This could also be called “Time management for academics,” “Time management for the self-employed” or “Time management for anyone with unstructured time.” I have long struggled with time management. It is at the point where, on the rare occasions when I have a whole day free, I get anxious about accomplishing anything. I want to do everything and I end up doing nothing.
This post by Johnny B. Truant contains the deceptively simple advice of scheduling time for writing. I have heard this advice before, but always thought it was silly and simplistic. After seeing Johnny’s example from his own schedule, though, it hit home. I have to treat my own time as seriously as I treat time dedicated to other people. I put appointments for tutoring in my schedule and I treat them seriously. I am never late, I try not to reschedule if possible, and I plan my day around these appointments. In other words, I treat them seriously. My own time, however, I treat as nebulous and free, and I end up wasting too much of it checking email, playing on the internet or watching Youtube videos. You know what I’m talking about.
I have decided to take the advice from an episode of the Self Publishing Podcast of setting aside blocks of 90 minutes for writing, so I put this on the schedule. I also schedule my lunch, a nap, some meditation time, time for email, and time to write this blog entry. The trick, as Johnny says, is to treat the appointments on the schedule as seriously unbreakable as any other appointment. Today is the first day I have done this, and, to tell the truth, I am already behind, but I’ve gotten a lot done. One problem with writing for a living (or trying to write for a living, or for a job, or for tenure) is that the reward is so far away. When I make an appointment with a student for my tutoring business, I know I will get paid for that time fairly soon. When I agree to another semester of adjunct teaching, I know I will get a paycheck on a regular basis during that semester, for a predictable amount at a predictable time. The same is true of just about any job. With writing, however, the reward is uncertain and far off. This morning I wrote 2200 words towards a memoir. I may never finish this thing. If I do, it may take a long time to publish it. When that happens, it is quite possible nobody will buy it. I may never get paid for those words, and if I do, it won’t be for a long time. This can be disheartening and demotivating, but that kind of thought may be motivated by fear.
Writers live under two kinds of fear: fear they will fail and fear they will succeed. Whether you are afraid you will fall on your face, people will laugh at you, you will lose standing in your community, or whether you fear that you might succeed and your lifestyle will change and you will have to admit to yourself that you’re good at something after all, it is easy to put off writing. Not writing, waiting until tomorrow, not finishing, not publishing are all ways to avoid these fears. Scheduling time and sticking to it as if it were your job takes away some of those conflicts. It says right there on your calendar that you have to write, so sit down and write.