Part of the 52 Week Blog Challenge
It’s funny that this question should come smack-dab in the middle of my current race against time. For those of you who missed it, I made a bet with my partners which requires me to finish editing my novel before 3rd May, or else give up the right to read Robin Hobb’s new book, Assassin’s Fate. You can see the countdown on the side of this blog page.
I have never considered time to be on my side. I have a full time job which frequently requires extra hours. I have a house that requires cleaning, a family that requires maintaining weekly, and then there’s The Boy, who I apparently I need to spend time with just because we’re dating. I know, right? Ridiculous. Plus I love reading, which is a time-consuming hobby in itself and not one I’m willing to give up.
So how do I manage my time to get all that done, plus write and edit without going insane?
I spend a third of my life sleeping
As luck would have it, I took part in an office-wide ‘Personal Organisation’ seminar at work last week. I discovered the percentages of how I spend my time. It’s not pretty. A typical week sees me:
- sleep 33% of the time
- work 31% of the time
- commute 10% of the time
- socialise 9% of the time
- do housework 3% of the time
- relax / read / me-time 2% of the time
- exercise 3% of the time
- eat 3% of the time
- write 6% of the time
It might seem like I sleep a lot. I don’t. That 33% is just a solid 8 hours a night. Some weeks, that percentage will dip because I’m no stranger to late nights.
Yet, the thing that annoyed me the most was finding out I spend 10% of my time commuting to and from work. That’s more time than I spend with friends and family, more time than writing and exercising combined, five times the amount I spend relaxing or reading – and there’s nothing I can do about it because… well, that’s just the job.
The new regime
I knew that I had to pull out all the stops to try and complete my writing task by the deadline, so I amped up my scheduled writing times. Usually I write on Monday nights, come hell or high water: for an hour each Monday night, my partner leaves me alone in my study and I write. After that hour, I go downstairs and spend time with him. It works well for a regular week and with my day-job hours. I also write whenever the Boy is out of the house; he has many hobbies so I usually gain at least three hours of me-time (read: writing time) a week.
That’s my usual routine. For this month, I introduced a writing sprint in my morning too, which was painful but ultimately worthwhile. Instead of repeatedly hitting snooze on my alarm, I got up at 6am, showered and had breakfast by 6:30, at which time I sat down to write for 45 minutes before my commute to work. This had two positive results – I managed to write for at least 30 minutes of that 45 period every morning and I also stopped being late to work(!).
I also solved the commuting problem. I’ve said before that I relax better in motion so I frequently write or read on the train to work. I’ll be honest, though, it’s usually not on the morning commute; I’m usually too sleepy, so I nurse a blueberry tea and doze instead. Getting up earlier woke me up enough so that I could utilise the morning commute for writing too. That’s an extra 10% of writing added to my weekly percentage.
I also felt more productive during the day, and felt less distracted because I had already released some of my pent-up imagination / writing energy. In fact, it was so successful, I’m considering continuing it after April is over. I do, however, really enjoy sleep, so we’ll see how that goes…
But with this extra time going to writing, I needed some time to myself. Which is why I began…
Say “No” Sundays
‘Say No Sundays’ is a concept I introduced to my writing partner, S.E. Berrow, who was struggling to find time to herself in a busy schedule. After buying my own house and taking on more responsibility for the general upkeep of my life, I realised that I needed to take my own advice. I was rushing from one week to the next without any time to breathe or relax, and it was leaving me completely exhausted. I soon became grumpy with the idea of going out anywhere to socialise with anyone – even my own friends – because I felt like I had no time to myself (and no time to write, which was frustrating itself).
So, I took stock of what was in my diary for the next three months. Mothering Sunday, a wedding, two family birthdays and an Easter celebration. Busy! But there were, speckled here and there, Sundays when I didn’t have anything to do. So I pencilled in a ‘Say No Sunday’ for each of those days, and my life has been the better for it.
What ‘Say No Sunday is:
- Permission to say no to any invitation you receive, from family or friends, that falls on this day.
- A day for you and you alone, to do whatever you want to do with it.
- Permission for you to not feel guilty about taking time for yourself.
I have a large family and weekends are usually spent with them. Saying no to them can sometimes be difficult but if I said yes to everything, I would never have a weekend to myself. With my friends and now the Boy’s family and friends thrown into the mix, I’m dealing with double the amount of commitments. The ability to reserve just one precious day a week to chill out is incredibly important, not only for my sanity, but for my relationships with these people. Being made to go somewhere you don’t want to go, to see people you usually like but are stopping you from grabbing a moment to yourself… these are things that lead to unfair resentments. Explaining the concept of Say No Sundays to relatives and friends can get mixed reactions, but it has proven many times over to be worth it when you’re feeling overwhelmed with your life. The phrase “Stop and smell the roses” sums it up nicely – sometimes things just need to stop for a while so you can appreciate them properly.
As a woman, I’m meant to be stereotypically great at this, but I think it’s a learned behaviour. It’s seeing time as an opportunity instead of a restraint or an enemy. For instance, I got up this morning to bake fresh hot cross buns for my family. The Boy and my niece Isabelle hate raisins, so every year, I make them chocolate chip versions instead. After mixing the ingredients, you need to leave the dough to prove for an hour. In that hour, I have cleaned the kitchen of the hot cross bun ingredient mess, and written this blog post. I still have 25 minutes left so I’m going to have a cup of tea and read for a bit. So this morning has been productive, I’ve done things for myself and for my family, and I’ve still managed to grab some time for myself – and my house is clean. I wouldn’t say that’s really multi-tasking, either: it’s just taking time opportunities when they present themselves.
I do have one huge flaw when it comes to time management. As any of my friends will tell you, I’m late. Always late.
Whilst not strictly true anymore (since I moved out of my family home and started being responsible for my own time-keeping, I’ve been less and less late), it still happens. It’s just who I am as a person. Half the time, it’s not even my fault – my train will be delayed, or my bus won’t turn up, or there’s traffic – but it has become a running joke for anyone who knows me.
Except at work, that is, where I have cultivated the skill of turning up just in time. However, once I’ve cracked this flaw… if I ever do… I will consider my time properly managed.