Four years ago, I felt busy.
I never seemed to have enough time to get everything done. I loved my work — writing and working with writers — and I worked on fiction projects sporadically.
Then, just over three years ago, my daughter was born.
I realized everything I thought I knew about time management no longer applied.
A lot of the great advice I’ve come across on things like procrastination or time management seems to be aimed at twenty-somethings with no kids.
As a parent, a huge amount of time is taken up not just by children (feeding them, playing with them, getting them to sleep) but also by child-related chores (washing bottles, endless laundry and mopping up).
I wouldn’t change it for the world. I love my kids.
But I also love writing — and I’m not willing to put it on hold for years while the children grow up.
Quick note: Whether you’re a stay-at-home parent or a working parent, life with kids is manic. I’ve worked everything from almost-full-time to not-at-all over the past three years (depending on my husband’s schedule) and finding time to write has always been a challenge.
Why all that great time-management advice no longer works
I’ll admit, to my slight shame, I wrote my fair share of posts on time management when I was in my 20s and — in retrospect — had few responsibilities or commitments.
Lots of good advice doesn’t really apply when you have children. Here are some common tips I see over and over again (and these days, I want to scream “but you don’t have any kids!” every time I read them).
- “Become an early riser”: Sadly, my one-year-old has taken this advice to heart, and normally wakes at 5:30 a.m., derailing any plans I might have to get some work done first thing in the morning.
- “Switch off the TV and save 2-3 hours every evening!”: my husband and I normally collapse on the sofa with our dinner and watch an episode of something. But the rest of the evening is taken up with household chores and actually having a chance to talk to one another without two children shrieking over us.
- “Get a full 7-8 hours sleep, you’ll be more productive”: I’m sure this is true; sadly, it’s also quite often impossible! Our kids supposedly sleep through, but it’s pretty common for one of them to be up for an hour or more in the middle of the night.
I’m sure you’ve come across your fair share of time management advice that’s pretty useless for parents. Share the best — or worst! — of it in the comments.
Of course, plenty of writers do have kids and it’s perfectly possible to write when you have a family.
Here are a few things that can work:
1. Get in the habit of writing in short bursts
Pre-kids, I thought I only wrote well when I could spend an hour or more working, especially if I was writing fiction.
These days, most of my writing is done in 30-minute bursts. When I had a newborn and a toddler, I used to write for just 15 minutes while their midday naps overlapped.
Although writing for very short periods of time might feel weird if you’re not used to it, you can clock up words surprisingly quickly if you write daily.
I’ve made more progress on my current novel in the last four months than on almost anything I’ve written previously, writing for just 30 minutes every day.
Here are some ways you might fit short writing bursts into your day:
- 6-6:30 a.m.: A 30-minute slot before everyone gets up (if your kids sleep later than that!)
- 12:15-12:45 p.m.: A 30-minute slot during your lunch hour, if you work full time
- 5.30-6 p.m.: A 30-minute slot between the kids’ meals and bathtime, while your partner plays with them (this is when I normally write)
- 9-9.30 p.m.: A 30-minute slot once you’ve had a chance to unwind and relax in the evening
If 30 minutes is too much of a stretch for you right now, start with 15 minutes or even 10.
You might want to check out Write a Novel in Ten Minutes a Day by Katharine Grubb, who homeschools her five children and still finds time to write!
2. Use plans, systems, templates and checklists
Once, you could probably sit down and write uninterrupted for three hours (even if that only happened on the weekend). As a parent, there’s a good chance you’re forever being interrupted.
If you don’t have any sort of writing schedule, you probably spend a fair amount of time trying to remember what the heck you were going to write next.
I’ve always been a fan of plans, templates and checklists, but as a parent, these are becoming even more valuable. For instance, I no longer decide on a blog post topic on the spur of the moment: I plan my content calendar a month ahead of time — and I’ve been blogging more consistently than I ever did pre-kids.
Here are a few examples to help you implement systems that work for you:
- Anatomy of an Effective Blog Post by Michael Hyatt: A good starting point for short posts. If you want to go further or write longer pieces of content, try my post 8 Under-Used Blog Post Structures to Try Today — and 24 Inspiring Examples.
- Checklist: How to Write a Query Letter That Doesn’t Suck by Mridu Khullar Relph: It’s easy to screw up a query if you get distracted midway, so run through this checklist before hitting “send.”
- Just Say No: 7 Canned Responses To Use At Work from The Muse: While these aren’t writing-specific, they’re good examples of canned responses (template emails) you can use to handle common requests.
It’s well worth coming up with your own templates and checklists for tasks you find yourself doing on a regular basis.
Note: Planning isn’t just for writing. Having a meal plan for the week or having a checklist of household chores can make parenting go much more smoothly. Check out Planning with Kids for lots of great tips and ideas.
3. Don’t try to write with kids in the room
I’ve tried a few times to write while looking after the kids (usually while they’re watching TV) and … it just doesn’t work.
It’s incredibly hard to focus or get any sense of flow when you’re constantly being interrupted by small people — or when you need to keep glancing up to check they’ve not climbed on the windowsill, again.
If your children are happily occupied, use the time to get on with something mundane — like washing dishes or sorting laundry or going through emails — so you cut down on the chores you need to do in the evening.
That way, you can have child-free writing time later on.
4. Swap time off with your partner
One fairly straightforward way to get some extra writing time is to ask your partner to take the kids.
Chances are, for this to seem fair to both of you, you’ll need to take the kids to give your partner some free time at some point.
For instance, you could take the kids out to the park for two hours on Saturday mornings, and your partner could take them for two hours in the afternoon. You both get some much-needed time to yourself — but you also get plenty of time together as a family too.
If you’re a single parent, kudos to you — I have no idea how you do it! Can you rope in a friend or family member to help out once a week? Or if that’s not possible, can you swap childcare with a friend each week?
5. Book a writing retreat
While this can seem more like a dream than a realistic prospect when your kids are small, a writing retreat can be a brilliant opportunity to boost your progress and motivation.
A retreat could be anything from an informal half-day spent in the library to a weeklong escape to another city (or even abroad). As a parent, you’re probably going to be looking at the shorter end of the retreat spectrum.
I went on a great one-day retreat hosted by Lorna Ferguson, who blogs at Literascribe, at the start of March. I looked forward to it for weeks beforehand, got loads of words written, and felt enthusiastic about carrying on.
6. Let go of perfectionism (as a writer and as a parent)
I think all writers have at least a little bit of a tendency towards perfectionism.
We often carry ideas around in our heads for ages before daring to set them down on paper, because the act of doing so inevitably makes them real, rather than perfect.
As a parent writer, you can’t possibly live up to some “perfect” standard – not when it comes to your writing, and not when it comes to your kids.
And frankly, it doesn’t even matter.
A good blog post — well-structured and clearly written — will be infinitely more useful to your readers than a perfect blog post that only exists in your head.
And when it comes to your children … well, my kids watch more TV than they ideally should. I definitely do not create balanced, organic meals every day from scratch. My house could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be called “tidy.”
It’s not perfect. But my kids are happy and thriving and I get to carry on with the career I love.
Whatever writing and parenting challenges you’re facing right now, I wish you the very best of luck.
It’s not easy to juggle both. But it’s definitely worthwhile.
Parents, tell us your secrets to successfully juggling family and writing!