This is my dog, Emily. Look at her beauty, her strength and grace. I love her more than I can say. And sometimes when I lie beside her and rest my face against her silky chest, I hear her heart beating, strong and steady. And I hate that sound. Because it is the sound of her life ticking away. Every beat one tick closer to the breaking of my own heart.
Our lives are made of time. We do not know how much time we have, but one thing is certain, and that is that it is finite. It naturally follows that any division we make of that time is also finite. There are sixty seconds in every minute, sixty minutes in every hour, and this will be the case right up until the end of your life.
I wrote yesterday about project management, and we talked about the four project variables, and went into a bit of detail about scope. I've left the last variable, time, until today because for a writer, time is the one variable that will make or break you.
It's not about how much time you have. We all have the same amount, every day. It's about how you use it. It's about not wasting it, because when you waste time, you are wasting your life.
It's about time management.
Chaos is Deceptive
Let me tell you a little story from my own working life. I used to be the credit controller for a city law firm. One day, shortly after I had started in that job, I faced an appalling situation. I had a list of things I TOTALLY NEEDED to get done that week. My heart pounded and my mouth felt stuffed with cotton, because there was just more work there than could possibly be done in my three day work week. I hadn't been in the job that long, and the spectre of failure hovered over my head, gnashing its teeth.
Panic is never good, so after wasting the first ten minutes or so dithering, I made a list. Then I rearranged everything on the list into descending order of how likely I was to get the sack if it did not get done. I rewrote my list. This wasn't a conscious management activity - this kind of thing for me is in the nature of a comfort behaviour, like displacement grooming, or sucking one's blanky.
Then I started working on the first thing on the list. I went about it in my usual slow, plodding manner. I have it so deeply ingrained into my psyche that hurrying work is bad and dangerous. Pretty soon, I had finished that task. I crossed it off my list and went on to the next item.
By lunchtime, I had finished every single thing on that list. I had two and a half days left in my week to plan, and design improvements to the system, and so on. This is a true story. It's not even exaggerated. I have shared it here to illustrate the immense power of staying calm and remaining in control.
There have been thousands of books written about time management, probably more than there have been about management in general. There are thousands of courses too. I myself have been on dozens of them. My favourite one was in the 1980s. It ran for a whole week, seven days of luxury accommodation and unlimited free booze every night. It cost my employers about $3,000. I had a ball.
The extravagance of the Gordon Gekko decade aside, though, time management is not that complex. It boils down to:
- knowing how much time you have
- knowing what you want to achieve
- knowing what you are capable of
- knowing what you are willing to give up.
Time Management is Not About Tools
There is no end to the fancy stuff you can buy to help you manage your time. You can spend a fortune. There are specialist timers to go off after 25 minutes and 5 minutes to help you do the Pomodoro method. There are all kinds of electronic PDA devices. There's software for your iphone or android, and massively overpriced software for your computer. There are Day Runners and Filofaxes and Week At A Glance diaries. There are fancy calendars with sets of stickers to represent all your activities. There are coloured pens and highlighters and fancy sticky notes. You can have a wonderful time shopping for all this gear. If you're geekily inclined, you can even build your own. You can have a wonderful time playing with all your new toys, too. But once the party is over, generally about three days after you brought your new toys home, if buying the toys was all you did, you will be no better off than you were before you wasted three working days (or perhaps weeks or months if you took the geek option and wrote your own software) playing with stuff.
Time Management is About Knowledge and Decisions.
All the pretty tools in the world won't help you manage your time if you do not have a sound grasp of the relevant principles. Planning, and its necessary component, knowledge, is all that time management really is. Just a specialised kind of planning.
Effective planning, however, doesn't happpen in a vacuum. An effective plan is based on a great deal of detailed knowledge. In the case of time management, this will include self-knowledge: how you work most effectively, the kind of triggers that affect you, all that kind of thing.
Time Management for Writers
Now, I don't suppose you'd be reading this article if you weren't interested in learning something about time management. And as it happens, there is a course that I recommend for writers.
The Writing Academy's course, Time Management for Writers, is available FREE for the month of February. This course is practical, down-to-earth, and starts from the point of where you are right now. It will take you through analysing your life and how you currently use your time, teach you how to use priorities really effectively, and place you squarely back in the driver's seat of your working life.
You can get this course free all through the month of February. Head over to The Writing Academy. You won't be sorry.