Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: We Have To Manage All Our Time

Articles about time management for writers often include suggestions that we set writing goals for each day and stay on task until we meet them, check and respond to e-mail only once a day, and limit our access to social media. (That last suggestion contradicts the marketing articles that advise us to be all over the Internet.) In reality, though, we need to manage the rest of our lives in order to have any time to manage for writing.

Financial compensation for writing and other creative fields comes infrequently. Royalty statements come only twice a year, for instance, and if writers are able to sell articles and short stories, we're still talking one-time payments, nothing like a regular paycheck. Children's fiction writers will often never make more on a book than their original advance. So many writers are going to have to hold day jobs to meet living and healthcare expenses. Their writing time competes with what you might call their life management time.

Many writers who are able to work "full-time" are parts of families with young children. It makes financial and practical sense that the nonwriter parents with the best income potential will focus large chunks of their time on working in more traditional jobs while the writer parents who make less and work out of the home take on the bulk of the childcare responsibility. It also makes financial and practical sense that adult children who are writers and can be flexible with their work time and aren't providing the bulk of the family's income, anyway, take on some of the responsibility for visiting ailing elders and/or managing their finances or, in many cases, doing even more.

For people who work under those conditions, the boundary between professional and personal time is very thin and very wobbly. It is all too easy for personal time to bleed into work time. In my experience, it goes the other way occasionally (there were times in the past when my family ate a lot of hot dogs and store bought cookies while I was finishing drafts to meet deadlines), but not so much. Plumbers, electricians, chimney sweeps, septic tank cleaners, and family members calling and wanting to talk for forty minutes all peck away at the work schedule. Then there are medical appointments, sick days (for ourselves and others), and snowstorms (or other kinds, depending on where you live) that pop up with alarming regularity. Maintaining basic cleanliness in a home takes up time.

Over the years, I've become a big fan of magazine articles on managing clutter, organizing homes, and doing more with less time. Yeah, reading that stuff burned through some of my hours that might have been used to write. But I have this intense belief that I am doing something wrong. Somehow, there is a way that I can do more with the time I have. There is some method I can learn and apply to all the things I have to do so that the personal work will stay on its side of the boundary, leaving more time for the professional work that I will then knock off rapidly and efficiently.

Or maybe I've got this all wrong. A family member who learned I was going to do a time management for writers project at my blog thought I'd have nothing to write about. If he were a writer, he said, he'd just set aside 9 to 11 each morning to work. That would be all there was to it.* Is he right? Is that all you have to do to make all the personal intrusions go away?

*At this point, I had to stop working on this post for 40 minutes while I dealt with the floor guy who was here to look at the damage the plumbing guy I dealt with for 3 hours one day last week did to our carpet. After calling my husband about this, I now need to e-mail the floor guy. I also have 2 elder care calls to make today and an appointment for myself.


Julie LeGrant Kellam said...

Gail, this is all so true, clearly and succinctly written and with your trademark wry humor to boot!
I am not a writer but have a similar fluid sort of occupation that requires a disciplined use of time (who doesn't) and without children, young adults or elders living here at present, should have no problem, right??
Thanks for the insights! May I pass it along? Do you know Laurie Gifford Adams who wrote "Finding Atticus" a former teacher in Glastonbury?

Gail Gauthier said...

Julie, Pass it on!

No, I don't know Laurie Gifford Adams, but "Finding Atticus" sounds familiar.

Jeannine Atkins said...

I appreciate your good thoughts on this important topic.

and did you ever get your hands on the article in Poets and Writers? I reread it because of you, and, even if you don't get to it before your retreat, it has a lot to say in a way both amusing and honest about this topic. I'm happy to send it to you.

Gail Gauthier said...

Oh, Jeannine, I sent you an e-mail to the address you left here in the comments, which I think was different from the one I saw on your website. I'll go back to the website and e-mail you from there.

MotherReader said...

I'll be following your thoughts/progress in these Tuesdays because I am so not doing a good job with my time management. There are days when I literally cannot figure out what happened to the morning in the "how was your day?" conversations.

But I do have a fair number of parental phone calls that eat up forty minutes or more....

Sally said...

I have so lived this, from the kids at home to the elderly parent. The observation of your non-writer friend is classicly clueless and irritating! And, not unremarkably, the friend appears to be male. But - "set aside time" is a key piece of this. If you were working in an office, people would not expect you to be available at all hours for whatever. If you had to take a day off to be home and wait for the plumber, you'd probably schedule several other interruptions into that same day, so you wouldn't have to take other days off for other things. To the extent possible we need to assert our identities as WORKING writers - to ourselves first, and then to others. Women tend not to do this. We feel selfish when we do, especially if we're not making a lot of money. But it's critical.

Gail Gauthier said...

Pam--The parent thing has been huge. In our family, it's been going on for years to one degree or another. I am very aware that there are many families dealing with healthcare issues for various relatives that are far worse. Time management for them must be a fantasy. I can at least think that there's still a way I can get some control.

Sally-- "... you'd probably schedule several other interruptions into that same day, so you wouldn't have to take other days off for other things." Scheduling similar activities together is something we'll be talking about on a future Tuesday. You're right about it's being a time management technique.