Time Management: The Single Most Important Component to My Productivity
The combined strategy of time management that applies to most artistic creators, especially with the COVID-19 Pandemic
Stop and retrace your day today, what you’ve done thus far, or, if you’re reading this in the morning, stop and think about what you did yesterday. What was the structure like? Did you find time to write? Did you set aside a few hours to churn out a few dozen or hundred words to your liking? Were you satisfied with your productive output? What do you think you could’ve done better? Honestly, I tend to stay away from writing self-help articles that try to tell people how to work. Everyone’s workflow is different, people thrive on different things, people are distracted by different things, where some people can write in a crowded bar, others would need a quiet library or home office. The Covid-19 outbreak has changed the way we do everything in our lives for pretty much everybody, including us writers. I’ve noticed that quite a few people have reported that they’re finding it more difficult to write, even if they have extra time to do so and less responsibilities. If this sounds like you, I think the answer might lie in how you use your interrupted versus your uninterrupted productive time, and how you balance and use the two in conjunction to create better pieces.
It doesn’t matter what your business or work is, if you’re in charge of yourself and independent, whether it’s with your dream business startup, or writing career, or perhaps even your music gig, time management is an essential skill to have.
Over the years, one thing that’s been a constant for my productivity has been the effect of how I manage my time on the total output of work. This same principle applied when I was a musician and it still applies as a writer, though I wouldn’t put too much stock in the first part of that section because I was a terrible musician. Let’s just say writing is more my calling than music was.
Ultimately, what the different spaces we may write and the different times we may seek out those spaces have to do with our productivity is the difference between distracted and undistracted time. We don’t analyze material the same when we have a small amount of allotted time versus an extended period where our brains can focus.
The Divided Day
Many of my days are spent dividing the day up and putting the focus in when I can, allowing myself an hour here, two hours there, and spacing it out so I can get other things done. We all have lives that need tending and there’s really not anything we can much do about that, sometimes. When my month is primarily composed of divided days, I tend to get a lot less finished, but I get a whole lot more started. I think this is pretty true of everyone. We start a piece, our focus is broken, we go do something and come back only to find it extremely difficult to get back into the frame of mind we were in when we left.
The divided day has its perks, make no mistake. This is actually a good thing and will come in handy later. For many people, starting a piece is the hard part and continuing them even harder. But we can utilize the divided day to touch up pieces that are old with no intention of finalizing them.
When I sit down to finish a piece and only give myself an hour to do it, something just doesn’t feel right, no matter how close to done it was when I started. But I can use the divided day to slowly work on pieces over time, etching them out like a sculpture slowly sculpts his finest works of art.
The Whole Day
As harsh as this may sound, I think any writer’s work will suffer if they cannot take whole days to themselves in order to write. No distractions, phone turned off, no friends, no Facebook, no social media, nothing. The whole day is necessary for the pieces that can be started and brought to completion in a single day and to really give those pieces that have been sitting on my shelf a few proof-reads before I feel comfortable enough to hit publish.
Whole days are what I designate as publishing days. When I submit or publish work in a rush, I feel uncertain and insecure about how well I did. I don’t feel confident. I tend to think this lags onto our next pieces and the following pieces and can build up and pretty soon, we’re unsure, we feel scattered, confused about our purpose, and like we’re working in a total state of distraction and chaos. This isn’t good for us as writers. Some writers prefer to have a designated writing area so they can get into the habit of treating writing like their actual work for another company (because it is) and eliminate all distractions during that period of time.
If we really want to be serious, whole days are absolutely essential to our productivity and our sense of purpose as creators, whether we’re writers or musicians or artists is less relevant than how we manage our time to maximize our productivity and focus. Not all focus is equal.
Ten minutes to glance over a piece and improve it here and there, touch up sentences, and change out words for more interesting ones are not the same as having three hours to feel comfortable in taking our time, focusing solely on the work in front of us, and publishing the finalized work once we’re happy with it.
The Combined Strategy
I actually use both of these in conjunction for my process. I give myself dates for each piece to be published by, I build them slowly in several apps (Microsoft To-Do and OneNote are essential for my business) where I can organize each piece by title, main topic, section, and then the content of each part, contributing to a lot of pieces slowly over time. This makes the respective parts better, overall.
A lot of people I know tend to try to use one or the other. There are the peeps who always want to have a good chunk of time ahead of them, at least a couple of hours before they even get started. I’m absolutely frickin’ convinced that this is why so many people rarely start anything, if ever. So, from my heart to yours, for God’s sake, start your work even if you don’t have the time to finish it. Get a paragraph out there. Writing doesn’t have to be linear, get anything out there, throw ideas at the wall and see what sticks. Sometimes I start with what ends up becoming the 8th paragraph of a piece. You can always reassemble later, but if you struggle with getting words on paper, the thing you need to embrace the gaps in time, whatever they may be, to pour out your thoughts no matter how good or bad, and roll with it.
They don’t have to be masterpieces, what’s important in the downtime is tossing whatever scraps you can out there to build with later. The more notes you have, the better off you’ll be when it comes time to assemble pieces of work. If you’re a musician, take that time to think up a new melody or rhythm or what have you and make sure you get it down by practicing it a few times. Use that time wisely.
Then when you finally get a day ahead of you to put all of your efforts towards the completion of work, you’ll just have tons of material lying around. Assembling it all into the perfect whole is the only task you have ahead of you and you don’t have to focus on conjuring up so much new material and writing everything from scratch, you can more assemble the ideas you’ve already thought up in the interim moments. Completing a piece is much easier when you have a predetermined guide to follow, one that you’ve made on your own.
I’m actually not one of those people who believes we need to maximize every moment of every day. I’m a firm believer that rest and daydreaming are very important elements of the human psyche and imagination (I did a story on the importance of daydreaming on mental health) and they’re crucial to my productivity and overall well-being as a person. But I think that there are still going to be moments in between where we can sneak in some ideas when our brains are up for the task, and, of course, time we’ll need to set aside if we’re going to take our work seriously, time that’s uninterrupted where we can dedicate 100% of our focus to the task at hand. As you can see, I’m a proponent of the wholistic approach.
Don’t rely too much on one strategy or the other, A lot of people try to pinch whatever time they can in their already-hectic lives, but aren’t willing to trade in the things they love for the whole-day approach. I’ve been this person and, honestly, it took eliminating social media from my work atmosphere before my work really began to take off in terms of productive output (and reception).
Other people try to rely way too much on sitting down in front of a blank, empty screen without ideas laying around to assemble and just rolling with the assumption that they’ll be able to dream up all the right words in that very moment. But that’s not really how our concentration works. We can’t force our brains to think of interesting things in the times when our brains aren’t cooperating. This is why a balanced strategy is the best for my productivity and hopefully, by employing it, it might help yours as well.