Time Zones

Time Zones – Writing Magazine – November 2021

Will the clocks going back an hour disrupt your writing schedule? Simon Whaley suggests this is the perfect time to review your time management.

On Sunday 31st October, something magical happens. British Summer Time ends and the clocks go back. We all get an extra hour of time. So, what will you do with yours?

Most of us would love more time to write, but waking up at 2 am on 31st October is not what most of us have in mind. And, while an extra hour is useful, there’s only so much we can do with it. To become more productive writers, we need to rethink how we classify our time.

When it comes to the business of writing, we don’t simply need time to write. There’s other business that needs sorting, such as research, recording submissions, promoting ourselves on social media, pitching article ideas to editors, and so on.

That’s still writing work, but it’s not writing. As creative people, we only produce something when we sit down to write. Therefore, our writing time is the most important time in our writing business. Can you quantify how much of your writing time your research and admin take up? 

Managers vs Makers

In 2009, programmer and writer Paul Graham wrote an online essay (http://www.paulgraham.com/makersschedule.html) about the Makers Schedule. He explained how managers are more efficient when they schedule lots of meetings throughout the day to manage people and fire-fight problems. Whereas staff who are creative are most efficient when they can work uninterrupted for long periods of time.

The problem for these creative makers is when a manager comes along and schedules a meeting right in the middle of their creative time.

If a manager schedules a one-hour meeting with creative staff at ten o’clock one morning, their productivity will diminish considerably. When those creative staff begin work at nine, there’s not much time to get into the creative zone before the meeting. Once the meeting is over, it’s soon lunchtime. Creatively, that ten o’clock meeting has ruined the entire morning.

Whereas, if the manager schedules a one-hour meeting at four o’clock, it allows creative staff to remain productively focussed for most of the day.

The same goes for our writing. If we can schedule appointments and other jobs towards the start or the end of the day, we’re more likely to retain a longer period of Maker Time, in which to be creative.

Writers are Makers

As writers, we’re Makers. We make articles, short stories, books, poems, and more. It’s only when we’ve made something that we have some writing available for publishing. 

Anthony Trollope famously wrote his earliest novels while travelling on long train journeys. This was successful because he could focus on his writing for substantial periods of time without being interrupted. His train journeys were his Maker Time.

However, we can’t exist on Maker Time alone. Even though we’re creatives, we still need Manager Time for the administrative side of our writing business.

Manager Time can be deceptive because it makes us feel busy without being productive. Every year, I gather my financial paperwork for my accountant. This is an important part of my writing business, but it is not creative time (I leave the creative accounting to my accountant!). Although I am working, I am not producing new content. Let’s be blunt. New content generates an income for me, sorting out my financial paperwork doesn’t.

So, if we split our writing time between Manager Time and Maker Time, we can improve our productivity, because it helps us focus on the task at hand.

It also encourages the more effective use of any bonus time that becomes available.

If I suddenly find I have two hours free one morning, I immediately declare that as Maker Time. Two hours is a good period in which to sit down and be creative. It’s perfect for hammering out those dreadful first drafts.

Whereas, if I suddenly find I have twenty minutes free one afternoon, that’s not long enough for me to get into something creative. Instead, I designate it as Manager Time. A twenty-minute time slot is ideal for sending emails, updating my website, filing some paperwork, or undertaking some research.

Time Audit

Before classifying any writing opportunities as Manager Time or Maker Time, first, we need to identify the time opportunities available within our week. A time audit is perfect for this.

To do this, we can either:

  • use a page-a-day diary, and write down everything we do with our time, either side of any appointments we have. Or,
  • create a simple table on a sheet of paper, listing the hours we’re awake down the left-hand side of the page and then split the table into four columns, one for each 15-minute block per hour (01-15, 16-30, 31-45 and 46-00). If your usual waking hours are between seven in the morning and eleven at night, you will need sixteen rows.

This is most effective when carried out over a couple of weeks. Weekends may differ from weekdays, but it all depends on your circumstances, your family commitments, and working patterns.

Time audits are not one-off exercises, either. With the nights drawing in, our living patterns sometimes change at this time of year. Darker evenings encourage us to stay in more, so we may find there are more writing opportunities as winter draws on.

In each 15-minute time block, simply summarise how you’ve spent that time. Bullet-point key activities to paint an accurate picture of your day. 

There’s no need to stop every 15 minutes to fill it in. Instead, take a few minutes every couple of hours to jot down the activities undertaken during those time periods.

Most time is simple to block out: travel to work, work, taking the children to school, food shopping, health appointments, etc. 

However, what this can reveal are those 15-minute blocks when we don’t seem to do much. Did we pick up our phone to send a quick text message, only then to find ten minutes had passed because something had sidetracked us with emails or social media? 

At the end of the time audit monitoring period, go through and highlight any less productive blocks of time. Can these become potential writing opportunities? Is it possible to reschedule parts of the day to link two or three 15-minute time blocks together to create a more substantial writing block?

Maker Time is more effective the longer it is. We’re more likely to produce some creative work in one 45-minute time block than in three 15-minute blocks. So we can improve our productivity if we move commitments around to create one 45-minute Maker Time block, rather than having three 15-minute Manager Time blocks.

Time Blocking

Once identified, add these potential writing time blocks to the calendar. Make an appointment with yourself. This sends a huge psychological signal that what we’ve scheduled in our diary is important to us.

It’s also easier to turn down someone’s request for our time if we can say we’ve already something in the diary. (We don’t need to tell them what!)

However, don’t block out the time as writing time. Take it one step further: label it as Maker or Manager Time. Use different colours to help visualise the proportion of Maker Time and Manager Time during the week. 

Seeing where the Maker and Manager time slots are helps determine what we’re going to work on when we sit down at that allotted time.

If I’ve got a 30-minute Manager Time slot one afternoon, followed by a two-hour Maker Time slot the following morning, I’ll spend the Manager Time undertaking the research I need for the following morning’s Maker Time session. 

By having all the research to hand, I can spend the whole two hours being creative. Whereas, if I’d sat down at my desk for that two-hour slot having done no research, there’s a greater risk of spending more time researching (and getting side-tracked), leaving less time to be creative.

Allocating the research to the 30-minute slot the previous day keeps me focussed on getting the research done that I really need because I only have thirty minutes in which to do it. 

Shorter periods of Manager Time encourage more efficient use of that time too. I use Manager Time for pitching new ideas to editors. If I pitch during Maker Time, I often overthink my ideas. Whereas producing pitches during my shorter Manager Time slots keeps them succinct. I write my pitch, send it, and move onto the next job.

Over time, this has another benefit. By becoming more efficient with the administrative actions, we free up more Manager Time. Then, depending on where this is on our calendar, we may be able to move things around and convert that Manager Time into Maker Time. 

Time-blocking is an effective time management technique but used with the Manager and Maker Time practice it’s possible to focus further on what we want to achieve with our writing.

Giving ourselves more time in which to write is the best way of becoming writers who produce a lot of material. And the more material we have, the more there is available to publish.

So waste no more of your precious writing time. Make the most of the end of British Summer Time and spend your extra hour categorising your current writing time into Maker or Manager slots. We can’t make more time, but we can always make more Maker Time.

Business Directory – Time Management Top Tips

  1. Batch common tasks. Use your Manager Time slots to focus on one type of task. Sit down and process your emails. Schedule your future social media posts. Submit your pitches to editors.
  2. Turn off distractions. During Maker Time, switch off any potential distractions (notifications, emails, smartphones). Concentrate on your writing.
  3. Take time to manage your time. Planning your workload takes time, but it’s worth it. Spend fifteen minutes at the end of each day planning the following day’s work, and you’ll reap the benefits.