Do you struggle to make time for writing after a long day at work? Feel stuck in a draining routine that leaves you feeling less and less like a writer by the day? Maybe you feel like your task management system sucks. BTW, you should know your system failed if you regularly get that frustrated-overwhelmed feeling because you know you’ve worked hard all day—spent hours being productive—and you’re no closer to meeting your writing goals.
Dude, I’ve been there, and it’s a miserable place to be. Especially when your sense of creativity, which used to see the world in colorful sparks of inspiration (“that’d be an awesome idea for a story!!”), starts to draw blanks.
Dear writer, don’t despair! Today, I’m going to share some fool-proof productivity tips that will help inspire you to make time for writing when you’re physically and mentally drained. You’ll learn to better balance your time, prioritize your tasks, and achieve your writing goals (on top of working a day job).
First, grab your copy of the Time Tracker Worksheet below to help you visualize and reflect on your current routine and figure out what you can do to ensure that you have time to write every day. This worksheet will help you set up a solid task management system. Second, if this topic interests you and you want to use a task management system that will help you reach beast-mode-levels of productivity and have a fulfilling writing life, sign up for the VIP list of my soon-to-be released ebook, The Productivity Process.
*This post contains affiliate links. Find out more about that here. The skinny: I earn a small commission if you decide to buy something through the link. If you make a purchase, there’s no extra cost to you. As always, know that if I share a writing app or product with you, it’s because I use it, love it, and think it could benefit you on your writing journey. Thanks, buddy!
How to make time for writing
First thing’s first, we need to go over a Big Truth. If you want to finish your novel or poem or memoir or anything, you need to write. You can’t just ~plan~ to write. I’ve said it many times before. If you want to be a writer you need to set aside time and put in the work to finish your writing.
Listen: I know it’s hard to add time to our task management system. Especially after a long day. I’m not judging or throwing shade. I’m the first person to cave to procrastination. Netflix is my lifeblood, and I love nothing more than watching Parks and Rec for hours after a long day at work. So, I know where you’re coming from.
Artist and writer, Austin Kleon, shares how he finds time for creative work in his book, Show Your Work!:
“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. We’re all busy, but we all get 24 hours a day. People often ask me, “How do you find the time for the work?” And I answer, “I look for it.” You find time the same place you find spare change: in the nooks and crannies. You find it in the cracks between the big stuff—your commute, your lunch break, the few hours after your kids go to bed. You might have to miss an episode of your favorite TV show, you might have to miss an hour of sleep, but you can find the time to work if you look for it.”
In order to make time for writing (even when you’re exhausted after work or school), you need to find the time to work. You need to commit to looking for the time to write and then protecting the time you set aside to write. Creating a consistent task management system will help you achieve your productivity goals and find time for writing.
With that said, let’s get to it and learn how to make time for writing after working all day.
First thing’s first, click the button below to grab your free copy of the Time Tracker Worksheet. This resource will help you find time to write and then schedule it in your task management system.
1. A good task management system starts with your mindset
Is your motivation shrinking? Change your thinking.
If your routine or stress about a lack of productivity makes you feel small and defeated, one solution is to try to reframe your thinking. Try to be aware of the internal language you use when you think about writing.
Nothing kills productivity more than the feeling that you HAVE to do something. I know it’s easy to think you need to do some writing—especially when you’ve skipped a few days—but instead of thinking something like:
I HAVE to write a chapter of my story today.
Try to change your thinking to:
I WANT to write a chapter of my story today.
Is your motivation shrinking? Change your thinking.
When you have to do something, it becomes a chore and you’re more likely to drag your feet to get it done. Think of any yard work you’ve ever planned to do on a Saturday morning. Think of that eight-page research paper you have to write that’s due on Friday. What about that time you had to write up customer satisfaction report for your boss? It all sucks because it’s boring and unfulfilling work.
Riiiight? Wrong. There are plenty of people in the world who enjoy doing yard work on a Saturday morning, completing research papers, and helping out their boss/company.
So, we have to ask, “what’s their secret?”
They want to do this work, because…they find a worthwhile reason to.
For real: That’s it.
- I want to make my yard look nice on Saturday morning.
- I want to research this cool topic and learn new things.
- I want to help my boss and be a valuable and reliable member of my company.
Now it’s your turn. Here are some ways you can reframe how you think about writing. Try it out:
I WANT to tell this story about a controversial topic because it’s a topic/issue that we, as a society, need to address and be aware of.
I WANT to finish this novel because it’s my way to use my voice and leave a mark in this world.
I WANT to work on my research because I want to learn about new things.
I WANT to revise my draft because it’s important to finish what I started.
2. Build a ritual
You need a ritual to be habitual.
Remember when, before you wrote any in-class essays, your teacher would ask the same three deep-thinking questions? Or she might have begun every lesson with a short and fun video clip from YouTube. Or he might have played classical music in the background during group peer-editing sessions. I once had a teacher tell me to chew a specific flavor of gum whenever I studied for SATs. So that when I felt nervous and overwhelmed at the beginning of the test, I would chew that flavor of gum, and get in the same, relaxed state-of-mind I was in while I studied for the test.
Guess what? These were NOT random activities that served no purpose. These quick activities served as a trigger in your teacher’s task management system. Your teachers did these things because they understood the psychology behind habit formation.
Consistently completing the same, small activities before doing an overwhelming or difficult task, will help you build a ritual. In turn, rituals act as a trigger for your brain that cues the start of a specific activity. It also boosts your motivation and helps you get in the zone. Rituals contribute to habit building because they act like a chain of falling dominoes leading to whatever habit or task you want to complete. You knock one domino down and it pushes the next one, and then the next one, and then the next one down until it’s all done. You want a ritual in your task management system that acts like falling dominoes.
A Domino-Chain-Ritual in action might look like these series of steps:
First, you turn off your phone, close out of any distracting websites/emails.
You sit in a specific chair that you’ve designated as your Getting Down To Business Chair.
You get your favorite pen and set the timer (that’s always on the table next to your Getting Down To Business Chair).
Then, you might spend 5 minutes journaling about: What you want to accomplish for the day, why you want to accomplish this, and what you can do to increase your productivity.
Finally, once you’ve built momentum, you begin writing.
You see how this works? Each mini-task in this ritual leads to the next step and helps sends a signal to your brain that it’s time to get to work. Like falling dominoes.
More examples of Domino-Chain-Rituals:
Create a ritual around something you enjoy or something that relaxes you
You could drink a glass of your favorite flavored water before you start writing
Take a walk around your office or neighborhood
Do some stretches or jumping-jacks
Change out of your work clothes and into comfy clothes
Take your dog for a walk
If you work a full-time job, and you want a way to balance your time, your ritual could be an important factor in how you transition from working all day to writing. For example, every day when I get home from work, I put my work bag away, make myself a cup of coffee, grab a snack, and for exactly thirty minutes, I watch Netflix or read a book. I do this every, single day when I get out of school—without fail. I don’t check my email, I don’t revise lesson plans, and I don’t go on Twitter.
My ritual keeps my writing fresh and makes it habitual because it functions as a clear, cut-in-stone transition between my full-time job and writing. It works because it kills two (multiple) birds with one stone.
I get a break after a (sometimes exhausting) day at work
I do an activity I enjoy
It’s also a ritual, and so my brain knows that once thirty minutes is up, it’s time to start writing.
Experiment with building a ritual—don’t be afraid to quit a ritual if it doesn’t work for you. Once you find a ritual that works with your task management system, it becomes clockwork in your brain. Dude, my ritual is so ingrained in my head that it’s created an internal clock in me—I know without looking at my watch when my half-hour break is up. It’s freaking-unnerving.
3. Create achievable goals
It’s not insurmountable if you hold yourself accountable.
Meh—I’m not feeling that one so much.
Let’s face it, you’ll never find time for writing if you don’t have some kind of task management system that keeps you accountable. By “accountable,” I don’t mean that if you miss a day of writing, you lose money or suffer some kind of crippling punishment. What I mean is, your goals need to first be achievable (ALWAYS set yourself up for success) AND you need a time frame to measure how and if you succeeded.
For this productivity system to work, you need to first set a big goal that you want to achieve in the next 90 days. *Completing your goal in 90 days is the important part.* You need a due date for your goal. It doesn’t matter if your end product is exactly-like-you-wanted, but you’ll make tons of progress and be way more productive if you have a deadline to work towards. It holds you accountable and gives you a foundation to measure your success.
Three months (90 days) is the perfect amount of time to finish some big things without losing sight of your plan. You know how every year you make a New Year’s Resolution and vow to work on it for an entire year? What ends up happening? Most of the time, you stick to working towards your goals for a few months and then you get bored and discouraged and then you quit. That’s because setting a goal for an entire year is way too long a time to hold yourself accountable. I’ve found that 90 days is the sweet spot between accomplishing a goal and bailing on it.
Some examples of big writing goals to set if you’re a writer:
Write three chapters of a novel
Improve your grammar skills
Finish all your research for your story
Finish creating and building a fictional world
Be a more productive writer
Self-publish your book
Where you might get stuck:
There is a delicate balance between setting an achievable goal and getting overwhelmed. I find that, for me, personally, I do better when I work through my goals slow. For example, I won’t set the goal “write a novel in 90 days” because I know it’s not my style. Unless it’s November and I’m writing my NaNoWriMo novel 😉 . I know myself and how I work best. Because most goals have tons of tasks that you need to check-off to complete and achieve the goal, I recommend only having one or two goals for each 90-day period.
Take some time to think about your productivity and motivational levels. Do you work best in high-pressure-time-sensitive situations? Or do you operate under “slow and steady wins the race?” If you know you break under pressure, then you know it’s a wicked-bad idea to set the goal of “write a best-selling novel in 90 days.” You’d be setting yourself up for failure.
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You now have a ton of phenomenal productivity tips and advice about building a successful task management system to get started. So, get to it! 🙂
Today’s Action Steps to Make Time for Writing:
Download your free copy of the Time Tracker Worksheet and schedule time in your day to write.
Reflect on how you think about your tasks—do you HAVE to do them? Brainstorm some ways that you could reframe your thinking so you WANT to do these tasks.
Experiment with building a Domino-Chain-Ritual to help you get in the zone before you start writing.
Make sure your goals are realistic and achievable.
If you liked this post, you’ll also enjoy 4 Ways to Overcome Procrastination.
Leave a comment below—I’d love to hear how you make time for writing! Do you have an awesome task management system—what is it?