Episode 009 | A Good IDEA for Finding More Time to Write
Everybody’s busy and overwhelmed, so how do you fit something as big as writing into your already jam-packed schedule? Start with a good IDEA!
I – IGNORE: Are there things that you can put off for a little while? Not EVERYTHING needs to happen right this very minute. For instance, we moved to a new house three years ago that has a much larger yard. Our old house had a tiny, in-town lot, and I invested a lot of time in the landscaping. I pretty much went all in and filled the yard with perennials, fruit trees, and the like. I mulched. I made and installed pavers for winding paths. You get the picture. When we moved to our new house, I decided to hold off on getting to work on the landscaping. In addition to the fact that we went from a small yard to acreage that was seriously daunting, I had a realization that at this point in my life landscaping simply isn’t a priority. My kids are very active, and I’m often attending their games in the evenings and on weekends. I’m also not willing to yield any of my daytime work hours to landscaping right now. Days are strictly for writing. Since my time is booked, for the time being, I do the bare minimum. My husband and I will likely be empty nesters before you know it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if our green thumbs came back with a vengeance. We’ll probably fill a decent amount of our evenings and weekends with gardening and landscaping pursuits. For now, though, my thumbs (green or otherwise) just have to be team players. They’re needed on the keyboard helping me to pile up the words.
Challenge yourself to think of at least 3 small things and/or 1 big thing you can ignore right now.
D – DELEGATE: Are you doing things that someone else could be doing at least as well, if not better? Sometimes our ability to delegate is limited by our resources and situations, but sometimes we’re just stubborn or in the habit of doing something. Are there things that you have become responsible for and/or in charge of by default or habit? How many of these things really require that you do them? Example: For a long time, I did the grocery shopping and most of the errands because I had the most flexibility during the days and could go when the stores were less crazy. I actually hate grocery shopping and errands. I often find that when I enter a store, time seems to speed up. By the time I leave, I realize I’ve wasted a fair amount of time (and decision-making energy) wandering the aisles. My husband offered to take over the job and grab what we need for the next day or two on his way home from work a few times a week. When our son started driving, he would look for any opportunity to drive, so we started sending him to pick up the odd ingredient. Guess who we recently put in charge of grocery shopping around here: the 16-year-old. Either my husband or I do the menu plan and make the grocery list, but our son (and sometimes his younger brother) are sent to go pick the actual items up for the week. My son learns some life skills, and I have more hours back in my week to spend on things like writing and self-care. Our family is made up of a bunch of pretty stubborn DIYers, so we’re not great about hiring out tasks. I can see that it would be a game changer around here if we would/could, though! One last tip: Back when Dr. Phil was still on Oprah, I remember him having an exchange with a woman in the crowd on this topic. She was saying that she would love to have more help, but that her husband folded the towels wrong, for instance. His answer was (paraphrasing), “Either make peace with how he folds the towels or fold them your damn self.” Keep that in mind when it comes time to delegate. Time is not limitless. Would you rather have a book at the end of the year or perfectly folded towels, for example.
Challenge yourself to look for at least 3 small things and/or 1 big thing you can delegate right now.
E – ELIMINATE: This is the ignore one, but more “for keeps.” Never say never, obviously, but I have eliminated quite a few things from both my Bucket and my To Do lists. For instance, I’ve given away all but a skein or two of my yarn and all but a handful of knitting needles. The truth is I only like to knit rectangles. For a long time, I harbored fantasies of making all kinds of cute and functional things, but at the end of the day, I’m a scarf and baby blanket kind of girl. I also gave away the bulk of my sewing and art supplies. I kept enough to fool around with when I’m inclined to do so, but the truth is, I’m almost never inclined. If I have a block of free time, you’re way more likely to catch me with a book. Likewise, I gave away all of the random chairs and tables I was going to redo “someday” and freed up more space in the basement. Now my kids have a basement lair where they can play video games when they have a little downtime of their own. I put a Little Free Library in our front yard and I’ve found it 200% easier to let go of the books that stack up around the house. You know the ones. The ones that don’t actually light you up, but seem intriguing enough to deserve a spot in the “someday” pile. Now instead of taunting me from the piles and stacks, begging me to just give them one more chance, I send them on their way out into the world to find someone who will love them more than I likely ever would have. I will confess, though. This last one’s still hard. I hang on to way too many books that fit this description. And let’s not forget our “obligations.” I used to be the type of volunteer who hated to say no to any earnest plea. And as a result, I sometimes found myself signed up for things that I wasn’t actually all that passionate about. Learning to embrace the short-term pain of disappointing someone else with a “no” has given me back hours and hours to pursue my writing dreams. I still stay involved with the things that truly light me up — writing isn’t everything — but I make sure it’s worth the time I’m putting into it.
Challenge yourself to identify 3 small things and/or 1 big thing that would improve your life if they weren’t in it. Addition by subtraction is a real thing, people!
A – AUTOMATE: The cool thing about technology is that more and more we can set things up so that we don’t have to do repetitive tasks. And services like IFTTT, Zapier, SmartThings, Hootsuite, and Nest can all knock out a lot of tasks and decisions from our daily lives. Not to mention, the smart gadgets/virtual assistants from Amazon, Apple, and Google can all but run our lives if we merely ask. (Admittedly, they do sometimes laugh at us in a creepy way and sometimes they get it completely wrong.) It really is an amazing time in many ways. But in addition to our techie options, don’t forget the simple brilliance of automating your own routines in a way that requires fewer decisions and less effort from you. I started to make a point to pay more attention to what sorts of things weren’t working the way they were supposed to around here. In the process of doing that, I realized that our system for the guys to dump their stuff after school and in between practices simply wasn’t working. There was a lot of drama around missing shoes and the like. (Maybe you’ve been there.) Anyway, while I wouldn’t have thought it would make such a big difference, merely shifting some stuff around, getting rid of a couple of things, and investing in about $100 worth of organizations supplies to make better use of our closets, and it’s a new day around here! I don’t know if someone else said it more eloquently, but here’s what I say: If a system isn’t easy, it won’t work. Look for your systems around your house and in your life. Look for the ones that are requiring more “input” from you than absolutely necessary. Your attention and energy are valuable! The world needs you to devote them to writing your stories and sharing your perspectives!
Spend a week or so just paying attention to where the “sticky” parts of your day are. Are you constantly searching for something? Reorganizing the same spots? Does it take you 15 minutes to find the stuff you need to actually sit down and write? At the end of the week, try to choose at least 3 small things and/or 1 big thing to automate in some way.
Remember, if you’re doing one thing, you’re not doing another. Instead of thinking of the dead weight tasks in your days as being valuable “someday,” pursuits, view them for what they are: opportunity costs. At the end of your life, what things are you going to be glad you did? What things are you going to wish you had done? Use these answers to guide your time and choices.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.”
― Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
Catch you next week, pals!
P.S. Here’s the link to Knit-A-Square that I mentioned in passing, just in case you’re a rectangle kind of knitter, too. 😉 Oh, and if you also struggle with letting go of books, consider adding a Little Free Library to your neighborhood or feeding the ones that are already out there.