Using the Time You Have, by Lucy Mills

How well do you manage your time? 

This was something I had to address in my own life when I found that all my roles – as editor, as writer, as all the other things I am and do – were flying about in an exhausting cycle. It felt like a spider’s web unhooked and blowing messily in the wind. I had to start putting my life into sections. We often say - and hear - that we need to make appointments to write – to mark out times we are writing and nothing else. This doesn’t work for me unless I do it with other things, too. Thus, I have had to draw lines all over the place.

My editing role can spill into everything if I’m not careful, so I needed to tie that carefully down – to two specific mornings per week. Only then could I allocate my ‘writing morning’ – and yes, I can only manage one morning a week for writing as a regular slot, although when deadlines are pressing I manage to pop it into other patches. So I’m not a full time writer, and work ebbs and flows, usually manageable with only a few momentary panics! If I get a big commission, I revise the routine a little - but often I just up my productivity in the current 'slot'.

As I struggle with chronic illness I need to be aware that often I am worn out in afternoons and therefore should not expect myself to do too much (so, in a way, I'm talking about managing energy as much as I am time). I'm writing this in the afternoon; it feels very hard and my head is pounding.

However, when I work I do it very intensively and achieve more in a morning than someone working slower might do in a day – so it evens out. I have one strict day off which I share with my husband who is a minister. I’m irritatingly stubborn about keeping it, but it is non-negotiable. I then have an odds and ends day which is when I try and make appointments, see a friend, do pressing chores, etc.

Church stuff – which I need to prep for, fits in on odds and ends day usually, lunchtimes, or Friday afternoons, or Saturdays . Housework falls into the same kind of pattern, and hubs and I share the load. I can’t be the domestic goddess some might like to be; I barely keep on top of things – but the world hasn’t ended and the lounge and downstairs loo are presentable. Dinner gets cooked, often straight from the freezer when I'm tired. That’ll do for now.

It’s not inflexible but there are important aspects to it. I do not check my editing emails on my day off, and only work on editing tasks on the set mornings. Once my time is up, it’s like the end of an exam – pens down, paper handed in. That’s the pattern. Sometimes I do need to check emails and respond to immediate queries when the magazine is in an intensive, time- sensitive stage, but the general rule is there. And in the main, it works. It works because it’s trained my mind to switch off, and then I don’t feel guilty about writing because this is when I do it - and when I don't do that.

The other stuff I do when I do the other stuff (!), and if I don’t finish everything on the list it gets rolled over to the next allocated slot. It’s to do with attention and focus, too. If my focus is on one thing, rather than several, I do that one thing better, and overall, I’m more productive – and what I produce is better. So, everyone wins.

My current slots are tightly packed, so if I need to do something else, to fit another ‘thing’ in, I’d need to think carefully. The routine is up for review whenever necessary – it works at the moment, but if it gets thrown out of kilter by circumstances foreseen or otherwise, I’m stretched, and I need to tweak it. Yes, sometimes it means sacrificing my writing time. Sometimes things need cancelling or changing so I can collapse for a bit. But because it’s the exception rather than the rule I can still maintain it in the long run.

For now.

What about you? 
Do you draw lines in your weekly life? 
How might doing so make you more productive? 


Lucy Mills

Lucy's first book, Forgetful Heart: remembering God in a distracted world, was published in 2014 by Darton, Longman and Todd (DLT). She's written articles, poetry and prayers for various publications and is an editor at magnet magazine.

Lucy on Twitter: @lucymills
Lucy's Facebook page

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  1. Great post Lucy. I am sure this will resonate with most writers. It can be a fraught matter trying to shoehorn everything in

  2. My boss at school draws all my lines for me and I get what's left over! But it does make things quite straightforward. In the summer holidays, faced with free time, and lots of choices, I go to pieces with the responsibility of it all.

  3. Yep, my directors keep insisting that I turn up five days a week which is irritating. I do find though that if I know I only have a couple of hours I can do more than if I have a whole weekend to myself

    1. Yes, I'm speaking as a freelancer, of course!

  4. Interesting post - thanks for the insight into your life. Yes us freelance writers/editor have to be sensible, productive, realistic and, at times, that seems like it could ruin the creativity in the process but, in actual fact, as you say, it can help us to stay focused and allow us to produce some of our best work. Thanks for this timely reminder. I'm at the point that I'm trying to be more flexible with my time - and allow those 'God moments' with people from our congregation to happen when He brings them (before I simply stated that the time my kids are at school is my work time - non-negotiable. But that just caused stress and pressure on the other parts of my days and evenings so I'm learning to chill out and not be so rigid.) It's okay when there aren't so many deadlines - a lot harder when they are looming! ;)

  5. I do three days a week writing for Through the Roof and, in theory, two days at home freelance writing. but at present my freelance days (and commensurate income!) are swallowed up in caring for elderly relatives. But I know this is only a season, and when they are no longer with us I will value the time I spent with them more than the money I might have earned in that time!


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