Tag Archives: priorities

One Hour a Day

Hourglass

It’s just after 7:00pm, and I’m in a hurry.

“Mummy, can you read me a story before bed?” six-year-old Big Brother asks.

“Of course,” I say. Then I amend, “As long as you’re in bed before I count to twenty.”

A mad dash ensues, with Big Brother racing to the bathroom, into his bedroom, and finding his current favourite book.

“Nineteen and a half,” I call. I’ve spent the closer-to-two-minutes stacking dishes and wiping down benches. I won’t have time to wash the dishes until later, but I like the kitchen to be neat and tidy.

“I’m already in bed!” Big Brother calls. “I beat you!”

“So you did,” I call back. “Have you got your book?”

I pick up a couple of stray toys and drop them in their appropriate toy boxes.

“Yes! Are you coming?”

“Coming!”

I make it into his room and look at the book he’s chosen. It’s a long one. I consider. “I can read this one, but we’ll have to be quick,” I say. “We’re running a bit late tonight.”

“Okay,” Big Brother says.

I read the book. Quickly. (But not so quickly I can’t do the voices and get him to chime in with the parts he knows.) Then I say goodnight.

Big Brother grabs me arm. “Now you’re trapped and you have to stay!”

I look at the time, look at him, and give him another kiss. “It’s time for sleep,” I say. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

He nods and releases my hand. “Is it nearly Creative Time?”

“Yep.”

“Okay,” he says. He gives me a beautiful big smile, another kiss and cuddle, and then grabs a book to read on his own.

I head out and check on Little Brother. I give him a kiss, make sure he’s comfy, and move on.

It’s 7:25. I have five minutes left.

“Are you nearly ready?” I ask my husband.

“Just getting set up.”

Great. I do a quick check of the house, make sure all toys are away, all dishes are stacked, and all children are still where they’re supposed to be. Then I head into the office. It’s 7:29. I’m a minute early.

“Let’s do this thing,” I say.

And we do. My husband draws, either on a sketch pad or on the tablet connected to his computer, and I sit at the purposefully-not-internet-capable laptop and write.

For one hour, we focus on our creative pursuits.

For one hour, we lock the rest of the world out of our minds, and we focus on our creative passions.

For one hour, we are artists first.

The clock ticks over to 8:30. My husband stands up and stretches, and I finish the word I’m typing (the word, not the sentence, and certainly not the paragraph) and hit CTRL+S. Then we talk. He shows me what he’s working on, and talks about the process he’s using. I tell him how many words I wrote, and how I’m feeling about my story and characters. We’re relaxed — more relaxed than at any other time in the day.

And then we step back to the real world. We check on the children, fire up Facebook, and wash the dishes. But the world looks different; brighter. Our conversation is more lively. We smile more readily. We feel fulfilled. Connected. Alive.

This is not something we do every now and then. This is something we do every night.*

Every.

Night.

Every night, we spend an hour being creative. And it’s amazing how productive that hour is.

When I’m working on a first draft, I average around 900 words a day. My record is 1700 words in an hour of Creative Time.

To put that in perspective, consider that I’m writing an 80,000 word novel. At 900 words a day, that’s 89 days of writing. Just less than three months.

The idea of writing the first draft of a novel in three months, while investing a mere hour a day, is ludicrous to me. Ludicrous. I mean, it took me 18 months to write the first 35,000 words of my last manuscript.

But I finished the last 55,000 words in two months after we started our daily Creative Time habit.

Not so ludicrous after all, it would seem.

( After all, I’ve written 8500 words over the last 7 days.)

I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking, “Yeah, it may work for you, but I can’t do that.”

I don’t work that way.”

I can’t write in short blocks of time.”

I’m too busy.”

I don’t have a spare hour every day.”

I have to be in the mood to write. I can’t just switch my creativity on and off at will.”

The thing is, I said every one of those things at one time or another. Every single one of them. But I tried this system because… well, what did I have to lose? It’s not like I was getting any real writing done anyway. I mean, 2000 words a month isn’t exactly something to write home about. (Assuming I found the time to write home.) “Besides,” I said to myself. “When it doesn’t work, I’ll just stop.”

But it did work.

The first few days were hard. It felt alien and unnatural to be sitting down to write at the end of the day, and I picked away at the keys like I’d never seen a keyboard before. I wrote maybe 100 words. I wasn’t in a routine. My creative mind wasn’t ready. It was all over the place. It was out of practice.

It took until day four for my creativity to really kick in.

On day four, I wrote 1100 words in an hour. And I was hooked.

Now, six months down the track, I’m still busy. Busier. Not only am I writing every day, I’ve also taken on a paying part-time job that I do from home, and extra volunteer work. I drive two hours every weekday getting Big Brother to and from school. I bake and organise birthday parties and do housework and raise children. I’m busy. I have no spare time.

But, you know what?

I have no idea what I used to do in the one hour time-slot that became Creative Time.

Whatever it was, it can’t have been that important.

Certainly not as important as this.

*     *     *     *     *

If you’re struggling to find time to write and want to organise your own Creative Time, here’s a few tips that might help:

  • Talk to your family and get their support. Even better, get them to pick a project and join in.
  • Tell people what you’re doing. Let people know you’ll be unavailable for phone calls, internet chats, and other things during that one hour — and stick by your guns.
  • Choose a time that suits you and your family. An evening time-slot works for us, but maybe an early morning or an afternoon time-slot would work for you.
  • Set up your work area before your Creative Time starts. Turn on your computer, load your file, get out your notes, whatever you need to do.
  • Stick to it, with no excuses, for at least two weeks. Even when you don’t feel like it or you’re not inspired. Your creative mind needs to get into a routine.
  • Record how you go. Track word count, or pages written, or whatever progress you’ve made on your creative project. Being able to look back at a diary and see written proof of your success is an amazing motivator.
  • Once you’re in a routine, and you’re confident with it, give yourself a break when you need it. But not for more than one night at a time. You don’t want to get out of routine.

Good luck!

*     *     *     *     *

* Yes, including the mad rush to be ready on time.

30 Comments

Filed under Writing

It’s all about Priorities

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s 11:00pm and I’m cleaning the bathroom.

I’m tired, my head is aching, I have to get up in less than six hours, and I’m ensconced in the heady fragrance of bleach and disinfectant. But I’m humming a merry tune.

When I realise what I’m doing, I start to laugh. Because this is crazy, right? What sane person would be in this situation?

As I scrub the shower cubicle, I think about priorities.

There was a time I thought I was good at prioritising. I managed a busy office. I had staff and responsibilities and so much to do that my to-do list sometimes stretched for pages at a time. And then I had kids, and I discovered that I knew nothing about meeting deadlines, prioritising tasks, and having a demanding and uncompromising boss.

These days I’ve got a better handle on it. We have a schedule, a routine, and I’m pretty good at making it happen. Cook dinner, eat dinner, clean up dinner, bath the kids, read a bedtime story, maybe two, have some cuddles, a few kisses, one more drink before bed, and then, finally, the bliss of two sleeping children. And then…

Relax.

The day is over.

Except for all the housework left to be done.

Washing. Ironing. Tidying. And the job that gets put off most of all: cleaning the bathrooms.

Once, I would have prioritised those jobs, and made sure to get them all done before bed. But not anymore.

Instead, I looked around at all the housework that needed doing and I said to myself, “Self. Get your priorities straight. The first thing you need to do is write. After you’ve finished writing, if you’re still awake enough, you can start on the housework.”

And so tonight, it’s 11:00pm and I’m cleaning the bathroom.

I’m tired, my head is aching, I have to get up in less than six hours, and I’m ensconced in the heady fragrance of bleach and disinfectant. But I’m humming a merry tune.

Because I know I’ve got my priorities straight.

Are you good at prioritising?

21 Comments

Filed under Life With Kids, Random Stuff, Writing

Scheduling Time for Creativity

ClockI’m a big believer in the idea that professional writers — or professional artists of any style — don’t sit around and wait for inspiration to strike in order to be creative. Certainly, there’s a need for inspiration when you’re creating something from nothing, but inspiration comes from doing not from waiting. As Stephen King says in his book On Writing:

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

But I admit, I’ve had a lot of trouble with that recently. And when I say “recently”, I mean “over the last 18 months”.

There’s a lot of reasons for this. Poor prioritising, perhaps. Or poor time management. Or, more likely, a lack of energy and focus. But in all fairness, it’s not easy to find energy and fairness when you’re the primary carer for an incredibly demanding child like 22 month old Little Brother.

For the last 18 months, he’s been waking me up anywhere between 3:45am and 4:30am. Every day. And every moment I’m not actively supervising him, he’s breaking something or emptying the contents of my cupboards all through the house.

By the time the boys are both in bed asleep (generally between 6:00pm and 7:00pm), I’m exhausted.

And so writing has happened when and if I could fit it in.

But this week, something amazing has happened.

When we were away on holidays last week, I didn’t have a cot in the hotel room. Little Brother is 91cm tall (3 foot) tall. He’s really too big for a fold-up cot. So I put a bedrail on a single bed, pushed it against the wall, and hoped for the best. And he was fine.

Next week, we’re visiting my parents for Christmas and have the same problem re: portable cots, so he’ll be sleeping in a single bed again.

It seemed silly to spend a week with him in a bed, then put him in a cot for a week and a half, and then back to a bed. So we decided to take the plunge and convert Little Brother’s cot into a junior bed.

Big Boy Bed!

Oh. My. Goodness.

All of a sudden, he’s not waking me up at 4:00 in the morning anymore. Yesterday, he slept until 6:45am. Today was 6:30am.

Do you have any idea how amazing it is to get to sleep in until 6:30 in the morning? Let me tell you: after months of 4:00am wake-ups, 6:30 is pure bliss.

Suddenly, I’m not so tired in the evenings.

Suddenly, I’ve got a chance to reclaim some time for myself.

My husband has his own projects that he’s working on, so we’ve decided to set aside time every evening for both of us to work on our own things, and then come back together to clean up, talk, and spend time together. To that end, I’m writing every night between 7:30 and 8:30. One hour a day. It doesn’t seem like much, when you think about it. But that’s seven hours every week. Thirty hours every month.

And since I can write 500 – 1000 words in an hour, that means I can theoretically finish my first draft within the next two months.

It feels good to have time scheduled for creativity. Thank you, Little Brother. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

How do you schedule time for writing into the rest of your life?

 

30 Comments

Filed under Writing

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.

31 Comments

Filed under Opinion, Writing