Why Structure and Focus are Better than Time

“I’d love to write a book…I just don’t have the time!”

Whether it’s a novel, a poem, or a blog post—time is what’s standing in your way.

…Except that it’s not.

Not if we really think about it. Because thinking about it, you have 10 minutes here and there (if not more) that could, theoretically, go to writing. But instead, you spend it watching TV, reading your latest book addiction, raiding your fridge, *insert doing anything but writing here*.

And, hey, I’m not judging—one look at my Netflix/Hulu history would prove that. But it’s no coincidence that we all have time that’s not going where we want it to.

In fact, it’s quite predictable.

Because when we have “all day” to do something, we don’t really have a plan. There’s no structure to our time. And when we leave our time unstructured, we leave ourselves open to do all sorts of things that aren’t writing.

Let’s look at two examples.

Example 1: “I’ll write for awhile this afternoon.”

What really happens? The afternoon comes and goes with maybe a few words written down. Instead of spending some of your time writing, you spend all of your time doing the next random task that comes to mind—”Better check the mail. Is that a grease stain on the stove? Oh, look, Ellen’s on!” Afternoon over.

Example 2: “I’ll write for the next 2 hours before I have to go food shopping and cook dinner.”

What really happens? More likely than not, you write for two hours, go food shopping, and cook dinner!

There are two major differences between these two examples that make one so much more successful than the other—structure and focus.

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*Mr. Rogers notepad not included

When you give yourself an abstract amount of time to write, you spend that period trying to convince yourself to actually write while getting distracted by other things you could be doing. You leave yourself the option to do other things.

Rather than knowing that 4PM to 6PM is writing time, you’re viewing 4PM to 10PM as a free-for-all where you can (and supposedly will) write, shower, cook, eat, and unwind before going to bed.

You’re probably not going to get all that done…and your shower and dinner probably won’t be the first to get the boot as time’s running out. So, yet again, the night goes by without any writing.

When you know that you have a set amount of time that’s exclusively devoted to writing, you don’t need to choose between writing and eating. You’ll also be much less likely to ignore your writing for something that wasn’t on your to-do list (see: Netflix).

And that brings me to the focus that this structured time gives you.

Now, this part, I’ve taken from Maggie Lord while listening to her interview with Tara Gentile on Power. Profit. Pursuit.

A mother of two, Lord considers herself a “naptime entrepreneur.” During her interview, she talked about how important it is for her to get work done in the brief periods of time when her children are sleeping.

Knowing she only has an hour or two forces her to put her head down and work hard during that time.

Deliberately defining a start time to your writing is important, but having a set end time adds a beneficial side effect as well: with a finite amount of time, you have to focus on what you’re doing.

Just like Maggie Lord works diligently for a couple hours knowing her kids will be waking up soon, you can get quality, focused work done in an abbreviated amount of time if you know there’s a limit—maybe a chore that has to get done, a meeting you have to dial into, or a TV show you don’t want to miss.

Whatever it is, giving yourself a daily deadline for when the writing needs to be done is just as useful as setting a daily start time.

The Dusty Quill

Bottom line, your writing sessions should be bound by time. They start at X o’clock and end at Y. If I left each week’s blog post to  be written “sometime this week”, I’d put it off for days and miss more weeks than I’d like.

Instead, having a set day and time that I write blog posts assures that my posts get written. There’s no other option—on Tuesday and

Wednesday evenings, I get home from work and I write.

Even if all you have is 15 minutes between to-do list items, use that time deliberately. You’re better off working hard for a short amount of time every day than lollygagging indefinitely.

So, find a hole in your daily schedule—a time that normally gets lost to mindless TV watching or unimportant busy work—and redefine it as structured, focused writing time, no matter how small.

And if you need some inspiration to help fill that new time slot, sign up for The Dusty Quill updates below—I’ll send you some 15-minute writing prompts to get your creative juices flowing and your writing muscles working!


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