Sunday, May 16, 2010

Maggie's Excessively Long Post on Time Management

So back when I asked people what they’d like to hear me post about, I got a ton of a requests for a post about time management. The thing is, I feel a little weird about posting about it, because I don’t feel like an expert. An expert is someone who knows how to do something well, who makes it look effortless, and me. . . well, I could’ve had this post finished twenty minutes ago, but I got distracted watching Sponge Bob Square Pants while drinking my breakfast tea.

So basically, this: I don’t feel qualified as an expert. Time management is still something that I constantly have to work at -- it’s not like washing dishes, which I’m perfectly certain I can accomplish. It’s more like writing, where each day is a new project I’m not sure I can pull off.

I think I get a lot done. But I don’t think it’s easy for me. I think that’s the best way to put it. I can joke about it being about caffeine and cookie dough or an inability to sit still, but what it comes down to is: it’s hard. I have to work at it. Anyone who thinks otherwise will be let down.

With that said, here are my basic principles of time management.

1 - Work first, then play. I don’t get to read a book or watch a movie or go outside and frolic before I’ve gotten my work done. The day starts with work, so that I don’t look up at the clock at noon and go, oh, wow, it’s noon and nothing has gotten done! I take my tea and my breakfast into my office and start answering e-mails. The only day that I can be lazy is Sunday. Play is a reward for a job well done.

2 -  Goals. I’m a big fan of quantifiable achievements. Back when I was first working for myself, I would write a list each day of things that I needed to get done that day, that week, that month, so that I could cross them off when I finished them. Now I tend to keep them in my head rather than writing them down, but the principle is the same. So -- I have to finish writing this blog post before I can go shower, for instance.

3 - Priorities. What do you want to be known for? There is a ton of time-wasting that goes on in this world. When a writer friend complains to me about not having time to write and I see that she’s spent two hours on Facebook playing Farmville, I raise an eyebrow. When I’m doing something, I ask myself -- is this something I will remember doing in a week? In two weeks? Yes, sometimes you just waste time as a reward. But for the most part, I would rather be doing something that I’ll still think was valuable a month down the road. So that means writing a novel. Practicing a musical instrument. Taking my kids to see a movie. It doesn’t mean Farmville or solitaire. Those are moments you’ll never get back. And never remember.

4 - Scheduling. When I was writing Lament, my husband was working full time and so was I. I had two little kids and no daycare. I blocked out two hours every evening on Wednesday to be my writing time, and as it got closer to being a Real Thing, I added two hours on Sunday during the kids’ nap time. And that’s how I wrote: when you know exactly how much time you have and how much you have to get done in it, it makes you more efficient.

5 - Kids Will Never Stop You From Taking Over the World. People use kids as an excuse, and it annoys me endlessly. If I had a dime for every time someone said (not knowing I have kids), “Oh, I’ve always wanted to write, but I have a little kid at home” I could buy a pony. There is such a tremendous amount of guilt associated with being a mother and having a life, I’ve discovered. But I’ve also discovered this: kids respect you for having a life. They don’t respect you for being at their every beck and call. Have an identity. Have a career. I’m not saying to work every second of every day. But I am saying that you can establish a two hour slot every single day, right after lunch, and call it “quiet time.” They don’t have to sleep, they can just watch a movie or read, or whatever. But that is their quiet time and your work time. I started this with my kids when they were two and it carried on through school age, and a lot of days, it was the only chance I got to work.

6 - Guilt. Not just about kids. But from friends, family, etc. -- I think the solution to this is talking. A lot of times we’ll feel more guilty about being busy than we need to be. Whenever I feel like I’m spending a ton of time working, I’ll ask Lover if I need to cut back, and he will tell me. My friends, too, understand that when I’m under deadline, that I’ll be scarce. Don’t let unreasonable guilt keep you from saying “Saturdays are my day to work on My Fantastic Project.” And TALK to people to find out whether it’s reasonable or not.

6 - Do What You Love. You’ll make time for what you love. I’m a big believer in having no regrets. So if a major part of your day every day is driving you insane and you hate it, find a way to eliminate it. I despised my day job right out of college -- an office job with great people but inane and mind-numbing work -- so I spent time every day planning and scheming how to be able to quit. And then I did. And since then I have been working to do what I love. My time management works because of this: I love working. I love being with my family. I can’t say I love vacuuming, but heck, that’s what Saturdays are for. Overwhelmingly, I love what I do, and it means that I can take the avoidance out of most of my scheduling.

And . . . uh . . . I guess that’s it. I decided a long time ago that excuses were what was keeping me from getting everything done. Once I stopped making them, suddenly, I was a lot better at balancing everything. It’s not always perfect, but . . . it works. 

ETA: I couldn't understand why I kept feeling deja vu as I wrote this post. After I posted it, I went hunting in my old art blog and found this one that I wrote in 2007. It's nice to see that I'm consistent, anyway.


Agnès said...

You're so right!

Larissa said...

Great post, Maggie! I love crossing things off my list. :) And I'm hoping to be able to let go of at least one of my day jobs soon... LOL.

Crystal Cook said...

Great post again Maggie! I never get tired of hearing about how you accomplish all that you do. And thanks especially for number 5. I don't use my kids as an excuse either, and it bugs me when people do. I completely agree that when you love something, you make time to do it!


Maggie Stiefvater said...

Thank you, guys!

BenCracknell said...

Once again, an amazing post, Maggie. It's really great to know a few little tips that help you, and try them out myself. I'm kind of crap when it comes to making my time efficient, so I just pray that this'll help me as much as it helps you.

Jenny Hysaj said...

Maggie, I absolutely loved your post. Its funny because my sister asks me how I take care of my 2 kids, work, read and write. She can't figure how I have the time, its like you said, you make time for what you love!! My husband hates when I write and I've still managed to do it. You're the best!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tips, these will be really helpful!

Jonathon Arntson said...

"I decided a long time ago that excuses were what was keeping me from getting everything done".

Holy shiitake, that's epiphanitastic!

I am substituting 'everything' with 'anything' and changing my life.

Not Hannah said...

I want to kiss this post on the mouth.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

@Not hannah: the post would like it.

Ben, Chloe, I hope so too!

Jonathon -- *grin* lemme know how that works out for you.

Jenny- I admire you! Lover is very supportive of my work, and always has been, I can't imagine doing it if he wasn't.

JSavant said...

Well, now I know that I have NO EXCUSES for myself and my own terrible time management. Funny, really, since I used to be able to multitask with the best of them. Anyway -- thank you for sharing. :)

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Ha - we get cranky and unwilling to participate in time management.

Jenny Hysaj said...

Thank you Maggie! It's not super easy, but I try to be positive and hope one day he realizes how important it is to me. Til then, its kids in the morning, bookkeeping in the day and everything books & writing at night (when everyone sleeps).

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