5 ways to make time for your creative work
Does your schedule, job or other responsibilities make it impossible to write or work on a creative project?
Life gets busy. Daily schedules become hectic. Time gets away from us. On some days, you just can’t drop everything and dedicate two hours to write or work on a creative project. Many of us balance full-time jobs with a side hustle. Others juggle home responsibilities and family life while pursuing their creative passion and chasing after their dream. And for those creatives who’ve turned their dream into a full-time career, there are still times when you may feel overwhelmed with other tasks, and creative projects get brushed off for “another day.” And another. Until those days turn into weeks and you’re so behind that you just want to quit.
As much as I love to write, it doesn’t always happen unless I deliberately make time for it, especially when “writer’s block” rears its annoying head and makes everything else look more appealing than writing (even the dirty dishes in the sink suddenly look like more fun than picking up the pen). Before I realize it, I’m off doing everything and anything but working on my project.
We’ve all experienced the “I don’t have time to write” or “I’m too busy to create content” mentality at some point, whether it’s a blog post, chapter to a book, article, etc. Some days I can’t wait to come home after my 9 to 5 to write. Other days, I’d rather turn on my laptop, push my writing to the side and dig into Netflix as I eat my bag of Skinny Pop (the whole bag…it’s okay...it’s skinny).
I wish I could say my determination to complete my writing goals wins every time but that’s not the case. The struggle is real at times. Some days my will to write supersedes everything else. And on other days, my commitment to work on a project falls to the wayside due to time, exhaustion or other reasons, and I end up binge-watching (unapologetically) instead. While the latter may win at times, this choice is no longer a hindrance to my writing progress. I’ve come a long way from the days I went weeks without writing because I lacked serious dedication to working on my own creative projects outside of work. I developed a writing routine to create consistency in my schedule. I may not write every single day, but my effort is definitely enough to see major progress in my writing goals.
So how do we find time to write and create when life is chaotic, busy and noisy? It’s simple, yet complicated: We just need to make time. I know that answer probably deserves a slight eye roll because it states the obvious, but it’s the truth. There’s no getting around it. I had to become intentional with making time in my schedule. I also became creative in finding time to work on my projects during my busy and chaotic season, including days I just didn’t feel like it. I had to stop with my “I don’t have time” excuses for weeks on end. If I had time to binge watch Bates Motel after work, I had time to write.
We need to create opportunities in our schedules to make it happen. Here are five ways to make time to pursue your creative work during the craziness:
1. Talk it out
I get a lot of ideas for storylines and content for my projects when I’m driving in my car. Even though I carry an “ideas” notebook everywhere, it would cause a traffic hazard to pull it out and write down my thoughts in the middle of traffic. I can usually hold onto my ideas until I get home, but there was a time when my idea for a short story disappeared before I pulled into my parking lot. The concept came to me on the highway, but the ideas moved too fast. I couldn’t keep up. So I lost it.
Since that incident I’ve learned how to use the voice recorder on my phone to keep track of my thoughts, concepts and ideas and to create an outline for my project. This method is effective when you are tight on time and you can’t write your thoughts down right away. Create a voice memo, highlighting the overall description of your content/project. You can make your voice notes as detailed or simple as you choose and then transcribe them when you have access to your laptop/notebook and time to write out your voice notes.
Record anything that will help you remember your idea so that you can expound on the details later. Maybe that means recording your introduction or just highlighting your main points. I like to record my characters’ dialogue for my fiction stories, because those lines are hard to get back once they’re gone. Whether it’s fiction, nonfiction, blog posts or an idea for a creative project, record your thoughts in a format that makes sense to you. Hint: Make sure your voice notes are as concise and clear as possible, just in case you don’t get around to transcribing them right away.
2. Give me a break
We don't always have huge chunks of time available to create. I'd love to have five hours available to work solely on my projects, but full-time job schedules don't allow that, and other duties call. When it comes to our creative work, we need to get it in whenever we can fit it in at times, including our break time. Can you allocate any of your lunch break to writing? It doesn’t need to be a full hour. If you dedicate 30 minutes of your break to write for two days out of the work week, you’d have one hour dedicated to your creative project every week. It may not seem like a lot, but those sixty minutes will add up to four extra hours every month that you didn’t have before.
Keep a notebook nearby so that you can step away to write during your lunch break or during your downtime. Depending on the weather, I drive to the forest preserve around the corner from my job, or I just write in my car during my break. Taking 15 minutes here and 30 minutes there really adds up, and it keeps you on track with your goals on the days your schedule or obligations prevent you from writing and working on your creative projects after work.
3. Switch it up
Starting your day 30 minutes earlier or going to bed a little later can free up time in your schedule to take care of tasks you can’t squeeze in throughout the day. My girlfriend started getting up at the crack of dawn to write and work on her creative projects. I tipped my hat off to her, as my brain doesn’t function well enough to write that early in the a.m. But one thing this night owl could manage was pushing my bedtime back a little later to work on my projects, and that’s what I did.
This same rule applies when you can’t find time to write because of your environment. Maybe you have a lot of obligations that require your immediate attention in the evening, and you can’t find time to write because it’s chaotic. Writing and creativity take a lot of mental energy, so it can be challenging to write in an environment that is noisy or doesn’t allow you to focus. Noise in a coffee shop is different than commotion at home. If there’s a problem with the coffee machine, we can put on our headphones, zone out and mind our business. But when we’re at home in our own environment, it’s easy to get distracted and hard to ignore the fires that need to be put out.
Is there a time in your house when things are quiet? Maybe it’s early in the morning or in the stillness of the night. Instead of pushing your projects to the side because of a noisy environment, steal quiet times when there are minimal distractions...even if it requires waking up a few minutes earlier in the a.m. or retiring to bed later.
4. Cut back
Is there a leisure activity you can cut back on or put on pause to free up more time to write and create? I admit this was easier to do in the summertime when almost every TV show I watched went on hiatus. I wrote a lot because I had less distractions. And now that the fall lineup is back on, it’s tempting to get sucked back into watching TV more. As of right now, I’m proud to say that I’m behind in my TV shows and have some catching up to do. My ever-growing list of recorded TV shows on my DVR is proof that I’ve put television on the back burner. I haven't given up TV completely. But since I discovered how much I accomplished over the summer without TV, I decided to keep my writing momentum and newfound discipline going with a new incentive system.
Before I turn on the TV, I need to write and produce some results (sometimes it’s literally only two paragraphs and other times it might be ten pages). I record all of my favorite shows, so I can watch them after I complete my writing for the day. And lately, I’ve been so caught up in writing, I don’t get around to watching my shows until Saturday afternoon. It’s an incentive to keep me focused throughout the week so that I reach my target goal by Friday.
Bottom line: If I want to watch my shows, I need to write. And you better believe I’ll finish up my writing and reach my goal in time to watch the much-awaited season premiere of TWD this Sunday! So this reward system works in my favor.
What can you spend less time on? Movies? TV? Social media? Social outings? I’m not saying you need to give these up altogether (giving up Netflix is not negotiable for me), but cutting back on certain activities or engaging in them after you reach your daily/weekly goal will make your creative project a priority and increase your productivity.
5. Jot it down
I’m not a hardcore fan of outlines (natural pantser here), but I admit outlines do help when you need to organize your thoughts and save time on the process. On the days I have a general idea for a project and I don’t have time to write a complete post or chapter, I create a loose outline. This normally includes jotting down an intro, subtitles, main bullet points for each subtitle and then the end result.
The theory applies to my fiction writing as well. I’ll jot down the opening line, highlight major scenes of the plot, write out the ending, and make a note of any areas I need to conduct research. This outline theory can apply to any piece of content or creative project. It removes some of the legwork and gives you a foundation to outline your project so that you can fill in the missing pieces later, cutting the time in half.
Making time to commit to a creative project takes work during a busy or hectic season, even when we truly enjoy the work we do. Whether it’s surfing the Internet, Twitter chats, reading, watching TV or something else, I’ve learned I always find time for things I want to do, no matter how significant or trivial. And I love writing, so why not just make it a priority?
You may not see it now, but making small, subtle changes during hectic days will have a major impact on your goals in the long run. When we make time to work on our craft, we’re guaranteed to see progress and eventually accomplish our goals, as long as we’re willing to put in the work.
Sometimes we don’t even realize how much time we have in a day because we are doing so many things. Take a few days to track how you spend your time. Every hour. Jot it down.
6:00-7:00 am gym
7:00-7:30 am- social media
7:30-8:00 am- eat
8-10:00 am- meeting
You’ll begin to see a pattern and discover how you’re really spending your time. I realized I was busy but not always productive, so I started making minor changes. We don’t always need to go big and start off with huge adjustments when making life improvements. Small changes are easier to manage and adjust to, and they can be just as effective.
Are there any time-consuming tasks you can eliminate or decrease to work on your creative projects? Implement one or several of the tips above to make it happen!
Happy Writing and Creating!