The Art of Making Time

We’ve all heard it, and I suspect none of us have liked hearing it, but heard it we have–if you truly want to do something, you simply have to make time. The rational among us say, “You can’t make time! There’s a finite quantity available, and that’s it.”

While there are some in theoretical physics circles who might argue that we can, indeed, make time, most of us agree that we have our daily 24 hours with which to work, and not a minute more. However, we each have a certain degree of control over how we use the 24 hours, and therein lies the problem. How many of us look at our desired to do list (read! write! sleep!), and then remember:

  • The dog needs a walk.
  • The child needs clean underwear.
  • The refrigerator is empty.
  • The floor is dirty.
  • The counter is hiding under a mountain of clutter.
  • The bills should be paid.
  • A family of six could eat for a week on the number of crumbs on the couch.
  • The child needs a ride to practice/a new piece of equipment/a permission slip signed/etc.

Oh, my. I’m tired just re-reading this list! But, I’ve made a discovery: these are not the things sucking up your time. In fact, I bet if each of us kept a daily log for a week, many would be surprised to learn where all the time is used, and where it isn’t. But before I get to that, let me share with you my family’s quest for simplicity.

You see, we’re tired. Tired of cleaning, of moving piles of clutter around the house, of searching for “lost” things. They’re tired of hearing me complain. I’m tired of not finishing the novel I’m writing. We’re all tired of not having enough time for fun family activities. And so, we’re purging, building, and simplifying. Items we haven’t used in years? Gone. To charity, the roadside (people will snag anything we leave out there!), and recycling. Empty boxes, old papers, gifts we never really liked but feel guilty about giving up, cookbooks we’ve never cooked a recipe from, broken things, and more, are all heading out the door. We’ve set a deadline of the end of summer to be done. (I should mention that I have 1100 sq ft of attic alone that is full to the brim with. . .stuff.)

Next, we’re organizing the items that are left. Our new house rule: if it comes into the house, it has a place where it belongs, or it’s not coming in. No arguing, no debate. Hubby is putting his amazing woodworking skills to use building beautiful built-in shelves, because our house currently has very little storage (and thus the need to move piles around). But, even a nearly empty, well-organized home won’t allow me to do the things I want to be doing. That’s because of the battle between Things That Suck Up My Time vs. Priorities.

Ah, priorities. Priorities are those things that must come first, whether it’s for your own sanity or the safety and well-being of your family or your career. These are the things that have to happen in order for each of us to be happy, healthy, and well-adjusted people. They’re different for everyone, of course. For instance, I know that I can’t do certain things, such as homework (when I was in college) and writing, when my personal space is a disaster. Even if I go to the library or a coffee shop, I simply can’t shut the disaster out, and I’ve accepted that my space has to be tolerable in order for me to be focused and creative.  Housework? I’ve heard the many lectures from friends and family about just letting things go, that it doesn’t matter if there are dishes in the sink or a sticky spot on the floor. But it does, to me. These things are not sucking up my time; instead, they are priorities. However, there are some slippery, sneaky, time-sucking habits I haven’t yet broken, things that do not belong on the priorities list. For instance,

  • Television watching
  • Facebook surfing
  • News reading
  • Procrastinating

Don’t misunderstand, I’m all for watching a good show! But, watching TV isn’t necessary. It doesn’t help me write books, or clean my house, or keep my family fed. Yep, it can go. I love FB. I love hearing from long-distance friends (I hate phones), seeing uplifting stories from groups like Smart Girls, and so on. But really, a half-hour daily check in is more than enough. Reading the news? So much of what is posted online these days, even via the major news outlets, is so sensationalized that it’s hard to know what’s actually news any more. A quick check of the headlines, a detailed read of any crisis that seems legit, is probably more than enough. Let’s not forget the procrastinating! Oh, my. I am guilty at times of being so overwhelmed by my to-do list that I’m completely paralyzed. Other times, I have a crisis of faith in myself and my ability to do the things that I most want to do, like finish the current work-in-progress, which leads to more procrastinating.

Is everyone depressed yet? I hope not–this is an uplifting post! Our family has decided that we need more time together and less stuff, to spend more time engaged with each other and less time simply in the same space, and that it’s okay to decide what’s really a priority–and ditch the rest of the time-suckers. We’re setting personal goals as well. Mine include spending less time cleaning and organizing (the purge and the shelves will help me achieve this), to write and publish more short stories, attend two conferences this year, and to finish a full draft of the WIP by November.

To help with my writerly goals, the members of my writers’ group and I are participating in a 100-words-a-day challenge. Every day we email the group a copy of what we’ve written that day. No one needs to read it or provide a critique. Instead, just the act of sharing with the group keeps each of us honest and focused, and is helping us build the writing habit. We all work full-time in non-writing jobs, so this is really helpful. What we’ve found is that we almost always write more than 100 words, and it feels so good to send that email! Which motivates each of us to write more. Writing and emailing these 100 words every day is now a priority.

So, with some pruning of the to-do list, a lot of purging and organizing, and a focus on prioritizing, I figure I will have added about two hours to every weekday and even more to the weekends.

Eureka! I made time!

How do you make time? Any great tips for the overwhelmed among us? How do you make time for reading and/or writing?


Author: Pamela A. Oberg

Pamela is a portfolio manager at an educational assessment company by day, writer by night. Founder of Writers on Words (a discussion and critique group), Pamela enjoys spinning tales of murder and mayhem, with an occasional foray into the world of the paranormal.

11 thoughts on “The Art of Making Time”

  1. Nice one, Pam. Have you tried that new program called Freedom that shuts down the internet connections on your computer while you write? Some writers swear by it.


  2. Heh, we’ve done similar purges. Reminds me that it’s about time for a new one (just how these kids outgrow clothes so fast is beyond me). I try to limit my FB/Twitter time to when I’m at work (because I need a break every so often from the day job). My lunch hour is writing time. And I belong to two different groups where I can publicly post writing output for the day. Again, no critique, just “hey, I wrote today” and we support each other.


  3. I was JUST thinking this morning before I came online that a house purge was in order! Wow. Great blog (and that I was nodding my head through the entire reading just goes to show that you are definitely not alone in this experience)! Way to take control of the situation! You’ve inspired me…


  4. Theresa, I hadn’t heard of that program. I’ll have to look into it! Mary, I hear you–munchkin hasn’t put a single pair of pants on in a week that aren’t three inches too short. Sheesh! I’m definitely loving the accountability of sending my 100 words, but I like the idea of posting writing output. I’ll have to explore how we could make that work.


    1. There are programs to put on your webpage that show your word count toward a goal. I don’t know what they are. Hugh Howey has them on his website.


  5. These things can’t be said enough! I did a 100 item purge in January and I’ve been casting a critical eye at my belongings ever since. (your attic is bigger than my apt, BTW). Making time? I say if it can be done in 5 minutes, do it now. That clears up a lot of that little stuff that gets put off and eventually takes over an afternoon (when you can be writing!).


  6. Diane–you are so right! I worked with a life coach for a while (wonderful experience) and we talked a lot about using those “snippets” of time. It’s amazing how much can get done with five minutes here or there! I love our space, but the new trend toward the mini-houses? That’s very tempting some days.


  7. Terrific post, Pamela! Finding time is such a challenge. I find a little extra time by dividing up my jobs into 3 areas: got to do, ought to do, want to do. That way, I can sample everything without spending more time where I shouldn’t spend it. And it saves a little time not having to figure out how I’m going to get everything done (I can’t!) When my children were younger, I delegated as many jobs as possible by turning them into a game with a job jar. It was more fun to pull a job out of the jar not knowing what it might be.

    As for the purge–we did that last year in our flood, but I don’t recommend that!


  8. Sue, floods and fires are my biggest fear when it comes to the house. I can’t imagine a flood-caused purge! Sorry to hear about that. Kristi, I haven’t quite managed the in/out rule yet, but we’re working toward it. I admit to being an emotional pack rat (if there’s a memory attached to an object, I keep it), but I’m making progress. Having to dust the thing and find a spot for it is helping me be a bit more critical in my choices of keepsakes! Except for books. They all get to stay.


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