Finding time to write.
It’s something I’ve written about quite a bit on this blog, and I even used time management for writers as the topic of our first podcast. But still, as we enter the final month of 2016, I believe there is more to be said on the topic.
I’ve always said that the most difficult part of writing isn’t editing. It’s not rewriting. It’s not criticism (or the fear of being criticized), and it’s certainly not the act of writing itself. That’s the fun part :). No, the most difficult aspect of writing, for me, is just being able to put the real world on hold for a while and escape to that magical place where writers go to create.
As sad as it it, regular old household chores can cause a great deal of everyday stress and get in the way of that escape. If you’re single and live in an apartment, then some of this stuff might not be that big of a deal. But if own a house and have a big family, keeping up with the demands of the daily routine can be a tremendous time sink.
So I’m going to advocate hiring a maid.
Not really. While it sometimes seems like hiring a maid would be the best decision to make, we’re also trying to save money while making time for me to write. So with the effort to maximize writing time, here are some of the things we do that don’t cost money, and in a few ways, actually help save money.
Minimize time spent shopping
With three young kids and another on the way, a “quick” run to the store for a gallon of milk can easily become and afternoon event. The best way to remedy this is to plan ahead and buy everything you need in one trip, and try to hit every store you need in that one trip. You get bonus points if this trip can be made without the kids.
At our household, we try to hit the grocery store once a week. ONLY once a week. This means knowing in advance what essentials we’ll need to make it through the week. The amount of milk, cheese, butter, eggs, and bread we go through in a week is fairly static, so we already know what to buy when it comes to that. As for other stuff, we check on the diapers, tissues, toilet paper, cereal, meat, chips, and anything else the night before and make a list if it’s anything we need to pick up.
What’s even better about this schedule is that since I usually pick the kids up from the sitter after work, my wife makes that weekly grocery trip one of the days on her drive home, and she does it…you guessed it…without the kids. In and out of the Aldi without incident.
And since I mentioned Aldi, this brings up a huge cost benefit of shopping the way we do. We buy that weekly supply of milk, etc. at the more economical grocery store and since we intentionally buy enough for the week, we reduce the risk of running out of something during the week and having to make that “emergency” trip to the more expensive, closer store. Avoiding that midweek emergency trip also cuts the chances of accidentally breaking your budget and buying something you hadn’t planned on when you set up your menu for the week.
And did I say “menu”? Yup…
This is a bit of an extension to the weekly trip for groceries, and while it does help with creating the shopping list, it also helps free up some of the time spent cooking and planning to cook. Regardless of how hectic life may be for all of us, there are a few certainties. For the overwhelming number of working Americans, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, are among those certainties.
So don’t waste time saying “What are we going to feed the kids?”, “What am I going to bring for lunch tomorrow?”, and “What am I going to eat for breakfast?”
Plan this stuff out. If the kids want mac and cheese, make enough to feed them and have left-overs to bring to work the next day for lunch. Throw in a can of tuna to give it some flavor, but do it. This will 1) Save you the time of making food for yourself, and 2) Reduce the risk of grabbing fast food because you hadn’t packed any lunch for yourself.
If you can form the discipline to come up with a written menu for the week (and, yes, we still struggle with this) it will save you time and money to prepare for what you’ll eat tomorrow.
And speaking of preparing for tomorrow…
Get everything ready the night before
Allow me to speak frankly. Our morning used to be utter chaos. There are so many things that need to be prepared for the simple act of dropping the kids off at the sitter’s and driving to work, you wouldn’t believe it unless you’ve lived through it.
But I made this so much simpler by doing all of that stuff the night before.
Kids’ clothes, my clothes, snacks for car, coffee pot, DVDs, etc.
How does this save time?
Well, for starters, doing things at night instead of rushing to get it done in the morning will allow you to do with with a clear “non-rushing-around” head. So you won’t forget stuff, which I do–constantly. I know if I do this in the morning, I run back-and-forth over and over as I forget to grab stuff. “What? You need a shirt???”
By laying out all of their clothes–and mine–the night before, that problem and stress associated with it are eliminated.
We’ve got a super-long commute, so snacks and DVDs are essential. Lying them out the night before with the clothes is essential as well.
Schedule all the things (and plan ahead)
The key to making time is to do everything possible to minimize the chances of an event popping up that isn’t on your regular schedule. Also, the more prepared you are for things, the less time they’ll take to do. And I mean this from little things like getting the kids their baths all the way up to big things like planning for Christmas.
Don’t ever catch yourself saying, “Oh crap! The kids haven’t had baths in, like, weeks. We need to drop everything and do it RIGHT NOW.” I’m not going to judge you on how often your kids take baths, but if you do it, say, every other day, then get it in your head that every other day is “bath day.” Kind of like remembering that every Thursday is trash day. Ingrain it in your head so that it becomes habit.
And as far as Christmas and birthdays go, come on. This stuff takes place once a year and you’ve got a whole year to plan for it. Use that time to find deals and buy ahead. If you can have your Christmas shopping done by the middle of October, you can put all that time that would have been spent standing in lines at the last minute (and trying to find toys and games that are sold out) to writing. You’ll thank yourself in the morning, trust me.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly…
Do laundry the right way
Hands-up everyone who hates doing laundry. And raise both hands if you spend hours and hours each week on this common and routine chore. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen friends or family members (don’t worry, I’m not naming names) with laundry piled all the way to the ceiling, and you can only hope that no pets or kids lie underneath.
The good news is I’m going to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way.
You don’t have to spend twenty hours a week sorting laundry. In fact, you don’t have to spend twenty minutes a week sorting laundry.
So here’s how we do things here. Everyone who lives in this house (and at last count, there were five of us) has their own dirty clothes basket. At the end of the day, the used clothes go in that basket. I guess I have two, one for whites and one for everything else, but I’m special that way; I am, after all, the one doing most of the laundry.
Anyhow, since I’m home with the kids most Fridays, Friday is my laundry day. That means I wash a single load of laundry for each kid, and myself (two for me if I’m low on whites.)
That means it’s one basket, per kid, per week. It takes zero time to dump that basket into the washing machine, hit the start button, and move on with my life.
So how does this simplify things?
Well imagine this. You have three kids. You pour both of their socks together and wash & dry them. And then you dump that laundry basket onto the floor. You spend like a half-hour sorting through all of those socks, pairing them up and trying your hardest to figure out which ones belong to witch kid, which is incredibly difficult to do since the kids are so close in age.
Now imagine doing the same thing with a basket full of shirts and pants belonging to a 3-year-old and (almost) 2-year-old girl. Everything is increasingly difficult to sort as they all look to be the same size. Until they are put on their tiny bodies of course. That half-inch makes a huge difference when they’re that young.
With my “no sorting” method of laundry, clothes come out of the dryer and into their dressers in five minutes.
Do you see what this means? If you add up the time spent loading the washer, putting the clothes into the dryer, and then taking them out of the dryer and putting them away, I spend less than one hour doing 4/5 of our household laundry every Friday. (I should mention that I let my wife fend for herself here; she usually picks Sunday for her laundry day.)
I know you’re going to say don’t mix colors. Everybody tells me “don’t mix colors.” But let’s talk about that for a second. These are kids’ clothes that have been washed a million times. So it doesn’t matter. There is nothing to bleed out. And if one of the kids does have a nice new white shirt, I can always just toss it in with my whites. It’s no big deal.
Heck, it’s so easy that sometimes I even enjoy doing laundry.
So I hope you find this post a little helpful. I know this wasn’t directly related to the craft of writing, but if you do this stuff, it will help you get your life a little more under control and, in the long run, give you a lot more time to spend writing.
Thanks for reading and if you’ve got any additional time-saving tips you’d like to share, leave a comment and let us know!