November 10th, 2021

Time Management for Writers Who Hate Time Management

by Julie Glover

Have you tried using planners? Time management apps? Color-coded spreadsheets with goals and deadlines? And yet nothing seems to work?

Welcome to my club!

In case you’re a bit like me, let’s talk about time management for writers who hate time management.

First, what doesn’t work.

The System of Someone Who’s Not Like You.

Some writers seem to get 80 hours of work done in a precisely timed 40-hour work schedule while I can’t seem to remember it’s Tuesday. The personalities of those people and me are so vastly different that trying to adapt their system just isn’t going to work.

Someone else might draft a novel in two weeks, but I need eight weeks to turn out something I’m proud of. Someone else might write well on the subway or in a coffee house, while I need complete quiet or Bach playing through my headphones. Someone else might divide out their day in 15-minute chunks, while I lose track of hours when I’m writing.

If you want to try someone else’s time management method, make sure they’re a bit like you. How do view time? How long do you need to complete tasks? What helps you and what distracts you?

The Right Time Management Tool.

Have you been on the quest for that one planner, that one course, that one inspirational system that will make everything fall into place? Yeah, that’s not out there.

I’m not saying I’ve tried them all. But most time management tools are created for people who thrive with time management. For people who aren’t great at tracking time, you will probably have to adapt whatever tool you use to your particular way of working.

I finally found my own groove with more flexible planners like a bullet journal or the weekly planners at Erin Condren. (Thanks to my critique partner for getting me hooked on those!)

But your best tool might be something else entirely, yet adapted to your own workflow.

Carrots and Sticks.

Theoretically, reward and punishment should work to motivate better time management.

But those of us with an innately amorphous sense of time often find that no reward or punishment can overcome the sense of dread we feel at being nailed down to a schedule. Tell me I have to have something done by Friday, and I’m good to go! Tell me that I must work on that Friday project from 3:30 to 4:45 on Thursday, and my stomach hardens, my muscles feel heavy, and my interest wanes. Dangling or denying me a cookie doesn’t increase my desire to complete the task.

If there’s any carrot or stick, it must be for the project itself—not the specific, scheduled steps required to meet that goal.

Now, what does work.

Before I start these points, let me confess that I don’t know what will work for you. It’s a lot of trial-and-error for those of us who struggle with time management. But I am convinced that you can figure it out. Here’s what helped me and others I know.

Listening to Your Own Rhythms.

How do you work best to complete your projects? Is it by writing for three straight weeks and then taking a long break? Writing when the mood strikes and following that through until you’re spent? Writing in early morning or late-night chunks of time?

Pay attention to when you work best and then plan your schedule to that rhythm. Don’t worry if it would sound ludicrous to someone else. When you study the writing processes of various writers, you discover that a variety of time approaches work. What matters is not how you finish the book, just that you do.

Planning by Projects, Not Processes.

While writing with my co-author, we’ve had exactly one big disagreement. She is a time management guru, who not only lists the books she’s working on but plans out each step of drafting, editing, copyediting, proofreading, etc. (Good heavens, I’m exhausted just thinking about it!) Meanwhile, I just know when the book’s supposed to release. Every “deadline” in between now and then feels like a “guideline” to me.

However, we didn’t understand how the other worked when we started. Thus, I missed a “deadline” (read “guideline”), which made her anxious. Her anxiety made me anxious. And anyway…it devolved until we cleared the air, hugged like the besties we are, figured out a plan, and returned to writing excellent novels.

The point is that time management gurus like her plan both projects and processes. That’s way too much info for me to juggle. If you’re like me, you know what needs to happen from Nothing to Release Book, and you don’t want to write it down. It’s overwhelming! If you think about it too much, you’ll stop writing altogether.

No worries. Just track the projects and your next step in the project you’re currently working on. Step by step, you’ll get there.

Rearranging the Schedule (According to Your Muse).

What I write down on my calendar doesn’t have to happen exactly that way. I felt so much freedom and relief when I gave myself permission to rearrange the schedule when my writing did or didn’t cooperate.

For instance, some of my best writing has happened long after I should be in bed. But if I felt like the story and words were coming well, I didn’t stick to the schedule—I wrote well past midnight. Likewise, if I sat in front of my manuscript and nothing came, I learned to walk away.

This actually is a tried-and-true time management technique, but it’s a struggle for many who see that note jotted down on their calendar and internally demand that they check off that task on that certain date. As Elsa said, Let. It. Go.

For myself, writing in pencil helps this process, because if it really bothers me, I can erase rather than cross out a task. Then it’s like I never even planned to do it until it got done. And as long as it gets done, it’s a-okay.

* * *

Final Thoughts

I still don’t love schedules, but I’ve come to embrace mine a lot more—now that I’m tailoring it to how I work, rather than trying to tailor myself to it. Even as I type this, I have “write WITS post” in the planner in front of me. Mind you, that was jotted down for Monday and it’s currently Wednesday. But it’s okay, because I left myself some extra time, felt free to move the task to a different day when the first plan didn’t work out, and came back to the computer after dinner when I felt like I could write.

What I have stopped doing is trying to be like the amazing get-it-done time managers whose systems are precise, colorful, impressive, and just not for me.

I’d love to hear from y’all! Which time management system has worked for you? What have you learned as a writer trying to manage your time well?

* * * * * *

About Julie

Julie Glover is an award-winning author of mysteries and young adult fiction. She also writes supernatural suspense under the pen name Jules Lynn.

Her most recent release is My Team's Fairy Godmother, the fourth of five YA paranormal short stories coming out this year.

When not writing, she collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for good grammar and the addition of the interrobang as a much-needed punctuation mark.

Image credits: Jan Vašek and Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

17 responses to “Time Management for Writers Who Hate Time Management”

  1. cmbethell says:

    Thank you! Your post is like a breath of fresh air (cliche'). I too struggle with time management, breakout in a cold sweat over planners, feel failure when the writing doesn't flow or can't sit and write at the allotted time...

  2. Time management is crazy making! I am so glad you wrote this, Julie.

    I set little goals day by day. Planners stress me out. I need flexibility for creative thinking. I still make deadlines, but am more relaxed with little goals.

    • Julie Glover says:

      Great point! Actually I sometimes just take a sticky note, transfer today's goals onto that small space, and work from there. You know, when the rest of it feels overwhelming.

  3. deleyna says:

    Yes! This! I learned from my business coach that some of us see time as fluid while others see it as linear. Asking a fluid person to adhere to a rigid schedule causes stress! I was in a bad way when she suggested that I start adding unscheduled days to my week, days when there is no rigid schedule. That helped both my sanity and my productivity!

    Even my clients seem to have adjusted. There are days they can have a set appointment and days they can just fit in.

    My time management is handled with a loose checklist in Evernote and client scheduling using Calendly. Any day my alarm clock doesn't go off is a win!

    • Julie Glover says:

      Wow, that's awesome! And I really don't know a lot about the linear/fluid time difference. I will need to look that up!

      That may also explain why I can write scenes out of order, while my coauthor cannot—and doesn't want to see any scenes I wrote ahead until we reach that point. Lol.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Ooooo...what a great business coach. If I don't have an unscheduled day (or two) each week, I lose my mind. At the very least I start engaging in task-avoidance like playing games on my phone. lol

  4. Jenny Hansen says:

    I like the idea of planning by process. I am really really bad at estimating how long things take. I used to wig over big to-do lists where I only got a few things done. I'm learning to just make a weekly list (ON THE COMPUTER so I don't lose it, like I do every planner I try) and color code it. No more than 10 items. The important ones in bold, then I turn anything I've started into red so I know it's in process. If it's the most important thing, it stays bolded.

    That's about as complex as I can get. I do love Asana in the workplace though. Especially for creative work, it's pretty amazeballs.

  5. Barb DeLong says:

    Wonderful post! As much as I LOVE detailed planning and schedules with deadlines for every step in the writing process, I never made all my self-imposed deadlines. My planner was a mess of cross-offs. Instead, I created a one-page 2021 Major Writing Projects list with the date and/or month each is due. I didn't list any steps to completion, just the major accomplishment. I keep it posted on the wall beside my desk and cross off each completed item. Works for me.

    • juliegloverwrites says:

      Awesome! I also do a yearly major projects list, but not so much dates. It still helps to guide me in prioritization. Love hearing how other people find ways that work for them!

  6. Eldred Bird says:

    My time management skills are so bad I didn't even get around to reading this until late. I needed this.

  7. dholcomb1 says:

    I use a paper planner, but it's for my whole life, not just writing. I do have journals for each book to create a book bible, of sorts, for each work, so I can keep track of things within the story.

    denise

    • juliegloverwrites says:

      My planner is paper too. I've tried online and apps, and it's just not the same for me as writing it down.

  8. jamesr403 says:

    Excellent post, Julie! I would add that what works for you can change over time. When I was starting out I could write anywhere, anytime. The prof is 10 minutes late? Cool -- pull out the draft of the current story. Now, older, still working on wiser, I find that I need large chunks of time and more quiet. What worked in the past is no longer effective.
    Thanks again!

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