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.
What about you?
Do you draw lines in your weekly life?
How might doing so make you more productive?
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. www.lucy-mills.com
- Resurrection Day (March 2016)
- Words in the Darkness (February 2016)
- Memories of a (Washing) Machine (January 2016)
- The God of every place (December 2015)
- A way with words (November 2015)
- Know yourself (October 2015)
- When a writer walks down a wall (September 2015)
- The power of the backstory (August 2015)
- The long way round (July 2015)
- Taming the tentacles (June 2015)
- Tracing the journey (May 2015)
- Why a bit of polish matters (April 2015)