Time management for writing - Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education

Time management for writing

by Dr Katharine Jewitt, JLDHE Technical Editor

Taking control of time management can feel very empowering and give your world a new lease of life. You will often have to juggle busy social and leisure time with work, domestic life, whilst trying to carve out time for writing. It doesn’t take long to discover there is little slack and you might find that you get bogged down from time to time. If you need to overhaul how you manage your time, this how-to guide is for you.

Why Time Management?

It’s demotivating to find yourself falling behind. By managing your time well, you give yourself the best chance of keeping up and planning some well-deserved time for writing. Time management can help you to:

  • keep on schedule
  • survive and reduce the effects of your hectic life style to allow more freedom
  • free up time for writing

These skills are also often a prerequisite for doing well at work and making time to write.

Time Management Know-How

Time management skills can be as simple as being aware of what you have to do and which tasks are the most urgent. You need to spend time each week on planning what to do next and gathering together any resources you’ll need.

Find out about your Time Mangaement Habits

Follow a four-step process to manage your time

Step 1:Analyse Analyse how you use your time in a typical week. Keep a log of all your activities.

Step 2: Evaluate Once you have logged your activities, you should then try to evaluate each activity using clear criteria. This should enable you to see whether you are using your time appropriately and to identify more clearly some of the sources of potential overload, inefficiency and ineffectiveness.

Step 3:Change Spend some time considering your options and decide how you will proceed with any changes needed. Construct a log on a weekly basis. Construct daily to-do lists, identify any resources needed.

Step 4: Review To begin with, review your time every 3 or 4 weeks to review how things are going. Build on what went well and reflect on what didn’t go so well and why.

Do you know how you spend your time each day? Write down a list of each hour of the day and jot down the hours you have available and how you use them.

A time log is simply a record of what you do during the day and when you do it. Keeping a log of your activities for a week or so can give you insight into how you are using your time and where to make adjustments with how you spend your time. Try to identify where you lose time.

Keep Your focus

Sometimes remembering what is inspiring you to complete a task in the first place can help your get some perspective when you feel that you time management is out of control. What is your end goal? What is your reward?

Finding fragments of time in your busy days can be an excellent way to fitting some extra writing time into your life. You can use short chunks of time to think about your time (for example, waiting for the microwave to finish). You could even decide to get up an hour earlier to start writing.

Foursquare Time Management grid

Write down your tasks within this grid.

First do the things that are both urgent AND important!

time management grid

If you fall behind

If you have fallen behind on writing your article, or you know there are particular difficulties coming up, here are some strategies that can help you survive.

  • Plan strategically and be prepared to compromise.
  • Talk to your friends and family. If you’re being slowed down by a particular aspect of your life, talk it through and perhaps you can receive help through it.
  • Save time by having everything you need to hand. Have a place to store your paperwork.
  • Take a break. Sitting looking at your article without being able to focus on the words does no good at all. Go out and forget about it for an hour or two and come back to it refreshed.
  • Try to break difficult tasks down into bite-sized chunks – small tasks which you can face. Alternatively, set a timer to give yourself just 15 or 30 minutes to write. The knowledge that you have to stop when the alarm goes off, rather than struggling all day to get it done, can be surprisingly liberating.
  • Set yourself clear rewards – ‘once I get this done I can pop out for a sandwich at my favourite shop’.
  • Once you have identified your writing as important on your priority list, don’t question it. Get it onto your desk and do it!
  • Resist trivial tasks which might be easy or even fun but which don’t need to be done.
  • If you find yourself easily distracted by other people, turn your phone off or put a barrier up around your workspace. Restrict downtime to set breaks on your schedule.
  • Don’t fill every minute of your schedule with tasks – some say that no more than 50% of your time should be planned. You need to allow plenty of time for interruptions, calls, and most importantly routine breaks such as coffee or lunch, which are vital to allow you to recharge and clear your mind.

Final Thoughts

If you need more time, getting up 1 hour earlier and cutting down on 1 hour of TV in the evening each day, can gain an additional 14 hours in your week. If you work best in the mornings, do extra then, and in the evenings do whatever takes less concentration. If you have children, perhaps you can take turns with a friend who also has children and take them for a half day at the weekend, so you get a 4-hour block for writing. You might prefer to work late in the evening – some people are happy to finish after midnight.

Your best friend is your time log.

Spend Sunday evenings planning your next week. Gather together all you will need and decide when you will spend time writing. Record deadlines and set yourself reminders.

Make active choices about how much time you choose to spend on various activities, rather than letting something take over your life. Once you develop time management skills you will feel more in control.

Keep going
If you tend to get stuck and are falling behind, highlight any tasks you’ve got problems with, then break them down into bite-sized chunks.

Focus your effort
The 80/20 rule (Pareto’s principle) states that you can get 80% of the result you want by concentrating on the most important 20% of your tasks. If you’re short of time then following this rule helps you concentrate on what is important.

If you can’t decide how to use your time, use the foursquare grid (shown above) for setting priorities. You classify everything you have to do according to its importance and its urgency, then do the tasks that are important AND urgent first.

Do some planning so that you always have a list of things that you

  • must do
  • should do
  • could do

You won’t necessarily deal with the ‘must do’ stuff first, if you don’t have the right opportunity or there’s too much distraction. But do make sure you’re doing something useful from the list.

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