Finding a Balance
It isn’t always easy to find a balance between studying, family, work, writing and what-not. However this isn’t always a bad thing. I’ve learned early on that more spare time doesn’t always mean more productivity, especially not when it comes to writing. When I only have one hour of spare time, I usually manage to cram a lot more in that one hour than when I have plenty of spare time.
I’m a full-time law school student. Ideally that means I spend eight hours a day at class, studying or writing papers, or working on assignments. Since studying is expensive, I keep a part-time job on the line. I’m lucky that my job is online, and I can easily combine it with writing and work on it within writing breaks. I also like to blog and read, and I have two blogs I try to update daily, or at least a few times a week, namely this blog and my book review blog, I Heart Reading.
All that takes time and effort. I set a challenge for myself to write six YA novels this year. We writers all know that you can’t write a novel in a day either. And when you’re done with your first draft, which can take any time between one month (or less if you’re really productive) and a year or longer, you still need to revise, rewrite and edit, edit, edit.
I have high goals. I try to combine a lot of things, and to be honest, I like it that way. I like waking up with long (but manageable) to do lists waiting for me, only taking a well-deserved break in the weekends (and mostly only on Sundays). It keeps me driven and motivated, and it stops me from wasting days watching TV shows or doing other stuff that in the end I feel has little to no meaning. You need to do meaningless stuff, of course. It can help you relax and de-stress. But it’s such a feeling of accomplishment when you’ve done a lot of meaningful stuff first and then reward yourself with the meaningless stuff.
So how do I balance this? I set pretty strict time limits for everything, and I keep detailed planners. I actually have three planners. One is my monthly calendar, of which I have four categories: “writing blog” (which is this blog), “I Heart Reading” (my book review blog), “writing” and “studying”. Then I have two daily planners: one for blogging and writing, and another for studying. I like to keep these seperated.
I explained how I work with my planners in my post about productivity, so if you want to know more about how I keep up with my planning, head over there.
But another important part of keeping a balance, apart from planning things beforehand, is to set a strict time limit for stuff. I get up each morning and make a to do list. I put five things under studying, five items under I Heart Reading, five items under writing/writing blog and five to ten items under Enchanted Book Promotions (my freelance website, and here it goes up to ten items because these are faster to achieve). I look at my to do list and start marking stuff that’s really important and needs to get done today with red marker. Then I mark less important but still pretty important stuff with a green marker. Whatever has no marking, is a bonus when I get it done.
I work on the red markings first, and start with the most tedious task. I give myself a time limit. If the task is: write 2k words, I give myself two hours to achieve it. If it’s to write a review, I give myself half an hour. I don’t want to get stressed out, so if I go slightly past that mark, it’s okay. It’s my goal mark, but it’s not absolute.
Like I said, ideally I study eight hours a day. Sometimes it’s less, closer to six hours. In the weekends unfortunately it’s closer to zero. Either way, let’s go for eight hours of study time that’s gone. Take off another two hours for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Woops. That’s a wopping ten hours gone and I haven’t even gotten started on anything yet. Sleep is overrated, but I’d still like to get eight hours a night. We’re at eighteen hours gone, which means only six hours left.
But six hours is a lot. You can accomplish so many things in six hours. The problem is most of us don’t know it yet. Cut off all distractions like Facebook, Twitter, other social media, the news, email, and start on your to do list. You’ll be amazed by how much you can accomplish if you get your mind on things.
Of those six hours left, I take an hour to an hour and a half to really relax. That includes reading a book, chatting with friends, watching a TV series, watching a movie, going out, playing a game. Everyone needs time to relax.
Five hours left. I try to write 2k words a day. Some days I manage to clock those in at an hour and a half, but to play safe (and account for days where I take longer) let’s say I need about two hours for that.
Three hours left. Time to tackle the part-time job. I work on this every day, and try to keep the workload to a minimum, so it would only take up about one hour and a half a day to get things done. I like to mix things that go fast (like scheduling Twitter tweets, or sending out emails scheduling a tour) with things that take longer (like making a tour banner or book cover).
That means I have an hour and a half left to work on my websites, writing reviews, write blog posts and articles. That may seem like a lot, but reviews and articles easily eat up half an hour each, so I try to make my to do lists divers with plenty of smaller activities that don’t take up so much time.
Of course, this is the ideal scenario. It doesn’t always play out that way, but by keeping to “almost” fixed time schedules, I feel like it’s improved greatly. I can write faster and more consistent by writing daily. My work as a publicist and blogger goes faster as well when I’m consistent about it. And for me, blogging, writing and book promotion are my passions and something I enjoy doing. I admit sometimes I don’t like to get started, but once I do, I usually have a blast.
So, in short, these are my tips for finding a balance: keep a planner (or multiple ones), set up daily to do lists, set a fixed time for when you need to complete something, and reward yourself with some relax time when you’re done.