Monday, October 19, 2009

On NaNoWriMo and time management

Let me start this post on time management by saying I haven’t posted in almost two weeks, but not due to poor time management (exactly), but to a temporary shift in priorities. Not only have I been thankfully busy with client work, I took a long weekend out of town and got engaged (!)—two things that both kept me away from my computer and also started me rolling down the steep slope of wedding planning. (You can expect more than one wedding planning inspired posts over the next six months or so.) Anyway, excuses aside, I have another big project looming that puts time management in the spotlightNaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is an annual challenge to writers worldwide. The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Yes, one of the days happens to be Thanksgiving. You “win” if you actually write that many words. If you’re participating, I’d love to connect with you, so add me as a buddy.

I’m letting you all know that I’m participating because in addition to all other other things going on in life, work, family, eating, sleeping, exercising, Twittering and yes, now wedding planning, I’ll be writing an average of nearly 2000 words a day. Every day. For 30 days. That not only takes a little bit of crazy gumption, but it takes time. Even though the point is just to write a lot, not caring if it’s polished (it won’t be), writing that much still takes me a couple of hours a day.

So how does one manage to find the time? My solution is simple, if perhaps unexpected. I’m not going to tell you that you can multitask your way through the month, doing laundry, writing a blog post and listening to your kids tell you about their day all at once (especially if you do that already, it isn’t going to save you enough time to write a novel in a month). I’m not even going to preach about productivity. Trying to squeeze an hour’s worth of work into half an hour isn’t really feasible unless you already spend half an hour of every hour surfing the Internet for cat videos instead of working.

Rather, the way to make enough time for an ambitious but fairly short-term project is to decide not to do things you would normally do. I’m not talking about washing your hair or feeding your dog, or even going to work. You still have to do all those things. I mean things like watching Netflix, going out to dinner with friends, getting your car washed. I’m choosing writing a novel over socializing, just for 30 days. I’m also going to put my Netflix subscription on hold for a month, which can be done easily. I’m going to make big batches of soup so dinners can be reheated easily and eaten in front of the computer. I’m basically trading some of the things I like to do as part of my normal routine for the ability to intensely focus on one project that has a start date and end date and promises to be richly rewarding to me. You can make the conscious decision to put a few things on hold while you reprioritize and work on a dream at any time. This kind of time management means realizing that you can’t do it all, and you have to be willing to make decisions about what is most important to you, otherwise in these times of intense focus you risk not having enough time to do even the basics.

So wish me luck on finishing NaNoWriMo this year, and I’ll see you on the other side!

Lelah Baker-Rabe is a Los Angeles-based professional organizer. To discuss your organizing needs, call her at 818.269.6671 or email

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