Tag: Procrastination

How to Put More Time in Your Life, Part 1

Not a Moment to Waste

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Adapted from Answers to Satisfy the Soul: Clear, Straight Answers to 20 of Life’s Most Important Questions by Jim Denney

People say time is money. I say time is life.

When you pick up a paycheck, you are making a life-and-death transaction. You are trading a chunk of your life, your finite mortal existence, for a medium of exchange called “money.” Over the span of your lifetime, you will have only a certain number of heartbeats, a certain number of seconds, a certain number of years. When they’re gone, they’re gone.

Ever hear someone say, “I’m just killing time”? What are they really saying? “I’m killing myself.” Because time is all you have, and when it’s gone, you’re dead. When you kill time, you kill yourself, moment by moment, second by second, a little bit at a time.

“People with a keen sense of the preciousness of time are a valuable resource,” my friend Pat Williams once told me. “They are the leaders, the go-getters, the entrepreneurial spirits. They’re the people you can count on to get the job done. People who understand the value of one tick of the clock are the ones who make the world a better place.”

Pat, the co-founder of the Orlando Magic NBA franchise, offers this basketball analogy. “In our game,” he said, “time is everything. You’ve got four twelve-minute quarters to get the job done — forty-eight minutes to shoot more baskets than the other guy. As soon as the ball is inbounded, the shot clock starts ticking. You’ve got just twenty-four seconds to shoot, or the ball turns over. And you don’t have the luxury of taking a nice, leisurely shot. Usually, you’re double-teamed, and you’ve got to find some way to force the shot while that clock is ticking down. It’s not easy — but there’s no finer feeling in the world than beating the buzzer and making the pressure shot. It’s the same way in life.”

Time is irreplaceable, life is precious. We don’t have a moment to waste.

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The myth of “when I have more time”

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone say, “Someday, when I have more time . . .” I used to say that myself. Now I know better. I’m never going to have more time than I have right now.

People always think there’s a magical “someday” out there when they will be less busy, when there will be fewer responsibilities and demands on their time, when the pace of life will slow down to a leisurely crawl. But if you truly want to make your dreams come true, you can’t wait until “someday.” You have to do it now.

My friend Phil Brewer, a counselor and leadership trainer, told me about a trip he took to Europe in 1977. “I went to Switzerland and interviewed several writers and thinkers, including Paul Tournier, the great Swiss psychiatrist,” he told me. “And there is one statement Dr. Tournier made that had a profound impact on my life.

“He said, ‘People are always looking for the right time and the perfect place to write, to paint, to accomplish some goal. They say, “I have to be in the mountains, I have to be on the coast, everything must be just so.” But if you look at all the great achievements of history, you’ll see that they have largely been done in cold, cramped, unpicturesque conditions.’

“Those words hit me right between the eyes. It took me years to fully absorb the great truth that Dr. Tournier had given to me. I’m still absorbing it. I think he saw in me a perfectionist streak that so often keeps me from starting a project until ‘just the right moment.’ I want a cup of coffee, but I want to drink it on the beach in Maui.

“The point is this: If you’re going to write the Great American Novel, then write it. Don’t put it off until everything’s just so. Do it, and do it now.”

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Practical tips for putting more time in your day

Effective time management begins with personal responsibility. You and I are each responsible for the way we invest our time. We can’t expect anyone else to organize our schedules or remind us of our goals. You own your own day, and I own mine. You and you alone are responsible for how you invest your time — or how you squander it.

In this two-part blog post, I’ll offer some tips for magically putting more time in your day. Here’s the first one:

First: Organize and prioritize. In order to achieve your most important goals, you must prioritize your time. First order of business: Make a list. Call it a “Things To Do” list or a “Priorities” list. I keep mine on a clipboard that hangs on the wall next to my computer. Every time I think of a new priority, I add it to the list.

I break my list into three categories:

  • Priority 1. Long-range dreams and goals.
  • Priority 2. Urgencies and emergencies.
  • Priority 3. Nonessentials.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these priorities and how to manage them:

Priority 1: Long-range dreams and goals. This is the category where you list such things as that dream house you want to build or the novel you want to write — whatever it is that will take you where you want to be in life. Priority 1 items are essential, but not necessarily urgent. It’s where you put your grand dreams, your hopes for the future, the projects you want to accomplish, but which tend to get crowded out by urgencies and emergencies.

Priority 2: Urgencies and emergencies. This is the category where you list the things that need to get done right away, like preparing for that presentation at the office next week. Or renewing your driver’s license. Or filing your 1040. Or scheduling that root canal. Or cleaning out the garage so you can put your car away at night.

Priority 2 stuff doesn’t really enrich your life or move you toward your dreams and goals — but not getting your Priority 2 stuff done can really make a mess of your life. These chores may not enhance your life, but they are always urgent and necessary.

Priority 3: Nonessentials. This is where you list things that need to get done, but which are medium to low priority. Often these tasks are the smallest and most easily accomplished, like “Email Joe and Mandy” or “Take down Xmas lights” or “Call Congressman Fogbottom, give him a piece of my mind.”

Once you have your list of priorities, allocate time accordingly. If you know you have nine hours to spend today, then allocate the appropriate amount of time to each priority. You can allocate it in any way that makes sense to you. Personally, if I had nine hours to divvy up, I’d probably do it this way: Five hours to Priority 1 tasks; three hours to Priority 2 tasks; and one hour to Priority 3 tasks.

Break down big, intimidating projects into bite-size, non-threatening chunks. For example, instead of putting “Write the Great American Novel” on your list, break it down into smaller component tasks: “Outline plot,” “Write character sketches,” “Research background and setting,” “Write Chapter 1,” and so forth.

Group together activities that are logically related, and do them in batches for maximum efficiency. If you have a half dozen letters to write, write ’em in a row. Maximize effectiveness by minimizing transition time, decision time, and down time.

Don’t procrastinate. Start now. Do one thing at a time, finish it completely, then move to the next item.

Organizing your priorities is essential to putting more time in your day. A surgeon was once asked what he would do if he only had five minutes to perform an operation to save a patient’s life. His reply: “I’d spend the first two minutes planning the operation.” Time spent planning and organizing your priorities is time well invested.

Continue Reading:
Part 2: Boost Your Productivity with the Grab 15 Principle

Your Time to Write, Part 2

Continued from “Your Time to Write, Part 1”

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“I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.”
Shakespeare, Richard II, Act V, Scene V

Legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant kept a plaque on his office wall that read, “What have you traded for what God has given you today?”

I think of that question at the end of every day. I remind myself that God has given me the gift of 86,400 seconds that day. Once I’ve spent that portion of my life, it’s gone. What did I get in return? Did I spend those seconds wisely?

With these questions in mind, here are four more time management principles to launch you toward your writing goals:

Third, make time and space to write even if you don’t have the time or space. There’s no “later.” There’s no “when I get around to it.” There’s no “when I have more time.” There’s only now. If you don’t write now, as busy as you are, you won’t ever write. Writers don’t “get time” to write or “find time” to write. They make time to write.

Heed the wisdom of Stephen Koch, author of the Modern Library Writer’s Workshop: “You don’t have time? Make that time. This is essential. Only you can make and defend the time you need for your work. Nobody is going to give it to you. …  You must make time or you will not write at all. Simple as that. And be warned: For every writer, at every level of fame and productivity, making and defending writing time is a lifelong battle. It’s not just hard now. It will always be hard.”

Every writer needs a creative space. It doesn’t need to be a plush office overlooking the seashore. In fact, you’re better off without such distractions. As a writer, your job is not to look out the window, but to look within. A desk, a chair, a computer, and you’re set.

Your creative space does not have to be in your home. I have a successful writer friend who writes his novels in a coffee shop. But that’s not for me. I do most of my writing by speaking into a microphone attached to my computer. I don’t like people overhearing me while I write, so I work at home, in my modest-yet-comfortable office, with the doors closed. Works for me. Do whatever works for you.

Make an appointment with yourself. Be on time and be prepared to work. Even if you only have fifteen minutes a day to write, make sure you’re there promptly, and make each of those minutes count. Photographer Chuck Close said, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

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Fourth, put an end to excuses. People have all kinds of excuses for not writing. I’ve found that most people become successful around the same time they stop making excuses. Screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski believes many writers spend too much time and energy “finding excuses for not being what they are capable of being, and not enough energy putting themselves on the line, growing out of the past, and getting on with their lives.”

No one’s standing over you to make you write. Your motivation must come entirely from within. You’ve got to want to write more than you want all the things that keep you from writing. If you procrastinate, you’ll have nothing to show for all your years on earth but a list of excuses.

Life is made up of choices, and every choice we make has consequences. Make the right choices, and you can have a successful and enjoyable writing career. But you have to be deliberate in the choices you make. If you don’t make careful, thoughtful choices about how you spend your time, other people will make those choices for you. To have a successful and rewarding writing career, you must spend your life pursuing your own goals, not doing what other people expect of you. 

As motivational speaker Michael Altshuler once said, “The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”

Fifth, beware of “displacement activities.” A displacement activity is behavior that takes the place of writing. We engage in displacement activity when we feel anxious and conflicted — for example, when we want to write at the same time we feel we can’t write because we are blocked or we simply lack the energy to write.

The state of wanting to write while feeling unable to write is unresolvable — so we displace our anxiety through a different activity. Instead of writing, we raid the fridge, surf the Internet, update our Facebook status, tidy up the desk, answer emails, play computer games, and on and on. If our displacement activity is more-or-less writing-related (such as “research”), our anxiety level goes down. We know we’re not writing, but hey, it’s kinda like writing, so we don’t feel so bad about it.

Some writers, unfortunately, use drinking or drug abuse as their displacement activity. Writers who medicate their anxiety with mind-altering substances usually end up wasting their talent.

If you are aware of the things you do to displace your anxiety, you’ll be empowered to control your displacement behavior. Instead of compulsive eating or web surfing, get up, move and stretch, and grab a cup of tea or coffee. Give your Muse a chance to catch her breath — then get right back to your writing.

Sixth, write in overdrive. To write brilliantly, write quickly. I call the process of writing quickly, under the control of the unconscious Muse, “writing in overdrive.” When writing in overdrive, you don’t think. You don’t analyze or criticize or second-guess your work. You simply create. You maintain a state of passion and enthusiasm for your story, and you are carried along by a process of unconscious inspiration. This state is called being “in flow” or “in the zone.”

Most great writers have experienced writing in overdrive. John Steinbeck spoke of writing “freely and as rapidly as possible” in a “flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.” And Charles Baxter, author of First Light and The Soul Thief, told an interviewer, “The spell comes upon me, I’m in its grip. The book develops with my collaboration or unconscious help, and sometimes it proceeds even in the face of my refusal to work on it.”

To make the most of your writing time, discover the power of writing in overdrive. Learn to write freely, quickly, and without inhibition, tapping into that incredibly powerful source of inspiration, the Muse or unconscious mind.


For more insight on how to write faster, write freely, and write brilliantly, read my other books for writers:

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Discover the uninhibited creative power to write faster and more brilliantly than ever before. Read Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly by Jim Denney, Kindle edition $3.99. [Trade paperback edition $7.75]

MuseOfFire-Medium350x550And for a 90-day supply of inspirational and motivational writing insight, read Muse of Fire: 90 Days of Inspiration for Writers by Jim Denney, Kindle edition $2.99. [Trade paperback edition $14.95]

Discover how to conquer the eight most common writing fears. Read cover-1writefearlesslyjdWrite Fearlessly! Conquer Fear, Eliminate Self-Doubt, Write with Confidence by Jim Denney, Kindle edition $3.99. [Trade paperback edition $7.99.]

These books are designed to motivate you, get you writing with confidence and enthusiasm, and propel you toward your goals and dreams.