Q: What are the best techniques for time management (especially with children at home, distractions, and so many other things that get in the way)?
A: (Rebecca Matter) It’s all about being prepared … I never leave my desk without knowing what I’ll be working on when I return.
It sounds very old school, but every day I take out a blank Post-It® note and write down three to five things I plan to accomplish the next day. I limit it to five because that’s what I know for sure I can typically accomplish.
If I finish early and have more time, I go back to my master to-do list and knock out a few extra items. But when I first sit down, I only focus on the Post-It® note. I don’t look at my master list, check email or Facebook, shop online, or do anything else that might cloud my focus or become a distraction.
That said, there are scores of apps and systems for managing your time (according to Google there are 45 million pages dedicated to improving productivity). Some writers figure out what time of day they’re most effective and guard that time from all other obligations they have. Others sneak work in wherever they can fit it — on the laptop at soccer practice or via tablet in the lull after dinner.
The most important thing you can do is to set a goal and then make concrete, achievable tasks that move you closer to that goal every day. Second, tell the people in your life what you’re doing so they’ll know your writing time is important to you and that you shouldn’t be interrupted. Third, cut out all unnecessary activity — e.g., do you really need to watch that new reality show that debuts this week?
And finally, even when you’re not working, practice self-affirmation by repeating your goals and stating what you hope to accomplish. That way, in those small stretches when you can sit down to write, you’ll find it easier to make the most of every minute you have.