How A Day Job Can Make You A More Productive Writer
The more precious the commodity, the more we value it. The more abundant the commodity, the less we value it.
These are fundamental laws of economics and life. We crave things in short supply, and take for granted the abundant.
The same is true for the commodity of time, but unlike other commodities, we all have equal access to it, and the universe constrains us with a finite amount. We can’t buy more, reuse it or hoard it. We sometimes believe it exists in abundance, but that is an illusion.
When we’re awash in time, we tend to squander it. When time limits us, we exploit every available second.
How do you write when you have a day job?
Friends and family sometimes ask how I write so much even though I have a day job.
I sometimes wonder if I’d be productive without a day job.
I don’t like to admit it, but with free time galore, I would be tempted to waste it. My day job has forced me to find creative ways to exploit life’s most valuable resource.
If you love to do something, you find the time to do it. I woke up at 5:30 AM today and wrote for forty-five minutes. I wrote one-hundred words later this morning on my mobile while walking from my office to the coffee shop.
When time is precious, you exploit every second available to you.
If you struggle to find time to work on your passion, you are probably squandering it. Don’t blame it on your day job unless you work fourteen hour days.
With awareness and observation, you can find these nooks of time and reclaim them to do work important to you.
Multitasking is not the answer
I’m not suggesting you write while you create complex spreadsheet formulas. Multitasking hurts performance. There’s plenty of research to bear that out. There are switching costs of diving into a new task — the time it takes for your brain to adjust to a new activity. There’s a better approach.
Recover the time you spend on useless tasks, and repurpose that time for useful functions.
Grab a block and use every second of it.
Think in terms of blocks of time. Carve out, as best you can, a chunk that allows you to focus on your task. You cannot focus if you worry someone will interrupt you. Lock the door if possible. Find a place, quiet or not, where you can bury your head and work without the worry that someone might break your train of thought.
Look for a minimum block of fifteen minutes to accomplish your work. I find that a fifteen-minute block gives me a solid twelve minutes of quality output.
That may not seem ideal, but what else are you doing with that block of time? You may as well get some use out of it. Squeeze in two or three of those blocks a day and it adds up.
Where do you find the time?
Your sleep time is off limits. Everything else is fair game. Yes, I know. You have a job, kids, family and Netflix. Sorry, but you’re going to have to make some choices. You may have to give up fifteen minutes at the water cooler to work on an idea or give up a tv show to publish an essay.
You can’t add an extra hour to the day, but you can make better use of your allotment. You would be surprised at how much you squander when you don’t treat it as a treasured resource.
How you decide to spend your time determines your results. Make no mistake. You are already making these decisions. Each instance you open your phone and scroll through Facebook, you are doing it because you made a decision. I know. It doesn’t feel like an important choice, but try adding up a few hundred of these meaningless choices each day. They matter.
What’s your dead time?
Rather than check your feeds, stats, and news every six minutes, dedicate an unproductive part of your day to accomplish these tasks. I’m a morning person, so I use evenings (my dead time) to work on administrative responsibilities or engage in mindless entertainment.
Learn what time of day you do your best work. Ruthlessly exploit every available minute of it for productive activities. Dedicate non-productive hours for non-productive tasks and entertainment.
How to recover two hours per day
That number is an estimate, but if you record how much time you spend next to each of these activities, you will find it totals a significant number.
Give up television
Limit yourself to three hours of television per week. I often don’t even do that much. Use it for entertainment purposes. Avoid the news. Never flip through channels looking for something to watch.
Scrounge for loose change
You probably have a handful of fifteen minute chunks of time available to you. It’s tempting to use this time to surf the internet or browse social media. Instead, use that time to write an idea, research, or whatever is productive for you.
Need some inspiration? Here’s where you can find these precious wasted minutes.
Your lunch break at work — I get it. You like to eat lunch with your buddies or browse the internet. It’s all about choices. Decide what’s most important to you and don’t look back.
Your commute — If you take a train, do some work. If you drive, listen to an audiobook or talk to yourself and record your words.
While the kids ready themselves for bed — This won’t be possible if they require supervision, but it might be an opportunity for you if the situation fits.
Coffee breaks — It doesn’t have to be coffee. Maybe you’re a tea drinker or wheat grass junkie. Use that fifteen minutes to do something productive. Give yourself a goal and stick to it.
In between meetings — Your meeting ends early. What do you do? It’s tempting to hang out at the water cooler or check your phone for notifications. Instead, find yourself a quiet corner and do fifteen minutes of work. I sometimes type in my notes app while I walk the floor.
Take it a step further. Give up all your workplace social time and do something productive. I know the socialization is fun and sometimes needed, but if you complain about your lack of time, you need to scrape it up from every corner you can find it.
Think twice actions
Anytime you find yourself opening your phone, ask yourself what you intend to do. Give yourself a rule: whenever I open my phone, I must write twenty-five words. It will make you more judicious with your time. Try it for one day. You’ll feel the pain of the exercise, but it will make you more productive.