It’s Election Day! I’m off work, because federal election days are “holidays” around here (every two years), but I voted absentee several weeks ago. Hopefully if you haven’t voted yet, you’ll get it done today. Even if you think your voice is too small to count, do it anyways. It counts more than you know.
Whether to vote and how to vote are just two decisions you’ll make (or have made) in any given day. I was thinking about that the other day, and remembering something I read once (I’ve long since forgotten where) about how the decisions we have to make every single day are some of the biggest thieves of time in our lives.
This is particularly poignant for me at the moment because I’ve been trying (and failing miserably until very recently) to find a set time every weekday that I can use for writing. Not just any time either, but a chunk of time that I can actually “protect” as bonefide writing time without allowing anyone else to derail or interrupt me. Time that I can count on as not being beholden to any other person, pet or priority. It’s a difficult ask, because my days are very full and because I have other priorities for myself that tend to take up the spare time in my evenings. Things like working out to keep my body healthy longer, and sleeping a full six hours in an effort to keep my brain healthy longer. If I’d give up either of those things, it would be easy enough to grab more writing time, but I think they’re important enough to my long-term health that they need to take priority.
Most of my other time belongs to work, my dogs or my husband. That’s just…how things are, and how they need to be.
Back to decisions. When I was trying to find any little snippets of time in my day that I could co-opt back for writing, I found a lot of fragments, but they were scattered throughout my day/night, and none of them long enough to actually do anything with. So then I went looking for anything in my day that might yield some “flexible” minutes that I could capture, collect at the beginning or end of the day, and then use those for writing.
I realized that a lot of the places I “lose” the most time in my day are indeed the times I spend making decisions. What to wear to work, what to make for lunch, what to make for dinner, what project to work on next, what hobby to work on in the evening, what draft to work on that day, what workout to do after I walk the dogs, whether to have Murphy walk with Mica and I or take him for a ride and just walk Mica by himself, whether to watch a TV show or movie on Netflix or Amazon, and which one (you’ve all been there on that last one, right?).
There are so many times in a day where I’m spending 5, 10, 15 minutes making a decision that, if it were already made, I could get that task done and move on more quickly, and in some cases, plan ahead so that doing the actual task takes less time as well.
The only problem with being that organized is that most people recommend planning a week or month ahead on those types of decisions. When I’ve tried that in the past, it never lasts longer than a couple weeks (if that – a week is pushing it) before I go off the “plan” and do something different because I just didn’t like the decision I made three days ago for that particular meal, outfit or project. I think that’s fairly common, really – while some people can make and execute a monthly meal plan or whatever, I think it’s more likely that people will create that monthly plan and then start deviating from it after a couple of weeks just because that’s how life tends to work overall.
So, last week, I decided to try just making a daily plan. I figured that if I made a plan every night right before bed that only covered the very next day, that maybe I could make decisions that would be “close enough” for me to just stick to, even if they didn’t feel perfect at the time, and that would save me enough decision-making time during the day to gain some extra time every night just before I did my next plan to write.
Needless to say, Mon – Weds were total failures, because…Halloween. But Wednesday night before I went to bed, I made a plan for Thursday. It included my wardrobe, meals, and the projects I wanted to work on – including which draft I wanted to write in that night, and how many words. Thursday I followed the plan and was pleasantly surprised that by 11pm, I actually could sit down in the office and just write for 45 whole minutes. Friday, I had slightly less time, but still, plenty of time to reach my word count for the day.
I think the key to this for me is that I can’t try to think or plan any farther ahead than one day. Because that’s when it gets too big, and my mind doesn’t focus on the present, it focuses on the future. So the present gets “short-changed”. When I’m constantly looking with an eye to the future, my head isn’t in whatever I’m doing at present, so that particular task takes longer, too.
So, last Thursday and Friday, I did this. I made a plan for just one day ahead, and then stuck to the decisions I’d made the night before, no matter what. and I had time to write, but more importantly, I had head space to write. When doing creative things, you need to have a relatively uncluttered mind that isn’t constantly worried about what else it should be doing, which is another big problem for me. But by making all those decisions early, I freed up my mind, and I found sitting down to write much, much easier.
None of this will work for me on the weekends just because weekends have to be flexible by design. But I made sure to create my daily schedule for Monday on Sunday night, and wouldn’t you know it…Monday went well, I found one small “bonus” writing time chunk early, which helped me reach my word count, and still got everything else I needed to do, done.
I did one other thing last weekend to help myself out, and that was to take my old Samsung NC10 netbook that came standard with Windows XP (long since dead), and reformatted it to a Linux machine. I hooked it up to our wireless, but I didn’t put a copy of my password manager on it, and I have zero access to email or social media on that little computer. The only site bookmarked is Novelize, which is the program I’m currently using for writing. It does have Libre office on it, in case I need an offline word processor, but that’s about it.
The keyboard on that is tiny, but still better than my laptop keyboard, and not quite as good as the keyboard on my Alphasmart Neo. The Neo is a great little word processor and the keyboard is awesome, but the screen in mine seems to be going out, and it has trouble keeping up with my typing speed.
I rarely write for longer than an hour at a time before taking a break (often 30 – 45 min.), so the tiny keyboard won’t be a problem. That netbook is now my dedicated writing computer – I do nothing else on it, and last night, it worked great to ensure I had no distractions while writing, it’s not the speediest little machine, but it keeps up with my typing speed better than the Neo, and I can work directly in my writing program, which saves me download time each night. The screen is big enough for writing, but that’s about it (it’s a 10 or 11 in, I think…tiny).
As you might have guessed, distractions are my other major issue. If I sit down at my normal laptop to write, I’ll be getting notifications from email and Facebook, or checking “just one thing”, or I’ll remember a bill I should pay “super-quick” or something I need to order just then, or I’ll check my sales stats for “motivation” (that never works, incidentally)…
Yeah. While I like to think I have good willpower, I really don’t when faced with all that other “stuff” I could/should be doing. So having a dedicated writing machine of some sort makes perfect sense. And I can’t really afford the technological “upgrade” to the Neo that is the Astrohaus Freewrite just yet, so an old repurposed netbook will work just fine, at least for now.
So, I think after months of floundering around trying to figure out how to work myself back into a regular writing routine, I’ve finally got something workable. This does, of course, mean less time on social media (less distractions!), and I still need to work out time for the publishing aspects on the weekends, but publishing time doesn’t matter if there’s nothing to publish. The writing has to come first.
I tend to downplay the role that writing has in my life, and I need to stop doing that. It’s not just “a hobby”, even though I’d like it to be, it’s more something I need to do, whether I’m good or not, whether I sell books or not, it’s just something I need, like exercise and sleep. I’m sure that sounds hokey to some, but I need to care less about what others think, and more about what I need. And make sure I get to do what I need to do to be happy.
Do you know what makes you happy? Are you allowing yourself to pursue that, and finding ways, however small, to feed that part of your soul? If not, why not?
Sleep 6 hrs: Doing better, recently. Forcing myself to make it a priority.
Goals check-up: Yep – moved a few things around, and switched up my priorities a bit.