Ah, time management—that elusive thing we attempt to harness but somehow it eludes us. Like a butterfly refusing to be caught in the net, time escapes from us at a rapid rate. When we do finally take a breath and glance at the clock, we think, “Where did all the time go? How can the day be almost over when I haven’t gotten much done?”
I’ve said these things plenty of times. And I’ve beaten myself up and sworn I would never get on social media first thing in the morning again. And guess what? Some days, I still do. But I’m getting better.
Below are some tips to let time work FOR you, rather than against you.
1. Determine your “Best Self” time.
Figure out when your brain is at its most alert, least stressed and ready to work. For some people, it’s first thing in the morning before the day’s chaos pushes its way into our minds. For others, it’s late at night when everyone else has gone to sleep.
Determine your best time and then GUARD it with everything you have. If you’re more refreshed in the morning, get up an hour earlier to tackle your goals. If you’re a night owl, let the kids listen to a children’s story audiobook an hour before their bedtime, and then use that hour to get a jumpstart on your plans.
Do the essential chores during a time when you are not at your mental peak. Laundry, dishes, cooking, etc. actually allows your creative brain to think, which helps you when you do sit down at your most productive time.
2. Postpone Social Media.
For your prime creative time, stay off social media. I know, this one is a struggle. It’s so easy to just grab that morning cup of Java and click the button to check email, read through some funnies on Facebook, check Twitter, etc.
Here’s the thing I’ve learned, though. Doing what seems like a relaxing task actually isn’t relaxing. The information (even the cute kitten photos on Facebook) gets into your brain and leaves less room for your most creative self to flourish.
There’s a fantastic book I’m reading called Your Brain at Work by David Rock. One thing he mentions is that the creative space in our brain, the prefrontal cortex, fills up quickly. He compares the amount of brainpower able to handle creativity to a performance stage. Once you have the social media, the worries of the day, the thoughts about what to fix for breakfast, etc. creeping onto the stage, then there is less room for your book, painting, or other endeavor.
We need to remember that the stage is a finite space, and we must choose who has the right to be onstage at any given moment. The author, David Rock, gives great recommendations on how we must manage our “stage” every day in order to be most efficient.
So remember: Social media is a great outlet, but only AFTER you finish your creative tasks.
3. Keep a Notebook for Distractive Thoughts.
Our brains know how to distract us, to keep us from achieving our goals. We must manage our thoughts to be able to be our most effective. Keeping a notebook handy is ideal for this.
Whenever I sit down to continue writing one of my books, the inevitable happens: I get ideas for other books. This is a common procrastination technique, but I’ve learned how to tackle it and keep working. By keeping a notebook nearby, I jot down the idea that won’t let go, and then I immediately get back to work.
Jotting down the distractive idea does two things. First, it gets the pesky thought out of our heads and onto paper so we can continue working. Second, it gets the thought off our “stage” so we are free to choose what other work to put on our stage as we move toward our goal (be it painting, writing, photography, etc.)
4. Use the Pomodoro Technique.
I love how popular this technique, and the phone apps for it, has become. Years ago, the most prolific writers recommended using an egg timer to time several writing sessions of 20-40 minutes. The Pomodoro has taken this a step further.
So, what’s the Pomodoro Technique?
It’s basically a timer that allows you to work in short increments, taking a break between sessions. Our brains are able to focus and work more productively because we know the task time limit will be short.
- First, set the Pomodoro timer for 25 minutes.
- Work exclusively on your task until the timer rings.
- Take a 5-minute break and stretch.
- Set the Pomodoro for another 25 minutes, followed by another 5-minute break.
- After 4 Pomodoro sessions (2 hours), take a longer break for 20-30 minutes.
- Repeat as desired.
You can download apps for the Pomodoro online or for your phone. I use Clockwork Tomato for Android, which is a free app. Browse the Google Play store here.
Using these 4 strategies for time management will help you stay focused and get more creative tasks done. Building a habit takes 30 days, and practicing these techniques will help you form good habits for time management.
Soon, you’ll be able to hold that elusive butterfly of time management in your hand. And the world will thank you for the creative gifts you have to offer!
Elaine Calloway is an Amazon bestselling author of paranormal fiction/ghost stories and a speaker on self-publishing and how to become a successful author. She has several online courses available for authors: The Writer’s Bootcamp – Your Complete Guide to Writing Your Book in 30 Days, and Marketing for Authors / How to Gain More Readers. When she’s not teaching self-publishing, writing or sleeping, she enjoys hanging out with friends and family and her very spoiled black-lab mix. Connect with her online at www.howtoselfpublishyournovel.com or www.elainecalloway.com.