I recently came across this NYT article about tracking one’s time, and it’s genius for all of us writers out there who never feel as though we have enough time to write.
As I read this Q&A about how author and time management expert Laura Vanderkam tracked her time (down to the half-hour), I was inspired to find more time in my own schedule — for writing. Her point is not to obsessively track every single moment of every day (“If I ran on the treadmill for 27 minutes and spent three going upstairs and getting water, I’m calling that 30 minutes of exercise,” Vanderkam says) but to figure out how your life sketches out on a daily basis and whether you are happy with how you’re spending your time.
We all have things we know we could skip doing in order to write, and this article (and the simple spreadsheet that Vanderkam used to track her time) came across my screen at just the right time. I’m just past the My Last Continent book launch but still have months of events to go — and one thing I’m wondering is whether I can start tipping the scales from promotion to new writing. I’m still writing articles and doing interviews and spending much more time on social media than I’m used to…but taking a close look at my schedule, hour by hour, has shown me that I can gain writing time without losing promotion time.
What I’m into right now is “found time,” which I see as similar to the artwork based on found objects — with art, it’s turning discarded or lost things into works of art; with time, it’s turning little moments into treasures by making the most of them. To offer one example: Currently, the moments after which my cat wakes me for no apparent reason at 3 a.m. have become the most creative moments of my day. I have a notebook by the bed, and in the past couple of weeks I’ve been working (in this notebook, in the middle of the night) on a new short story and a new novel. Next, of course, I need to set aside some time to flesh out all these ideas — but thanks to making the most of this found time, I’m inspired to do just that. And the more we become everyday writers, the more time we’ll end up making in our schedules to follow up on the ideas discovered in these seemingly idle moments.
One thing we all have to remember as writers is that downtime is a good thing. As Vanderkam says in the article, “There’s nothing wrong with sitting on the porch drinking a glass of wine and staring at the trees.” This is especially true for writers, for whom staring into the distance (and drinking wine) can lead to our most productive work. We need time to think before we make time to type or scrawl.
Most of all, what are you doing instead of writing that doesn’t feel right to you? As Vanderkam points out, this time-tracking exercise should be for the person doing it, not for anyone else. So give it a try and see what might open up your writing life a bit. The most important question this exercise will answer for you is amazingly simple: “Are you happy, or not?”