Time Is Not on Your Side:
Time Management Tips for Writers

Time Management for Writers

I can hear him singing it now, “Time is on my side, yes it is!” Whether time is still on Mick Jagger’s side is debatable, but it’s certainly NOT on my side.

Over time, even Rolling Stones erode. And time is also one of the main things that keeps writers from getting things done.

In my last post, I asked this simple question, “What keeps you from writing?

Your response was rather amazing. The number of comments and the sincerity of your replies impressed me. Clearly I hit a nerve.

The most common problem you mentioned was time, or the inability to find enough of it.

Perhaps Alain said it best in his comment:

Over the past 20 years I have made a decent living from writing and reporting. Yet it seems to me that I have spent most of that time procrastinating, not writing, letting time slip by… And you will be pleased to know that I have put off starting a paid feature article until tomorrow in favor of wasting time writing this.

And Jim Walton had this to add:

I waste a lot of time on unimportant stuff when I could focus in on writing. Sometimes I think that I don’t have enough time to write what I want to write, so I don’t even start.

In response to your overwhelming problem with time, I’m dedicating this article to time management tips. These pointers will help you begin the process of regaining control of your time.

Step 1: Are You A Time Waster? Take this Test to Find Out

The first step to grappling with your time is to assess yourself. Even if you know you waste time, this test will be an eye opener.

Take this test.

Step 2: Track Your Time

You probably have no idea where your time goes. Well guess what, someone came up with a simple way to track your time.

It’s called a time log. By simply writing down all the activities you perform and how long they take, you can get a quick feel for how you spend your hours.

Download this time log (PDF), print out a copy for each day of the week and start tracking!

Step 3: Set Goals

This may seem simple, but if you want to change, you need to aim for something.

I found a great questionnaire that will help you set some time management goals.

Download this simple survey (PDF) and complete it.

Then What?

If you start with the above suggestions, you’ll end up with a profound understanding of how you spend and manage your time. You will gain awareness of the patterns and behaviors that are preventing you from focusing on great writing. This is the first step towards gaining control over time, instead of allowing time to control you.

What next? I’ll cover that in an upcoming article.

About the author: Michael Stelzner battles time while writing daily posts at his blog, Writing White Papers.

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Comments

  1. Michael,

    Good tips and resources about using one’s time more wisely.

    Now if I can only find the time to do these things instead of leaving comments like this…

  2. Ah, Time Management. I’ve been in the midst of some interesting conversations on the topic lately, at my blog and other places I write and have been featured. There is a lot of opinion and debate around it. About whether it’s important to examine how we work or not. Some people tell me it’s just important that things get done, not how, so why bother thinking about it, for example. The conversation is truly fascinating to me.

    I say, when it boils down, time management is a myth. There’s no such thing. You can’t manage time, because it will always work as expected. Always. 24 hours each day. Everyone gets the same. Forever.

    What you have to do is learn self-management inside of time. That way, when things don’t happen, you blame the right things – yourself, not time. Because what’s actually unpredictable and needs to be “managed” is your behaviors and habits. Sometimes, you have to manage around things that come up and you can’t control.

    It may be a matter of semantics, but to me, it’s an important distinction, because all too often I hear myself giving “I don’t have time” as an excuse when really, I should be saying “I’m not managing everything I have to do very well right now” or “I’ve taken on too much and need to quit something immediately!”

    That said, the tools you’ve provided are a great way to diagnose and improve self-management.

    Those are my two cents! Thanks for the post. I’m curious to see how your readers respond.

  3. Tiffany, I agree… we can only manage ourselves, and time is never truly under our control.

    However, I like that Mike is speaking back in the language of the people who identified “time” as the issue that stopped them. It’s extremely important to address a problem in the language of the people who identify it, even if you then try to reframe is into something else–like self-discipline.

    Great comment, and we’ll see where Mike goes with this topic in his next article.

  4. I definitely agree time is the biggest barrier for writing. With me, however, it’s not actual writing that takes time – you could give me some bullet points and ask me to turn it into an article and I’d have it back in 10 minutes.

    But specifically with writing for my blog, is that while it takes no time to actually write, I spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking and researching what to write about.

    I think these tips are great and putting the task into a process-based system will make my life a lot easier. Thanks!

  5. Wow! Thanks for the tips. I am a huge time waster and try desperately to manage my time better. Most of my time is wasted by lack of organization skills. I am working on it but it is a process that will take – time ;)

  6. Bryan,
    I agree that it’s important to talk about issues in the framework people identify with them – great point. But beyond that, I think being able to reframe time management so we understand the root of the problem isn’t time, but rather is us, we can perhaps get an even deeper understanding of steps to take.

    That said, I still talk about not having time and managing time, so it’s definitely a relevant subject!

  7. PROCRASTINATION is the word. Another thing is “over editing”. keep changing until the eleventh hour.

  8. Always a topic that comes up in every professional’s group. But it’s become far more prevalent since blogs arrived on the scene (not to mention e-mail). Actually, I had a whole lot more time to write before the internet. But the web has made research so easy that we save hours of time that used to be spent at the library or on the phone. It’s one big ol’ Catch 22!

  9. Those of you who actually take some of these tests, be sure to come back here and let us know what the results were… :)

  10. Setting goals is a huge one. If you have an end in sight, I think it makes it so much easier to keep working toward it.

    And don’t forget, sometimes 10 minutes three times a day can be just as good as 30 minutes once day.

  11. I use sleep as a motivator. I refuse to go to bed until I’ve done what I set out to do that morning…which is why I usually end up going to sleep about 2 am, and getting up at 6:30 am.

    I would probably feel a lot better if I stopped procrastinating so much.

    :)

  12. Hey those are some great tools! Thanks!!!

    In fact, I gave you some link love on my own blog, which is geared towards literature/writing! I’ve also written about time management before, which really seems to be a big problems with a lot of writers.

    Check it out here.

    (hope you don’t mind a link in the comments!)

    Note from Brian: I don’t mind the link, but I prefer links be formatted with anchor text (like I just made yours into the word “here”). One less thing for me to do. :)

  13. As for time management, I am not very good at it. I spend a lot of time learning, reading books, and scouring the web for information related to my niche. But when it comes to putting those techniques into practice, I simply refuse to do so.

    This way, I overdo one part of my job, and neglect the other more important one.

    Though I have taken notice, and now I am a bit more organised than before.

    Thanks for the downloads, I’ll check them out and see if they help me in my ongoing battle against procrastination.

  14. Excelent post! Thanks so much for the pdf’s, I’ll put them to good use.

  15. No one has mentioned this so far, but I wonder…for writers is it really about “wasting” time? For myself, I will sometimes “incubate” a topic for minutes, hours or even days before I write about it. I don’t really consider it procrastinating or wasting time. I’m actually thinking about it. The more complex the topic, the more time it takes to mentally organize it. I find that I have a tendency to put off writing something until I have a good mental picture of what and how I’m going to say it. I believe that’s why I rarely get writer’s block. (And I also think that’s what the old saying “sleep on it” means.)

    I also perform better under pressure, so backing myself into a corner will often produce my best work. Creativity and ideas require a certain amount of time to develop. I don’t think of that as wasting time, but rather part of the process.

  16. Using your time wisely is an important topic.

    I have also written of this before on my blog, The Profitable Business Edge 2…and will share a couple of those tips here:

    1) Is everything you need to perform your writing tasks within easy reach of your desk? Keeping the “essentials” within reach while you’re sitting down keeps you from having to get up and get down. It all adds up, and having to get up and get down is a big time waster.

    2) Magazines…do you read them? Come on now, be honest with yourself. :)
    Scan the contents of a magazine, and rip out only those articles of interest to you. Then, throw the rest of the magazine away. You will find that you quit trying to “read the whole thing (big time waster)” and start focusing only on those things that interest you anyway. Use a file folder for each magazine title, and file those articles away for future reference.

    And a bonus tip for those that listen to audio recordings:

    Listen to them at 2x speed. You can still understand what is being said…but it is twice as fast, so a 30 minute audio seminar actually only takes 15 minutes.

    Thanks for opening this subject Brian.

    Joseph Ratliff

  17. Hey Tina;

    Thanks for your comment about incubating content.

    I think big projects need to be done over time, so I agree. This is what I do with white papers.

    However, for many people the problem is getting started and getting finished.

    Backing yourself in a corner is a very stressful thing. Although you might perform well under pressure. What about when you can’t get the job done right and time is up.

    I like to think it is always better to promise late and deliver early. Eases stress at least. :)

    Mike

  18. Great tips and awesome post! Very helpful and interesting to read. ;)

  19. Every time someone sees me staring off into space, I’m “incubating.” I stare off into space a lot. :)

  20. To paraphrase David Allen, you can’t manage time, you can only manage your actions.

    My friend (and blogger) Barbara Samuel, who write novels for a living, turned me on to 90-minute chunks. I hack out 90-minute pieces of my work day to, you know, actually work. No interruptions, no email, no surfing, no answering the phone. (I may have to set my ten-minute timer 9 times to get there, but that’s ok.)

    On a good day I’ll get one. On an amazing day I’ll get two, but that’s rare.

    I don’t think it’s (just) an excuse, I do think writers need staring-into-space time. But hardly any of us need as much as we take . . .

  21. I love that term – incubating. Thinking on it, I do this a lot. I write so much I get information-overloaded frequently, and sometimes, it does take some time to let things settle and fall so I can make connections and strengthen my ideas.

    I also have found that keeping track of those tidbits and bursts of ideas as I go helps me manage my thoughts better, and keeping track of all the links and elements that generate ideas helps me come back and pull articles and posts together more quickly. Backpackit.com is a great tool for me. I have a few more suggestions and my take on David Allen’s book in some time management posts at my blog, Little Red Suit.

    If you want to check them out, they’re here.

  22. Sometimes time management is really about figuring out how to use that 30, 60, or 90 minute chunk of time to get optimal results.

    It’s really about measuring your time allotment against your defined goal and figuring out how to best use that allocated chunk of time for the biggest bank.

  23. Susan Hurrell :

    The best tool I’ve found for tracking time (which helps for both time mgmt and client billing as well) is a nifty little app called SlimTimer http://www.slimtimer.com

    It has made me accountable to myself – and given me a great deal of insight into where the time goes.

  24. Joke: Step 1: Are You A Time Waster? Take this Test to Find Out

    Ans: You are wasting time by taking this test! :D

    Not to justifiable for that. I’d say that its how long we wander around aimlessly at different sites thats the huge time killer. Righty?

  25. I’m a little wary of tracking my time lest I become depressed at all the time I’m wasting and then waste even more time, thereby feeding a vicious cycle.

    That said, I find that I waste less time if I am accountable for what I’m doing in some way. I think just by letting someone else know what goals you are setting helps them become more realistic.

  26. This post couldn’t have been more timely! Ha. I’m at Day 2 of using the timelog (what a great resource–thank you!) and in taking the time wasting quiz, realized that I was wasting a lot more time than I had imagined. (Did exceedingly well on Part 2, decent on Part 1) Like others, I was fearing using the timelog tool because I didn’t really want to see exactly where my time went. But, the log kept me closer to task since I had some accountability, even if it was to myself. Thanks for this post!

  27. Time wasting, to me, seems to be a symptom of larger issues. It’s easy to be distracted when you’re unsure of what you should be doing.

  28. Saying I did not have enough time was definitely my biggest excuse for not writing.

    Now, I focus on writing in at least one ten-minute, non-stop increment per week.

    Whether it’s first thing in the morning, later in the day or when the mood hits, my pen must touch and stay on the paper to write thoughts about the designated subject of the moment.

    After 10-minutes, I either wrap-up or keep going, based on how my creativity is flowing.

    This technique has helped me to get a lot more articles written in the past four months than I could have ever imagined.

    This technique has truly been my time management tip for writing more.

  29. I’m not sure how I feel about time logging. Outside of the obvious argument that you are wasting time (paper and ink) by filling out the log in the first place, I don’t believe it works. Or, at the very least, I don’t believe it works for all people. I think most people, myself included, get bogged down so much with how to spend our time that we end up spending it all the more poorly. Now that is irony.

  30. Time management in my view is more around management of what we use the time for, that trying to squeeze more hours into our working week.

    I endevour to work with a goal in mind: be the a set of tasks, progress to a point in a porject or a to do… list for this ‘yucky’ tasks I am learning not to avoid.

    Working to a goal helps me fill the time I am working with work, and then remove myself from ‘work mode’ to ‘play mode’ for my typical procrastination activities.

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