Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Time: The Most Important Resource

Terry here, answering our question of the week: How best do you manage your time and resources? What tools are helping you manage life while you complete your next work? Websites? Apps? Tricks of the trade?

The operative concept here is “manage your time and resources.” Which makes me think of what my most valuable resources are. Turns out that I think of time as my most precious resource.  I have a note to myself that I wrote on the first day of this year. It reads:

                             2019 has 365 days—8,760 hours
                                          Use them wisely

I needed the note because I don’t use my time wisely. I fool around—on Facebook, doing crossword puzzles, texting my son, raving about politics with my husband. I often think of it as time wasted. But if am more generous with myself, I realize that I can’t really write—and by write, I mean put words onto a page—more than four hours a day. I’ve always been that way. And a lot of what I think of as “wasting time” is actually time when brain is doodling around on some problem with writing. That I can feel okay about. It’s when I am just wasting time to avoid work that I wish I had a magic way of reminding myself that I need to use the time wisely, because again, it’s my most precious resource. Thus, the note.

There’s so much more to writing than “just” writing. There’s marketing, promotion, setting up events, and, if you have events with others, coordinating their time with yours. Marketing and promotion can be a world-class time suck. It’s for a real purpose, but it sometimes feels like the black hole, where time disappears. So, to get a grip on the time I spend, I have decided to hire a virtual assistant. I just gave her her first task last week, and it felt wonderful to turn over to her something that I didn’t mind doing, but that I simply didn’t have the time for.  

I don’t know how I would use websites or apps to help me manage my life. I have always been reasonably organized, and when I feel overwhelmed I sit down with the primitive tools of pen and paper and make a list. On the list I don’t differentiate between writing chores and life chores. “Write Blog” will be right next to “Water Plants.” “Call plumber” will be next to “Ask agent about….” When I’m spinning out of control, this steadies me. After the first few things are crossed off the list, I often don’t even go back to it. At that point, the bullet points are in my head because I’ve written them down.

One thing I know about myself is that once I plunge deeply into working on a novel, the rest of the world falls away. My house gets messy, friendships dangle (thank God, I’ve got a circle of long-time friends who understand), sometimes the mail doesn’t get opened, and books I intended to read languish. So before I start, I make a big push to make sure everything is reasonably in order. The plumbing leak is fixed, the stash of batteries is replenished, etc.

But I do have a couple of tips for managing  time that serves me well:

1) Long ago, I took a time management class. The best advice I got was,  “only handle a piece of paper once.” Nowadays, it’s “only handle an email once.” If I can answer an email the minute I get it, I do so. It saves me from having to read it again “later.” It keeps me from forgetting to get back to someone. People are often surprised when I get back to them so quickly. But it’s because of that rule. Sometimes I can’t answer something immediately, so I flag it, and go over the flags the next day to find out what I need to take care of.

3) Set goals. I have read these really intricate goal-setting ideas, and I admire anyone who can do them. But I set loose goals—finish the first draft by “x” date, do a rough outline, update website. I sometimes write them down, but even when I don’t, they are in the back of my mind.

Besides time, there’s one other resource that I’m careful about: my health. I am religious about getting exercise. I go to the gym three days a week and the other days I either go for a walk or do the stationary bike. It’s mandatory. I find it’s good not just for physical, but mental health. I wish there was an app or a website to do exercise for me, but alas, the sweat equity has to come from me alone.

I’m looking forward to hearing what my blog partners say about this this week. And I’d like to hear from readers? How do manage your resources?


Susan C Shea said...

I admire your commitment to exercise. I need to address that. It's good for the brain too.

Terry said...

Thank you, Susan. I think so, too.