Saturday, February 6, 2016

Too much of a good thing?


It’s something I see echoed by writers on blog after blog. Can’t find the time. I need more time. And I feel the pinch at both home - trying to squeeze an hour or so here and there for writing in amongst work, family, errands, after-school activities and appointments - and at work, where my calendar sometimes looks like someone’s tipped a box of Lego blocks all over it.

Then, after a particularly bruising couple of weeks, something odd happened. I found myself with a couple of days almost entirely meeting-free.

And I realized, you can have too much of a good thing.

Here was a golden opportunity to get things done. And I did. But it was utterly draining. Yes, I feel drained after a day rushing from one meeting to the next, while wrestling my inbox into submission in between, but having hour after hour with few interruptions is equally challenging.

I used to be able to focus for hours on one thing, but I find I’m become so used to interruptions and producing results in brief bursts of activity, that I now depend on that pattern of working.

In fact, there’s research to back this up. The Pomodoro technique of time management advocates breaking work up into roughly half-hour bursts with short breaks in between. The trouble is I am used to having my day broken up into bite-sized chunks for me, so I’m out of practice planning my time for myself.

I find the same thing happening at home. A day at the weekend with no specific plans? Should be a gift, and yet it happens so rarely that when it does, after a while I get restless and start needing something else to turn my attention to.

I never had this problem as a youngster. Before children came along and family dominated a large part of my life, I could keep myself creatively occupied for hours, days, weeks at a time. I look forward to retirement (a few years off yet) with thoughts of returning to that blissful state. And yet I wonder...


  1. Hi Ian - I can quite see what you're getting at ... the rat race of life, with all those things you've listed - then that quiet space comes along ... and what now springs to mind. Good luck with getting the balance right ... and longer days will help ... cheers Hilary

  2. That happens to me. A Saturday with no list means I get nothing done. Those longs stretches of time make me feel like a slug.

  3. Don't worry about does take a little while but you get used to it and then you find yourself resenting any interruption in your day. I happily get up early every morning just to putter around but if I have an early morning appointment suddenly I don't want to get up, I don't want to get ready, I don't want to go....throws my whole day off lol.

  4. I can usually find something creative or productive to do. Doing nothing makes me feel like a bum.

  5. Hilary, longer days may well help. I find it easier to settle outdoors that cooped up in a noisy house.

    Alex, glad it's not just me. And you must be one of the most hard-working writers out there.

    Delores, good to know :)

    Stephen, that's the point. I can't just do nothing, but I've got out of practice structuring my own time productively.

  6. I had this problem at first after the dust had settled with the building and moving into of our new home. OMG what do I do with this time thing? Working in shorter increments seems to do the trick for me. I set up a good pattern during NaNoWriMo, twenty minutes to half an hour and then get up and go do something and then come back to write again. My experiment day of writing fifteen minutes of each hour for an entire day was a big eye opener to breaking up my day for better writing productivity. After a couple months, I've gotten back to the point where I can get lost in writing for an hour or so before I need to come up for air, so there is hope. :)

  7. Jean, I think it's all a matter of developing the right habits. It takes time.

  8. This happens a lot to me, as well. I just adjust and go with it, though. I'm starting to like my little breaks in between writing, and turning my attention to something else entirely different for a little while actually helps to recharge my creative writing batteries for the next go 'round.

  9. When I have a free day to essentially do nothing because I have no list of obligations, I can't help but rush around doing this and that because I can. I'll find new things to do, more things than what I had on my list. And yes, I burn myself out.

  10. David, I think the research shows that small breaks help recharge the batteries. I need to develop the discipline to keep the breaks from overwhelming the productive streak in between :)

    Chrys, burning out from needing to be productive is certainly a danger.

  11. It is good to take breaks. I've heard of writers who finally gave up their day job to write full time, and couldn't get inspired. They procrastinated and got little done.

  12. It's definitely about what you're used to. For a time, I worked with 70+ children once a week. When dealing with that many wiggly little bodies, you learn to never sit still. So I didn't. And then things changed and I was expected to sit like an adult and pay attention rather than wiggle with the littles. Oye. But change is good.

  13. Denise, that's sad to hear but also what I most fear about retirement. I don't want to end up like that.

    Crystal, 70 children? You're brave! :)

  14. I am queen at making excuses to keep from writing. Something needs done, Squirrel!, or just plain dithering.
    Time I got. A shock collar I need. *zzzzzttt. YOWL...okay, okay, #amwriting*

  15. Huntress, the sad thing is, I don't even need distractions. I'm so out of practice with sitting down and getting on with things that I actively look for distract...squirrel! :)


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