Too Much Time on Your Hands? Me Too.


photo (cc) Steve Groisbos

photo (cc) Steve Groisbos

A lot of writers dream of quitting their Day Job. Of unshackling themselves from corporate handcuffs of iron or gold and leap joyously into a Full Time Writing Life, where the words flow freely and the book advances are large.

I am not that writer. Not really (not yet, at least).

I’ve recently become a FULL TIME WRITER, and not exactly by choice. I was laid off from my job and a dearth of viable employment opportunities leave me time to focus on this writing thing I love so much.

Except (and I’m sure you already see where this is going, my friends) being a FULL TIME WRITER is an utterly terrifying thing to be at present. I’m not even talking about making a living at it yet—eventually I will go back to work and things will change. In a strange way, the Day Job gave me more time to write, or at least more focus. I knew I’d only have 2-3 hours per day at most to get things done, and so I’d anticipate which writing project needed my attention most and make a plan for finishing. With the clock ticking, it was easy to deep dive into the manuscript and GET STUFF DONE.

It’s a lot harder when the whole day is yours. “I’m not working, but I’m busier than ever,” is a common refrain from people who are unemployed, underemployed, a full-time parent, or retired. It’s amazing how quickly the day passes just completing mundane tasks like paying bills, answering emails, searching for work, fixing meals, <cough cough> checking Twitter and Facebook.

Where did my day go?

I’m very serious about writing, and I’m dutifully reaching my word count on the novel most days. But there’s a disconnect between all the extra time I have and the actual amount of deep immersion in the novel I’d like to achieve. I think it lies in the fact that my to-do list grows longer every day (job hunting, software training, networking lunches, freelance gigs, home improvement) and no matter what I’m working on, I feel like I should really be working on something else.

Well, I could ramble more about feeling aimless, but that wouldn’t make for a useful blog post here on Inkpunks. I’d like to talk about some of the things I’m doing to make order out of my day.

1. Strictly Limit Social Media Time. For those of you who keep up with my day-to-day activities on Social Media, you’ve probably noticed I’m not around as much lately (at least I hope you’ve noticed…). Some days, I turn off the internet entirely to avoid getting sucked into the latest controversy or #hashtagjoke and/or obsessively checking to see what my friends are up to. This includes email and IM-chat time (though I try to respond to important/business emails asap.)
2. Roughly Apportion The Day. Mornings are for waking up, coffee, breakfast with my wife, scritching the cats, and going over “office” tasks like answering emails, making to do lists, and looking for work. Sometimes when I’m engaged in these tasks, I’ll leave Social Media/Chat open and allow myself a little bit of participation in the Great Conversation. I try to wrap up all that stuff up by lunchtime. Afternoons are usually my most productive times (i.e., word count or editing tasks). It’s strange because when I had the Day Job, early mornings and late evenings were the most ideal. During the afternoons, I mostly write. Sometimes I revise. I also try to get in some light exercise so I’ll bike to the library or the coffee shop that serves as my temporary office.Evenings are for dinner and relaxation (yes, sometimes TV), or continuing ed classes, or visits with friends. It’s also a great time for exercise. Or woolgathering and ideation. If I’m on deadline I can also dive back into the manuscript or write blog posts like this one. I am finding that while I’m on my own schedule I have somewhat reverted to my night-owl ways, so early mornings don’t happen as often as they used to.
3. To Do Lists. I mentioned these above, but I’m finding the only way to keep myself even remotely on track is to continually check, add, subtract, and modify this list. I’ve tried all sorts of schedulers and cross-platform apps, but the piece of paper sitting on my desk seems to work best for me right now.

So there’s my rough system for how I’m trying to stay focused. I’m astounded how hard it can be some days. I’m still trying to find the best practices to be more efficient with my time. I’d like to ask you, dear reader, how do you stay on target? How do you manage your time efficiently when you don’t have a Day Job to do it for you? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

 

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  • Anthony Lanni

    I was, as you know, in the same situation recently. Here’s what I did:

    set my alarm to go off at 7:15AM. That’s roughly when I was getting up when employed, and I figured it would be the time I’d be getting up when I was working again, so I held to that schedule. Mostly. My alarm *does* have a snooze button. 🙂

    Mornings were equally apportioned into updating my resume and responding to emails/LinkedIn requests/etc from recruiters, and looking at job sites for new opportunities.

    Lunch often included a walk around the neighborhood to play Ingress/get exercise.

    Afternoons I tried to focus on writing, like you, though I continued to answer the phone when recruiters called. 🙂

    I also had a to-do list, I also found that despite electronic assistants that a sheet of paper was the best way to go. I put everything into my calendar, though – meetings, scheduled phone calls, etc.

    • Andrew Romine

      Getting up at my normal “before work time” is something I’m trying very hard (and failing so far) to do. But it’s a great idea.

  • Rick Novy

    Having gone through this and survived over 4 years without a full time gig, it is possible, if not painful, to survive.

    1) Concerted job search focused on target jobs. Be efficient. Budget time for this and consume exactly that much time. Don’t be afraid of part time. Being adjunct faculty at a community college helped me a lot. (Still is.)

    2) Write. Write every day. Have a word count target. Do it after the job search and before everything else.

    3) Beware of to-do list scope creep. I use a spiral notebook because if the list involves a phone call, I write notes in the margin and I can always go back and look at them.

    4) Use social media strategically. Use LinkedIn as it was intended. Now is the time to use the network you have hopefully been building.

    5) Consider if you really want to go back or if this is your big chance to make things more to your liking. See if your experience will give you a niche market as a (non-fiction) writer, for instance. This is the path I chose

    6) Stay positive. Do not let other people’s negativity do anything but bounce off.

    Good luck!

    • Andrew Romine

      Great advice, Rick. Thanks! To-Do list creep is definitely happening already.

  • Paul Weimer

    The social media suck does seem to be a siren song for lots of creative types.