When you try to do something, you may run across people who suggest you do “just a little bit each day.” Flylady is a big proponent of this method, saying “You can do anything for 15 minutes.” On the other end of the spectrum, you have research that talks about the 90-minute rhythm to our lives — in sleep and in work. Notice that what these have in common is that they’re actually shorter than expecting to sit down and write, program, play an instrument, or whatever all day long. They give us time to take breaks and time to shift gears.
Tobias Buckell posted last month about his work habits, which gave me some food for thought, and changed the way I approach my day a bit. I didn’t copy everything he does, but there’s a lot of good advice there.
I personally find a mix of the two time frames to be useful, though I tend to go with 20 to 30 minutes rather than 15 at the short end. I try to sit down and write for 30 minutes on a fiction project first thing in the morning, before checking e-mail or social networking sites or even my blog. (Operative word there is try.) Ideally, after I check e-mail and such, I then sit down for a longer stint — up to 2 hours — on paying work. These longer blocks of time are separated by fiddling about on-line, eating lunch, going for a walk, or more 30-minute blocks of writing. Ideally, I’d do the longer blocks of time for writing, too, when I don’t have paying work on hand, but it never seems to work out that way — if I am writing all day, it’s still in those 20- to 30-minute chunks.
But when do you work?
Well, given my druthers, I’d be writing from 11 p.m. to 2 or 3 a.m. That’s just when the work seems to flow the best, when I’m not as worried about interruptions from family, and when I am less likely to seek out distractions on-line. However, that doesn’t work well with the family schedule, so I’m trying to sort out a day shift that works for me. Still.
It changes based on various things, like whether I’m exercising, whether school’s in session, and what the rest of the family’s schedules are like. For example, last year, my son’s school day went from 9:00 to 3:30 (give or take 5 minutes), but this year, it runs 8:15 to 3:00. Also, he has band before school two days a week. That means instead of having the house to myself starting at 8:30 when he leaves for the school bus, it’s closer to 7:30 when I can start doing things for the day. This means changing to be even more of a morning person and getting things done first thing.
That might be good. Some people cite studies that show practicing violin or chess first thing in the morning is more conducive to mastery. (See the Schwartz 90-minute post linked above, as well as Ericsson’s article on deliberate practice, wherein he cites other work on famous authors.) The well-rested brain is a fresh brain, or something like that. So tackling my writing and everything else earlier might lead to better concentration and more accomplished. I’ll let you know — it’s not like I have a choice in it right now, anyway.
Those, then, are the three things to think about for your time management and productivity:
- How much time do you use?
- When do you use it?
- What other calls on your time do you have to allow for?
As always, please share any insights of your own, tips and tricks that you find helpful, or questions on things I may have skipped or not been clear on. Thanks for reading.