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Find Time To Write – Some Uncommon Solutions

Wasting Time or Gaining Time - How Does it Work?

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FIND TIME TO GAIN TIME WITH BETTER ORGANISATION

By T.M. Caruana

Just over a year ago, I was in a situation where I was a mother of a three year-old, a wife, a daughter, a friend, a student studying for the ACCA, a Head of Finance in a Bank managing thirteen employees, and a budding author launching the second instalment in my new series. The cherry on the top was that I was managing all of this in English, although my native tongue is Swedish.

 

(Here is the proof. Together with my MBA and VISA Chargfeback Certificate.)

 

I was often asked, ‘Where do you find the time to achieve so much?’ My answer was simple. ‘I’m no expert in finance, how to be a mother or how to write books; but I’m an expert in organising.’

It’s always hardest in the beginning

Some authors have overnight success stories, but I am not one of those. Like many other new writers I have a small portfolio of books and have made feeble attempts to market them, due to either lack of money or lack of time. We all dream that our book will be discovered, but until then we have to keep our day job.

Everyone’s experience and approach is different. Without a large mailing list, any connections to other authors who want to do cross promotions or money to run Amazon ads (not to mention figuring out Amazon’s algorithms) I felt I didn’t have a leg to stand on.

I found that I spent all my time in creating query letters, searching for free book reviews (also tried using paid ones) and replying to rejection emails instead of actually writing books. As my time can’t cover everything I wish to do, I decided that I would focus on extending my book portfolio first and do my marketing later. I think it depends on what type of person you are. I’m a ‘better safe than sorry’, person, whereas some people are ‘all or nothing’.

Applying my risk appetite, my accounting head still tells me that if my four published books – by some miracle – become popular, the income would still not be lucrative enough to support a full time authorship, because realistically, I would have to sell a lot of books.

 

ORGANIC GROWTH X BOOK PORTFOLIO = FULLTIME AUTHOR
VS
MARKETING EFFORT X ONE HIT WONDER = FULLTIME AUTHOR

 

This equation is only feasible if you either have a one hit wonder that keeps generating income for months or if you have a larger portfolio which sells sufficiently, which keeps food on the table and clothes on your back.

It is doubtful if a fulltime author career is sustainable with a one-hit wonder, as you probably spend most of your time marketing rather than actually having the time to write more books. When the hype is over you might find yourself without a job and without any upcoming releases. As I said, I rather be safe than sorry and will focus on building a larger book portfolio first.

Unfortunately I have a Completer-Personality hence patience isn’t my forte.

In hindsight I would have written the books first and saved myself the Business Licence fee, Companies House company fee, ETB Self-Employment fee and paying for Social Insurance Contribution stamps that are all necessary to be allowed to sell books on Amazon from Gibraltar.

I would also have saved time on not having established a website, an e-mail provider account, a free electronic book promotion company and all the time spent on researching dead end publishing submission openings and finding free book reviews. Don’t get me wrong; you will need all of those things when you have a few books under your belt.

And don’t be confused; this isn’t me giving up, this is me taking time to come back stronger!

The good thing is that when you are ready you will have Nick! Whilst you write your books, I would definitely recommend reading all of his newsletters and familiarising yourself with the industry. He gives great tips for writing as well as publishing.

Examples are the latest research on how to type faster and more effectively with Scrivener and by using Dragon Dictation. He gives you more than enough advice and he can help you out no matter where you are in your writing career. You won’t need to search for hours because it will be right under your nose!

The question is now; with a fulltime job and a family, how does one find time to write?

 

 

The challenges in a work/life balance

At supper yesterday, I placed a glass of summer fruit squash in front of my daughter. There was an instant meltdown. She didn’t want that, ‘I said I wanted water!’ she screamed (she hadn’t said that at all).

This week I have also had tantrums because – wait for it: small pieces of chicken are not the same as chicken nuggets, the green boy-coloured cup is not as good as the red one, I stepped in front of the TV for one second, I placed the wrong water bottle in her lunch bag as she wanted the “Skye” one (not the “Everest” one, which was the favourite just yesterday), I hadn’t placed the right amount of teddies in her bed for night time and because I wasn’t downstairs when she arrived home from school.

Sometimes I wonder if I could ever get it right!

[Note from Nick: the horrors of Paw Patrol, it seems, are not constrained by geography…]

It isn’t easy organising your home, taking care of your children, working and showing love to your husband, wife, or partner. If it isn’t an emergency call from work, it’s a four year-old throwing a tantrum, a baby that does never want to sleep, or a husband that wants to watch the latest movie tonight. Having time to write can sometimes feel like a luxury.

There are the piano lessons, dance school, the library, the school homework, the food, the clothes, the bath, the bed routine…and…and…and you become dizzy with just the thought of it all.

There is the school photo day, parent evenings, pirate day, the pink awareness day, the jeans for genes day, the book fair, the magic day, the Easter treasure hunt, the Christmas Day jumper, the Christmas play, the children’s parties (doesn’t it feel like your child has a thousand friends?) and the play-dates.

Are you still wearing the third t-shirt your baby threw up on? Have all your coffees today been drunk cold? Have you changed an overnight wee accident? Been shouted at this morning? Had to get up before six o’clock this morning? Sounds familiar? Yes? Then I know exactly how you feel.

 

 

This looks organised right? Look again…and oh, did I forget to tell you I have a four month-old boy? If you have a boy you know that it isn’t a good idea to have the curtains so close to the “wee hose”. In the laundry again.

Are you struggling to get time to write? Well, no more…

Make every minute count

Being an extremely busy woman, every minute counts. You might laugh when I say I made changes to my life that gained me one or two minutes here and five or ten minutes there, but add them all up and you have another thirty minutes a day to write. It takes me about thirty minutes to write one page.

I would deem that a success. The most important rule is to finish completing all the house chores at the same time as the children go to bed, which leaves you with the rest of the evening to write…or perhaps spend time with your husband or significant other. In my own experience, there are a few distinct time-wasters that would solve a lot of your problems if you got rid of.

The number one enemy is guilt.

  • Am I spending enough time with my husband?
  • Am I portrayed as a role model, teaching good values to my children?
  • Will I ever be a good enough writer?
  • Does the food I am giving my family have enough nutrition?
  • Is the house clean enough?

These are all questions we recognise and ask ourselves frequently. There isn’t a one-fix remedy, but I have found that if I think my decisions through and put them down on paper the echo from the guilt is weaker. Why is that? Because every time the guilt starts creeping up I can say to myself that I have thought it through, I have discussed it with my husband and I am sticking with it.

Even if my writing isn’t to everyone’s liking I’m not going to waste time doubting it; I’m sticking with my plan. If you haven’t made up your mind the guilt will be nagging on your conscience and take up a lot of time with you deliberating on what is right or wrong for your family and your career. Just trust your plan, keep calm and carry on!

Once the guilt is out of the way, it’s time to move on to the other big time-wasters…

 

 

FOOD PREP

Food is a large part of your family’s life and therefore takes up a substantial part of your day. You need to shop for ingredients, cook the food, eat the food, prepare lunch boxes for the following day and clean up the mess you have made when cooking. Don’t kid yourself, you probably also have a snack or a tea when the children have gone to bed.

Although this process will take a lot of your time you can minimise the time-wasting when doing it. Be honest, how many times have you heard the question; what shall we eat today?

And how long every week do you spend on deciding and deliberating with your husband / wife / partner what you both fancy? And when you’ve finally agreed on a meal, how often do you have all those ingredients at home? Having to pop in to the supermarket to pick up only a few items again? This is your worst enemy!

To save me from having to do this, I use Sundays to write down in my calendar the food I am going to make for the coming week. I can then shop and prepare the items I need. The best thing is that when the schedule is agreed nor my husband neither my child can argue the dinner plans. Knowing what you are going to eat and what ingredients you will have to shop it is also easy to place your order for home delivery.

Many supermarkets provide this service nowadays. Use it! (Bonus: you also save not buying that extra chocolate bar that you then have to spend time exercising off).

I have also prepared a word document where I have collected my favourite recipes over the years. This has become a yearly food calendar where I have a distinct recipe for each day of the year. This is also organised by recipe type, so for example Monday is poultry day, Tuesday is beef day, Wednesday is fish etc. This means that I have a calendar for the entire year with a diverse diet that can start over again for next year. I call it ‘The 365 cookbook’. Simple!

 

 

ORGANISING FOR THE NEXT DAY

Running around like a headless chicken most of the time? You might not think that all of the little things add up to a lot of time over one day. It does.

I find myself running around the house to collect dirty dishes from the living room, dirty laundry from bedrooms and bathrooms, gathering matching clothes for the entire household for the following day, preparing the lunches for the next day, dusting the furniture as I walk past them and generally tidying up toys, shoes and other items from around the house.

And as if that wasn’t enough, when you do get some time to watch TV you can’t find the remote as someone has placed it in the groove between the cushions in the sofa.

[Note from Nick: I actually duct-taped our remote control to a giant wooden spoon, so it was impossible to lose. But then the kids used it as a sword. You can’t win].

This time-waster is sly and creeps up on you. Before you know it the evening has gone and you have no energy to write.

You need to explain to your family how important it is to you that they help you to keep everything in its organised predetermined space and that it does use up a lot of time if they don’t. Give them all a behaviour chart with reward stickers, even your husband / wife / partner, if you have to. Don’t take no for an answer. Everyone needs to clean up their own mess, even the little ones.

[Note from Nick: our kids have taken well to a reward chart – or “acceptable behaviour bribery” as I like to call it. Though I think if I tried that with my wife, she would divorce me…]

I know we all have smartphones today to keep track and that can remind us of all our appointments and that is a fab tool. But to keep everyone in the family on the same page I keep a calendar where I write down upcoming events.

 

(Sorry, yes it is in Swedish, but you get the gist. And yes this one is staged as an example. My son can’t even sit up yet and I don’t have any pets.)

 

This is a powerful visual tool, which can remind you of things you need to do as you are passing by. I have hung mine in the hallway so I can’t miss it. Sometimes it can be hard to see the forest for all the trees. If that is the case, a tick-list works most of the time.

And most importantly, remember, you are supposed to do the planning when the children are awake. Yes, you heard me. The evening is not planning time, it is writing time.

It is possible to do the planning while the children are awake. It only takes twenty minutes. That is how long it takes for them to do their school homework. I sometimes also resort to homemade ice-lollies. I have found that they work amazingly well. They take a long time for the children to sit still and eat quietly and are just frozen fruit squash.

After you have planned your food on Sunday morning, another good trick is to plan your clothes for the week. This will eliminate the morning craziness of; what shall I wear today? Is it ironed and washed? If you organise with labelled weekdays there is no confusion and you can also plan to wear similar colours in one week.

In this way your laundry basket will fill up with one load, which you can run and avoid having the basket fill over thanks to multiple colours in there that do not amount up to one complete wash.

 

 

This enables you to either sleep for another twenty minutes or take the opportunity to do any of the household chores so you don’t have to do them in the evening on your writing time.

When it comes to my daughter’s clothes, during the week it is the school uniform that needs to be worn, so no biggie there. For other occasions I let her wear whatever she likes…within reason. I don’t pick this fight. If she wants to wear a red top with orange trousers and a bow suited to a wedding outfit, I let her. It minimises the chance for tantrums as I probably could never get it right. It saves time.

They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day so it needs to be made with care. But I also keep it simple.

I have a selection of suitable choices available and if my daughter wants to eat the same every morning for a week, I let her. Again, fewer tantrums I have to work through.

If you are born in the eighties or before that, you probably have it set in your bones that one should never eat on the sofa or watch TV or a tablet whilst eating. If my daughter wants to do that every now and again I let her. It’s more important she eats, and that dinner time isn’t a giant argument.

I also keep a routine for my daughter so that she has set expectations when she comes home from school in the afternoon. On Mondays it is iPad day, on Tuesday it is ballet day, on Wednesday it is ‘play in your own room’ day, on Thursdays it is piano lesson day and on Fridays it is play-date with friends in the park day. This minimises the chances of tantrums and nagging for things on the wrong days.

You can also save a few minutes here and there by adapting to your circumstances. To give you a few of my examples:

When you are walking from one end of the house to another, look around you to see if there is anything else you can bring with you so that you don’t have to come back and walk the distance again.

The pipes in my house must be running around Timbuktu before the hot water reaches my shower, because it takes a good few minutes. Instead of only standing around waiting for the hot water to come I make sure to use that time to brush my teeth. Yes, it might seem as an extreme timesaving measure but EVERY MINUTE COUNTS!

 

 

CHORES AROUND THE HOUSE

But if you organise your life to be easily managed and multitask where you can, then you might find some extra time left over to write.

Having a neat house is not the same as having an organised home. Are the coffee cups placed prettiest in the cupboard at the end of the kitchen or in the one closest to the kettle? Is the toilet paper stored at the top shelf where they are hard to reach or in the bathroom? Do you leave the watering can next to the flowers in the window or way back in a cupboard by the cleaning articles?

For other chores I also ensure I carry them out effectively. Some examples are:

When my daughter has her evening bath I hang or unhang and fold the laundry, as I can have the clothes-horse outside the bathroom door where I can still see her. I can also bring out the ironing board to still be able to watch her but at the same time do the ironing. This is killing two birds with one stone as my daughter can have a longer bath and won’t therefore throw a tantrum because she doesn’t want to come out of the bath. She knows it is time when she looks like a raisin. She also gets that bonding time where she can speak with me uninterrupted.

I always run the dishwasher during the night and in the morning whilst making the family’s breakfast I use the dishes from within it and quickly tidy up the rest.

I do the mopping at the same time as I play with my daughter. She loves to help me mop. Yes, her mopping mainly consists of leaving puddles on the floor that I later have to mop, but it keeps her busy from distracting me or making a mess elsewhere.

For goodness sake, don’t spend time discussing if you should watch TV tonight, and what there is to watch. You have just lost thirty minutes – a page of your book. Decide with your husband / wife / partner a day that you can see a film and let him research to pick one out so that you can just start it straight away when you are ready.

 

 

NOT KNOWING WHAT TO WRITE

So the house chores are done, your husband is happy, and your children are asleep and you finally get time to write. What are you writing?

Don’t ever find yourself in the situation where you don’t have anything to write. It is such a waste of time when you have been so good at planning. My advice is to always have a notebook or a gadget to record any ideas that come during the time when you can’t write so you remember them when you do have time to sit down. When I was younger I would remember my ideas and anything I needed to do, but now, I know I need to write everything down.

Unfortunately my ideas comes to me at three a clock in the morning, but still, I lean over to my night table and write them down.

 

 

If you need to do research your smartphone is a good option if you can do it on the go. I sometimes bring up the notes and use dictation to record any ideas that come to mind. I can even record longer sections of a book and Airdrop it to my MacBook later.

To find inspiration on what to write and to become a more contemporary and knowledgeable writer, my advice is to read as much as possible. For those times I need to collect my daughter from school on the bus, I bring my Kindle so that I can read while waiting for the bus and during the journey.

[Note from Nick: “knowing what to write” is easier when you have a plan – here’s how to put one together to help you write a novel in as little as 30 days]

I also find my reading time as I do other chores. Multitasking is key! I read from my Kindle when I breastfeed my baby, when I am waiting for my doctor’s appointment or when I have my coffee breaks. I have wireless headphones for my phone so I make sure I listen to audiobooks or Spanish lessons whilst I mop, vacuum or when I exercise.

To save time on character building, I also use a profile portfolio program where I can record features and store an image that helps me remember how characters look and how I would expect them to act as well as any relation to other characters. This saves time in the writing process.

When it is a routine you won’t even notice these changes.

If you get all of these tips into your daily routine you will soon find that you have spare time to write (true: I’m typing this right now with one foot on the baby bouncer and sitting on the sofa with the laptop on my lap). Take time once a week with your husband / wife / partner to go over next week’s planning and you will find that you are more effective.

Sounds like a stressful lifestyle? Well it isn’t for everyone. But this is how I did it.

So, to conclude, to be able to find writing time in the evenings ensure you make the entire family efficient, multitask all chores when children are awake, plan ahead to stop pondering over decisions, and focus when writing.

 

 

When I have finished the Science Series I will be adding a section to my website where I will give tips and tricks on how to organise your work/life balance. I will be letting everyone know in my newsletter when I have launched it. When I can find time. ☺

If you have any specific problem on how to organise an aspect of your everyday life, I would be more than happy to brainstorm with you and perhaps together we can find time to gain time!

Your life is your dream. If you can dream it, you can live it!

 

Therese Caruana, 35, has lived in Gibraltar for 11 years and obtained British Citizenship. She has self-published three of seven fantasy books in her Science Series with two more coming soon. She has also published a stand-alone book, Arakzeon City, and a children’s book, Penelope – A Gibraltar Girl with a Twirl. Additionally, her drama / fiction title Food Frenzy is currently being edited for publication.

 

Connect with T.M. Caruana and find out more on her website right here, or on Twitter here, or on Facebook here.

And now we want to hear from you: What “time saving hacks” have you used to find more time for writing? Let us know your best tips in the comments!

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Sheila Lamb
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Sheila Lamb

This is brilliant Therese as it was great to read all your tips and be nodding my head some of the time – emptying the dishwasher as I need the clean plates etc, sorting out laundry when daughter in the bath, planning meals for the next week before going shopping and reading articles/newsletters when waiting for school to come out. But you are far more organised than I am and I was breathless just reading it! As I was reading it I was waiting for my daughter (7yrs old) to bring me breakfast in bed (took an hour) – I… Read more »

Therese Caruana
Guest

Thank you for reading my article Sheila. I’m happy that some of it might have helped you. Bless your sweet daughter to bring you breakfast in bed. Mine is 5 yrs old so the food I get in bed is still made of plastic. LOL. Although perhaps it wasn’t so relaxing to wait, at least it sounds as you got a few things done. I am glad you took the time to leave a comment for me 🙂 Thank you.

Patricia
Guest

Great post, thanks! Your English is amazing (having lived abroad three times, I get it)! It’s just me in my household, as far as humans go, my son being grown. But I have dogs that need to go out in the morning and a cat that sits on my chest if 6:30 rolls by and she hasn’t been fed… so, I bathe at night before bed. In the morning, I have a minimal routine, throw on some clothes, and by 7 am, the dogs are out and fed, I’m dressed, the bed’s made, the cat’s fed, and I’m onto coffee… Read more »

Therese Caruana
Guest

Thank you Patricia for reading my article. You seem to have an interesting life, rich with animal friends. I used to have an American cocker spaniel that was lovely. It is so cute how they can do anything to get attention and food, especially when you need to focus on other things. I totally agree with your tips to save time. They are very useful. Routine helps a lot for me too. Good Luck with your planned move to the Netherlands. Thank you.

Barbara
Guest

A great article. Like Therese, I learned how to organize when I was studying for my nursing degree with 4 children ranging in ages from 4 months to 10 years old. I did my homework with the children, learning how to work with multiple distractions. (I graduated in the top 1/4 of my class) You need to plan ahead with children in the picture but you can find time to write. I discovered early on how much time TV wastes. Facebook is another time wasters. You can write a 1000 words in an hour if you are prepared. Use the… Read more »

Therese Caruana
Guest

Thank you Barbara. You must have been busy with 4 children and hence know how important it is to think forward to be able to get anything done. Well done and thank you for your good advice. I agree that the TV is one of the bad guys for me as once you get drawn into something time passes without you noticing it. Thank you.

Patricia Finney
Guest

Thank god, my kids are now grown up and self-propelling and seem relatively undamaged by having a writer for a mother (I have also had a large number of part time jobs to keep the wolf, coyote, fox and badger from the door.) I smiled reading your account because you are obviously so much more organised and conscientious than me. I tended to cut things out, rather than finding more efficient ways to do them. 1) don’t pair socks. Have a large bag of socks and let people who want paired socks, do it themselves (includes husband). Colour code –… Read more »

Therese Caruana
Guest

Thank you Patricia, you seem to also have perfected the routines in your home. I love your advice. I think I will adopt the timer on cleaning as it makes it fun for my daughter…and my hubby. LOL. Thank you

Patricia Finney
Guest

It took a while, I can tell you. I got better at it eventually.

Sheila
Guest
Sheila

I had to reply – definitely going to do the ignoring the tantrums and no.3 about the clothes and Happy Hour! 🙂 Don’t iron that much at all now either. I do clean as part time work so that’s definitely a plan for the future to have my own cleaner!!! Sheila

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