For the past couple of months I’ve had the freedom and pleasure to try being a full-time writer. It’s been working out great, or at least it feels like I’ve gotten a good start on the almost-daily writing (I tend to keep one or two days a week writing-free, usually during the weekend).
However, my sixth and last year of university studies started two weeks ago. Although I’ve managed to minimize the amount of courses for this final year, I still have the most important part of my Master’s Degree left: my Thesis. And yes, I use the capital-T because it is a big project and takes t i m e to finish.
As you can guess, this time is away from something else: working on my own projects (read: writing).
Before my Master’s studies began two weeks ago, I hadn’t realized how much I enjoyed the full-time writing. I was able to invest all my creative energy on writing this blog and my book, but now, after pushing myself two weekends in a row to meet a deadline for school… Well, let’s just say I feel extremely motivated to be able to write full-time again in the future.
How To Manage Your Writing
As I’m struggling to find the time and energy for all three writing projects I have going on (the blog, the book, the thesis), I thought I could share some tips and insights on how I manage to do all that.
1. Be In Control Of Your Time
On Monday mornings, after I’ve had my morning coffee and written my journal (something I started doing again last week to have an outlet for my unedited thoughts), I pick up my notebook and write a to-do list for the whole week.
The to-do list contains the writing goals for my projects I have for the week, such as word goals and finishing and editing blog posts. But I also include my weekly yoga-practice and the fun free-time activities to the to-do list. Every day of the week gets its own to-do list, from Monday to Friday and one for the weekend. The altogether six to-lists fit on one page which gives me a good overview of the whole week.
The weekly list is extremely helpful to give me a sense of how much I need to get done this week and how much time I have for everything. It also helps me plan when I should do what. For instance, I do my creative writing in the morning before lunch because that’s when I’m most creative and motivated, and leave the more scientific writing or researching for the afternoon. Yoga-practices, fun free-time activities and tv-series I leave for the evening when I’ve used up most of my energy for creative or more rational thinking.
Because there are only twenty-four hours in a day, I have to plan my time well. How much time will it take to write a blog post? Can I manage to write 1,000 words of Yellow Tails in an hour-or-so? How many hours can I dedicate to research for my thesis?
When I have my time limits and estimations figured out, I can start working. But as we all know, holding on to those time goals is easier said than done. We humans are easily distracted by our phones, our environment, our own thoughts. To be able to focus on the task at hand, one needs to minimize those distractions while working.
(I’m a big fan of singletasking instead of multitasking, especially after seeing this video.)
Find a working space that works for you. If you need quiet, go to a reading room in the library. If you are distracted by your phone, keep it in your bag or another room, put it on sleep mode or airplane mode to minimize all the distractions (I don’t have the notifications on for anything except for chats, which is also helpful even if I would check my phone while working). And if you seem to get distracted by your own thoughts, write them down and continue working.
This kind of efficiency and focused working requires both practice and self-discipline. But every day you’ll get better at it, I promise, if you just keep on practicing. Every time you notice your focus fleeing to something else, come back to your work and refocus.
3. Be Realistic
”We overestimate what we can do in a day and underestimate what we can do in a year.”
If I want to see a completed to-do list in the end of the week, I need to be realistic about the word or project goals I have for the day and for the week.
For me, word goals work better than time goals. I tried the Pomodore Technique for a few weeks during the Summer, but realized that I work better when I measure my productivity in words written rather than time used on a project. The Pomodore Technique might come in handy when I start writing my thesis in order to come for air every 25 minutes, but when I’m working on a blog post or writing Yellow Tails, I opt for word goals rather than time goals. Try different methods and see what works best for you.
However you measure your progress, be realistic. Remember that we usually overestimate how much we can manage in a day but underestimate what we can do in a year. Instead of deciding to write 1,500 words per day on your book, try putting a word goal of 10,000 for the whole week. One day, you might feel like writing 3,000 words while another day you only manage to produce 500 words. No harm done, if you still meet your word goal in the end of the week!
(And even if you wouldn’t, learn to be okay with that too. Instead of beating yourself for unfinished goals, try figuring out what went wrong. Was 10k too much, should you try 8k next week instead?)
By the way, the thought of we underestimate what we can do in a year motivated me to make a long-term plan for Yellow Tails, to plan my finances for the year to come and make some other plans for the whole year as well. So: be realistic about what you can achieve in a day, but also about what you can achieve in a year.
4. Find Balance
No matter how efficient the to-do lists are, life isn’t only about completing tasks. As important as your word/time/project goals are, it’s just as important to take time off your to-do list. Do something fun, be social, let your Word-documents or blog posts rest for a while.
I’m definitely still struggling to find a balance between leisure and all the writing and planning of the writing. I have my Thursday yoga practice and I’m determined to not write anything in the evenings. However, it’s still hard to be able to put aside the to-do list in the evenings.
Especially keeping my late evenings blue screen free has been a challenge. As almost all of my writing gets done on the computer (after which I usually check/update my Instagram, also on a screen), I’ve noticed how I in the evenings often have something I’d like to call a ’blue screen brain’. It’s that numbness, whirring feeling in the brain after you’ve consumed too many hours in front of a screen. It isn’t healthy, for sure, but I’m struggling to find a balance between getting things done and minimizing my screen time. If you have tips on that, I’d love to hear from you!
Finding balance is also about prioritizing. Sometimes you just have to put yourself first, or sometimes your creative projects might have to come before your school/work projects. Or the other way around. Prioritizing also has to do with being realistic: what is the most important thing for you to accomplish today? When you have that figured out, great, do it, and if you don’t feel like you have the energy to do anything else that day – take a break. You’ve done the most important thing for the day and that’s all that matters.
5. Hold On To Your ’Why’
This might be the most important thing when trying to get all that writing done. Whenever you feel deflated, tired, unmotivated or irritated about all the things you have on your to-do list, try to recall why you’re doing all this. Why is it important that you reach your word goal for the day? Why is it important that you show up everyday at your computer or work-in-progress no matter what?
For me, having these three different writing projects means I have three different ’whys’ to hold on to:
Writing my blog is an outlet for my thoughts about the society, people, behavior and self-development. It works as a balancing writing project for my fictional writing. Writing H.E.R. is also a way for me to connect with people who think similarly or want to question the same things I do.
Writing my book is the most fulfilling and fun thing I’ve done in a long time. It just feels right to write fiction and especially to write Yellow Tails. It’s one the most important projects I’ve ever had and reminding me of that helps me write that 1k almost every day.
Writing my thesis… Well, it’s the way to go if I wish to complete my studies, and I do want to complete them and get my Master’s Degree. It might help me get a job in the future if I needed one, it might give me more credit/respect than I would get if I didn’t have a Master’s Degree, and it shows that I’m capable of handling big writing projects (which is funny because I think my other writing projects tell more about me than my thesis, but let’s not go there right now). My ’why’ is a bit foggy on this one which is probably the reason why I find it hard to prioritize time for working on my thesis.
If You Read This Far…
This became one of the longer blog posts I’ve written on H.E.R. If you made it this far, then awesome, thank you for reading! I hope you got some thoughts from this list and maybe you are able to manage and divide your time better between different projects in the future. If you want to share your own time management tips or share your thoughts on something I wrote, go ahead and leave a comment. I’m always interested in hearing what you think about the things I think about!
At the moment, I’m still trying to find a way to get my thesis writing into my writing routines but I believe it will take some time. Hopefully, in a few weeks, I’ll be able to work on the thesis as efficiently as I do with these blog posts and writing my book. We’ll see how I manage. I guess it’ll show on my to-do list in the end of each week…
But now, I’ll leave you to your Thursday. Have a good one!