No matter what you do, you can’t seem to win. Focus on home and family and your writing doesn’t happen. Put time and energy into a writing project, and you could write absent notes to friends and family in the dust on your furniture. Working long hours to accomplish your writing goals, cook, clean, run errands, and serve your family is neither fun nor fair.
There’s a better way, thankfully. All it takes is a mindset shift and a boost of creativity.
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It’s tempting to work on your writing goals and productivity while ignoring the bigger picture. (Raising my hand here.) Let’s face it, writing books is way more enticing than washing dishes, folding laundry, or helping your child with his homework. It can be so easy to let the rest of life slide while you concentrate on your writing career. That won’t fly for long, because putting off other duties doesn’t make them go away.
We writers need to find more time to write, and that is often true. Everyday life has a way of intruding into writing time. The real problem is more complicated, though. How do we make time to write while also meeting our other responsibilities?
When You Can’t Keep Up with Your Writing Life
It’s commonly thought that a balanced writing life is impossible to grasp. I submit that a writer who accepts this ideology as truth suffers a disadvantage. Attaining any goal requires that you believe it can be attained. Believing your efforts are doomed from the start leads unsurprisingly to failure, which reinforces your doubts in a vicious cycle.
What if you could have it all: time to write, a clean and comfortable home, a nourishing supper on the table, an appreciated family, the laundry mountain conquered, and yes, even time for yourself? That’s an objective that might require you to reconsider the time frame for some of your ambitions and review certain expectations to create balance. It would cause you to grow in areas you never anticipated. Ultimately, it could lead to cohesion between your writing and personal lives that would let you accomplish more in both.
An obstacle that can stand between a writer and balanced living is short-term thinking. It leads us to burn the candle at both ends, let housework slide, ask our families to understand our absence just one more time, and put off friendships. Sure, sometimes you have to closet yourself in order to seize a can’t-miss opportunity or when you fall behind a deadline, but having this as your ‘norm,’ invites author burnout. Making decisions based on a long-term view forces you to come up with innovative solutions and manage your time well.
You can only let housework slide so long. Eventually, you have to clean. In my household, the advent of a holiday or expected arrival of guests used to prompt crisis cleaning that pulled me away from my writing desk for days at a time. In between these panicked episodes, my family continued to live in a cluttered home with borderline cleanliness. This flood-or-famine approach to housework created stress, a guaranteed creativity killer. My breakthrough came when I realized that, given the increased demands on my time due to a blossoming writing career, this pattern would continue indefinitely unless something changed.
Emulating professional cleaners, I abandoned room-by-room cleaning in favor of tackling housework by category. For example, now when I pick up the furniture polish, I won’t put it down until I’ve gone over all the furniture in the house. Glass surfaces receive a similar treatment. Do you recognize the time-management technique of batching? It works for housework as well as writing.
By establishing routines for repetitive chores like doing laundry or emptying the dishwasher I shifted my routine to the mindless category. As a writer, I’m on friendly terms with boring chores. They let my imagination roam, unfettered.
Daydreams aside, when I want to knock out chores quickly so I can return to my desk, timing myself in quick sessions increases my productivity by enhancing my ability to focus. Breaking the work into segments makes it less intimidating, and taking quick breaks in between gives me the positive reinforcement of immediate rewards. I sometimes use this technique for writing as well.
Adopting routines, using a timer, and batching my housework certainly helped but didn’t provide all the relief I needed. The biggest help with cleaning came when we purchased a robotic vacuum that automatically goes over the floors once a day. All I do is dump out the vacuum’s dust bin, tap the air filter on the trash can to clean it, and once in awhile unwind hair from the rollers or perform quick maintenance. My Roomba 860 Robotic Vaccuum Cleaner (affiliate) can’t do everything, of course, but it does the lion’s share of our floor cleaning. The cost of our model was no higher than purchasing a good vacuum cleaner like a Dyson or Oreck. Compared to paying for a housekeeper’s time, that’s a bargain. My husband has a dust allergy, I’m glad our robotic vacuum cleans my floors daily on a schedule that was simple to program. Cleaner floors make for less dust in the air for us to breathe or that settles on the furniture. As a writer with deadlines, I’m grateful for the extra time a robotic vacuum gives me.
Robotic mops (affiliate) do exist, and yes I’m tempted to purchase one. Meanwhile, I gave up my bucket in favor of a mop that allows me to spray a solution on the floor that needs no rinsing. I can usually find the two minutes it takes to mop the kitchen every day. With the house staying cleaner, my attitude toward housework has improved. Dare I say it? It’s (almost) fun. As a bonus, my family pitches in more now.
Keeping Up with Clutter
My husband and I combined the belongings of two households when we married. Years later, we’re still struggling with our combined clutter. Every so often, a decluttering fit would seize me, but something invariably interfered. By the time I returned to my project, I’d forgotten where I left off. Having dragged out the contents of a closet or purchased storage items only added to the mess.This book has changed all of that for me. Taking you through every area of your home, it outlines decluttering and organizing in numbered steps. The bite-sized projects prevent my cleaning ambitions from overwhelming me, and a bookmark is all I need to keep track of where to pick up again. I was surprised to discover that putting my house in order delights me and everyone in my household. It makes sense though. Decluttering and organizing improves the functionality of my home. On its own merits, that’s wonderful. It also translates into less stress to hinder my creativity and more time to write. Being able, while cooking, to immediately lay your hand on the ingredients in a recipe without rummaging might seem trivial, but small increments of time add up.
Make Time for You
I had abandoned most of my avocations to pursue a writing career because that’s what you have to do, right? Granted, writing professionally requires sacrifice, sometimes to the exclusion of other activities you enjoy. However, giving up your defining interests takes you away from the things that make you unique. It robs both you and your readers. After becoming a published author, I maintained a single focus on my writing career for several years. When I finally awarded myself some free time, I found sorting out what to do with myself difficult, shocking for someone whose imagination and curiosity had always safeguarded me. At loose ends, I felt as if I had lost part of myself.
Decluttering and organizing my home has become my new happy hobby. I’ve learned something I wish I’d known before. Organizing saves my time. Sure, organizing has its costs in terms of time and money, but I consider it an investment in my family, myself, and ultimately my writing. Once I have my home under control, I’ll pursue the interests I abandoned.
Spend Less Time in the Kitchen
There are ways to keep your kitchen duties from turning into a time sink. That’s a tall order, but it can be done.
Meal Planning and Shopping
Plan meals in advance.
This prevents last-minute shopping trips to purchase ingredients or, heaven forbid, a trip through the fast-food line. When you don’t stick to your written menu, you’ll have the ingredients on hand for the meals you planned, making it easier to put a nourishing meal on the table with a minimum of fuss.
Menu-making is a repetitive chore. Why do it more than you have to? Consider saving your menus and rotating back through them. Who in your family will know or care that they ate the same thing several months or a year ago?
Make restocking staples easy.
List the spices, condiments, baking supplies, pasta products, beans, canned goods, frozen foods, paper items, and dairy products you like to have on hand. Use it to quickly pinpoint the staples that need replenishing before you go shopping.
Shop with a list.
This practice saves both money and time. It wards off return trips to the store for forgotten items and makes shopping more efficient. I have been known to ‘power shop,’ selecting a week’s worth of groceries in half an hour, because I had a list.
Order groceries online.
I am a member of a buying club for an organic food distributor that delivers to my area by truck. I have subscribed to receive a CSA (consumer-supported-agriculture) share of farm-grown vegetables delivered to my door on a weekly basis. A local farm sends out a milkman to deliver fresh dairy products to customers on a regular schedule. Many grocery stores allow you to shop online. This has certain advantages. When you shop in a grocery store, it can be hard to stay within your budget. Unless you shop with a calculator (a time-consuming tactic) you won’t know the total price until you checkout. By contrast, online food suppliers usually allow adjustments to your order, giving you control of your grocery expense.
The crockpot is your friend. It can cook dinner while you work. You have to load it, so it isn’t completely automatic, but using one is about as close as you can come without hiring a cook.
Keep a list of quick meals using staples you usually have on hand. When you’re pushed for time and can’t make it to the store, you’ll be able to put a meal on the table in a hurry anyway.
Choose foods with quick prep times. Dinner salads, fancy sandwiches, roasts, and soups make for no-fuss suppers. Pita bread and/or vegetables dipped in hummus, dinner leftovers, stuffed potatoes, soups, and salads are good choices for quick lunches. Breakfast can be oatmeal, yogurt and fruit, bread pudding and other leftover dinner desserts, eggs and toast, or a nourishing smoothy.
Periodically declutter and organize your kitchen. Cooking in an orderly space cuts down on the time you spend on the task. It makes working in the kitchen a better experience for you and everyone else in your household.
Delegate Kitchen Chores
While on a tight deadline, I created a cooking and dishwashing schedule that included every member of my family. Afterwards, I refused to go back to shouldering those responsibilities alone. Delegating chores I was brought up to believe belong only to a woman took some rethinking on my part and an adjustment for my family. I kept coming back to the fact that writing is the job I work, so cooking and cleaning full-time isn’t possible for me. Every working woman faces this reality, but it can be harder to justify when you work from home. My husband contributes, too, but because he has a long commute, I schedule him on weekends and for less duties than the rest of the family. We share the load for yard and home maintenance, so this is fair.
Keeping up with Errands
Schedule the earliest slot when making appointments with doctors, dentists, lawyers, and other service providers. You won’t have to wait due to delays when they fall behind and you’ll have most of the day left after your appointment. Alternatively, schedule the last appointment to avoid a broken day. Rather than picking up the waiting room’s magazines or browsing social sites on your smartphone, bring something you need to read for research.
Designate an errand day. Choose a less-productive day of the week, month, or whatever interval works best to knock out everything that takes you away from the house. Start at a point farthest from your home and make your way back to your front door. You’ll be less likely to call it quits before you finish.
Some Final Thoughts From Janalyn
I can’t promise these tips will solve every situation, but giving them a sincere effort should bring improvements that save you time. Rather than strictly adhering to tips gleaned from my experience, use your own creativity to find solutions of your own.
Keeping up with personal relationships without sacrificing your writing career, deserves separate treatment. I’ll continue with this topic in another installment.
If you have tips to share or thoughts to add, please comment. I do my best to reply each one.