I recently tried an experiment.
I decided to see if I was a morning person.
Instead of staying up all night writing, I decided to spend 30 days going to bed at 9:30 p.m. every night and wake up at 5:30 a.m.
Though it was rough to dash out of dinners early, turn down all nighttime plans, and go to sleep with work still unfinished, I discovered that I was much more productive this way. By the time most of my friends were waking up, I'd already finished much of my work for the day.
While it did destroy my social life that month, I learned a lot, in part because in those extra morning hours, I began reading books on time management and productivity.
So I thought I'd share some of the advice:
1. Know what your time is worth. There's an easy formula to calculate this: take your earnings for the year. Divide that number by 1760. The resulting number is roughly what you make hourly in a work week. However, considering that people work at most for one-third of a work hour, multiply that number by three. Now you know what your time is really worth. Treat it that way.
2. Make lists. For those of you who don't keep running lists of the things you need to do, it's time to do so. Get things off your mind and down on paper. Then prioritize them. One way to do so is to mark them as "A" tasks, which must get done right away; "B" tasks, which must get done that week; and less urgent "C" tasks, which simply need to get done sometime.
3. Link what you do in your life to your goals. With the Internet available as a constant distraction, most of us are constantly busy but not constantly productive. So always ask yourself: "Is what I'm doing right now bringing me any closer toward my goals?"
4. Beware of people who suck up your time. Wean them off their dependence on you and teach them to respect your time. If they continue to call, text, or bother you a lot, put them in their place politely. Explain, "I'm really busy, so I'm only dealing with things that are a 9 or a 10 on a 1-10 scale right now. If you're sure what you need to talk to me about is a 9 or a 10, let's deal with it. If not, let's discuss it tomorrow." Deal with your priorities first, not theirs. If your door is always open, people will always be walking through it.
5. Put the phone away while you're working, and do not check your email, so that you aren't constantly distracted. Most things can wait. Unless your work requires being available by phone and email all day, set yourself one or two specific time periods during the day when you deal with emails, phone messages, texts, MySpace, Facebook, Second Life, and all the rest of the technological innovations keeping you indoors.
6. Speaking of which, try to do something active and physical each day. Though it takes time, it improves focus, so you can use the time you do have more productively and feel better about yourself. In general, the secret to happiness is living a balanced life.
The books that helped out with these tips include Getting Things Done by David Allen; First Things First by Stephen Covey; and No B.S. Time Management For Entrepreneurs by Dan Kennedy. I also like the title of Never Check E-mail In the Morning, though I've never actually read it.
Since, as a writer, my priorities are different than that of the businessmen to whom these books are often directed, I've developed some additional strategies. The better I manage my time and the less my communication lines are open, the more pages I can complete. So one thing I did during my early-rising experiment was keep a log of how I spent my time. I noticed that more than 15 hours a week were sucked up by responding to email.
I remembered one writer saying that when he was working, he unplugged his DSL cables, but I tried a different tack: I made a list of the two dozen people I absolutely needed to get in touch with, created a new email address for them, and then wrote an auto-responder for my old email account that explained that I was no longer checking that account due to work deadlines. Suddenly, I had 14 extra hours a week free to work and play.
Another good tip for writers is to light a candle when you're working. Then keep writing, without distraction, until it burns to the bottom. Another advantage to burning a candle is that it lets anyone who happens to be around know that you're writing and not to be disturbed.
You only live once and you never know when it's going to end, so by making sure you get the most out of your time, you'll also be making sure you get the most out of your life.