Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Time to Write 1 - Minutes, energy, and tasks

Some people feel they can only write when they have large, dedicated blocks of time. There are occasions when I need that, too. When I go into the deep analysis of the plot, for instance, I often need to work intensely and any interruptions can force me to do a lot of rework. I can usually anticipate these ahead of time and get them onto the calendar.

But there are lots of writing jobs that can be done without much dedicated time. I found this when I did what most productivity experts advocate -- I kept track of how I used the hours I have.

I formed my baseline by tracking my activities over one week. Ultimately, this reached beyond the typical productivity view of finding free hours and wasted hours because I noted my energy levels. I identified which tasks seemed to best match my rhythms.

I'm a morning person, and virtually all my hardest work, including work that requires the most imagination, needs to get done before 1 PM. I also noted that my energy is better if I enforce a "walk around" break every 40 to 50 minutes. I need to get the blood moving and to loosen my muscles.

In the afternoon, I tend to do more rewriting and work that involves logic or directed work (such as filling out forms for story planning and character development). This is also a good time to do business activities for me -- although I do tend to check anything involving money at a time when my brain is fresher.

The biggest bonus I got from paying attention to how I work came with my discovery of interstitial work. Back when my calendar would fill up with meetings, I began to keep a list of essential activities I could break away from easily or even complete in five or 10 minutes. Since then, whenever I'm kept waiting or an activity ends early, I go to my list, grab the next thing, and get to work on it.

I have also made good use of activities that allow split attention. I almost always listen to a book that's relevant to my work as I walk the treadmill or make dinner.

Similarly, I've come to respect what I call my "Zen" times. When I am doing physical activities like raking leaves or I'm in the shower, ideas will pop into my head or characters will begin talking to me. One best-selling author told me she always kept a wax pen in her shower stall for exactly this reason.

Finally, there's what I call commercial breaks. When I'm watching a ball game on TV, I keep a list of simple questions nearby or index cards of scenes. I grab these and scribble out answers or experiment with new orders whenever commercials come on.

So, here's my "how to":
  • Track and analyze how you spend your time in terms of the intensity of activities, the opportunities for specific levels of work, and your own cycles of energy.
  • Classify your writing activities in ways that will encourage you to make the most of the opportunities you've identified.
  • Be prepared. Have the materials to do your work at hand when opportunities present themselves.
Next time, I'll list some specific writing tasks and when, from my experience, they make the most sense.

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