Monday, September 10, 2012

Scheduling Your Time--a Better Way of Living

I've never been very good at balancing the stuff I have to do in a reasonable fashion. 

My entire life, I've usually just gotten stuff done in a manic frenzy. House dirty? Spend the entire day cleaning. Behind on the word count? Spend the next day writing. Missing your friends? Spend an entire day out with them.

This sounds exhausting, and it can be, but once I get into the zone I want to keep going until it's done. I have a hard time just cleaning the kitchen and stopping there. Yet, afterward I'm tired, and I don't feel like cleaning for a few days until it piles up and I have to spend another day cleaning again. Ditto with exercise.

I was somewhat more disciplined with my writing. I write just about every day, because it's what I love to do. Some people like to watch TV, or play sports, or I dunno, race dolphins for fun. Writing was always the thing I did for fun. I take it seriously in the sense that I care about the quality of my words and I want to write the best book I can, but it's still fun to me.

Now that I am staying home with my son, free time has gotten weird. On one hand I am home with him, and therefore have all day to do something, in theory. But between feeding, clothing, and playing with the baby are these weird gaps of time that I've learned to use for chores and writing. 

I can't spend all day cleaning anymore, so chores must be broken down into smaller tasks. Now tasks are accomplished like I imagine a normal person does, a little bit at a time. My word count doesn't fluctuate between 2-8K anymore, but it's consistent. I can't clean several rooms in a day anymore, but I can consistently take care of each chore.

In order to keep track of not only the obvious stuff, but also long term projects I need to do, I made a list. But this isn't just a list of things to do. After reading this post on Fiction Notes, I decided to try out her method of using a low tech solution.

I got a legal pad out of my giant box of office supplies, and turned it sideways. I then divided it up into sections: Writing, House, Family/Friends, and Life. I wrote out every thing I needed or wanted to do in each area of my life.

Here, I am going to be really transparent and show you what exactly I have on my legal pad:

Write 3 blog posts for the week
Write Flash Fiction
Write daily word count

Meal plan--bento boxes 
Organize: Tupperware, linen closet, desk
Sweep and mop floors
Cook dinner
Grocery shopping

Take baby to the doctor on Thursday
Crit POC
Visit In Laws
Read "The Thirteenth Tale" for book club

Exercise 3x/week
Read for pleasure
Read non fiction

There's a lot of stuff I want to do, but never get done. I am really tired of feeling like I have all this stuff I want to do with my life, but I am always running behind. 

I want to blog more! I want to exercise more! I want to read more for pleasure, and more for learning! I want to get better at making bento boxes, so I am not in the kitchen for two hours every night when my husband works mornings, and eating cereal for dinner when my husband works nights!

In addition to making sure the daily tasks happen, I also have long term stuff. We're moving in a few months, and all of that stuff under "Organize" is tedious and time consuming, but it needs to be taken care of before we move out. Plus, if the stacks of Tupperware in the cabinet gets any worse, it's going to crush me the next time I open the door.

There's not really a big difference between columns on a legal pads and a big list of things to do, but it matters to me. For one, it's not all lumped together. For another, it's not in any order. I have my columns, and when one thing is finished, I scan the columns for what might come next.

I added a week schedule to this column idea by again, taking a piece of paper and turning it sideways. I then marked out Sunday through Saturday, each day with it's own column. I filled in stuff that had to get done on a particular day. I chose not to go the personal calender route because a) I've done that before and it's never worked, and b) with the columns I have more room. A daily calender gets big and bulky if there's writing room, or too small to be useful if there isn't.

I also added a loose order of importance so I know tasks that have to get done in a certain amount of time don't fall through the cracks. I got my highlighters out, because any time I can use office supplies is a happy time, and highlighted the stuff that was time sensitive in pink. So "baby's doctor appointment" was on Thursday's column, highlighted in pink. Daily stuff is yellow, but I don't normally bother to highlight it. Long term projects like cleaning out a closet are green.

Most of the Stuff to Do remains on it's own piece of paper, and I don't bother to transfer it to my weekly schedule. I did write my word count goals down each day, as well as put the "write blog posts for the week" in Sunday's column, but that's more about trying to figure out when the best time to do something would be, and less about a hard and fast schedule.

I know this sounds like madness, but so far it's working. I am not only scheduling time for the stuff that must get done, but stuff I want to do but haven't gotten around to yet. 

For certain areas (Writing being one of them) I plan to break it down even further. Instead of "daily word count" reminders, I plan to eventually get to the point where it reads "Write flash fiction story about time travel", "plot next three scenes on note cards", "write a blog post on scheduling your time". Being specific, especially with writing, has always helped me. 

I'm not saying I won't fall off the wagon and stop doing this a time or two, but I've been at it for about two weeks now, and this system seems to be flexible enough to allow me some wiggle room but keeps me on task. I finally feel like I am making progress, and not just treading water.

What do you think? How do you make sure to accomplish everything you need to do?


  1. Just skimmed this post, because I thought, you have GOT to read a recent blog post by another writerly friend of mine, one whose snarky, irreverent style I absolutely love, and who is a really nice person, to boot.

    Her "baby" is a teen now, iirc, she homeschools him AND has written a very nifty YA paranormal novel, busy in the query mode. Feel free to read any of her stuff. (She also wrote the Bitter Homeschooler's Wishlist, which has been circulating for a number of years now, very popular.)

  2. Thanks for the tip! I'll check her out!