Rachel asked: Do you have any tips for managing your time? I know you have kids and other responsibilities. I’m always interested in how other people manage to keep being productive with those competing interests in play.
Well, Rachel, I wish I had some great advice based on my own fabulously successful time management skills. The truth is that I’m a “take it one day at a time” kind of gal, and I never really feel like I’m on top of things. I piece it together each day.
I think other people like Nathan Bransford and Chip MacGregor are probably more structured than I am, so by all means, ask them your question! For me, the most important thing I do is work hard everyday to prioritize my priorities. That is, I concentrate on making sure my schedule matches my stated priorities in life and work. I review this almost everyday.
I informally live by Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix, which categorizes tasks into Urgent/Non-Urgent, Important/Non-Important (from the book First Things First). I use it to help me prioritize the tasks on my to-do list. There are so many things that seem urgent but are in fact unimportant. A key to successful time management is being really good at identifying whether things are important, regardless of how urgent they seem.
Another thing I do is guard my “work time” closely, sometimes fiercely! If I don’t insist my family and friends allow me to work, they won’t. I have to be assertive about this. Writers need to do the same. It’s sometimes hard because you don’t feel like anybody’s taking you seriously, especially if you don’t have anything tangible (like a contract) to show for your long hours at the computer. But here’s the secret: YOU have to take yourself seriously, whether or not anyone else does. You have to plan your work time, put it on the calendar, and stick to it.
I guess another big secret to my time-management strategy is the list of things I DON’T do. I’ve dispensed with a lot of non-necessary things in life… things I’d like to do if I could! But the path I’ve chosen means I’ve had to let go of some things. For example: I don’t scrapbook. I don’t knit. I don’t separate the whites from the colors… don’t clip coupons… don’t grow a garden… don’t make jam… don’t bake my own bread… don’t go to PTA meetings… don’t make my kids’ Halloween costumes… don’t homeschool… don’t remember everyone’s birthday… don’t run marathons… don’t go for manicures or pedicures… don’t watch Oprah. I don’t even vacuum or dust (I delegate those tasks).
Here’s another secret: I have a husband who’s a true partner. We share the household and kid duties. I could never do what I do if I were also 100% responsible for home and kids.
I also make sure I prioritize my health by exercising regularly, trying to eat right and getting enough sleep. Sounds strange, like maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with time management. But it does, because I couldn’t handle this busy schedule if I weren’t healthy and well-rested.
Another thing: I start nearly every day by getting up an hour before my family. I drink coffee and hang out with my yellow lab, my Bible, and God. I get centered and focused for the day before the chaos sets in. That may not be for everyone, but it works for me.
Finally, I take the approach that time management is all about being realistic, not trying to do more than is humanly possible. It’s asking yourself what the most important things are, and prioritizing them. You have to keep the “urgent” under control and try, as much as possible, to do the “important.”
That’s about all I can offer. Readers? Any time management advice for writers?
Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, WordServe Literary Group, Colorado.