Powerful Time Management Tools - Guest Post By Peter Prichard

Anything Less than a conscious commitment to the important is an unconscious commitment to the unimportant.
— Stephen Covey
clock-1274699_1920.jpg

Any profession requires the ability to manage one’s time in a way that allows you to get the job done effectively.  This is particularly important for writers because of the often-open-ended nature of the writing process.

In one of my past lives as a career counselor I helped thousands of professionals identify and reach their goals and for many of them, the appropriate use of their time was a major issue.  As a writer for over 40 years, I have also constantly had to grapple with that issue.

The most powerful resource I have found for creating an ability to manage one’s own time is in Stephen Covey’s international bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  His 4-quadrant time management model is elegant in its simplicity and powerful in how it helps one organize their time.  The model was so popular that he wrote a follow-up book with two other authors titled First Things First which was also a best seller that primarily dealt with how to manage one’s time. 

The first concrete action I am asking you to take so that you have self-data to use to improve your time management skills is to answer each of the questions that follow.  Take some time with these answers and capture them on a pad of paper or electronic device that allows you to retrieve them toward the end of this article.  If you would rather read the article and then decide if you want to write anything down, go for it.

Question One:  What is one activity that you know if you do it superbly well and consistently would have significant positive results in your writing life?

Question Two: What is one activity that you know if you do it superbly well and consistently would have significant positive results in your personal life?

In action number two, I am asking you, as I outline each of the four quadrants of Covey’s time management model, to again have pen or computer in hand and write down the answer to the questions I will ask about each of the quadrants.  This self-evaluation will allow you to act most effectively on the suggestions I will be making about how to apply Covey’s model to your writing.

Quadrant I contains both Important and Urgent activities. Check those activities that you do regularly:

-Deal with pressing problems____

-React to crisis situations____

-Act on deadline driven projects____

-Put out fires____

-Take part in important meetings____

-Force decisions and closure____

-Deal with late inputs from stakeholders____

-Make last minute changes____

-Perform unscheduled re-work____

-Attend medical meetings or emergencies____

Quadrant II contains both Important and Not Urgent activities.  Check those activities that you do regularly:

-Relationship building____

-Recognize new opportunities____

-True recreation____

-Strategic planning____

-Personal development____

-Reading____

-Learning activities____

-Build capabilities____

-Work-Life balance activities____

-Healthy meal planning____

-Journaling____

-Meditation____

-Build long-term solutions/systems____

Quadrant III contains both Urgent and Not-Important activities. Check those activities that you do regularly:

-Busy work____

-Respond to needless interruptions

-Popular activities____

-Meet other people’s priorities____

-Excessive texting____

-Attend inconsequential meetings____

-Respond to peer pressure____

-Read or respond to unimportant emails containing status posts etc.____

-Enable others____

-Spend time on tasks with little or no impact on your goals____

Quadrant IV contains Not Important and Not Urgent activities.  Check those activities that you do regularly:

-Excessive video gaming____

-Mindless TV/web surfing/online chatting

-Read gossip sites/forums____

-Mall marathons____

-Over analysis (analysis-paralysis) ____

-Excessive relaxation____

-Destructive habits____

-Idling____

-Endless socializing____

-Time wasters____

Taking Action: The “So What?” Section

wooden-2562594_1920.jpg

Action #1 - You now have self-information based on your number of check marks on each of the descriptors under each of the four quadrants.  This is now the time to do an important quadrant II activity which combines many of the descriptions in that quadrant.  Relax and think about those actions you might take to lessen the pressing nature of those Important and Urgent Quadrant I activities while increasing the time you spend in Important and Not Urgent Quadrant II activities. 

Both books mentioned in this article have stated very clearly that one of the keys to time management is to lessen the number of non-important, Quadrant III and Quadrant IV activities in which you engage.  Nobody I have coached has ever argued with the logic of that statement, it makes perfect sense.  Look at your answers above and see the activities you are involved with that are Not Important Quadrant III and IV actions.  Spend time thinking about which of those could be lessened or eliminated.

You do not have to make significant changes or take dramatic actions to create more time for your writing.  Start with one action that you think is doable and impactful and move from there.

When I have gone through this activity with writers, the place that many of them have started is eliminating meetings with the time wasters in their lives that add no value and are a time suck.  By looking at your calendar over the last six months you will identify quickly those individuals with whom you have spent a lot of time in face-to-face, phone, video, online conversations that did not need to happen.  Having often difficult conversations with them explaining that you are time pressed to get your writing done and you are going to have to lessen the number of conversations you have together has often proven to be a significant step that needed to be taken to free up time for writing.

Action #2 - The answer to the two questions I posed earlier – “What is one activity that you know if you do it superbly well and consistently would have significant positive results in your writing life…and…your personal life?” – can also be a powerful guide to actions you might take to create additional momentum regarding your writing. 

Covey suggests that you look back at your answers to those two questions and see what quadrant(s) in his model best describes your answer.  Are they important?  Are they urgent?  He suggests that they are usually in Quadrant II and that if one acts on answers to those questions, “Our effectiveness takes quantum leaps.”

The answer to the question regarding my writing was to have a well thought out and honest conversation with my wife about how we might change the timing of our interactions so that I could focus on my writing without taking away from our relationship and the things she needed from me.  That conversation changed how we spent our time and did not lessen the quality of our marriage.  I am not sure I would have had that conversation if I had not honestly answered Covey’s question while reading The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People when it was first published.

A Unique Writer Variable

I have found in my conversations with some writers that they have sometimes felt that the Important activities need to shift with where they are in the writing process.  A few have said that the need for relationship building is not as important while they are writing their novel, screenplay, short story collection etc.  They have stated that developing relationships during that creative period can take time away from the creative process.  They have felt that the focus on relationship building is more appropriate during the phase when their writing is completed, and the marketing phase needs to begin.

I strongly disagree.  The relationship development needs to be an ongoing endeavor while you are writing and then when you are marketing what you have written.  There are multiple reasons for that, with two common sense reasons being of paramount importance.  The first is that your relationships might be able to assist you with your writing. When I wrote my first novel the initial draft that I showed to four close friends was over 300 pages.  Their suggestions narrowed it down to 200 pages and made it a much better book.  Since there is a music theme in that novel I also had quotes, including many music lyrics, at the beginning of each chapter.  The almost uniform reaction was that the quotes, though interesting, took away from the flow of the book and confused them in terms of the plot thread.  So, the forty-six quotes came out except for two at the beginning and three in the middle.  If I did not have those trusted relationships who were willing to give of their time to assist me at the half-way stage of my writing that story, the novel would not have been as well received.

The second major reason for doing ongoing relationship building is the obvious fact that individuals who know you well are more likely to give you assistance in the marketing of our writing than if you had just reached out to them and asked for help.  I have talked with many busy and influential people who have complained about calls, texts or emails from people they either do not know or who they know and have not talked with in years, asking for help marketing their book.  That is not the way to gain the assistance you need.

I highly recommend both books mentioned in this article to anybody who is interested in doing further work regarding creating the time needed for your writing.  If I had to choose one, it would be The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People because the 7 habits described in that book provide a comprehensive way to lead a successful life with the time management quadrant in the middle of the model as habit number three.