|Image by Courtney Dirks via Flickr/Creative Commons|
How do you do it all?
This is a question usually posed to career-oriented women who are also fantastic moms. Ironically, this is a question I am asked at least once a week despite the fact that I don't have kids (unless you count the 89 students I teach at the Alabama School of Fine Arts).
Irene Latham author of books such as Don't Feed the Boy and The Sky Between Us,
recently invited me to speak to a meeting of the Birmingham chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and she wanted me to speak on the topic of time management, on how I do it all.
So what all do I do? I run See Jane Write and See Jane Write Magazine. I maintain a personal blog at WriteousBabe.com. I freelance for Birmingham magazine and USA Today's custom publications. I write a monthly column for B-Metro magazine and a monthly segment for Birmingham's NPR affiliate WBHM 90.3. And all of this is in addition to my full-time teaching job. I also exercise every day, stay active in my church and community, and I have a husband who would like to see me sometimes.
So how do I do all this and stay sane? Well, firstly, I can't guarantee that I'm sane, but there is a method to my madness.
Here are some of the tips I offered the group last night:
1. Keep a detailed to-do list every day. I actually keep an old school paper planner and in it I not only keep record of important dates for the month but also daily task lists. On especially busy days I set specific time brackets for each thing I must do. I even write down when I'm going to shower or take a break to grab a bite to eat.
2. Know your "non-negotiables." I have an ideal schedule for each day, a picture of how much time I would spend not just on writing but also on things like exercise and hanging out with my husband if I could. But then I am willing to adjust this schedule as things come up. The things you place on your ideal schedule, however, should be what I call your "non-negotiables" -- things you must do daily. So I may have to adjust the amount of time I spend on these things or when I do them should speaking or networking opportunities pop up, for example, but I must get these things done nonetheless. My "non-negotiables" are work, exercise, showering, eating, writing or working on See Jane Write, and spending time with my husband.
If you are a mother or a caretaker for an elderly parent and feel you don't have much control over your day, get up early, stay up late, or carve out time in the middle of the day that you can devote to your writing.
3. Trust the Pomodoro Technique. If I have a huge project or several tedious tasks to tackle in one day I use the Pomodoro method. The Pomodoro Technique, developed by Francesco Cirillo is simple, yet brilliant. You break down your work in 25-minute intervals, taking five-minute breaks after each one. After four work periods you take a longer break of about 20 minutes (enough time to grab a sandwich or a shower). The technique is based on the idea that the frequent breaks will keep you sharp. And it works!
4. Be social. I attend several networking events a month. It's a good way to be very career-focused and still have a social life. Also, make time for social media. This doesn't mean you have to stare at your Facebook feed for hours. Just take a few minutes throughout the day (such as during lunch or breaks) to engage your networks. Scheduling tweets and Facebook posts is a great timesaver, too.
5. Remember that balance is a unicorn. If you want to know how to have a well-balanced life, let me know when you figure that out. During her Birmingham visit last fall, superstar journalist, entrepreneur, wife and mother Soledad O'Brien was asked how she balances it all and her answer was simple: "I don't." She said that sometimes she's a bad mother to be a good journalist, while other times she's a bad journalist to be a good mother. Those comments lifted tons of weight from my shoulders. Sometimes I am a bad blogger because I need to be a good teacher. Sometimes I'm a bad businesswoman because I need to be a good wife, daughter, sister, or friend. And that's OK.
How do you write and still have a life?