4 Ways to Make Time for Your Writing (Even if You Really, REALLY Don’t Have Any)

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Make Time for Writing (even if you don't have any) - Makealivingwriting.comYou want to write … you really, really do.

You keep waiting for a good time to open up in your schedule, but it seems that every day you hit the sack wondering, “Where did the time go?”

I get that. Between our jobs, families, housekeeping chores, and other obligations, it seems like we have zero minutes left over to work on our passions.

And building our writing business takes a backseat to the rest of the tasks on our to-do lists.

I’ve coached many, many writers around this theme, and also wrote a book for women who want to do it all—including starting a side business—but don’t seem to have the time: How to Do It All: The Revolutionary Plan to Create a Full, Meaningful Life — While Only Occasionally Wanting to Poke Your Eyes Out With a Sharpie. (Though the book is aimed at women, the strategies apply to men, too!)

Ready to make the time to write more—and get your writing business off the ground? Here are the top tips from my research:

1. Remember, you do have the time

Before I get into the time-making strategies, I want you to consider that we all have 168 hours in a week. If we sleep eight hours per might and work eight-hour days five days a week, that leaves 72 hours free and clear for other things.

If your excuse is that your chores and childcare duties suck up the rest of that time, here’s a reality check: In her book 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, Laura Vanderkam analyzed time-use studies and discovered that people don’t spend as much time working, doing chores, or taking care of their kids as they think.

Many would-be writers complain that they work 60-hour weeks at their day jobs and spend 20 hours per week on household tasks, but this is rarely the case. Since we typically don’t track our hours, and so don’t have solid numbers to report, it’s simply easier, when approached by a pollster, to go along with the cultural narrative that we’re an overworked and underslept nation. That’s why the numbers are so skewed.

Though we do have more time than we think, the real problem comes when the time we do have is broken up so it seems we never have a big enough chunk of time to go after our writing goals. So even if we technically have 30 hours free per week to write, those come in bits and pieces throughout the week.

It’s hard to get a lot of writing done when you know you have only 15 minutes or an hour before you need to do something else!

If this is a problem you have, try examining your schedule and seeing where you can shuffle around obligations in order to create larger chunks of free time. For example, you can batch certain tasks like errands, cooking, housekeeping, and client calls to get them all done at once.

2. Sleep less

How much more writing and business building could you get done if you magically had an extra hour (or more) in the day? Well, you can make those magic hours happen—by sleeping less.

In 2014, the American Time Use Survey showed that on average, we’re sleeping 8.76 hours per day. That sure does sound like a lot of snooze time! In fact, for some people, it may be too much snooze time. Sleeping less may make you more productive.

A study in the Journal of Sleep concluded: “Only shorter than average sleepers (<7.5 h) spent more time socializing, relaxing, and engaging in leisure activities, while both short (<5.5 h) and long sleepers (≥8.5 h) watched more TV than the average sleeper.”

In other words, people who slept between 5.5 and 7.5 hours per night get more done.

Everyone’s sleep needs are different. But if you’re one of those people who can get by on less sleep than average, wouldn’t you like to use those hours to go after your writing goals?

To test whether this will work for you, experiment with your sleep time to see how much you really need, instead of simply going along with how long your body wants to lounge in bed because you’re feeling lazy, unmotivated, or anxious about the coming day.

Try cutting back by 15 minutes every few days. When you get to the point where you’re feeling sleepy during the day, bump your sleep time back up by 15 minutes and keep it there.

Fore example, if I let myself sleep as long as I want, I usually clock in at around 8.5 hours—but I know from experimenting that I still feel great with just seven hours.

Another tip: Google “sleep hacks” for tactics that will help you get higher quality sleep so you’ll need less of it—like good sleep hygiene habits, supplements like melatonin and magnesium, meditation techniques, exercise, and changes to your diet.

3. Analyze your schedule

We do certain things at certain times, right? The order must never vary: We get up, work out at the gym, shower, go to work for eight hours, commute home, eat dinner, socialize or relax, and save chores, errands, and fun for the weekends.

But this schedule leaves very little time for building your writing business. In fact, it takes up the entire day, from early in the morning until bedtime.

Why do we adhere to a schedule that doesn’t give us time to do what we really want? It’s because we develop habits, so that we don’t need to analyze every single decision in our days.

Take a hard look at your daily schedule. Write down everything you do, in order, from your first cup of coffee in the morning to brushing your teeth before bed.

Then take a look at each item. Does this task need to be done at the time you normally do it? Does it have to take as much time as it normally does? Do you have to do it at all?

For example, instead of hitting the gym in the a.m., would it make more sense to exercise during your lunch break? Is your dinner routine efficient? How about your kids’ bedtime routine?

Finally, brainstorm new ways of doing these things—and don’t worry about whether they’re normal. Writing for a living isn’t “normal” anyway, so who cares? You need to do what works for you and helps you go after your writing dreams.

4. Move faster

When you sort the laundry, can you will your hands to move faster than your usual speed to get the job done more quickly? Yes, you probably can. Can you do your hair more quickly? I’d say yes. Can you challenge yourself to read faster, type faster, move faster? Yes, indeed.

Many people think the natural speed they happen to work at is simply the best they can do. But you can make a deliberate decision to move faster when you do pretty much anything.

Guru-types out there sing the praises of slowing down, but slow isn’t always the best tactic when you have a whole lot you want to do, and not a lot of time to do it in.

Instead, brainstorm ways to take care of tasks more quickly, so you can cram more writing into your schedule. For example, if you’re a slow typist, take a free online typing class to pick up your speed. If it normally takes you half an hour to clean the kitchen after dinner, see if you can do it in half the time. Challenge yourself to get your writer website up in four hours. (Yes, it can be done!)

All of these strategies for making time in your life have one thing in common: They require you to take charge. Instead of going with the flow, and letting other people dictate your life, you decide how much you’ll sleep, how fast you’ll move, what you’ll do, and when you’ll do it.

Examine your life, take charge of your time — and get that writing business off the ground so you can do more of what you love every day.

What are your favorite tricks to get more writing time? Tell us in the comments below.

How to do it all -- Linda Formichelli Linda Formichelli is the author of How to Do It All: The Revolutionary Plan to Create a Full, Meaningful Life — While Only Occasionally Wanting to Poke Your Eyes Out With a Sharpie, available now.

58 Comments

  1. Linda Formichelli

    Hi, all! Greetings from Beijing…today is the final day of our 15-day trip.

    Thanks for all your comments. I see the suggestion to sleep less got a lot of attention…though I’m confused about how so many readers thought I was suggesting to sleep less than you need to be happy, healthy, and functional — which is of course not the case.

    Since there was so much interest in the sleep tip, I ended up writing a FULL guest post on this for the Work At Home Wife blog, with links to relevant research, if anyone is interested:

    Sleep Less, Do More: The Shocking Way to Get More Work (and Fun!) Done Every Day
    http://www.theworkathomewife.com/sleep-less/

    I hope it helps, and that you all enjoy it!

  2. Kabria

    I read this article and the comments offer more insight than the actual article. It shows me that there is no science. If you want to write, you simply have to do it. Of course, try to be methodical but that will vary greatly from writer to writer and the only way to be truly effective is to get to know yourself. Which based on many of the comments below usually takes the most time. You have to learn yourself professionally. How much you need to sleep? How slow and steady you need to work personally I’m a turtle. Beyond that you have to adapt constantly and be okay with that. I truly appreciate the discussion.

  3. Elizabeth Pilgrim

    Time management is almost an “evergreen” topic in the writing world. I had to work my way through school and spent far too long working and studying so I did all the things Linda suggests. Then when I wanted to start writing articles and get a website up while working full time, I had to do it again. I’m now under doctor’s orders to not cut back on my sleep. LOL! The point is though how bad do you want it? How strong is your motivation? Many writers, myself included, are obsessive and if you want it bad enough you will find a way. I think Linda’s point is you can find a way.

    In retrospect, if I had to do it all over again and if circumstances were ideal, which let’s face it they often aren’t, I’d put more emphasis on 1. Remember You Do Have the Time and 3. Analyze Your Schedule.

    Under #1, I’d add to ask what you could delegate to others in your household. Also, if someone can do it for less than what you earn per hour, it might make sense to hire someone to help out.

    Under #3, I found that what worked best for me was remembering that writing is iterative. In other words, there’s no writing just re-writing. As such, I always carry a little notebook to catch ideas anyway so I started using it to write outlines and drafts, too. If you carry a personal digital device, you can use that instead of the paper notebook and that saves you a step. The notebook technique helped me work from the time I got up until I returned home from work. Then when I had an hour or two in the late evening I could re-write.

    In November 2013, I took the plunge and participated in NaNoWriMo, the annual event where writers spend 30 days writing a 50,000-word novel. I finished and I’m still working on re-writing my novel, which I wrote in long hand each day on my train ride to and from work. At the end of the event, I wondered why it took me so long to realize this just-get-it-down-on-paper-then-rewrite process was the critical success factor I’d been missing while needlessly worrying.

    So my advice is to worry less, get a good night’s sleep, keep reading and writing, delegate, slow down and go with the flow of the day using your notebook. Besides, brushing your teeth and the laundry have to get done. However, you can always toss the laundry aside for a sec and write in your notebook that great idea or paragraph or whatever, and then pick up with the laundry again.

    I like the advice from the author, Patricia Cornwell. She advises writers to think of their writing like a relationship. Turning to your writing is like visiting a friend. When we miss somebody we keep that connection established. If we do that with our writing, then we stay in that moment, and we don’t forget what we’re doing. Using the notebook method throughout the day, helps you keep the connection.

  4. Sean Patrick Durham

    The “Sleep Less” tip really kicked up some dust.

    I’ve known a couple of people who only slept 2-3 hours a night. It’s mind boggling, but then they told me that their whole family are like that.

    Winston Churchill slept a lot, worked in bed every morning and achieved a lot in life.

    I think it really depends on the person. Age makes a difference. I used to be able to do 5 days with cat-naps while on patrol in the army. The cat nap was about 25 or 45 minutes and then you get a kick in the head to get going again for six or seven hours. It didn’t bother me.
    The kick in the head wasn’t necessary,though.

    I’d love to be able to write like I used to do patrols, but I think the body and mind want the 7.5 hours sleep these days.

    Fitness and good nutrition will certainly give you more bounce first thing in the morning. For me, if the day starts with energy, that’s the way it stays. So, a good sleep and a feeling of having done a good days work contribute to sound sleep and renewed energy.

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