Tag Archive for time management

Yes, You Have Time

We have the power to fill our lives with the things that deserve to be there.

—Laura Vanderkam

There are a million time management strategies out there, and most of them are bullshit. It always comes down to making time, not finding time.

Vanderkam leans on that same principle of making time versus finding time, but she also makes it plain that there’s a lot more time available than we think.

That’s where procrastination comes in. We don’t feel motivated by the hard stuff, not even the things we want to prioritize. Suddenly we find ourselves reorganizing bookshelves and cleaning toilets (or watching TED talks*) rather than working.

Which leads me to a reminder:

Stop sweating the details and the results and just get to work.

Or you can take a closer look at the mind of a procrastinator with Tim Urban. If you’re going to procrastinate, you may as well understand what’s happening in your brain, right?

Urban really puts things in perspective when he shows you the life calendar. Ouch.

*Actually, I was listening to these in the background while monitoring network traffic and bandwidth, which is a whole ‘nother kind of time suck.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Hit the Reset Button

I’m wrapping up vacation from the day job this week. Unfortunately, I’ve spent very little of that time on myself.

Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it, you can never get it back.
—Harvey MacKay

I’m not here to dwell on the negative. Most of the problems I’ve had can be summed up by the simple bad timing of my vacation time. One goal was to relax and take time away from the day job, and that part was mostly successful. The other, which I do want to talk about, is taking another look at my creative time.

For one thing, I often spend a lot of time sweating the time I don’t have. That kind of thinking gets counterproductive fast. So rather than pressuring myself to create create create, I spent mostly-idle time thinking about, well, time.

I did a lot of driving, for example. I did a lot of manual labor, such as housework, helping people move heavy stuff, or lifting weights. I did a lot of cooking, in particular grilling and all the prep work that comes with it. It’s mostly-idle time in the sense that I’m physically engaged, and thus unable to jockey a keyboard, but my mind is free to wander. So, when I wasn’t concentrating on preventing 265 pounds of iron from crushing my sternum to powder, I considered how I could best free up other time to jockey a keyboard.

Workouts are one of the problem areas. A karate workout is constant activity, but weightlifting includes rest periods. My bench and weights are in my office, and it’s convenient to sit in front of the computer during rest. I keep a timer running, but in trying to turn those rest periods into productive time and get something done, I created a monster: I got distracted, and my rest periods were blown. Sessions that should be an hour or less ballooned into long grinds, which are counterproductive in several ways. I need to refocus and bang out the workouts so I have more uninterrupted time afterward.

Only skipped a week, but yep, I missed deadlift day.

Fitness time is important, too, and not something to feel guilty about

I decided, during that mostly-idle time, that thinking, plotting, and research is not wasted time. It’s not as productive as cranking out the word count, but it’s still important. I’ve admitted I’m not a seat-of-the-pants writer anymore. Producing a series like The Pack takes more planning. Working on comics means plotting out the beats, the page breaks, the issue/chapter breaks. Putting all those pieces together is not wasted time, so it must count as creative time. Ignoring or skipping that time is foolish.

Next I put some thought into the best uses of my time. Family time is obviously important, as is time with friends. It’s selfish to deny them—and myself—that time. I also spent a lot of time this Spring and early Summer working out with an attack team to help a pair of nidan (second-degree black belt) candidates prepare for their test. I neither regret nor resent that time, but I have to realize next time around that “a couple of extra hours in the dojo” for me also includes a long drive. I alleviated some of that time by hitting a Starbucks to write before or after practice, but the overall time commitment is still there.

In short, I will need to say “no” more often.

I realized, too, that blogging is valuable. Not so much in the sense that it drives sales or interest (it usually doesn’t, especially these days), but in the way it affects my mood. I like the journaling aspect of it, and it helps both my mood and mindset. I haven’t made near enough time for the blog these past few months, and while it hasn’t affected my page counts and other minutiae a lick, it has negatively affected my mood. Ideally, I’ll blather on like this more often in the future.

I packed this thing with notes on the road trip. Lots of good stuff coming.

When I can’t do it digitally, I can still go old school

The vacation has also allowed me take a good, hard look at my routine. In removing the day job from the equation, I can see where I spend the rest of my time.

My morning routine has become a time suck. I roll out of bed and into the computer chair, which started with productive time but lately has become idle time. My inbox and social accounts were busy following the release of Lie with the Dead, but that’s died down. I also have to take a new pill every morning (more on that in another post) and I can’t eat for an hour, which compounded things by making me to feel like my morning’s on hold. I need to revamp that shit, and I need to work with that stupid pill, not against it.

Next I need to do another culling of my RSS feeds. Reading and researching is great when I’m waiting for a software install or virus scan or hard rive restore at work, but there’s no reason to keep up with all that crap the rest of the time. I’ve developed this weird anxiety over unread feeds, and it’s stupid. I’d get home from an event with the kids and look for some relaxing downtime, but what should be at most ten to fifteen minutes of surfing quickly becomes a major time sink. My delete button is my sword to battle the Feedly demons.

The good news is I resisted the television trap this week. Those new episodes of Hemlock Grove aren’t going anywhere. I finally have access to the HBO back catalog thanks to Amazon Prime, but I don’t feel the need to shotgun seasons at a time of Oz or The Sopranos. Cutting the cord continues to be one of the better decisions I’ve made in recent years.

Last but far from least, I’ve dumped the guilt. I still love writing, but I’m extremely busy. Yes, it’s damned difficult to make time to write, but it’s also not doing me any good to hate myself for not doing it. It’s even worse to hate the act of writing for my lack of time. This revelation (decision?) alone may be the most important difference moving forward.

I started my vacation in a foul mood, but in the end I was able to accomplish exactly what a vacation is meant for: I hit the reset button. I didn’t take a trip, I didn’t do anything fancy, I just used the vacation to reflect and analyze my time.

If you’re having the same problems, I suggest you take your own vacation. It will pay off.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Defending Your Time

“Wipe away the magic and myth of creating and all that remains is work … No matter what you read, no matter what they claim, nearly all creators spend nearly all their time on the work of creation. There are few overnight successes and many up-all-night successes.”
—Kevin Ashton

I’m getting better at saying “no.”

I just read the Lifehacker article “Why Some of the World’s Most Productive People Have Empty Schedules” and the related Medium article “Creative People Say No.” If you’re a creative type, especially if you’re yearning to undertake a creative profession, take the few minutes to read these articles. (If you’re already creating full time, you probably already live this stuff, and I envy you.)

When your creations put food on the table and keep the lights on, or when you’re trying to balance a creative career with a full-time “real” job, time is your most valuable possession. Money may seem most important, because you trade money around for that food and those lights. Money helps you buy Shiny New Things and even funds business expenses. Lack of money is what keeps you up at night, sweating bills and empty accounts rather than sweating over creating something.

However, it takes time to generate money. If you have no time to create, then you will not generate money with your creativity. You will stay at the “real” job, and you will pour your valuable time into it, and your creativity will continue to suffer.

This is why I developed the “no” habit, and more importantly, why I’m learning to say “no” to myself.

This is why I haven’t seen the latest, greatest movie in the theater, and why I’m always several episodes—or even an entire season—behind on my favorite television shows. This is why I’ve rejiggered my karate schedule following my black belt test. This is why I sometimes have to tell my friends I can’t hang out on a given night, as much as I’d like to.

After a time, it gets easier. You may feel like a jerk at first, but soon people get the idea. They may not always be happy about it, but they understand what you’re trying to do. If I hadn’t finally learned to say no, Lie with the Dead still wouldn’t be finished, and Deadliest of the Species would still be out of print.

My next trick will be balancing my available time between health and creative endeavors. My martial arts training is not just a hobby, it’s exercise. My weight lifting supports my karate and judo, and I’m trying to get back into running to burn off some fat and increase cardio endurance. Adequate sleep is important for general health and for muscle recovery.

Sometimes, something has to give. Deadlines, you know. It sucks, but that’s how it goes. When I find that winning formula for time management, I’ll let you know.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Make Time Your Bitch

Time is a bitch.

There’s always something to get in the way of what we want to accomplish. It could be the day job, it could be family obligations. It could be surprises like your kid picking a fight with the rabid badger in the back yard or your brother calling because he woke up in the middle of Tijuana with a hangover and no pants. Hell, sometimes it’s just tough to do anything but sit your fat ass on the couch and watch shitty reruns on TV.

This is why you have to make time your bitch.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: This is reality. If you climb in that souped-up DeLorean with your mad scientist neighbor, a lot of strange and uncomfortable things are going to happen, and time travel is not going to be one of them. If a mad Englishman whisks you away in a magical phone booth, it means you’ve been partying just a little bit too hard and you’re going to wake up stranded in Tijuana with no pants.

So no, you can’t time travel. Instead you have to make time your bitch by viciously protecting the time that does belong to you.

Making time is not enough. Nobody respects your time but you, and if you’re really honest with yourself, you don’t respect that time nearly as much as you think you do. Time is your bitch and you’re her pimp, dealing out pain and punishment to all who threaten your territory. Curbstomp those shitty reruns (I did)! Tell your brother to stand on the nearest corner and earn his own damned bus fare home!

Point being: prioritize, and make sure you—and those around you—respect those priorities. If that makes you an asshole, so be it. They’ll either get over it or you’ll realize you weren’t near as close to those people as you thought.

This may even mean re-evaluating your sleep pattern. Getting six hours of sleep a night is one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s six secrets to success:

I can function on six hours of sleep, easy. If I wake up at 6:30am, I don’t need to be in bed until 12:30am. Given the time my family goes to bed, this gives me an average of about two hours a night of quiet time to write. If I stop dicking around on the Internet—in other words, I give my own priorities the respect they’re due—that’s a lot of time. Ten hours during the work week alone adds up fast.

If I’m still having trouble, then there’s Arnold’s top secret seventh secret to success:

That’s right, the evac plan. The Exit Strategy. Got a boss who demands sixty-hour work weeks? It may be time to seek alternatives.

No, that’s not going to be easy. You’ve got bills to pay and mouths to feed, and if you listen to the media, the job market is a barren, radioactive wasteland populated by ravenous cannibals.

Suck it up, Sally. Touch up the resumé, put on your hazmat fighting trousers and make time your bitch.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The Discovery of Process

There’s a dearth of hotties in bikinis, but I’m still rather enjoying Spring Break this year.

Most school breaks, I try to spend them as though I’m a full-time writer: I’ll put in plenty of keyboard time, then spend a few hours taking care of housework or whatever else I’ve been putting off. Usually it works out well, and I get some solid progress done on a project.

This time around has been a bit different. Part of it is I allowed a few other things to derail my time. For starters, the rugrats are a little older and a little more active. Also, when I go full time I also would like to hit karate more often, but I didn’t take into account the travel time and the other stops and errands I add to those extra trips. Finally I decided to finish prepping both the motorcycle and the grill for the season.

Long story short: if I’m going to write full time, my time management is going to have to get much better. It’s already lacking during the regular work weeks, but this is just irritating. Fortunately I can still regroup with the remaining days.

That’s not to say I haven’t gotten any work done (that whooshing sound you just heard was my editor at Evileye breathing a huge sigh of relief). I squeezed in some work here and there, even while on errands or grabbing a quick bite (I love my Moleskine), and I solved a few plot and character issues. I also have the luxury of staying up later and being able to work at night while it’s quiet in the house.

Sitting down on the front porch, tapping out this post on my iPod touch with a cigar in hand, I’ve come to a few of conclusions about my writing.

1) I really do love doing this. I’m as excited about new ideas, characters, and stories as I ever was. Creating is just plain fun, and though the business side can be aggravating sometimes, it’s not as aggravating as the network switch at work that decided to fail in the middle of Spring Break and leave the district bookkeeper and a few teachers playing catch-up unable to get their work done (and thus ruining my Wednesday afternoon).

2) I’ve reaffirmed I’m a night owl. I spent a couple of nights up past one or two in the morning and slept ’til eight or nine, and I got more work done and have felt more energized and positive. Doing those late nights and getting up at 6:30am for the day job just doesn’t cut it after a few days, and it does little to help my day job or the writing gig. I really, really need to find a way to take this full time.

3) I’m not as slow a writer as I think I am. The ideas for the second Pack novella have been percolating in my head for some time now, but it wasn’t until recently that everything started to gel. I may not be happy with my keyboard time, but what happens is eventually something goes click, and all the little pieces fall into line and form the big picture. Better still, in the case of this series, they even link right in to the overall continuity, fueling the future and bringing clarity to the past. When I do chain myself to the keyboard, it’s that much easier to pound away and turn in a solid first draft.

That’s an important key. Part of the problem with my trunk novels is I just charged ahead without a clear picture of where things were headed. I may have had solid ideas, but the execution just wasn’t there. The little details that are so important to the stories fell flat.

Maybe it’s time I stop calling these delays procrastination and understand that maybe this is just my process. Everyone has a method that works for them, be it a specific way or place they have to write or a given method for getting the words onto a page, so maybe it’s just taken me this long to grasp my method. Some of my best work has been done by sitting on things and then making a mad rush before a deadline, and to be honest, I didn’t feel all that rushed at the time I punched the keys.

Sure, I needed to hurry to make deadline, but the words were already there. It’s easier when the key-punching feels more like transcribing notes than creation, and the work is probably better for that.

Does that make sense or did some wiseass spike this cigar at the factory? I’ve never fully bought into things like writers block and waiting on one’s muse. Maybe they’re just an easy way for writers to say they just haven’t sorted their shit out yet. I can’t say I haven’t thrown those terms around, but they always felt like the literary devices they are. They’re our job bleeding into our lives.

Heavy stuff. Now if you’ll excuse me, this cigar’s almost done. I have more percolating to do.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.