March 8, 2020: Time Management for Writers
Time management is something of an obsession of mine. As an elementary school teacher, a college professor, and an author (not to mention a wife, daughter, grandmother, etc) I am always looking for ways to make sure my time is productive. I love reading books and articles about the topic. I love getting new ideas on how to manage (effectively) all the different roles and responsibilities that fill my life. I love seeing how others handle this most pressing challenge.
While there are lots of interesting insights, creative strategies, and effective approaches I have come across, one of my favorites is Steven Covey’s Time Management Matrix. This is a way to plot all of your activities into 4 different quadrants based on how critical they are to your ultimate life-goals. This gives insight into how you really are spending your time, which is an important first step taking control of your time.
As writers, we have so many different role and responsibilities and must complete a wide variety of tasks. Some we love- others we may hate. It is fun to look at how these all fit into this sort of Time Management Matrix.
A Writer’s Tasks on the Time Management Quadrant:
Quadrant 1: Urgent/Important
These are the tasks with a deadline. Your editor wants the rewrites; your agent needs the contract signed; the bookstore needs your bio. Most of these involve someone else and you truthfully must deal with the task. It rises to the top of your to-do list, even if it does not seem that critical to you.
We want to manage the tasks in this quadrant. That often means we have to think long-term, plan ahead, and be proactive. Get things on your calendar as soon as you know about it and deal with it as soon as you can.
Quadrant 2: Not Urgent/Important
This is where the true work of a writer happens. You are working on the outline of a story; you are immersed in the drafting of a novel; you are revising your manuscript. This is home to a writer. This is where our creative work is done. This also may include things like scheduling book signings or author visits, or submitting manuscripts. The heart of a writer’s work.
We want to focus on the work of this quadrant. This is where we want to spend most of our time. This is where we must spend most of our time if we are to be successful. That means being cognizant of the tasks in the other quadrants and not allowing those quadrants to overshadow this one.
Quadrant 3: Urgent/Not Important
These are things that come up unexpectedly and while they may be important to someone else, they are a distraction or interruption to us. In many cases these are things that may not be directly related to our writing goals, but that must be dealt with.
We want to limit the distractions of this quadrant. Cancel irrelevant meetings. Say no to unnecessary tasks. Then use this time to deal with those tasks that are important to people who are important to us. Those tasks that support our life-goals.
Quadrant 4: Not Urgent/Not Important
These are the time wasters and the energy drainers. This is where we might be on-line researching for a writing project, and decide we will just check facebook real quick- and the next thing we know, 45 minutes have gone by. These may become the avoidance activities because we have hit a block.
We want to avoid the time-suckers of this quadrant. People who seem to accomplish so much, have mastered this quadrant. They have the same 24-hour day that we do, but they seem to get so much more done. This is the place where they seem to find those extra hours in the day. They limit the unimportant time-suckers.
While all four quadrants are a part of life, the recommendation is that we spend 60% of our time in Quadrants 1 & 2 and only 40% of our time in Quadrants 3 & 4.
I don’t think it is possible to eliminate that which we do not deem important, but if we understand what is consuming our time, we can make more effective choices about how we want to spend our time. As a writer, it can be eye-opening to see how our time and tasks fall in this Time Management Matrix.