Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Something's Gotta Give: Tips to Make Time for Writing in a Busy Lifestyle

by Zee Monodee

Hello beautiful people!

Lucky me landed herself a monthly spot on this blog - look out for my posts every last Wednesday of the month. LOL, I can hear the groans, too, because, of course, Zee is prolly go long-winded on you! :) I'm trying to curb that natural tendency; it's one of my 2014 resolutions.

Anyhow, back to the topic at hand today. It's January (can you believe it's the last Wednesday of the month?) Where did the time go? I'm sure you're asking yourself this, and then you're looking at your progress report/meter for this month and going, Drat! Yes, it prolly looks like you got nothing done....

Why? If you're like me, you'll say you're busy. Mum, wife, chauffeur, day job, the heat wave in the southern hemisphere, getting back into the groove after the kids' summer break (or winter break in the North - we all had our kids home for the Christmas/New Year period), etc, etc.

How does anyone expect to fit writing in there? How, huh? Anybody know? (No, I shouldn't have become a teacher; I got absolutely no patience with kids, even my own!)


Well, peeps - you MAKE time!

How is that possible, you ask? Well, something's gotta give....

My resolution for 2014 was to be better at all I did (shades of Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan's dialogue in the second Star Trek movie - he is better at everything! I digress...)

How could I get writing, edits, exercise, R&R time, chauffeur duty, housewife load, exercise, and sleep (let's not forget we all gotta sleep!) into every single day?

I crammed everything into my daytime schedule in 2013, and this led me nowhere. Actually, more like frustrated, because I got next to nothing done. It just didn't seem to work. I vowed 2014 would be different. How? Here's what I did...and these tips can apply to you, too. Trust me, they work!

1. Cut one hour of snooze time from your routine

I know this sounds hard. Trust me, I know - there's very little I value more than my sleep time. I get chided all the time for my propensity to sleep through the loudest thunderstorm ever (it happened, yes).
But here's what I also knew - I needed more time in the day, and the easiest way to get this would be to cut 1 hour from my sleeping time. Just one hour. Of course, if you already survive on barely 4 hours of sleep every night, this is not for you. I'm speaking for everyone who gets an average of 7-8+ hours of sleep a night. You don't need that much sleep, trust me. One hour can make a whole world of difference.
Since January 6 this year, I've been waking up at 5 am instead of my regular 6 am-hit-the-snooze-button-repeatedly routine. What am I doing with this extra hour? I'm exercising, then I have time for a leisurely shower afterwards before going into the kitchen for breakfast and the school rush.
Previously, I would stop work (when I could!) at 1 pm, wolf down some quick lunch, rush through exercise, then have to shower at lightning speed all to be out of the house by 2.15pm to go pick the kid up from school.
Waking up one hour early? Not only do I get my exercise in daily, but I save myself that unhealthy rush during the day (and get 1 hour extra to work, too!)

2. Find a schedule

Need quiet to write? Need your me-space to get in the zone? Find out when this is most probable.
For me, this amounts to those hours between 8 am and 2.15 pm when my son is at school (and his dad is at work, too). "Free", me-time to do with as I please.
Remember, I've already fitted the exercise and long shower in during the morning, before everyone else got up. I have this day time in a huge chunk of time available to work - be it edits or writing. Heck, I can even split it and work about 2 hours of writing first thing when I get home from the school run, 1-2 hours of social media presence, then about 2 hours of editing, if I have edits to do that day. Or else, I can use those 2 hours to write more.

Other thing - what can you do when you've got people in the house, and what do you need to be alone to do?
For me, I need to be alone to write in the zone. I can cook and clean and read when the rest of the family is home, but not writing. So I make writing a priority when I'm alone. I don't go into the kitchen to start the food, or go do laundry, or plonk down to read, when I have my free me-time. I write, or I work. Prioritise your time!

3. Use every opp!

Learn to write everywhere, at any time!

What do we all have grafted to us nowadays? Mobile phones. Everyone and their granny has a smartphone that allows you to download an app like Word or a clone of the program where you can write down notes or even more lines/paragraphs into your ongoing story.
So whip that trusty phone out and write, everywhere you find yourself with some time on your hand.
I easily 'lose' 30-45 mins every afternoon when I go pick my son up from school - got to get there that early to nab a parking space. So what do I do during the minimum-30-mins wait time, in my car? You got it - I get the phone out and I write. Sometimes it's notes when I'm plotting out a story, sometimes it's new lines in the WIP, sometimes it's just me reading a book I downloaded on there. Point is - I don't let this 'idle' time go wasted - you can do it, too.

Take your phone out and write some notes when you're stuck in the grocery line, for example. In traffic jams? Set the voice recorder on and come up with some lines that you say out loud (and you'll transcribe those when you get home).
Fear looking silly doing that? Get a Bluetooth device and keep it off when you put it in your ear - no one need know you're "talking to yourself". Or else close all the windows and power the A/C on - no one's gonna hear you then.

4. Spot Clean

In 2013, I was acquainted with every dust bunny in my house (and trust me, there were a lot of them. Much like Gru's yellow minions in Despicable Me, I had a whole horde of them!) Needless to say, I never found the time to clean.

Change in 2014 - I now spot clean. When I'm in the kitchen, I wipe down the counters. How much time did I 'lose'? Less than a minute.

I keep a brush and pail handy and when I spot a dust bunny anywhere, I get the brush and wipe the dust out. Time lost? 2 mins, tops.
If you suffer from allergies, like me sometimes (I never know when it's gonna be triggered!), then invest in a cordless handheld vacuum cleaner. Who has the time to go lug out the big hoover, attach all the extremities and cords and brushes, then find a power outlet and then cart the big thing all over the place while you're killing your back with the too-short rods? No one, certainly not me! The solution is a small, cordless vacuum cleaner. See some dust? Power it on and get it to work. Time lost? 3 mins, tops.

When you're in your tub, shower cabin, or even brushing your teeth at the sink, take that sponge you keep nearby for cleaning and give the tub/cabin/sink a good wipedown. Time taken? 1-3 mins.

You've thus earned yourself about 2-3 hours every week that you would've lost with a big, spring-type cleaning. Use this gain to write more!

4. Cook/make easy food

And while you're at it, get rid of the junk food in your life!

Don't go planning elaborate menus. A lamb tagine, for example, needs the meat to be marinated 24 hours in advance, then the whole dish cooked over very low heat for 2 hours minimum. That ties you in your kitchen unnecessarily!

Go for easy and simple. Fish fillet, or even a slab of beef fillet. Slice thinly and place into the pan where you've tossed a little butter or olive oil; season with salt, pepper, and herbs. Cooks in 5 mins.

Accompany this with a salad - how long does it take to wash some lettuce leaves and shred them into a bowl? 10 mins, max. You might even get pre-washed and shredded salads at the store (check the packaging date, though - if it's been packed the same day, you're good to go. If more than 24 hours, you stand better chances of nutritious food by grabbing that lettuce head and cleaning it yourself at home).

I'm a proponent of real food - none of that processed crap for me, so I won't tell you to go stock up your freezer with all those frozen convenience foods that seem to overwhelm our grocery stores everywhere. Go for real produce - veggies for salads, fresh (or even frozen - in this case, it's simply frozen, not processed!) meat/chicken/fish, some brown rice (I eat gluten-free so that's why I'm not mentioning bread, organic or otherwise. I'm also quite scared of the effects of gluten, esp wheat gluten, on the human system - you can find out why here and here - so bread is no longer part of my vocab).

Eat fresh and real and not only will you save time, keep dreaded preservatives and other processed crap out of your life, but you'll also feel and look better because you're not putting all that chemical rubbish into your system! Your writing will thank you for that when you see your productivity go way up because you have a clearer brain and your body feels less sluggish.

5. Call for help!

Yes, this is not a desperate resort! You have to ask for help, especially around your household.

Got a mountain of laundry to fold? Rope in the kids and tell them the one who folds the most clothes in 1 hour gets to win - I dunno! My boys love to eat, so I use food (real food, mind you!) as bribe - say a new set of Hot Wheels cars, or a new Barbie dress, or 1 hour more with the iPad every week. There's so much we can dangle over our kids's heads nowadays!

Same goes for cleaning - get them to clean their rooms. Build their sense of responsibility, too, all while it eases your workload.

Your mum/MIL/bestie/neighbour/auntie wants to help? Easy - tell them to send dinner one night. You don't have to cook! That's at least 1 hour out of the kitchen and that you can use to write.

6. Have marathons

No, not the 10K type runs (I'd die after barely 500 metres!). I mean, all the TV stuff you just have to catch at such and such time every week. Delay your instant gratification, and record your TV show/reality programme and let it accumulate on the DVR. Then, say, during the weekend, clear a block of hours and sit down to watch your recorded stuff in one long go (you can forward the commercial breaks, too! Yay!)
That time in the evening when you would've watched TV? Use it for R&R. Have a long soak. Give yourself a mani-pedi. Read. A little me-time every day is better than a huge day at the spa every month - you have less stress and are less prone to blowing up from the littlest aggravation.

I'm curious now - these all worked for me.

What worked for YOU? Chime in and let me know!

From Mauritius with love,



  1. Love the advice Zee, even though I don't have kids I still cook and clean. I wish I had that huge time in the day to write but alas my job intrudes! I make the most of lunchtime by doing research, using google and visiting blogs :)

    1. That's exactly the point, Yuresha - use the time you have available. :) You got it down pat!

  2. Love all your suggestions Zee. What works for me is to work consistently every day of the week. I do four hours a day during the week and six hours on Saturday and four on Sunday. I work full time so four hours is about as much as I can do in a weekday and still function. It used to be three hours but then whenever I had any social engagement coming up it would be a crisis losing so much writing time. Now with the one hour extra and six hours on a Saturday its not the end of the world if I cannot write some days or take a Saturday off.

    1. Consistency is a huge thing, Mary. I used to blow any suggestion that routine and consistency help with word count, but guess we're all creatures of habit, so developing that writing habit is what will keep us in good stead :)

  3. Dust bunnies as minions. So cute. Just hope they're not the purple ones. Zee, you're definitely an excellent example of time management!

  4. Eish-I gotta pull up my socks here. I LOVE my sleep although with kiddies night terrors or the dogs barking on full speaker next door-don't get much of that nice beauty sleep. Being a home schooling mommy for small kiddies, although my 9 yr old son has recently being helping mommy out very nicely with house chores etc. The only time at this stage I get to really focus and write is 20h00 till bout 22h00 and then nights when I wake up-had a dream or idea and scribble it down before I forget it. I back Kathy - you have time management under control!

    1. Lol, yep - of you're not getting enough sleep already, then the one-hour-cut is not gonna work!
      But it's good that you've found a slot that can be your 'me-time' to work or write or do whatever is gonna help you in that direction :)

  5. Great advice, Zee! I've had to cut back on things to make more time for writing.

    1. Thanks Jess! I can imagine what you've cut out - don't see you as much online now. Miss you, but I know you gotta use the time to give us those amazing stories :) <3

  6. Great post Zee, the single life still affords me to be the 'soak up the atmosphere'-kind of writer *grin* I`ll definitely will try to get up one hour earlier every day though, maybe do some stretching *laugh*

    1. Oh, you lucky git! :) The single life? I have no clue anymore what that can look like!
      And yes, try some stretching ;)

  7. My resolution this year was to organize my writing time a little better in the hopes I'd be more productive. I still fall back to my old evil ways, but am making progress. Thanks for the awesome tips!

    1. Hope they help, Teri. It's really not easy to organize it all, but it's well worth the hassle :)

  8. Great advice, Zee! I plan to write 3 novels, 2 novellas and 4-5 co-written books this I need to manage my time as well as possible! Love the post!

    1. Glad if this can help, darling! Go for it!! :) <3

  9. Great post! I hate/love the idea of cutting out an hour of sleep. It seems hard, but it would work. I'm also big on working in the car, sometimes my son falls asleep in his carseat, so I'll just park and write while he's napping. Thanks!

    1. Libby, you're already on the right path to maximising available time. :) With a little kid, you gotta learn how to juggle free minutes, right?
      But do try the sleep thing - see if it works for you. :)

  10. Hi Zee, I left you comment last night during "unproductive" hockey practice time, but it turned out I can't comment via iPad. Anyway, I had another suggestion, although I barely use it: don't go groceries shopping - order online. I imagine it'd be quite a time saver.
    Loved your post - I could literally feel your energy and determination :-)
    Will be back on the last Wednesday of February.

  11. Wonderful suggestions. Think about how much time we'd have if we didn't clean at all.