By: Marilyn L. Davis
How Do You Spend Your Time?
“One of the very worst uses of time is to do something very well that need not be done at all.” Brian Tracy – Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time
Learning to Use the Time We Have
For more than 20 years, I ran a women’s recovery home. With up to 17 residents, there was always a crisis, emergency, or unpredictable, chaotic behaviors – usually before 9 AM.
Some days, I knew that I’d only get a few paragraphs of the TIERS curriculum drafted, and it might be several hours before I could edit. But writing that recovery curriculum was a priority, and I treated it as such, but I also learned to be flexible in my writing. Without knowing how much time I’d have to write, I valued each hour.
One of the distinct traits of addicts is that we neither value nor respect time in our addiction. Therefore, I made time management one of the life lessons for the women of the house.
Besides remaining chemically abstinent, the women needed to learn time management and realize that they had choices in how they allocated their time.
While this might seem like something that we should have learned early in life, unfortunately, most of us had squandered time, money, and energy in our addictions. Therefore, we had to learn the value, recognize the importance of time, and use it wisely.
Where Does the Time Go?
Many of the women complained that I expected them to do too much. I would hear in therapy sessions, “You expect us to do too much – read our curriculum, work off property, do our daily worksheets, and attend recovery support meetings or groups. We don’t have enough time.”
My solution to this was to create a “How I Spend My Time” to let the residents see precisely how they allocated the resource of time. The surprising results were that over 1000 women spanning 20 years had discretionary time after fulfilling all of their obligations – sometimes as much as 4 hours, but rarely less than two. I was jealous, as I did not think I had that much discretionary time.
Now I Had the Time to Write and What Did I Do?
Since the house closed in 2011, I have edited a 400,000-word curriculum, trained counselors in the TIERS curriculum, conducted workshops on recovery, facilitated recovery groups for an HIV-positive group, newcomers at a men’s facility, and a study at a women’s recovery home. While I was doing all of these things, people told me I should find a writing site and share recovery and addiction information.
I appreciated the encouragement and interest; however, I did not know how to be a productive writer and use my time wisely.
Much of the material I had written over the years was a reaction to a situation, and I falsely believed that new inspiration was the key to effective writing.
Finally, Scott Biddulph sat me down and encouraged me to write an addiction article at a site where he was writing at the time. Of course, this meant that I would have to evaluate other articles. I spent considerable time reading articles on addiction. But it wasn’t just reading the articles and another blog post, no it was countless hours:
- Reviewing other articles on addiction and recovery
- Printing out the pieces and comparing them to mine
- Reading all the articles on how to write effectively
More Unnecessary Uses of My Time
Then I spent a few more months:
- Re-reading all 59 of my original Personal Discovery Guides
- Narrowing it down to 15 that needed reworking
- Revising my fifteen original articles to conform to 1800 word suggested count
- Revising my rewritten Personal Discovery Guides
- Editing my rewritten and revised post
In retrospect, it is amazing to me that I got anything written and published.
Busy Work is Not Writing
I also created the illusion that the following busy work was writing:
- Finding better images, taking the time to research all the options
- Re-reviewing my finished piece
- Buying some new books on the topics – I needed to stay informed
- Reading some of the books
- Going to the basement, finding out of print books, and re-reading them
Are you getting a picture?
I was scattered, running in circles and wasting time for about seven months, stating that I was researching writing and getting no writing accomplished.
Then I decided to move; well, that ate up about five more months of sorting, sifting, selecting, and severe anxiety, and how could I possibly write in that frame of mind? Besides, I was so tired at the end of the day that I knew nothing would make sense.
Furthermore, I needed to spend quality time with my dog going on long walks that I was sure would prove inspirational to my new vocation of “a writer.” There you have a perfect example of rationalization and justification for not writing.
Time to Take Charge of the Writing
When I started writing full-time for Two Drops of Ink, I decided to write – not talk about it, spend hours on images for yet another article, or play with fonts to determine which displayed the words more attractively.
Moreover, if I was going to write, I needed a schedule and structure that reinforced writing. I am someone that likes organization and order. It is a family thing, like so many of our quirks. It is not debilitating, has not cost me a relationship, nor is it illegal, so it is just a personal quirk.
I also realized that I would have to make my environment more than a home office. That conflict with home and office meant that I might not take it as seriously. Therefore, I made it as organized as I did my desk at the recovery home.
It would be the writing desk, not for paying bills or reading a magazine, or a catch-all for lost items. Following the words of Benjamin Franklin, “A place for everything, everything in its place.” That translated into having all of my writing books accessible, so I did not have to get up and hunt for them. Nor could I get distracted by the plants that needed water in the living room. And the dishwasher? Well, I didn’t look into the kitchen, and I lowered the volume on the timer, so I didn’t become Pavlov’s dog and respond. All of those household things would be there when I finished writing.
I also set the alarm on the computer and used a Baby Ben clock with an annoying bell clapper – two things reinforcing that I’d written for my allocated time.
When Writing is the True Priority
The reality is that until writing was a priority, finishing articles was a goal, and there was a designated time for the writing, I didn’t accomplish my stated goals for writing.
I made myself a schedule that I manage to stick to:
- I get up at 5 AM to write and take a break for 10 minutes at 7 AM
- Back to writing until 9 AM.
- I divide my writing time between Two Drops of Ink and my addiction blog, From Addict 2 Advocate.
- Edits for the blogs start at 1 PM.
- Publishing a post on each blog at 3 PM
- 5 PM: Check submissions and correspond with writers
Doing recovery groups, adding to TIERS, watering the plants, and unloading the dishwasher still occupy my time. However, when I say I am a writer now, I mean it with conviction and know that I prioritize it.
While I can make excuses for not writing, I know it is because writing is not my priority that day. It is always a choice; I do not kid myself anymore.
I get comments and emails from other writers that sound much like the women of the house:
- I don’t have enough time
- Other things took priority over writing
- Household obligations interfered with writing
- It’s season 7 of my favorite show
- I have family obligations
- COVID-19 means the whole family is there demanding my time, etc.
- Are you making your writing a priority?
- Do you still find yourself making excuses for why you are not writing?
- Is writing significant enough for you to get up early or stay up late to write?
- Do you know where you spend your “writing time” if you’re not writing?
I would like to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing
Marilyn recently published her memoir, Finding North: A Journey from Addict to Advocate, available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. To help others write an excellent memoir, she published, Memories into Memoir: The Mindsets and Mechanics Workbook, also available on Amazon.
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