Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: The Swiss Cheese Method Of Time Management

A few weeks ago, I mentioned my dark past working at a traditional job. The agency I worked for did management consulting, including time management, and it was at that point in my life that I read Alan Lakein's book How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, which I heard about at the office.

The book was about what Lakein called the Swiss Cheese Method of Time Management. The theory was that many people put off complex tasks, hoping to have more time for them at some later date. Lakein claimed you could get started at jobs like that right away, chipping away at what needed to be done with small chunks of time. These small chunks of time were compared to the holes in Swiss cheese. With enough holes, the cheese either disappears altogether, because the job is done, or enough of it disappears to make the job seem manageable enough to work on in a more regular manner.

I've been using this method ever since, mainly in my nonwriting life. I've made quilts in just twenty or thirty minutes a day, over many days. That's how I get my yard cleaned up every year. I made carrot soup this past Sunday for Easter, because cooking an entire holiday meal anywhere near the actual holiday is quite beyond my capability.

Does this method work for writing, though?

Certainly it can be used for the business aspects of the job--creating mailing lists, data bases of contacts, building up your Facebook friends or Twitter followers. Those are jobs that don't require a lot of continuity. It could also be used when you're getting started on a new writing project. Pre-writing--planning characters, settings, and plots, for instance--could be chipped away at in small chunks of time. The same with research.

Once you're writing, though, can you stay in your writing world while working only minutes a day? Will working in such small units of time impair your ability to write in flow? I've actually wondered if using the Swiss Cheese Method of Time Management for parts of my life all these years has wrecked my endurance and made it harder for me to stick with a task, including writing, for lengthy periods of time.

Author Joseph Lunievicz described his writing schedule last year in a Cynsations interview. He completed his first book, Open Wounds, sometimes working only twenty minutes to an hour a day. He said, "The third key is to remember that even twenty minutes one day a week is enough time to write a novel--if you string enough twenty minute segments together over a longer period of time. Open Wounds took me seven years to write, but I wrote it over the first seven years of my son’s life when time was at a premium..."

So someone managed to write a book using, essentially, a Swiss cheese method to manage time. Does anyone else have experience using very small amounts of time to write? 


Debby Garfinkle said...

I usually write for about an hour a day, about six days a week. If I'm on deadline I might write for two hours a day, but rarely more than that. I have a short attention span and got used to writing while my children were very young, so I'm used to writing in short spurts. I usually write in 15 to 45-minute spurts.

Gail Gauthier said...

That's very heartening, because you certainly have a very nice career going.

I heard Rick Riordan speak once, and he said he only works about 3 hours a day. The rest of his time goes toward arranging his public appearances. He also has a very nice career going.

Maybe the trick is to work better, not longer. Which is a totally different subject.