Is your creative schedule punishing you?

Management guru Stephen Covey said “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” If you read this blog you’re probably interested in writing productivity, and scheduling time to write is a great way to be productive. But does it have to be so painful?

Practice what you preach

I’m a productivity nerd, I like nothing better than following up the latest research, reading a productivity book or blog, and testing out different approaches. I know the theory, but my actual practice often falls short.

Take scheduling. Over the last few years I’ve written several blogs on it and shared some great tips, stuff that actually works. For example, my seven step guide to finding time to write starts by asking how important writing is to you so it can be prioritized alongside everything else in your life.

The other tips outline a rigorous approach and I promise if you work through them you’ll find time to write, understand your writing style and be able to make the most of it. You’ll write, you’ll stop making excuses that you’re too busy, you’ll be productive, will finish your writing projects and be happier. That’s the plan anyway. So why haven’t I taken my own advice?

Take today, I identified a writing opportunity first thing in the morning. The alarm went off at 6am, on a Sunday, with the first snow of the year dusting the windows and chilling the house. I love writing and was looking forward to doing this blog but getting up to write didn’t feel like an opportunity but a punishment.

A youthful approach to time management

A few weeks back I stumbled across a box from my college days. While rifling through every piece of paper that had passed through my hands between the ages of 16 to 21 I found a workbook from lower sixth. Titled TIME MANAGEMENT its abundant use of capital letters, bold and underlined fonts was designed to scare feckless youth into becoming more organised.

My younger self was warned that: “Time is a wasting resource, when it’s gone, it’s gone. You need to know how to conquer the clock Now.”

Once it had suitably frightened its readers the workbook provided a journal to help them understand how their time was spent. My time log was a mash up of a hedonistic clubber staying up all night and a Victorian lady who wrote letters, read, painted and spent a lot of time in the bath.

My biggest discovery in revisiting the workbook was that I didn’t complete the next sections and use the tools provided to help me prioritise and organise my schedule. At 17 I couldn’t be bothered to plan my time, which got me thinking about my history of scheduling and whether it had impact on my productivity.

My love affair with the scheduling gurus

Since college I have had many scheduling crushes; not so much gurus as immensely sensible people who take practical approaches to helping others organise their time so they can fit writing around other demands.

  • My creative writing tutor Zoe Fairbairns urged us to stop doing unnecessary things — especially housework.
  • Academic writer Eviatar Zerubavel’s book The Clockwork Muse matched different writing activities to different times of the day to maximise energy and time.
  • Researcher and blogger Cal Newport evangelises about different workflow approaches and busts myths such as scheduling prevents creativity.

All of these are great tips that work. I experimented with them but none have shaped my daily practice.

Know yourself and be kind

Susan Piver punished herself for years with schedules. She questioned whether it was the best route to creative discipline so tried a different approach — one based on pleasure.

She abandoned her schedule, asked herself what she felt like doing, and found at the end of the day: “I did all the things I yell at myself to do. My day looked pretty much exactly like my days do when I succeed in being ‘disciplined.’ Only this time, it seemed effortless. I had such a light heart.”

Productive and happy

Looking back at my teenage self — the one who couldn’t be bothered to complete the time management workbook — she was actually very productive. She made time for homework and revision and never missed an essay deadline. She also had a full and fun life. In hindsight she was productive and happy.

Schedules didn’t work for me then and they won’t work now. Life is about more than conquering the clock; I don’t actually want to schedule every moment of my day. I want to be productive but kind to myself. And I believe I can, look, I wrote this blog. I might not have met my schedule but I did meet my goal.

With that in mind, I’ll channel my teenage self but rather than go clubbing I’ll get my kicks from snuggling up with a nice large book on productivity. Happy days.

About the author: Bec has spent a lifetime reading, writing and working with writers. From her first job in a bookshop, to a career in publishing, and several years managing a writers’ retreat centre for Arvon, she’s obsessed with working out what helps writers write.


Originally published at blog.write-track.co.uk on November 29, 2015.