Tell your schedule who’s boss - Strategies for achieving creative goals amidst your busy life
This is the first blog in a 4-part series on Strategies for Creatives amidst a busy life
So you've resolved to get more creative in 2019. #Applause!
Besides losing that extra ten pounds, quitting a potentially life-threatening habit and “disconnecting from social media,” you’ve hit on one of the Top 5 resolutions for people (according to the Telegraph).
As an independent writer, my career depends on self-discipline; resolving to act, not just talk about goals or writing projects (something a lot of writers or creative people fall into the habit of).
Three of my goals for this year include:
- writing Book 3 in my YA series
- taking time to learn and hopefully move toward becoming conversant in Dutch (not only so I can speak my wife’s mother tongue but, more importantly, so my wife and I can talk in public without people knowing what we’re saying. Set noble goals, people!)
- make major writing headway on at least one series concept (think Gladiator meets Sherlock Holmes)
Without a plan, this won’t happen. Or it won’t happen efficiently. But let’s be real. Without a plan it likely won’t happen at all. The book won’t write itself.
By sharing these goals here it also forces a level of accountability. I’ll have some explaining to do if I make no progress!
You don’t get abs without doing sit ups. And you don’t do sit ups without having a space (in your unfinished basement or at the gym) to stretch out and start a crunch. And you won’t do any crunches if you don’t plan in advance to do a workout. Because, as we all know, someone turns on the TV, or you eat a quick meal, or you get an unexpected phone call and the abstract plan to do 200 crunches today floats out the window.
Same thing with your goal to write that chapter, learn the mandolin, or master the ancient art of origami.
The first key to get creative in the midst of your busy life is to tell your schedule who’s boss. So here are a few “thank you Captain obvious tips” that will make your good intentions actual reality:
1. Plan ahead
Open your calendar on your phone or go old-school and lay a print version on the table. Look for gaps in your schedule and earmark times where giving attention to your talent is possible. There are some! You know when your day-to-day “must-do” events are (work, meetings, dropping kids off at Point A and Point B).
2. Lock in your “creative” time in advance
Are there any patterns in your schedule that repeat? Example: Is there an evening every week where you have free time? If so, block it off and book it for your creative endeavour. Now here’s the crucial part: Start telling people you’re not available at that time.
Don’t let others become the boss of your schedule. If you have friends or family who are “spur of the moment” types, this time you set aside can always be hijacked. So let people know you aren’t available. I used to tell people during a season when I could only write on Thursday nights this: “Don’t knock on my door or give me a call on Thursdays unless the house is burning down or you can’t find anyone else to take you to the hospital for your hypothetical emergency” (rough quote).
Let people know you're not free those times to practice putting a clear boundary in place and then protect that boundary.
3. Adjust and repeat
You don’t have to be superstitious about the time. There’s nothing magical about that time (unless you’re actually visited by faeries, or unicorns, or faeries riding unicorns at that time and that time only). The most important thing is that you schedule it in and stick to the schedule. If your calendar shifts or something unexpected happens, no big deal. It’s only a big deal if you pull it from your schedule and don’t put it back in.
When I create space in my schedule to actually attend to goals I’ve identified something crazy happens: I achieve my goal. Sometimes in that set-aside time I am a creative virtuoso: prolific, imaginative, unstoppable. Sometimes I’m molasses, slowly being frozen and moving backwards in time, i.e., not very effective.
However, the habit of showing up and doing, practicing, putting your money where your moving mouth is really does matter.
Sample of my own schedule.
Here’s a snapshot of how I'm blocking off time on Wednesdays this year:
5:20 am - Work out
6:30 am - Devotion
7:30 am - Walk / Reflection / Passion project
8:30 am - 9:30 am - Year-long writing project
9:30 am - 11 am - Major Project 1
11 am - 12 pm - Social media
1 pm - 3 pm - Major Project 2
3 pm - 4:30 pm - Web-based projects
4:30 pm -7:30 pm - End of work day stuff
7:45 pm + - Family Time / Refresh / etc
The rest of the week is similar in time blocks, with a project I'm not in a hurry to finish and time allotted for major projects I want to get done more quickly, while every day I also have time set aside for contract work for clients.
I’m not a Pharisee, as in, I’m not legalistic about it. But having these blocks in place keeps me on track. The boundary of a time frame also is a kind of grace too: it means I can stop the activity at a specific time and move on to something else.
My life may not be the norm, since my work is in the creative space already. But before you say, "thanks bro, but I can't fit in creative time with a 9-5 office job," notice that there's lots of time aimed at creative output outside of the 9-5 (or the 8:30 - 4:30 in this case). For me, there's room every day to pursue a passion project (in the early morning or at nights) -- close to 2 hours minimum on Wednesday alone if I want it.
Of course this means getting up early and going to bed early so I can pull it off. It's a slap in the face at first to get into the discipline, but once acclimatized to the schedule stream, it's great!
Great resources that have helped me manage my creative time:
I’m no time management guru. I’m not trying to be. But I get asked sometimes how I get work done so I hope this series helps. Here are some resources that have helped and informed me by people with much more expertise than I:
Tim Ferris’ The 4-hour Work Week — a great go-to for methodology and overview of building efficiencies into your workflow
The Writing Workshop by Alan Ziegler — a helpful book to trigger creativity when you actually sit down to do creative work. I don’t use this so much in my own writing practice as I do for leading workshops on writing to model exercises that can propel people into the practice of writing who want to jolt their life into creative output.