There’s an old saying I took to heart at a very young age, “If you want something doing, ask a busy person”. As a result I’m perpetually busy, but crucially I also get things done as well. I never thought this was weird or unusual, until I became an adult, as others kept remarking on it. A common declaration is that I must be able to somehow “bend or stretch time” to get so much in. Others will ask how I manage it: after all, I’m not just a writer, I’m a script editor, a social marketer, a London Screenwriters’ Festival organiser and oh yeah – a WIFE AND MOTHER AND ALL THE OTHER LIFE STUFF!
So here are my tips to get the most out of your time and do whatever it is you want to do:
This is the thing: if you BELIEVE you can do something? Then you will.
One thing I hear all the time is “But you’ve got little kids”. My answer is always, “So?” Children are not barriers to doing anything you want to do, whether you’re 15 or 50. If parents WANT to dedicate themselves solely to their children – by all means, be my guest. Whatever you want to do *can* wait. But if you feel the fire burning in you and you want to do that thing RIGHT NOW? Then do it! What’s the worst that can happen? Other parents have told me they feel guilt, pursuing their dreams and potentially cutting into their time with their children: “They’re only young once”, etc. But kids are resilient and they also need to learn their parents can’t be at their every beck and call, or they’ll soon be disappointed by adult life! And can you imagine anything worse than realising YOU’RE the reason for your Mum or Dad not doing what they want to do? Ack. MORE: On Parenthood
2) Plan Ahead
This is how you do it:
i) Decide what you want to do
ii) And when you want to do it by
iii) Then start doing it
The To Do List is your friend, seriously. Or lists in general, really. I’m old school, so mine are on paper in a funky notebook marked EVIL PLANS, but do it whatever way you want to, whether you use Apps, Google Calendar, or whatever. Also, what’s more: don’t be afraid of changing the goal if it’s no longer working for you. You haven’t wasted your time, you’ve worked out what you DON’T want to do. Hi Five, move on! MORE: 5 Career Strategies For Writers
3) Break It Down
Most people never get stuff done because they don’t know what goes into it, or what it would take (especially time-wise) to achieve it. True story. This means they end up setting unrealistic targets for themselves, so when they inevitably don’t hit them, they end up demotivated. Yet, if you break whatever it is you want to do, into bitesize chunks? Suddenly it feels achievable and you can BELIEVE in yourself again, like point 1)!
For example, say you want to write a new feature-length screenplay by next month. Dependant what month it is, you have roughly 30 days. Breaking it down, that would be 3 pages every day = 1 new first draft!
Or, maybe you want to write a 60K word novel by next month? Again, no problem. Breaking it down, that’s 2K a word, every day = 1 new manuscript!
BUT WAIT! As we all know, there will be issues with this. Some days, you will be ON FIRE and write loads and 3 screenplay pages or 2K word count on your novel will be no problem whatsoever. Other days, just squeezing out one scene in your screenplay or as much as 500 words in your novel will be EXQUISITE TORTURE.
So, recognise you will need to take the rough with the smooth. Most people can write say, 5 pages of a new screenplay per day; most people can write 500-1000 words on a novel per day. Anything else is bonus. So keep going.
And never, ever look back. There’s time for revision later! Get those words on paper. MORE: I’ve got 5 Rewriting Problems And A Script Ain’t One
4) From Small Acorns …
If you have a day job, or are looking after children (or both) then you’ll find the time windows in which you’re able to write get smaller and smaller. This is life. Don’t worry about it too much, especially as too much anxiety will most likely screw with your ability TO write once you get in front of that computer!
I find the most frustrated and/or anxious writers are those who feel they’re being “taken away” from their writing … so don’t be taken away from it. Take it with you, wherever you go … via your brain and something to jot your ideas down (notebook & pen; digital app; whatever – however it works for you). Seriously! Your best writing is done by thinking. You can think about your story (and jot down the odd note to self about it) whilst doing your job, looking after your kids, doing the housework … Then, when you DO have a solid block of time to write, for real? You’ll be refreshed and it will POUR out of you. No kidding! MORE: Writing & Kids: Getting It Done
This is the thing: you want to time to write? I bet your partner or your kids have something THEY want in return. So find out what they want and negotiate with one another. Draw up a rota if it helps, why not? MORE: Help! My partner won’t let me write.
6) Sweat the Small Stuff
Don’t ignore the small stuff. It will avalanche and land on your head and crush you to death. Seriously! Anything small that needs to be done? DO IT NOW. Don’t ignore that email, or that tweet, or that piece of copy or blog post that needs tweaking, or some links added or whatever. It will get forgotten … And then suddenly you’re the wo/man who never gets anything done.
Instead, create times when you check on these things that work for you. For me, it usually goes like this: check before the first school run; check mid morning; check after the nursery run; check after school; check before bed and sometimes if I wake in the night I check then too (I am pretty anal, you don’t necessarily need that many!).
If you have any jobs that need doing that are still small, but “bigger” than tweaks or email and @ replies, ask the person who wants you to do when they need it by … Then set some time aside to do them when you can, but if it’s several days from now? Always write yourself a reminder in the diary or whatever. And also: accept sometimes you WILL forget – you’re only human. Don’t beat yourself up, just get on with it and do it ASAP, apologising where necessary. MORE: Use of Social Media
7) Make your life easier by whatever means necessary
I resisted getting Hootsuite for ages because I basically DON’T LIKE CHANGE. I was feeling hassled and didn’t want to have to learn yet another *thing*, despite the fact trusted friends like @ScriptPunk and @LivingSpiritpix said it would make my life easier. What a dummy I was! As soon as I actually stopped resisting for the sake of it, I discovered not only was Hootsuite easy-peasy, it actually cut my scheduling time by about TWO THIRDS. Doh! Lesson learned: next time someone with more knowledge than me on a gadget or gizmo recommends something they think will HELP me with my time management? I will be listening!
And another thing to think on, here and this is something I am talking principally to the ladies about, NOT because I am sexist, but because it’s been almost exclusively women who have complained to me *about* this … And that’s CHORES.
Here’s my solution: Go on strike while you’re writing. That’s right. Don’t do the breakfast or dinner dishes. Don’t iron those school uniforms. Don’t do whatever householdy chore is calling you and say, “Well if I don’t do it, no one else will.”
If no one else will do it, then a) why should you? and b) no one will CARE if you go on strike, surely??
This may surprise you, but I actually *like* doing housework and cooking and all that … But when I’m deep in the depths of writing? My house looks like a bomb has hit it. ‘Cos it can wait ’til I am bloody well finished! Kids get given dinner money for school and beans on toast at tea time. They’re fed yoghurt and fruit and told MUMMY’S WRITING GO WATCH THE TELEVISION OR GO IN THE GARDEN, DO WHATEVER YOU LIKE JUST DON’T KILL YOUR SISTER.
Are my children scarred for life? Nope. In fact the little blighters figured out a long time ago that ask me something when I’m writing? The answer is always YES, so I’ve found them in all kinds of situations and bellowed at them, only for them to wail back: “BUT YOU SAID I COULD!!!!” And I did. So yes, my house is a madhouse. But my kids have turned out pretty much OK so far. Certainly I’m pretty confident none of them will turn into the next Hitler, or even the next Jeremy Clarkson, so I must be doing something OK, right? MORE: Writing & Kids: Working From Home
8) Do favours
This is a no-brainer. Do favours for others, they owe you. But more than that, you will probably enjoy helping others. Good karma is always fun to cultivate … and the more you cultivate, the more entrenched you will become in that group or person’s life — and who knows what that will lead to?? Get out there, do it, have fun — and suddenly one day you will part of the fabled INDUSTRY. Because that’s all the “industry” really is … Lots of people, working together, helping one another out. MORE: 8 Ways For Screenwriters To Get Collaborating And Making
But the flipside of that coin is DON’T TAKE ON TOO MUCH. I know you might worry that if you say “No” people may never ask you again, but trust me, PEOPLE WILL ASK YOU AGAIN. But if you really can’t say no, work out a way of doing whatever it is that person wants you to do without stretching yourself too far to do it. Yes, another no-brainer. MORE: Relationships & Teamwork
And the most obvious of the lot, yet the hardest for any busy person to enact: relaxing! But you simply must. It doesn’t matter what it is you like to do: whether it’s needlepoint, ballet or breeding killer sharks. ALWAYS set time aside to do it. Do not let yourself burn out. Protect your relaxing time by whatever means necessary. Remember that old boss of mine: “Here’s my mobile number, you can call me whenever you like. Except evenings or weekends, then I’ll gut you like a fish.”
Getting stuff done is about doing stuff … but not doing TOO MUCH stuff. Think, too. And chill. And always do stuff for other people … As long as it’s not at the expense of your own stuff.
I so firmly believe in #7 that I’m writing a book about it and devoting a lot of web space to it in the coming months. There’s no reason for people to fill up their calendars with activities and obligations. If you mean to write, clear your calendar of the non-essentials. (Oy, how many times I’ve heard it as an excuse, you konw?). Fantastic post. Tweeted and spreading the word. 🙂
Good for you Robyn, it’s something I totally believe in too … good luck with your book and thanks for spreading the word! 😀
I love the little note “To do, get things done”. That to me is absolute truth.
me too! 😀
Excellent advice! I think your first tip is the root from which productivity grows. You’ve helped me to see more clearly that fear is not the controlling factor when I really believe I can and must do a particular thing. When I know I must do it, belief just undergirds my efforts and the Spectre of Fear is readily suppressed. When I don’t really believe I can do something, that’s when the procrastination takes-hold and the Spectre perpetuates it.
When belief is absent and fear takes advantage, it feeds the pattern of putting-off writing in the name of doing a better job in other life activities. But, if we aren’t doing what is our true calling, we are not fully engaged in anything we do. I believe children sense when their parents are doing what they think is needed over what they really long to accomplish. And, the children are not as happy as they would be if the parents pursued their other dreams, also, complementing the whole endeavor.
Thanks for your insights; I’m going to revisit this column periodically for reminders.
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Thanks Lucy…your post made me laugh out loud, so much so that my teenage son was giving me funny looks. LOL. I love that you’re so honest and down to earth. As always – sound advice.
Glad you liked it, thanks for letting me know! 😀