December 11, 2018
A strange thing has happened to me as I have grown into my career as a writer—instead of feeling more adept at my craft and being more prolific in my words, over the past few years, I have grown to feeling increasingly and unsettlingly less productive.
It’s been a strange phenomenon, especially because I started my writing career during my years as a mother of young children. In fact, my highest-grossing year to date also coincided with the year that I gave birth to my fourth child. Somehow, with four children under the age of six, I was able to make more money than I am now, with all of my children in school. Can someone tell me how that makes any sense?
The answer, I believe, comes down to time-blocking.
What is time-blocking?
Time-blocking, if you haven’t already heard of it, is a time management and productivity technique that comes down to grouping your work into shorter, more focused sections of time. There isn’t necessarily one “right” way to do time-blocking, but essentially, it is the opposite of multi-tasking; instead of writing an article while simultaneously checking your email, texting your friends back, and researching some plot points for your new book, you would devote set time intervals for each task.
You could, for example, set aside 30 minutes for writing only and 30 minutes for research. The key to effective time-blocking is that during those 30 minutes, however, you would not do anything else but the task at hand. That means no quick inbox checks, no quick texts, no switching the laundry, and no calling your husband to chat on his lunch break. In order to be effective, you have to block out all other tasks and focus on the one for that block of time. Then, when your time is up, you switch to the next block of time and the next task.
I’ve concluded that back in my prime of writing alongside of young children, I was time-blocking without realizing what I was doing, simply out of necessity. I never had long increments of time in which to leisurely write. I only had short bursts of time here and there, so I had no choice but to be 100% focused on getting my work done. In fact, I would even keep specific lists for tasks that could be done in 5, 15, or 30 minutes, so anytime the kids were occupied, I could knock out something on my list, whether it was fleshing out an article outline or setting up an interview with a source. I wasn’t working more than 30 minutes at a time usually, but during those 30 minutes, I was more productive than I often am now in an aimless hour or two without kids around, constantly threatening to wake up or need a diaper change.
The dangers of distraction
I was also able to get so much more done back then because social media just wasn’t as looming of a presence as it is now. Sure, Facebook was around and sure, I enjoyed updating my status back when it was still prompting me in the third person, but it wasn’t as integral of a part of daily life as it is now. Now, one “quick” peek at my feed can suck full hours of my day away.
In addition to my own personal experience with time-blocking, the practice has research behind it to prove that it really is an effective one. Studies have found that time-blocking helps employees stay on task, be productive, and increases work-life satisfaction levels. One study in particular pointed that even if you think that the quick inbox check or Instagram peek isn’t harming your productivity to a dramatic level, those micro-distractions add up. You might peek at your phone, only to see a text thread you know you will need to reply to later with your dinner plans, or a reminder from your partner about that party you have to go to later that you’re dreading, and just those small reminders hanging over your head will impact your mood, which will impact—you guessed it—your work and productivity.
Writing is a profession ripe with the potential for ample distraction. We need to research for our articles, we have to scour the ends of the Internet for our sources, and we need to read other writers’ work for inspiration. But all of that necessary busy work can kill our own business in ways that leave us feeling stuck.
I may not want to go back to the time in my life when I had four children six and under and a full-time writing schedule to keep up with without childcare, but I can learn a thing or two from myself back then and realize that time-blocking works and it’s time to make it a part of my life again.
Do you practice time-blocking?
Chaunie Brusie is a labor and delivery nurse turned writer. She lives in Michigan with her husband, four young kids, and a flock of chickens. Find her at chauniebrusie.com.
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