Unfortunately, life consists of more than just writing time. It can be challenging to use your time well, but fear not! Today, participant Daniela McVickershares some great practical tools to help with effective time management:
We all face the issue of spending too much time on straightforward tasks, which is why time management is such a vital skill for any professional, especially if you’re a writer.
There are many reasons one’s time management might be off. Many of us will procrastinate by going down their preferred social media rabbit hole. Others will simply plan their work time improperly. There are things that each of us can improve in our workdays. The great news is that there’s a time management tool that will take of it.
In this article, we’ll take a look at a variety of services that help you work more efficiently and stay on task for longer. Let’s dive right in, shall we?
A central rule of time management
Before we look into each individual tool that writers will find useful, it’s important to stress that efficient work starts with proper time distribution.
Back in 1955, Cyril Parkinson published an article in The Economist, which would change the way many governments perceive deadlines. It was coined as ”Parkinson’s Law” and here’s the gist of it:
“The amount of time that one has to perform a task is the amount of time it will take to complete the task.”
In a nutshell, you’ll work on a task for at least the time as you dedicate to it. Efficient work starts with setting reasonable deadlines.
Many of the tools we’re going to look at today will take advantage of this law.
Focusmate is a tool that many writers adore. This tool taps into the peculiarities of human psychology, which allows it to improve your output during a limited amount of time considerably.
After you make an account with the platform, you’ll be able to schedule 50-minute sessions with other people. The protocol of these meetings implies that you provide each other with a detailed list of tasks you’ll be working on during the session, after which you’ll proceed to work in silence. Once the session is over, you’ll both report on the amount of work you’ve managed to get in, which is a potent form of digital accountability.
More importantly, this tool allows you to take advantage of the Parkinson’s Law, by assigning a limited amount of time on detailed and granular tasks, thus maximizing your productivity and managing your time with maximum efficiency.
Cuckoo is a very straightforward but highly efficient timer designed for teams and individuals. It allows you to divide your work in increments of various length, allowing to preestablish the amount of time you allocate to a certain task.
Besides merely using it as a personal timer, you can sync your work sessions with your colleagues and teammates for collective accountability.
It has an amazingly intuitive interface and design and can be used both in a browser and as an app on your machine.
A large part of optimizing your time distribution is eliminating wastefulness. RescueTime is a great tool to identify the activities that detract from your productivity. It works as a background tracker and provides its users with detailed reports on the amount of time they spend or waste on specific activities during a day of work.
Once you’ve collected enough data on the main culprits of your decreased productivity, you can then start blocking apps that tend to distract you. Considering how intellectually demanding writing is, many reliable writing services have incorporated Rescue Time and similar apps in their daily workflow.
Freedom is somewhat similar to RescueTime in that it allows you to block certain websites and apps during your work time. However, it takes this feature to the next level. You can create different lists of distractors and block entire lists of apps and site on the device that you’re using or across all of your devices, including your smartphone, tablet, and so forth.
The unfortunate truth about social media is that we often intend to open them during working hours. More importantly, we’re rarely aware of the fact that we’re distracted, because… well, because we’re distracted, we simply forgot about the task that we were working on a few moments ago. This is why Freedom is such an indispensable tool in a writer’s arsenal.
Just experimenting with Freedom will provide you with a lot of insight into how mindless everyday distractions can be. So in case you’re looking to minimize the amount of time you’re wasting on sites that are robbing you of your concentration — this is your app. On a similar note, check out an article we published recently on writing with ADHD.
Writing is very demanding, which is why distraction and poor time management have to be eliminated from a writer’s workflow as soon as possible. These tools will have an impressive impact on how you allocate time for your writing tasks and how much time you waste on sites that capitalize on it.
Better time management leads to higher productivity and more consistent professional growth.
Now, back to you. What are the tools you use? Why do you use them? How do you use them?
Daniela McVicker is a freelance writer. She has a master degree in English Literature, and she is truly passionate about learning foreign languages and teaching. Daniela works with the students helping them to reveal the writing talent and find one true calling.
Diversity makes stories better, plain and simple. This year, we’ve partnered with the good folks at Writing With Color to get some advice on how to write stories populated with people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. In the second part of her sub-series “Properly Coded,” Alexa White discusses how to create backstories for characters of color:
Now that we’ve covered how to research to create your characters, it’s time to work on creating the appropriate character backstory. If you don’t spend the time figuring out how a person’s upbringing shaped their worldview, you’ll end up writing yourself in a different wig every time.
You can’t just assume that people will have come out of the same experiences the way you did. You have to account for how their demographics shaped the perception of those around them, which in turn shaped their perception of the world.
You should have some idea of how this cycle from your research (covered in part 1). If you don’t feel like you have a general sense of it, work through these exercises and do more specialized searching.
1: Fill out their frame of reference
“Frame of reference” is a fancy way of saying what they expect to happen in any given situation. It’s basically what your lived experience tells you will happen, what to expect, and how people will generally treat you.
Spoiler: it’s going to include expecting microaggressions.
However, you want to do things other than include microaggressions. You’ll want to create things like what’s comforting, their most familiar communication style, their idea of good and evil, and a whole bunch of things. You basically want to create a unique-to-them lens that they see the world through, while also acknowledging that their lens will be made of what was around them.
Were they a Black family in an almost-all-white neighborhood after a generational climb to the middle class (a la Fresh Prince)? Indigenous in a cultural center with freedom to practice traditions? Seventh generation in the country they call home, but still seen as outsiders because of a white default? All of these will shape how they see the world, and you should research accordingly.
2: Come up with a few formative experiences
Positive or negative, everyone has a few points in their life that change them.
Leslie Odom Junior talks about the teacher at his school who brought him into the world of orating, that led him to realize the power of words. This, in turn, lead him to believe in Hamilton with such dedication, because it was his culture and he could speak from his own experience on stage.
Take some time and try to piece together what made the character who they are today. Reading the first book that featured themselves as a protagonist? Their parents refusing to let them compromise themselves and their cultural identity because of ignorance? The way they celebrated a cultural holiday every year with their community, all the flavours that come to mean happiness on their tongue?
You don’t have to come up with a lot. Just one or two things that sparked something is all you need.
3: Do this for the characters’ parents/guardians, as well
If only to figure out the full scope of how your characters would have been raised. Whether you’re writing fantasy, modern times, or even far in the future sci-fi, knowing how parents experienced the world will go a long way to figure out how they shaped their children.
You’ll want to do the above two steps for at least one generation back in order to avoid stereotyping the parents. So many toxic tropes for characters of color exist in the parental sphere, from desexualisation, to overly-strict, to abandoning, to assuming all things white are the best. The reality is much richer, much more dynamic, and full of possibilities to give your characters a sense of lineage.
You’ll notice I was very positive with the examples above. That’s because these steps are designed to force you away from tragic/negative stereotypes and towards people. People of co lour have their own lived experiences, and stories about them need to respect everything they experienced in their upbringing.
Alexa White, also known as Mod Lesya on Writing with Color, is a Mohawk two spirit person from Southern Ontario, who joined Writing with Color to help educate others. A lifelong lover of storytelling, she dedicates her focus to making characters feel like they come from whatever setting they’re supposed to exist in. If she is not found writing, she is playing with her cat, cooking, or drawing.