The following is a guest post by writer Yesenia Vargas.
It’s hard work being a writer these days.
You have to be on a gazillion social media platforms. And have a website. And keep them updated. Plus: the dishes are piling up, and you can’t remember the last time you worked out.
Now, try doing these things when you’re a parent and in college as well. The baby’s crying from her crib (even though her nap isn’t supposed to be over for thirty more minutes), and the ten-page paper due next week for your African Studies class isn’t even started (it was imperative you update your Facebook page!).
You haven’t even gotten to the writing part (or simply reading about your craft)!
How is the modern adult supposed to do it?
Your young days are over (if this doesn’t apply to you, sleep in while you can). You can’t pull all-nighters anymore!
While following strategies may not be the magical cure you’re looking for, they’ve helped me tremendously.
I’ve gone from barely being able to keep up with writing-related tasks (like blogging and social media) to finishing homework assignments, meeting my daily writing quota, keeping up with social media and working on the next blog post. Not to mention getting the baby and myself fed!
1. Use to-do lists wisely.
I’m sure you’ve heard the benefits of using to-do lists before, but there are tricks to making them work.
First, don’t overdo it. Be realistic when it comes to the number of tasks you put on your daily list. If you do too many, you’ll give up when the end of the day comes and you’re not done with everything.
This is how I do that: think about how long each task is going to take (ex: 1 hour). This works much better than assigning a specific time such as 2pm to 3pm. Things often come up, so go by how many hours in the day you think you’ll have available.
You’ll rarely have as much time as you think you will. So if you think you’ll have eight hours, write down that you’ll have five or six. Then think about how long each task will take and fit in as many as you can, in this case up to six hours. If you do get done with everything on your list in the six hours, hey, take a break. You deserve it.
I also use weekly lists, especially when I’m on a deadline. I break a big project or class up into weeks, planning to be finished at least a week in advance. This way, I have a few extra days in case something happens.
This means creating long-term deadlines (or looking at given ones) and planning way ahead. Who cares if that book launch date or term paper due date is ages away? Start working on it now. When I’m creating my daily to do list, I glance at my weekly to do list and put this week’s tasks for X project on it. When it’s time to get to work, I work on those tasks first!
The last trick is simple: take your to do lists seriously. This is the biggest mistake people make with to do lists. You’ll be surprised how much more you’ll get done when you do!
2. Streamline social media.
The trick for being on social media (without it swallowing your life whole) is to break it up into manageable bits and pieces. Five minutes here. Ten minutes there. You really don’t need to spend more than a total of thirty minutes on it a day.
You should also partly automate some of your social sharing. Services like Buffer and their Chrome extension help a ton. You can share awesome links with a couple of clicks or promote your new blog post all day in just five minutes first thing in the morning.
To make sure I don’t miss out on anything from the writers and bloggers I love to follow and interact with, I put them on a Twitter list and check it a few times a day, retweeting and replying as I find neat things.
3. Use practical parenting.
Depending on the age of your children, there are a variety of ways to keep them busy so you can get some writing done.
If you have a newborn, just be happy if you get a couple of tasks done each day (including sleep). Once they’re a bit older, start sleep training (if they’re not sleeping on their own already). Rocking a baby to sleep eats up a lot of time!
Also, take advantage of naps and early bedtimes to work on your novel and author blog (and chores, of course!). You’ve probably heard that one before, but how many times have you decided to get on Facebook or Pinterest instead? It’s okay. I do it, too.
Once you have a toddler on your hands, a playpen full of toys will become your best friend. When they outgrow that, keep boardgames, bigger toys, or educational videos handy. Encourage them to “work” alongside you (aka coloring or playing on their own toy laptop).
Whatever your children’s age, make sure to take breaks from your work throughout the day to interact with them, both inside and outside of the house.
4. Take breaks.
This will be different for everyone. Sometimes, I work well for long periods of time with a twenty-minute break in between. On other days, I need a five-minute break every thirty minutes!
Go with how you’re feeling. And never work through lunch — give yourself at least thirty minutes to eat and relax. Then, get right back to work!
5. Take at least one day off.
Do whatever you want and get away from the computer. I usually take the weekends off, but I always take Sunday off, no matter what.
Take at least one day out of your week to recharge, get away from work, and spend time with family and friends. Don’t worry about social media. You can schedule a few updates the night before. Or not. You’ll be surprised how much more ready you’ll be the next day to get back to work.
6. Set aside certain times of the day for certain things.
I keep a rough schedule for doing things. For example, I always read (for pleasure) at night right before I go to bed. I reserve certain days of the week for schoolwork. On Mondays, we always go grocery shopping, so I know not to schedule anything on those evenings. And I try to always work on the most important task on my to do list as soon as I arrive at my desk in the morning.
7. Don’t freak out if something comes up.
Like one of my favorite professors likes to say, “Life is a river. Just go with the flow.” No matter how hard you try, something will always come up. One of the kids will get sick. An appointment won’t work out, and you’ll have to reschedule. It’s okay to fall behind sometimes. That’s why you schedule deadlines ahead of time, right?
Just take something to do with you, and adjust those to do lists, if necessary.
8. Don’t miss out on the important moments.
Writing, blogging, and social media are important, but not worth missing out on important moments in your life.
Every day, make sure to spend time with your partner and family. Laugh and play with them. Read a good book. Go out. Get enough (but not too much) sleep. Go for a run or walk with a friend. Don’t miss a graduation, even if it’s just from pre-k. Take tons of pictures of your kids and do things with them, because time flies.
9. Stop working at the same time each day.
For me, this is 5:30 pm during light workload seasons and 7:30 pm when my plate is full (and then some). Either way, get some rest daily. Working long hours only hurts your productivity and concentration.
10. Treat your writing career like a traditional job.
Have set hours that you abide by. After that, spend time with family, do something for yourself, or work on household chores. It’s tempting to keep working just a little bit longer, but you really shouldn’t. It’s easy to turn into a workaholic and miss out on those important moments.
Also, talk to your partner about your schedule. Tell him how important writing is to you and agree on the time that your work day will end (or the period of time you’ll be working on your writing or blogging). During that time, there shouldn’t be any interruptions. However, keep your word and promptly end work when that time period is over!
Don’t fret if you’re getting as much done as you’d like (no one’s perfect).
But, be honest with yourself when you know you can do way better. Always try to improve your productivity. Notice I didn’t list exercising in the title of this post — that’s something I’m working on right now!
If you really want to do something, you won’t find the time for it. You’ll make the time for it. Remember: there are 168 hours in a week. How many of those are you throwing away?
Like I heard from someone recently, there are twenty-four hours in a day for a reason. Maybe we weren’t given more because that’s plenty of time to do everything we need to do!
What’s your best productivity tip or trick? What do you need to improve on? Share and discuss in the comments!
Yesenia Vargas is a writer still working on her first and second novels. Meanwhile, she loves to meet and help other writers. She lives in Georgia with her fiance and daughter.