This one turned into a very thorny chapter. A lot of stuff no one talks about and a lot hand wavy stuff when it comes to creatives. More will follow with a chapter on Energy Management and Agency!
Once time management itself stopped selling so well, gurus shifted to energy management. In a nutshell, their definition is managing energy during your workday so you can do more work.
But with those of us doing a side hustle like fiction writing, it, again, focuses only on the day job. It also assumes you don’t exist outside the job.
A lot of days following the reorganization, work ate all my energy. When I came home, I was too tired to do anything. I did not have the mental energy to decide on what to eat, much less be creative.
Often, it was easy to swing by the local fast food place. So I wasted money on groceries on top of this.
Someone’s probably going to say that I should plan all my meals and make them on the weekend. But that’s fixing a symptom, not the original problem. And besides, my energy was so depleted, that even that “tip” didn’t work well.
So I’d flop in front of the TV set for an hour to rest, then attempt to write. Creative voice? Not happy.
This is also how the critical voice gets its foot in the door. It wants to protect you and forcing yourself to write when your gas tank is empty is prime territory for it to get involved.
Worse, once you find yourself staring at a word count of one hundred words, critical voice digs in because you didn’t get enough words done! It gets you into a cycle of negativity that’s hard to escape.
When COVID-19 shut so much down, parts of my job receded enough I could see the things I was doing wrong.
I started by trying Cal Newport’s scheduling methods from his book The Time-Block Planner: A Daily Method for Deep Work in a Distracted World. He has pictures of his hand-written version posted on his blog and discusses it there as well.
The principle is to schedule everything.
You take your calendar for your workday and fill in all the slots with what you have to do. It provides focus so you’re not randomly surfing the internet or hitting email every five minutes.
The first time I did this (originally during the year following the reorganization), I did it on paper using the same notebook he recommended. But I went into way too much detail. I listed individual tasks in blocks, then wasn’t able to get to them because of interruptions. Every time there was an interruption, I had to change the entire schedule. Doing it is a cognitive load, so constantly redoing it became a serious mental drain.
Didn’t last more than a month before I had to stop.
But in early COVID-19, I took a class from Scott H. Young. It was on how to learn, and more for if you were in school. But included in the package was a time management course.
One of the revelations was how we all look at the day.
We’ll start with the day job. Let’s say you work from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m, with thirty minutes for lunch.
You get up at 6 a.m. Two hours of possible writing time! Except you have to do all those personal things like shower, get dressed, and eat breakfast, which takes time to prepare. I usually work out for thirty minutes at this time.
In my head, I think those things don’t take that much time.
I’m pretty low maintenance, but it’s still thirty to forty minutes to do all the personal stuff in the morning. Breakfast is probably another thirty minutes. Then there’s the commute, which is thirty minutes.
Gurus say to get up early if you want to do more. Nope. No way am I getting up at five to write. Creative voice would think that’s punishment, and critical voice is always waiting in the wings.
Zooming on to the end of the day. We already know the commute is thirty minutes (for the purposes of this, I’m assuming no traffic problems, and I always have traffic problems coming home).
So it’s five o’clock when I arrive home. If I go to bed at 10:00 p.m., that’s five hours I could be writing.
Well, not so fast. Time management books don’t consider the time you need to take to be a human being. You know, eat a leisurely dinner, chill out and decompress from the day or the bad traffic, and eventually get ready for bed. That doesn’t even include family.
All those things are part of the time you have available. You can’t sacrifice something without impacting something else.
For me, I’m typically eating between 5:00 and 6:00 (I’m low maintenance here, too. Veggies, shove meat into the oven). I write from 6:00-8:00. But then I have to shut it down. Otherwise, my creative voice will bounce all over the place and keep me awake later on.
Exactly how do people do twenty revisions and get a book done when they have a day job and a family?
When I tried Cal Newport’s deep work scheduling the second time, it became a learning tool to figure out what worked for me. Using more generic time blocks, I filled in my schedule on Microsoft Outlook.
It was still very stressful for me to do every day. Too much of deciding upfront—planning before I did anything. Being a pantser, it wasn’t the way my brain wanted to work.
But I tried plopping a two-hour block of time on my home calendar for writing. It worked so poorly I didn’t get much writing done.
So, I asked Cal Newport on his podcast about scheduling a side hustle like fiction writing. It surprised me when he answered the question (he gets a zillion of them), though he just said to put it in a slot on my calendar.
Can I pull out my hair? Aargh!
One fact was becoming apparent: The world of the day job does not understand how creatives work. At all.
Except that they think they do.
This means it’s critical for you to understand how you work because no one else is going to be able to solve your problems.