Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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March 11, 2020

10 Common Time Management Mistakes Writers Should Avoid

Colleen M. Story

Image by Free_Photos from Pixabay

Let’s face it: time management is a must for writers today.

Not only must we find a way to fit writing into our lives, but we also have to figure out how to market our books and build our platforms. All told, writing is like a second job, which means we have to be smart about managing our time.

If you’re still struggling with this part of your writing life, check out the following list. It could be that you’re making some of these mistakes that can be easily corrected.

1. Putting Your Writing Last

It may make sense to write after everything else is done, particularly if you’re still not sure where writing fits in your life, or if you wonder whether your work is “good enough” to warrant a significant investment.

I thought like this early on in my writing career, but then I realized something: as long as I kept putting writing last in my life, I was never going to have a real shot at making my writing dreams come true.

It’s only when you decide that writing is a priority that you put yourself in a position to make amazing things happen.

2. Saying “Yes” to Everything

Are you trying to be superman or superwoman and do everything under the sun plus your writing? It’s understandable, but it rarely works.

If you’re serious about experiencing success as a writer, you have to get serious about carving out time for it, and that means saying “no” more often. If you struggle to determine which projects to say “no” to, try these tips:

  • Listen to your gut. If you feel something negative in response to the activity, don’t hesitate to say “no.” If you’re about to say “yes” out of guilt or obligation, that’s the wrong reason—say “no” instead.
  • Make the choice that’s right for you.Though we all want to be good friends and neighbors, it doesn’t help anyone if you’re going to resent having said “yes.” Make sure you’ll be happy with your decision no matter what the outcome.
  • Gauge your excitement. If the idea of the activity excites you, say "yes." But if you groan at the thought of it, say "no."
  • Avoid people-pleasing. Ask yourself if you’re saying “yes” because you’re worried about what others will think of you. If so, re-evaluate your answer.

3. Failing to Give Some Things Up

Personally, my writing career didn’t go anywhere until I decided to give some things up. Before I got my first publishing contract, I had written several novel-length manuscripts without success. Finally, I realized my dreams were going to require more than I was giving them.

Big dreams require big sacrifices. If yours hasn’t come true yet, it’s time for some self-reflection. Maybe you haven’t given enough?

I looked at my schedule and realized that besides work, the activity taking up the most time in my life was music. I was a musician before I was a writer, so the idea of giving it up, even temporarily, was nearly unthinkable. But there was no other way to make the necessary room in my schedule.

I bowed out of all the music groups I was in and, for about five years, focused all that time on my writing. It worked. I got the publishing contract I wanted, and then another after that, and my career moved forward.

Fortunately, I'm now back in those music groups and enjoying both writing and music for a more fulfilled creative life than ever before. Giving something up doesn't mean giving it up for good, but often it's required if you want to make progress on your writing career.

4. Allowing Distractions

Image by Zwiebackesser from DepositPhotos

As you know, distractions are a big deal these days. We all have information coming at us from all directions, and it’s easy to lose focus on writing because of emails, text messages, and social media feeds.

Thinking you are the exception to the rule is a mistake. Every time you're interrupted, it can take you up to 23 minutes to get back on task. Your writing time is precious, so when you sit down to work on your story, make sure you will not be distracted.

That means the following:

  • Putting the cell phone in another room. (Studies show it is still distracting if it’s sitting next to you, even if it’s turned off.)
  • Turning off the Internet.
  • Shutting off your email program.
  • Going somewhere you will not be disturbed.

5. Multitasking

You may have heard that multitasking is impossible. If you try to write and watch television at the same time, for example, or write and babysit a young child (when he or she is not sleeping), or write while doing anything else, you force your brain to constantly switch back and forth between one activity and another, which means you’ll be less productive on both.

Studies show that productivity suffers most when people try to multitask. Shut everything off and focus on writing for 30 minutes, and you’ll get much more done than if you try to write and do something else for 60 minutes.

6. Starting Your Day Late

This doesn't mean you have to get up earlier, as many productivity posts suggest. The point is to get up when it works best for you, without allowing yourself to start "late."

I’m a night owl, for example, so I get up later and go to bed later than most other folks. But if I get up “late”—meaning, late for me—my whole day goes out of whack, and often, I have to forgo my writing time.

What’s getting up late for you? The best option for your writing and your health is to get up and go to bed at the same time every day, even on weekends, most of the time. That way you have much better odds of sticking with your schedule.

7. Avoiding Self-Care

Image by stokkete from DepositPhotos

Speaking of sleep, it’s extremely important to time management. If you’re tired, your productivity will slow down dramatically.

The same goes if you’re filling your body with junk food or failing to exercise every day. Exercise and healthy food give you energy, and you need energy to be productive, especially when you’re working toward your writing dreams day after day after day.

Put self-care first, always.

8. Being a Perfectionist

Studies have shown that perfectionists are less productive than people who aren’t perfectionists. If everything has to be perfect, it will take you twice as long to get everything done.

If you're a perfectionist (and you know who you are!), you must prioritize. Which projects truly need your perfectionist talents, and which don't? It's likely that at least 75 percent of the projects you do every day you could put in the "don't-need-to-be-perfect" category.

For these projects, promise yourself to do them “good enough” and then let them go. Focus your higher-level efforts on no more than three projects a day that are most important.

9. Not Setting Time Limits

This one is a big one, but it requires some strong self-discipline on your part. Research reveals that the time it takes to complete a task will fill up the time we give ourselves to complete it.

In other words, if you give yourself an hour to write 1,000 words, it will probably take you an hour. If one day, however, you have a doctor's appointment and you have to get done in 45 minutes, it will probably take you 45 minutes to write the same 1,000 words.

Take whatever task you have in front of you and set a time limit—and give yourself less time than you think you will need. It serves to focus your mind and encourages greater productivity.

10. Failing to Keep Your Vision in Mind

When you’re working away on a day-to-day basis, it can be easy to lose sight of the vision you have for yourself and your writing career. When that happens, all you can see is what's directly in front of you, which can begin to seem only like work and more work.

Writing is a long-term gig, which is why many people give up prematurely. To prevent that from happening to you, regularly remind yourself of where you want to go with your writing career.

Where do you want to be in five years? Three years? One year? Keep these goals somewhere visible so they stay present in your mind. This can help you remember what you’re doing all that work for, and help motivate you to keep going!

Note: For guidance on how to finish the creative projects you start—including the 5 things you must have to complete your book—get Colleen’s FREE mini-course here!

Which of these time management mistakes have you struggled with? Or how have you overcome one of these time management mistakes?

Colleen M. Story inspires writers to overcome modern-day challenges and find creative fulfillment in their work. Her latest release, Writer Get Noticed!, was the gold-medal winner in the Reader’s Favorite Book Awards (Writing/Publishing 2019). Overwhelmed Writer Rescue was named Book by Book Publicity’s Best Writing/Publishing Book in 2018, and her novel, Loreena’s Gift, was a Foreword Reviews' INDIES Book of the Year Awards winner, among others. Find more at these sites:

Writing and Wellness | Writer CEO | Teachable | Author Website | Twitter

16 comments on “10 Common Time Management Mistakes Writers Should Avoid”

  1. In my opinion, every post Colleen Story writes is worth reading. Today's tips are excellent. As for tip #3, I listened to an interview recently with Huey Lewis (of Huey Lewis and the News musical fame) and when he was asked what was the biggest thing that contributed to his success, he said, "It has to be the only thing you want to do." It other words, it should be your focus, and everything you do should feed it. Thanks for the post today, Colleen!

    1. Thanks so much, Karen! :O) Yes, I've heard variations of Huey's thought a lot--some say to say "no" much more often. We can give things up for just a short while--doesn't have to be forever--and it can make a big difference.

    1. I'm with you on #1 Jenny. I did that initially when I was working for a corporation and got burned out pretty fast. So I started going in early to write! (Quiet, no one else there, lights off.) Helped improve my mood throughout the day a lot, and kept my priorities straight. I left 3 years later and went freelance. I have to push myself but putting writing first always works. :O)

  2. No. 5 is a time suck for me. It seems one thing leads to another and before long I'm off on some tangent. I mean website time vs emails vs writing vs social crap. I really have to dedicate time for each one and practically on separate days.

    1. So easy to fall into that trap, Jeanne! The Internet black hole... Yes, separating those tasks into different times definitely helps me. :O)

  3. #2, #4, and #7 have been the worst for me the last few years. I'm afraid I haven't been in control of my own life. I've spent a lot of time dealing with the needs of others and my writing has suffered for it. Had it not been for the support and encouragement of some of my fellow writers, I never would have made it through my latest book.

    1. Congrats on making it through the book regardless, Eldred! That's definitely an accomplishment. Good luck on taking better care of yourself in the future. :O)

  4. #1 is my biggest struggle. I feel like if I could just figure out how to put me and my wants first I'd get somewhere. But honestly, I also have terrible work hours. Long days, no breaks, and physcially exhausting. There's nothing "extra" for me to give up unless I give up a paying job. (I have more than one because I need them both) Not that I'm great at any of the others, but without #1, and with such limited time, I feel like I will always struggle. I'm realizing my solution may end up being to change jobs somehow. I need one that doesn't take so much from me but can still pay the bills. That being said, the rest of these are great for when I DO get some time. Thank you!

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