The Economy of Time

One of the most popular topics I get asked about as a writer–whether I’m among coworkers, friends, family, or aspiring published authors–is how I find the time to write as a full-time member of the work force. I sometimes respond with some zinger like “I do this thing where I never sleep” and make a goofy face. More often, I just say “It’s definitely not easy.” And that’s truth. Working and doing anything isn’t easy. Doing anything and writing isn’t easy. Writing isn’t easy. But I write because it’s my passion. I keep my day job because it’s what makes sense for this particular time of my life, and because I enjoy having a helping profession to hold in my “other hand”. (For more on this “hands analogy” and the writing-as-a-career topic, I highly recommend reading this post by V.E. Schwab!)

That being said, I know many people who write for a living, and I know many other people who write full time and work full time. All are very successful at what they do. Oh, and if you’re reading this and you’re like “No I’m not!” chill please. You’ve done an excellent job at faking it in front of me!

Here are a two things I know to be true for everyone, and two things that are true for a lot of people:

  • No matter who you are, we all start with a baseline of 168 hours in a week. (7 days x 24 hours).
  • We all get to make a certain amount of choices about how we’re going to set up our “economy of time” and how much structure we’re going to carve out of those 168 hours.
  • The average adult needs 6-8 hours of sleep. For argument’s sake, let’s say you actually get 8 every night. You spend 56 hours sleeping every week. (Remaining “balance”: 112 hours.)
  • Also for argument’s sake, let’s say you work full time and let’s say you work 40 hours. (Sometimes more, sometimes less, but we’ll go with this for now!) Remaining balance: 72.

I don’t know about you, but I actually found this number kind of enlightening and encouraging. That’s three full days of time left over in a week! Now, that’s not to discount the fact that we have many other things to do with that time. We all have to eat, commute from point A to point B (and sometimes C through Z as well!) bathe, cook, and you might even be raising children, pets, or fostering a relationship. Maybe you’re a student. Everybody’s lifestyle is different; therefore their economy of time is different. But breaking down this number helped me put things into perspective.

Knowing how this all breaks down for me personally, I set weekly priorities for myself and write them down, and hope that I’m spending at least 90% of my time on one of these priorities. In no particular order:

  1. As a higher ed professional, I want to make sure I am spending a good chunk of my 40 work hours having meaningful and positive interactions with students. This is my “full time job” priority.
  2. As a son, brother, and uncle, I want to make sure I am carving out time to see my family.
  3. As a professional author, I set at least one goal every week. If I’m working on a new manuscript, this is a word count. If I’m in the editing stage, this might look like “Revise issues in chapters 1-10” or “Fix all villain scenes.” There’s usually some sort of marketing goal too! These aren’t related to time but to outcomes. They take me as long as they take me!
  4. As a human being, some of that time has to go back to my health and well being! “Do 45 minutes at the gym”, or “Make home-cooked dinner six out of seven nights.” Sometimes it’s just “watch an episode of Arrow!” Something that isn’t tied to external accountability.

Yes, I do have to make a few sacrifices every now and then to make this work. I can’t make every happy hour, be the last to leave at every gathering, and no, maybe I wasn’t quite ready yet to give up two nights a week for haidong gumdo lessons! But with priorities in mind and written down, at the end of the week I usually feel pretty good about where I’m at! Sure, there will eventually come a day where it doesn’t make sense for me to have my current job anymore, but when that time comes, I won’t be replacing that work time with more writing time. First, I know that I wouldn’t be productive writing 12 hours a day every day (you can get burned out on something you love to do!) Second, I would find more happiness filling that gap with something else that enriches my life experiences, such as travel or another degree or a separate hobby, because it’s those life experiences that will get infused into my writing later on! This is what I see with many of my friends who do write full time. They’re community volunteers, business owners, parents, musicians, artists, travelers . . . Nobody is ever “just a writer” 🙂

I should also add that all these priorities need to be treated with equal importance. I know myself to be an “obliger,” or somebody who tends to put my expectations of myself below the expectations other people have of me. The challenge then? Protecting your writing time and your mental health time. I had to learn to put both categories in my work calendar and treat them as appointments, just as I would treat any external obligation somebody else might ask of me. Are you willing to do the same for yourself?

I talk about all of this in more detail in my latest YouTube video below, but I also want to know what works for you! How do you balance your obligations and your passions?

Until next time!

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