Make an agenda. I know, I know. This sounds terribly boring and business-like but I promise you, nothing will help you appreciate those little pockets of writing time more or make you use them more wisely.
The first step to planning your agenda is to make a list of your writing goals for the week. I’ve banged on about goal setting before, but that’s only half the battle. If you don’t set aside time to work on those writing goals, you will find that you’ve frittered away weeks and weeks without making any progress.
Next, take a diary, one page per day, and block in the time when you are doing essential, non-writing activites: time spent at work, college, the gym, whatever. Already you might be shocked by how little time appears to be left over. Maybe you should take a seat before you do the next bit. Block in the time when you are eating dinner, grocery shopping, doing the laundry, seeing friends and family. Have you written absolutely every essential activity other than writing into your diary? Great. Not a lot of blank space left, is there? Now do you see how an agenda makes you realise how precious your writing time is?
Now try to prioritise your writing goals. I always find this tricky. Some of them may already have deadlines attached. Others, though there’s no official deadline, may be important because they could raise your profile or earn you some money. Once you’ve roughly sorted your goals into some kind of order of importance, insert them into the blank spaces in your diary. There may not (probably won’t be) time for you to do everything you wanted to that week. The agenda is a useful aid in setting realistic and achievable goals. Look at the writing goals you don’t have time to work on this week. Decide if they are important enough to be rolled over into next week’s agenda. If they are projects that will always be sitting at the bottom of the priority pile, you might just want to scrap them.
I’ve been doing the agenda thing for a couple of months now. It took a while to get to grips with. At first I was hopelessly unrealistic, thinking I could squeeze in a two hour writing session between finishing work and going to a writer’s group. I forgot I would have to eat and have a shower, and those things take time.
I’m gradually understanding which types of writing work best at different times of day. Blog posts I can do late in the evening, the earlier I start work on articles the better. Generally early afternoon is a slump period for me so I try to schedule in breaks then: meetings with friends, trips to art galleries. (Don’t forget to schedule in time off. It’s extremely important for your physical and mental well being but something that’s easily neglected).
An agenda can help you beat procrastination. I’ve identified the things that distract me from writing, the internet (times a million) and watching DVDs, and I make time for them in my agenda. It’s easier to resist online fact-checking for an article in the middle of writing it when you know you have set aside time to do it later.
The key to a good agenda, I think, is to be flexible. I scribble things out and shuffle things around, try to roll with the punches. Sometimes I can’t concentrate on the project I’m supposed to be working on so I reschedule it and move onto something else. I’ve always believed that it’s better to write something than nothing.
Do you schedule in time to write? How do fit writing in around other responsibilities? Any tips on how to beat procrastination?