Hello Lovelies and welcome back to the blog.
I recently spent a week on a vacation that was supposed to be a trip to another state but got cancelled due to complications (not the least of which was COVID travel restrictions). Instead of cancelling the vacation altogether, my husband and I decided to take the time off anyway and spend it at home doing whatever we felt like doing during the week.
While we knew it was a possibility that the trip portion might be cancelled, I told my husband early on that if we didn’t end up going, I instead wanted to shut myself in my office and spend the entire week pretending that writing was my day job and career. When the week came, I had a lot of time on my hands to allow myself to just be. To just do whatever it was that I thought I would be able to do if I was writing for a living. And it looked a lot different than I thought it would.
In this #PrepTober article I want to talk about 3 simple steps to optimizing the time you have without guilt and without losing your mind. More specifically, I want to take you through my week, and how I came to understand working with myself and not against myself. I spent a lot of the tail end of the week thinking about what I did well and why, so I could integrate that into my own process, and I’m going to share that process with you.
First let me talk a little bit about what my expectations were for the week. I have a day job that pays my bills. So many times I have thought about how many more hours I could possibly devote to writing if I didn’t have to go to that day job every day. If I were making enough money with my writing to cover my living expenses, or if some publisher picked me up for an advance that equaled even a year’s worth of salary and I could spend the next year just writing the next book.
With that in mind, I imagined my writing career would look a lot like me jumping out of bed, and by 9 AM each day, tea in hand, sitting at my computer, following up with emails for an hour or so, then basically writing until noon. I’d make and eat lunch, then at 1 PM, check emails and make social media content, then at maybe 2 PM, write some more until about 4 PM. I’d get up, get dinner started, then have time with my husband after he got home from work. Then, if I felt up to doing more writing later that evening I would, and if I didn’t. I’d play video games, read, or watch a movie or anime until bed around 11 PM.
That was my expectation, and in no way did that happen during my week. Let’s go over exactly how I learned to optimize my writing life, and how you can too, in just three simple steps.
- Observe Your Natural State
Most of the week I allowed myself to do whatever I felt was right and natural. I have had a busy summer at my day job, and I have honestly been burnt out and exhausted. I slept in a little bit each morning, and stayed up a little bit later than I normally would each night. I got about 9 hours of sleep instead of my usual 8, sleeping about 12 AM to 9 AM each day.
After getting up, I would have a slow morning. Drinking tea and getting ready for the day would take up my first hour. Then from about 10 AM to 11:30 AM or noon, I would clean my kitchen, get out whatever I needed to defrost for dinner that night, maybe start a load of laundry. I would unburden my physical load a little bit before starting my real work for the day.
By noon, with lunch and a drink in hand, I would finally be ready to do some writing work. In some ways, I am not surprised. I have been an afternoon writer for so long. I used to write on my lunch breaks at work or between classes at college. That my mind doesn’t fully wake up until afternoon has been known to me for a while but somehow forgotten. Yet once I’ve gotten to writing, I was usually able to work for a solid 3 hours and get quality work in at that time.
Notice here that I simply did what felt right to do. I didn’t attach any significance or meaning to it. I simply acted, all week, without judgment.
My natural state looks a lot different than I thought it would. It’s actually okay that it does. Only in doing what felt natural without attaching my own judgments about whether that was the way I wanted or thought it would go could I really come to the end of the week and see the important revelation that I will share with you now.
- Work With Your Natural State, Not Against It
I think I should always want to jump straight out of bed and do all the things. I should want to attack every project with excitement and with high energy.
The fact of the matter is, I don’t.
I slept in every single day because I was bone dead exhausted. I had a slow morning every morning and gave my body the time it needed to wake up, instead of my usual state of pure chaos where I bolt out of bed and 20 minutes later out the door and to work. I took care of my home until noon. At noon when I had my house straightened, a load of laundry or dishes going, my office cleaned, water and my lunch in hand, then and only then was I ready to work for a few hours.
And let me be clear. Those hours were solid without interruption, and I got good, quality work in during that time.
I took care of my physical load which emptied my mental load and my creativity thrived.
- Optimize Your Natural State Where You Can
Once you look at your regular natural state you can begin to make small changes here and there to the way you operate.
Making big changes doesn’t work unless you have something massively emotional and devastating happen in your life. When you hit rock bottom, lose someone, or almost die, you can definitely make massive changes. Failing that, most people can’t create massive change and expect it to stick.
It’s actually far better to make tiny changes, and to stack them with habits that you are already familiar with to keep you doing them automatically and without thinking. Once you have to make a decision to do a thing, you won’t. So many times I’ve told myself I’m going to pay my bills and then transfer a certain amount to savings. Whenever I do that, whenever it’s on me to make that transfer happen, I don’t save a dime. But if I just set up an automatic transfer the day I get paid, the money always gets pulled and I only had to think about it and make that decision once, the first time. The money gets saved.
Integrate new habits that fit within what’s already natural to you instead of trying to force a change to fit an unnatural state. Again, what I thought I was going to do was very different from what ended up happening. Now that I am past that, I can start to optimize my day, both at my day job and while I am at home on the weekends, and plan a little bit better.
I can see that having a slow morning is huge for my brain function. I love learning new things, and listening to podcasts and audiobooks during work hours. I already know that I can almost give myself brain fog by inundating my brain with too much information in one day, to the point that when I get home, I can’t focus on what I want to think about because my brain is too busy catching up on all the new information I’ve learned earlier that day. I instigated a rule long ago that I can only listen to podcasts and audiobooks until about noon because I want to still be able to come home and write, but I think this is actually more of a problem than I realized. I need to not listen to podcasts or audiobooks until I’ve created something of my own for the day.
The thing is, the reason I have the space to create is because I’ve given my mind the space to think for itself, on whatever it wants to think about. When I wake up slowly and don’t shove new information into my brain right from the start, my mind has the open space it needs to think through the next scene, the blog post I need to write, or the next thing I’m going to post on TikTok. It’s actually critically important for my brain not to be constantly suppressed by outside thoughts and information coming in, otherwise its own thoughts are stifled. I didn’t see that until I gave myself the week to just do whatever felt right and not place heavy judgment on every action I took or didn’t take.
I also now know that I can get 2-3 solid hours of non-distracted brain time in, but it doesn’t come early in the morning or late in the evening, like it does for most people. That means I should absolutely be taking lunch breaks at work and trying to get some writing time in, which I used to do when I was someone else’s employee, but don’t typically do anymore now that I’m the boss. I so often skip a lunch break these days that it is unexpected when I actually take one because I need to run an errand or have an appointment to go to.
Sometimes I might have a small revival after work, but if I haven’t gotten my work done during the middle of the day, I may have lost most of my best writing brain time in which to do it. There’s no guarantee that my brain won’t be too tired to focus at the end of the day when I have time to write, so it’s actually almost imperative that I spend some time writing in the afternoons.
I encourage you to spend even a weekend observing your own natural state and trying to find out what it looks like in comparison to the way you think it should look. Everyone is different, but I know for myself, it helped me to challenge some of the misconceptions I had about what my writing life could look like. I was able to stop beating myself up about how I failed as compared to a “real” writer, and helped me to put in perspective some concrete ways to get actual productive results out of my writing time. I didn’t have to spend eight hours writing to get in good quality work, I only had to allow my brain to wake up slowly and spend two or three hours during the middle of the day at it and I would naturally produce really good stuff that I was happy with writing.
- Have you ever taken the time to observe your natural state?
- Does your natural state look different from how you expected it to look?
- How can observing your natural state help you to build a better routine that works with your writing time?
- What questions would you like to see me answer in a blog post or podcast episode?