There’s only one thing more precious than our time and that’s who we spend it on.

— Leo Christopher

No one can live like a gerbil for too long, yet it’s easy to fall into the trap of cramming as much as possible into the limited hours of a day. Other people want attention, chores and work need doing, the commute, and social commitments all eat into the 86,400 seconds that come and go without much thought.  Where does personal time come into play? Sleep’s important, but it is the first thing sacrificed to extend the day, especially when the solution to a problem or obtaining a goal seems to be just a few minutes away.

As the quote above says, who we spend time on is as precious the seconds that pass through our hands. Who is more precious than oneself? If we don’t invest in our health and well-being the time we invest in other things isn’t going to matter. Feeling like we don’t have enough time for things is a major cause of stress.

We find time by making it. That doesn’t mean creating minutes out of thin air, but wisely investing in the ones we already have. Here’s a few things I am doing to build my portfolio.

Creating a time and place to concentrate

It is hard to think creatively when teaching a computer to think logically. I am getting better at finding the time, and inspiration, to write by delegating writing to my tablet and programming to my desktop. Editing breaks this division of responsibilities because of the multiple monitors, Word, and the files on my desktop. That can’t be helped.

I’m a packrat when it comes to anything related to my novels. Snippets, chapters, even whole versions are saved whenever possible. This anal-retentive style of conservation doesn’t waste words or the time put into them. Instead they are recycled when and where ever needed. Do You Believe In Legend? benefited from this. Two chapters that gave great insight into four characters, but didn’t fit into the context of where they were being used, made it back into the final version after a little tweaking.

The separation of writing from programming has an additional emotional benefit. When I am on my tablet, I’m isolated from distractions by the very nature of having only one screen. This keeps my emotions and the rest of me focused on my writing. It also lessens frustration, anxiety, and the other negative emotions that trigger writer’s block. Moving to the smaller, and different, platform also helps if the block has become a wall.

Managing technology overload

Turning off Skype, Email, Zoom, and my cell phone is hard. That’s how people communicate with me and I want to be responsive. Messenger is easier, I mute the irrelevant conversations from dinging with every comment. What I need to do, and have done in certain circumstances, is set time limits and times, if possible, when I do interact with communications technology, so it doesn’t bleed over into other things.

It’s all about the five W’s—when, where, what, who, and which. When is what I’m doing needed by? Conversely, when is a response to the communication needed? Where am I in my thought process or the project I”m working on? What am I doing? What is the communication about? Who is interrupting me? Answering these questions help determine which takes priority. Yes, the communication may be important, but it also may be just acknowledgement of what was previously said.

Not multi-tasking

I can multi-task with the best of them, but a scientific study shows that the human brain isn’t wired for that. Tried the Pomodoro technique, but  kept worrying about the clock too much, so I’ve come up with my own solution. One thing at a time, with my friend’s recommendation of a maximum of three priorities. I’ve increased that to five just so I can be more specific on what I’m doing. For example, a particular website.

Of course, there are going to be times, like when I’m writing either on my blog or in my stories, where I have multiple tabs open and am working through a thought that spans different pages, posts, or websites. For example, research on a historical event or a word to replace the one I’ve used a dozen times. Those types of branching out are fine because they are related to the central task. Maintaining that thought and finishing it before moving on to the next thing is what’s important.

Once I’m done with one thing, I close it down or move it to a secondary monitor where it waits for me. Completely closing down is obviously the better choice since I don’t think about it as much.

Setting aside the competition and comparisons

Society has created some unrealistic expectations of knowledge, speed, and competition. For example, they celebrate authors creating an insane amount of books a year while poo-pooing those who only do one every year or two.

As I said in Monday’s post, the finished product versus the time taken to create it is a matter of perception versus actuality. The person who is publishing at a slower pace may be doing it on their own with limited funds and time. On the other hand, the multiple book author has the finances, staff, and other support they need to dedicate their days to writing.

Then there is the cheaters who basically scrape information off the internet, compile it, and sell it as their creative work. Quantity and speed doesn’t always mean quality. Poor quality frustrates readers who have to wade through all the chaff to find the gems. This, in turn, hurts the writers who are trying to produce their best work before releasing it.

Scheduling when possible

Scheduling is like outlining to me. I’d rather go with the flow and let things happen than put myself in a box. There is also hackers, hardware failures, client access issues, and other fires that have to be put out immediately. Without a schedule, I lose hours and days.  Stuff gets done, but effectives is hard to judge.

Besides the unexpected things, geographic location impacts task scheduling. I live in Washington. Not as bad as Alaska with its cycle of twenty-four hour days and nights, but close. We get roughly 8 to 18 hours of daylight depending the season. Compare that with central California, which gets 9.5 to 14 hours. The deficit of 1.5 hours in the winter and surplus of 4 hours in the summer makes a great deal of difference, especially when everything is compressed into a short amount of daylight.

Right now, my schedule is still a work in progress. All I know is that work is between 9 and 3. Walking the dogs is between 3 and 5 in the winter.  In the summer, the work end time and walking start time get shifted to anywhere between 5 and 7. What I do in the evenings depends on my mood and what I need to get done. Bed is enough time to get 4 to 6 hours of sleep. I discovered that my REM cycle is about 90 minutes, so I have to do multiples of that number to feel fully refreshed.

Scheduling posts (I highly recommend the Editorial Calendar plugin, if you are using WordPress) is something that is helping keep consistent with this blog. What I did in the past is have great ideas and then leave them later. No wonder my draft pile got so big! By pre-planning and pre-loading, I’m not scrambling for something to write after a month or two of not posting. Right now, I’m on a Monday, Wednesday, and Friday release schedule with some special occasions like Legend‘s release on February 11th. Does that mean every post is set in stone? No. In fact, I blew up the schedule yesterday because the topics I had chosen for this week weren’t inspiring me.

So how do you invest in your time portfolio?  Leave your suggestions, experiences, and advice in the comments section.