If there is one common wish among authors, and especially among authors who hold down non-writing jobs, it is simply to have more time to write.
The Most Precious Resource?
How many times have you said to yourself something along the lines of, “I could finally finish my novel if I could just make each day a couple of hours longer!”?
I’ll wager it’s a thought that passes through your mind at least several times a week.
How many times have found yourself with a couple of hours to spend on your writing but you sit down at the keyboard, you spend the first 30 minutes checking email and paging through Facebook? And then, if you find something interesting or funny in your feed, don’t you spend a few minutes more “researching” that topic on the Internet? And then, when your writing time is up, you feel depressed because you’ve knocked out only a couple hundred words and wasted your shot at doing some writing?
And even at that, were the scant few thoughts you managed to get onto “paper” disjointed and unworthy of your vision for your book?
Yeah, happens all the time. To all of us.
Happens so much, in fact, that there’s a name for it …
Parkinson’s Law tells us that work expands to fill all the time allotted to it, whether or not that much time is actually required. It seems to be part of the human condition, and you’ve probably witnessed Parkinson in action everywhere from road repair crews to your child’s homework to your own job.
It just seems like, no matter what kind of mental constructs we try to impose on our work, we always space it out over whatever time frame we have available.
This is not terrible if you’re good at lining up tasks with the time blocks you set aside for them, but it can be disastrous if you undertake an open-ended project during a more or less open-ended time frame.
So when you sit down to “work on your book” and have three hours at your disposal, the indefinite goal mixed with the huge chunk of time is more likely than not to leave you (way) short of full productivity.
Timeboxing to the Rescue
What’s the solution, then? You certainly don’t want to throw away a golden opportunity to write just because there is a high likelihood that you’ll misuse that time, right?
Of course, you don’t, and timeboxing can help alleviate both the anxiety of staring at a blank page in front of a huge writing project and the defeat of underperformance.
Here’s how it works …
- No matter how much time you have available to you, break it up into short “sprints” of, say 20 or 30 minutes.
- Now, break each sprint a bit further into 15- or 25-minute “work” periods and 5-minute “rest” periods.
- Pull out your list of chunked-up work to be done — from your novel outline, for example.
- Pick a hunk of work to tackle.
- Set a timer for your “work” period.
- Start the timer.
- Write until the timer goes off.
- Set the timer for your “rest” period.
- “Rest” until the timer goes off. Resting in this context can mean walking around, reading a book, stretching, etc.
- Repeat steps 5-9 until all your time is gone.
If you follow this routine diligently, your word count will likely be at least twice what it would have been if you were free-wheeling for a couple of hours. The spurts of effort and short back-off periods are awesome for honing your concentration, and you just might get hooked on this type of “cycling.”
Writing: the Time-Filler
After you’ve used timeboxing for a while, you’ll also probably realize that you have more time to write than you thought you did. After all, if you can rip off 500 quality words in 15 minutes (definitely possible), it’s pretty hard to justify killing time between meetings or waiting to pick up your son from soccer practice.
Do you timebox your writing? Tell me how it’s going in the comments below.