Yes, you DO have time!

Ever feel guilty that you don’t have time to write/exercise/paint/fulfill your lifelong ambition of visiting every shoe store in the state?

Ever wish you had just one more hour every day?

Fear not! Your worries are over! For the low, introductory price of $19.95 (plus shipping and handling), I can show you everything you need to know about finding time to achieve your heart’s desire!

Yes, you DO have time!

I’m just kidding about the money. (Unless you want to send me some. I am a poor, struggling artist after all.) But I do have the answer to my your our problems.

You’ve probably heard it said before that we all have the same amount of time — 24 hours in every day. So why does it seem like some people can work 12 hour days, write a novel every month, look after seven children, start a small business, and still have time to go shopping, where I you other people barely have time to write a couple of blog posts every week?

Is there some kind of time-turner on the market that I haven’t discovered?

Do these time-savvy people have a DeLorean in their garage?

No. Well, maybe. I don’t actually know. But what I do know is that I have a non-time travel-intensive way for me you us to find the time to write/exercise/paint/shop to our heart’s content. And I’m willing to share it with you for the low price of $19.95 free.

Let’s call it the PAE system.

Hold on, I think that deserves larger type.

The PAE System

Step 1: prioritize

I know, I know, prioritising doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. Isn’t that what you do when you’ve written a list of Very Important (Boring) Tasks?

This may (or may not) surprise you, but you spend all day prioritising. All. Day. Would you like an example? Excellent.

Shall I watch TV or cook dinner?

Internalized questions: Which is most important right now? Am I hungry? Do I have to cook dinner for other people, or just myself? Is there something I particularly want to watch on TV? Is there a way I can do both?

If you’re not hungry and you don’t have the responsibility of cooking for someone else, watching TV is a higher priority than cooking dinner.

If you are hungry and you don’t have the responsibility og cooking for someone else, making dinner is a slightly higher priority, but could be over-ruled by TV if there’s something on that you particularly want to watch.

If you need to cook dinner for a family, it becomes a priority. Unless you can find a way to do both at once.

In that scenario, there are a number of listed variables that determine whether dinner or TV will be a higher priority right now. But there is also another variable, and that variable is you. Every person will prioritize slightly differently.

Let me make one thing clear: You CHOOSE to do everything you do. You CHOOSE to prioritize the way you spend your time.

“But wait!” I hear you cry. “I don’t want to go to work. I’d rather stay at home and write/exercise/paint/shop all day! I have to go to work.”

No, you don’t. You really don’t. Check your hands and shoulders. Any strings attached? Have you turned into a marionette overnight? No?

You CHOOSE to go to work.

You make that choice because if you don’t, you don’t get paid. If you don’t get paid, you can’t pay your bills and put food on the table.

Like most of us, you PRIORITIZE the need for food and shelter above your need to purchase shoes.

And you do this every day, without giving it a second thought.

What else do you do with your 168 hours every week?

  • Sleep
  • Eat
  • Travel
  • Spend time with your partner, kids, parents, friends, dogs, houseplants, etc
  • Watch TV
  • Play computer games
  • Facebook
  • Tweet
  • The list goes on and on and on

What you do with your time is completely up to you.

Hold on, let me say that again:

What you do with your time is completely up to you.

You have the power. You have the control. Now, you need to learn how to wield it. Now, you need to learn how to actively prioritize.

Spend a few minutes thinking about the things that are most important to you. Your job, your family, your friends, your sleep, your food, your housework, your relaxation time (don’t kid yourself and think that relaxing isn’t important — whether you meditate, watch TV, play computer games or read a book, make sure you include time to chill out), writing, exercise, painting, shopping, whatever.

I’m not going to ask you to rank them in order of importance. That’s a fool’s game. All of them are important. If they weren’t you wouldn’t have listed them.

But when you’re prioritising, you’re not trying to replace one thing with another. You’re trying to take control of your time, and work out a more effective way of using it.

Is it okay to come home from a 15 hour work day and collapse in front of the TV for 4 hours instead of writing? Yes. You’ve just prioritized relaxation over writing for one night. That’s not a bad thing.

Is it okay to come home every night and collapse in front of the TV instead of writing? Yes. Absolutely. You’ve just prioritized relaxation over writing on a permanent basis. Also not a bad thing. Just realise that your job (financial solvency) and relaxation is a higher priority than your writing career at the moment. And that’s also okay.

Step 2: Act On It

Now that you’re aware that you have the power, act on it. Own it. Embrace it.

If you want to do more writing/exercise/painting/shopping, make it a higher priority.

All I want to do is relax in front of the TV. Hang on, is that what I really want? Is that my priority? I also want to get some writing done. Which is most important to me right now?

Again, this scenario has multiple variables and options. If you’re exhausted, maybe relaxation is a higher priority. Likewise if there’s a program on that you really want to watch. Maybe you want a break, but still want to prioritize writing. I’ll watch TV for half an hour, and then go and write for an hour. Or the other way around. I’ll do half an hour of writing, and then relax for the evening.

Don’t cut out everything you enjoy. Don’t replace one hobby with another. Just be mindful of your decisions and act on your priorities.

Step 3: Enjoy!

You’ve done it. You’ve worked out your priority, made a decision, and acted on. Now enjoy it.

If you want to prioritize your family over your writing, don’t sit around feeling guilty that you haven’t made your daily word count. Relax and revel in the fact that you OWN that decision.

If you want to prioritize sleep over exercise, don’t feel bad that you missed your morning run. Sit down and enjoy your breakfast, knowing that you CHOSE to do so.

If you want to prioritize watching American Idol re-runs over painting, go for it. Enjoy it. Tweet about. And know that you took control of your life.

If you want to go out and buy shoes instead of working, do it. You may end up living under a bridge, but damn your feet will look hot. And no-one can take that power away from you.

What you do with your time is completely up to you.

It’s as easy as P.A.E.

Let me give you an example from my own life. (Because I know you like to read about me almost as much as I like to talk about me.)

I used to say that I wished I had more time for writing. But with two small boys, a shift-working husband, and a house to look after, I rarely found time to sit and concentrate for long. I’m awake with my youngest boy before 5:00am every morning, and am kept busy with kids and housework until my eldest goes to sleep at 8:00pm. That gives me around 8 hours each night to fit in time with my husband, sleep, and anything I want to do on my own (ie. write).

I spent a good deal of time feeling frustrated because I didn’t have enough time to write. Then I started to think about the choices I was making, and the real priorities I had.

I could put the boys in child-care one or two days a week, and use those days for writing. Or I could stick the boys in front of the TV for 5 or 6 hours a day (ah, free child-care) and use that time for writing. But I chose not to. Why? Because I made the CHOICE every day to prioritize time with my children over time spent writing or time spent doing paid work.

I could ignore the dirty bathrooms, do the dishes once a day, buy pre-packaged baby food and snacks, and save a lot of time by doing minimal housework. But I made the CHOICE every day to be as close to the ideal of the “perfect housewife” as I could manage.

These were both choices I was making. I was made the choice to prioritize my kids and my role as housewife over my writing career. And I really didn’t want to change that. I wanted it all.

So I acted on it. I asked my husband to help out. I asked if he would prioritize child-care for 20 hours a month. And he said yes. So for 2.8% of every month, I get to be a “fulltime novelist” and lock myself away to work on my book.

Would I like more than 20 hours a month to write? Absolutely. But also: Absolutely not. Because having more time put aside for writing would mean prioritising writing above something else that’s important to me. So instead of complaining, I relax and enjoy the writing time that I’ve got, as well as the time to spend doing everything else. 

And I know that I’m in control of my time, not the other way around.


Filed under Opinion, Writing

31 responses to “Yes, you DO have time!

  1. Wow, this is deep. But true. It’s also important to not feel guilty about your choices, even if sometimes you feel selfish. I guess it’s just hard to get into that mindset – that everything you choose to do is important even if it is just sitting in front of the TV with your husband for a couple hours after the kids are in bed. Great perspective.

    • Absolutely right. That time spent in front of the TV with your husband is definitely an important part of your day — relaxation and togetherness — and therefore of your life. We’re conditioned to feel guilt these days for all sorts of ridiculous reasons, and it can be a hard thing to overcome. But feeling guilty doesn’t help anyone achieve anything. In fact, it does the opposite.

      • Talking about guilt made me think about this exchange from Broadway Danny Rose, which my mother and I watched on Thanksgiving (of course). Tina (Mia Farrow) has just explained her philosophy of life, which consists of grabbing what you want, not worrying about the other guy, and never feeling guilty.
        Danny Rose (Woody Allen): What are you talking about? It’s important to feel guilty. Without guilt, we’re capable of terrible things. My rabbi used to say that we’re all guilty in the eyes of God.
        Tina: Do you believe in God?
        Danny: No. But I’m guilty about it.

  2. Very true. I don’t think I’d ever have finished even one novel if I still had a television, for example. 🙂

    • I know what you mean. I despise TV. We went for years and years without owning one, and then were given one by a well-meaning family member who clearly didn’t understand how we lived our lives without one. Now we’ve got it hooked up to the Wii-Fit and a DVD player (that we rarely use), but I don’t even have the channels tuned. While I enjoy watching a number of programs, I’d rather stream them or watch a DVD. That way I’m actively sitting down and saying “I’m going to watch XYZ for forty minutes” instead of being sucked into the morass of bad TV and advertising for hours at a time.

      • Sa.e here. I have a television set. but the only thing it’s connected to is a DVD player. My mother is in the situation. We’re considered odd by the rest of the family.

      • I remember reading a great short story by Marion Zimmer Bradley (I think it was called The Climbing Wave) or something similar) where a group of space explorers return to Earth to find that people have withdrawn from space exploration, reverted to living in small villages, and apparently done away with technology. At one point, a village elder says something along the lines of:

        The barbarians used to worship technology. They would listen to radios to keep from doing things. They even had radios with pictures, and they would sit and watch and listen to other people doing things instead of doing things themselves.

        That line resonated with me back when I first read it 20 years ago, and it still does today.

      • This is probably connected with the fact that I never write about modern technology either. No computers, no cell phones, etc. I often lose interest in reading something where characters spend all their time on computers, unless it’s in the future like some of Neal Stephenson’s books..

      • We’re similar. We have a TV, but it’s connected to a pair of bunny ears, a DVD player, and a Wii (which streams Netflix). We don’t just sit and watch “whatever’s on”. We watch with purpose and intent. Mostly movies, but also a few kids shows. (We swore that our kids wouldn’t watch TV before the age of 2… but that went out the window when a relative discovered that our son would eat certain things without a problem in front of the TV, when he wouldn’t eat it otherwise. Now he likes those foods, but demands to eat them while watching TV… so we caved, and he gets 15 minutes a day. We hope we’re not rotting his brain, and we try really hard to make up for it by being extra-engaging the rest of the time.)

      • As much as I wish it wasn’t true, there are always times as a parent where you do what you need to do in order to make the day enjoyable/manageable, regardless of what you (or other people) think is the “best” way to parent. There are some battles worth fighting, and some that just aren’t. At the end of the day, a bit of TV isn’t likely to do too much damage as long as it’s not the only interaction s/he gets.

        You know, IMO. 🙂

  3. I love this- especially the last part where you gave us your solution. I quit my job to focus on the kids- and I really love it- but I want to work on my book. Working into the wee hours of the morning isn’t sustainable. Thanks for this….

    • You’re welcome, and I’m glad it’s helpful. I also quit my job to be home with the kids. Although I love looking after the boys and seeing them grow, I quickly realised how important it is to still prioritise my own needs as well. Best of luck!

  4. You’re got it right: Enjoy those little boys now. Write (more) when they go to school. (I’m still chuckling about Big Brother’s tale of the three little pigs, the dinosaur, and the hungry dentists.)

  5. ‘I have the power’
    THIS is inspiring stuff!
    Got to sit down and think about this.
    Got to make time to sit down and think.
    Got to figure out how to. . . . .

  6. First, you had me at DeLorean.

    Second, this is excellent advice. Really excellent, I need to figure out my priorities, it seems like “me” is getting lost.

  7. Thanks Tony Robbins! (Do they have Tony Robbins in Australia?). I made a goal to write a hundred free-standing blogs, then I’m going re-post and use the extra time to work on a novel.
    You’re right. It’s brick by brick, word by word. A paragraph is better than nothing!

  8. Storm Rider

    Great advice Jo.. : )

  9. Thanks, Jo. This point that you make here is one of the central themes of my blog. Writing is important to me. But there are things that are more important, and I don’t feel bad about that. My family is more important. My day-job is more important (because it helps me provide for my family). Those things take priority. And I try to own that. It doesn’t mean I don’t wish I had more time for writing… but for now I fit writing in where I can – until such a time as I can replace “day job” with “writing” (because then writing would be my day job), that’s the way it has to be.

  10. Chris Mackey

    Great post, Jo. I never stop needing to hear this truth. I’m a screenwriter, so my time in front of the television rides a thin line between resourceful and wasteful.

    It sounds like you have a healthy grasp on priorities, so kudos to you!

  11. Very motivating, thank you! I say so often that I wish I had more time for writing, but you are so right – peering closely at how I use my available time, and identifying my priorities, really helps make better use of the moments I have!

  12. Pingback: Celebrate! It’s a new year! | The Happy Logophile

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