork, being without a car, having to use compare-websites to get cheap quotes.
If we plan anything it goes in the diary or on the calendar. So we know that at X weekend we have tickets to go to a show.
Add a note a week before, telling yourself to check the tickets have arrived so no more running around on the night in a panic because the tickets never arrived.
If you are a to-do list maker, take a look at the list. How much of it do you really need? Are you adding things like chores to your to-do list? If so, look at the above and create a chore organiser sheet to take care of all that.
I do like to keep my writing to-do list separately. So when I sit down to write I can see what needs my attention rather than trawling through pages of other rubbish before I get to my writing notes.
The best way to keep a to-do list succinct is to take the evening, just before bed and take your Master To-Do List and list maybe 6 things from it onto a separate sheet of paper. This will be what you can do tomorrow.
The rule is, unless it’s time-sensitive or an emergency, nothing else gets added to the daily to-do list.
Anything new goes on the Master To-Do list to be filtered off eventually. Again this will help to keep you focused and stop you spending longer than you should read through an ever-growing list of to-dos.
The Internet & other technology
The procrastinator’s dream, I can spend hours on the internet and at the end of it, I can’t really give you a full account of what I did.
What to do about it? If I have tasks that need the internet, making a booking, paying bills, checking emails, buying presents… I list them on a post-it and stick it on the front of my diary (that goes everywhere with me) and I go online and get these done first.
Another good idea is to get yourself a timer. Set it for an hour or just 30mins and then when it goes off. Walk away.
You find anything you want to do, you suddenly become more focused and do it quicker.
Plan to write
Schedule time in your diary to write, let people know this is your writing time and switch the phone off. Stick to the time if you can. Maybe put a notice on your door stating you are writing and not to be disturbed.
It may seem like you are taking the fun out of writing but what you are attempting to do is create a discipline for writing.
If you want to be a published writer, then you need to think like one.
Always remember that even the most organised person can be tripped by a hurdle and suddenly all our time, our plans come crashing down.
A simple illness steals days from us and then you are desperately trying to claw back time.
With this in mind, remember to be flexible. Plan your time yes, organise your chores and keep aware of what’s going on but be flexible enough to change it if necessary.