how to find time for anything you want to do
How many people say “I wish I had time to write/paint/play sport” but do nothing about it?
How many people have said to me “I don’t know how you find the time to write as well as work?”
Quite a few over the years, is the answer. I’ve said it myself. What I am really saying is, I refuse to organise my life so that I can do the thing. I’m making excuses.
Time is precious, finite. It cannot be manufactured, but it can definitely be wasted. It is like holding sand in your fist, not noticing it slipping between your fingers but bemoaning the slow reduction in the pile. With a little effort you could find a way to contain it, as far as anyone can.
Everyone has the same 24 hours a day, 168 hours a week, 8760 hours a year. Achieving something worthwhile, something that’s important to you, means making the best use of those hours. Whatever you want to do, whether it’s write a novel or train for a marathon, can only be done in small chunks. John Grisham wrote his hugely successful legal thriller The Firm in the time between hearings, while pulling the long hours of an attorney.
Write 250 words every day, and by the year’s end you’ll have 91,250 words. That’s a novel’s worth.
We underestimate the power of steady effort over time. It really does add up.
Free time + wasted time = enough time
Start with a chart
Yes, really. Start with a simple chart showing seven days with a slot for each hour. You can make one with a spreadsheet or find it on the web. Or you could draw your own.
- fill in essentials like sleep, work, travel, caring and domestic commitments
- add all the extras you currently do like exercise, entertainment, hobbies
- see where the gaps are
It’s important to be honest about what you do with your time. If you think all your evenings are full, consider how much time is spent on watching TV. Maybe even consider tracking actual hours watched for a week.
A 2015 survey showed that 31% of UK adults spent 11-20 hours per week watching TV. A further 39% watched more than 20 hours weekly.
The New York Times ran an article in 2016 showing that Americans watched on average five hours of TV daily, and 90% of that was live TV. We have DVRs and catch up TV, but we don’t necessarily use them.
TV is the thief of time
When I decided to start writing seriously again, I cut out mindless TV viewing and channel surfing. It wasn’t hard. There are a few programmes I like to watch, but I don’t follow soaps or serials (apart from NCIS, and even then, repeats are a real thing.) Working days were long and stressful, but I needed writing time. And reading time. And just plain old decompression time. I programmed in my writing time to suit my schedule. And I set the box to record anything I liked, to watch when I had time rather than when it aired. Let’s face it, Saturday night can be a lean time on the box if you don’t enjoy game shows and reality TV.
Listen to the sinking feeling
Did you sigh when you filled in some commitments? If they are optional, consider dropping them. If they are essential, be critical. Can you spend less time visiting a relative you see regularly? Could you listen to an audiobook on your commute? Do you look forward to catching up with that friend, or does she drain you? Pay attention and act. Limit time and energy drains, even if you can’t eliminate them. Your gut knows, even as your brain rationalises.
Night owl or lark?
All of us have circadian rhythms that mean we peak at certain times of the day. For many, that is first thing in the morning. Waking early might gain you the hour you need. But that might not suit you. You work shifts; you have small children who wake at five anyway and you cannot face waking before that; you’re narcoleptic before noon even with a double espresso. Maybe the later hours are your best time. If you can’t sleep, get up and write. It worked for me. I wrote this poem about insomnia during a sleepless, jet-lagged night.
Our time on earth is finite. In a year’s time we won’t remember the soap opera finale or the latest game show winner. But we can have an achievement to celebrate, which makes our lives meaningful. Be mindful with your most precious commodity.
Take control of your time and commit to the things you really want.