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Sunday, 5 August 2012

Time Slips By So Easily.

On 7 June, I blogged about procrastination; probably the writer’s biggest barrier to success. In that post, I mentioned I was keeping a chart to log my activities and see where I really spent my time. That time chart ended when I’d completed it for 68 days. Why 68 days? I just felt I’d acquired enough data for the purpose and that it was time to evaluate it.

The first shock came when I realised how little time I devoted to actual writing-related activity. I have a part time ‘day’ job that allows me to put food into the mouths of my family and keep a reasonable roof over our heads. In common with 98% of writers, I have yet to reach the stage where my writing can support rather than supplement. The day job, including attendance and travel time, takes up about 25 hours per week.

Here’s the table of results I gathered:
                                                                                                Hours   Per cent
68 days                                                                                    1632    100%
Sleep (about 7 hours per night)                                                   476      29%
Domestic (eating, shopping, home maintenance, personal stuff,)   336      21%
Office (attendance & travel to day job)                                       239      15%
Relaxation (TV, music, films etc)                                                 189      12%
Marketing (FB, Blog, Twitter, Pinterest,)                                       89        5%
Emails (everything that’s not Twitter or Pinterest)                           74        5%
Fitness (walks, bike rides, rests)                                                    66        4%
Reading (novels, magazines & other books)                                   52        3%
Editing (editing, formatting, submissions)                                 38        2%
Artist (morning pages, photography, drawing)                                37        2%
Technical (computer updates, security, internet research)               20        1%
Writing (short stories, blog posts, reviews)                              16        1%

We go through life making certain assumptions. I style myself a ‘writer’; it’s how I visualise myself, how I aim to lead my life. It came as a shock to discover how little time I’d spent in actually writing. A salutary lesson, and one I’ve taken to heart already. I’d persuaded myself I spent much of my time in front of the keyboard and screen actually placing words in documents to produce new writing. If I tell you that the time chart revealed that I spent no more than 5%, that’s FIVE per cent, of my available writing time in actually writing, I think you’ll understand my shock and dismay.

This is the modified version of the table as it relates to writing activity:

Marketing (FB, Blog, Twitter, Pinterest,)               89        27%
Emails (everything that’s not Twitter or Pinterest)  74        23%
Reading (novels, mags & other books)                 52        16%
Editing (editing, formatting, submissions)       38        12%
Artist (morning pages, photography, drawing)      37        11%
Technical (comp updates, security, int research)   20        6%
Writing (short stories, blog posts, reviews)     16        5%

Total time for writing activities (34 hours per week) 326      20%

(sorry the tables aren't aligned - Blogger uses different code from MS Word and I'm damned if I know how to correct this!)

So, my total working week involves 59 hours; hardly that of a sluggard, I think.

I was completing Julia Cameron’s course, The Artist’s Way, at the start of the measuring period; in fact the course was a material influence on my decision to carry out the assessment. So, thank you, Julia! She suggests a series of writing exercises, called ‘morning pages’ and also says all creatives should make an artist’s date with themselves for at least 2 hours per week, which is why those activitiesare included in the table.

I don’t need to explain the rest; it’s patently obvious. But it seems I had fallen into that trap so much lauded on the internet by various groups, organisations and ‘experts’: A writer must develop an ‘Author Platform’ on the web in order to become visible.

Most of my valuable writing time had been spent in building that platform, using social media such as Twitter (3,570 followers), Facebook Author page (244 ‘likes’), Facebook itself  (1,524 friends), Goodreads (1,491 friends), LinkedIn (1,926 connections),  and, more recently, Pinterest (278 followers). The activity to sustain a presence on these sites is time-consuming and some, especially Pinterest, can be addictive (be warned!). Had this time resulted in substantial book sales? The simple answer is, ‘NO’. Add to this, my other activities on such sites as Digg, a site under significant re-development, StumbleUpon (242 connections), and Klout a system intended to measure influence on the web, but one I find confusing and not at all user friendly, and where I have a score of 50 (the average is 20, apparently).  I’m also involved in Foursquare (12 friends) and Tripadvisor (970 friends). Enough said!

So, to the outcome. It’s always been my aim to write something new every day. Not always easy, as I have to rise at 06:30 Monday to Wednesday in order to get to the day job on time, and mornings are by far my most creatively productive times. I suffered from ME for 8 years and am still in the recovery phase, so I need to rest after physical activity, and that includes attendance at the office. So, I’m occasionally restricted. But that’s no excuse for not writing as a priority. What’s happened is that priorities have become distorted by activity undertaken to build a presence on the web.

The solution?

I’ve developed a new time chart, measuring only those activities to do with writing, so that I can keep a constant eye on where my time goes. I’ve decided, and this post is an example, to make writing my first activity every day that I enter my study. So far today I haven’t looked at my emails and my only activity online has been to obtain links for this post. Will the discipline, combined with a new awareness, allow me to spend more time on those writing activities that really matter: creating, editing, submitting and reading? Only time will tell. And I’ll let you know in a couple of months how I’m getting on. I invite you to undertake a similar assessment and see whether you’re using your available time to best advantage. It might surprise, shock or delight you; who knows?

Those uninterested in the technical aspects of the exercise can stop here. For those who want to emulate the process, however, please read on:

I’d set up my time chart on MS Excel, with columns for date, activity name, activity code, start time, end time and, using a simple formula, time spent. This allowed me to modify the spread sheet so that I could create totals for each of the specific tasks I’d nominated. I had headings to cover Domestic, Office, Marketing, Email, Fitness, Reading, Editing, Artist, Technical and Writing. These were ‘group’ headings that allowed me to include all those various jobs we undertake in our daily lives. I’ve attached a sample below to indicate what this actually looked like. If you decide to do something similar, and I strongly advise you to do so, this might act as a guide for you.

I’m no expert with MS Excel, so it took me a little time to understand how I could use formulae to work out how much total time had been spent on each of the specified tasks. But the Help menu actually came to the rescue on this occasion (it appears that, when trying to total ‘time’ the straightforward ∑ autosum function won’t work, it merely returns a value that states a time of day. To arrive at the total time, you use ∑autosum and then right click on the cell where the total will be created, select ‘format cells’ then ‘custom’ from the drop down ‘number’ list and pick ‘[h]:mm:ss’ from the list presented.  I hope that helps!

Dissecting and evaluating the data was a little tedious, but worth the effort, I think. And here’s the promised sample of my original spread sheet.  Good luck.

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