For many of us, writing is one of the most important things in our lives. And yet, it can be all too easy to let that “most important thing” end up at the bottom of our to-do list. If yet another day has passed in which you haven’t been able to write—or a day in which you did write but getting it done was a struggle—you’re not alone. Time management for writers is possibly one of the key skills of the lifestyle. This is true whether you write full-time or write around your full-time responsibilities.

I’ve always been a schedule hacker and someone who tries to make every minute count. I’ve also always been someone who constantly laments that there isn’t just one more hour in the day. Time management is something of an obsession for me, probably because it’s a game you never completely win. In years past, I’ve gone down the overachiever path of absolutely flying through my days and trying to cram in as much as possible. There are seasons in which that is effective or even unavoidable, but eventually it becomes unsustainable. I’ve also gone through seasons in which circumstances dictated I do as little as possible, but that too is unsustainable over the long term.

Inevitably, the sweet spot is found in balance. Each person’s balance is different, depending on personality, health, goals, obligations, and other factors. No matter what your lifestyle, the demands of the modern day keep us busy and distracted. This can be especially challenging for a creative who needs downtime to breathe and think and wander, as well as concentrated go-time in which to enforce discipline and actually get words on paper.

Recently, I received the following question from reader Joan Arc:

I enjoy reading your blog posts and I like the fact that you like suggestions from your fellow writers. But as I am engaged in school and trying to balance life whilst I study, I find it is becoming more difficult to devote the time to read them. I was wondering if in the near future, you could give some helpful hints about time management and how to balance a writing schedule that will stay even when life takes priority. This is a thing that I, along with many aspiring writers struggle with, and consequently, I lose inspiration for my book. Do you have any suggestions for this?

In today’s post, I’m going to review some of the do’s and don’ts of time management that I have found most supportive throughout my writing career. First, however, I will say a word about consistency in general. I’ve written before about the pros and cons of writing every day, ultimately landing on the view that it’s not important that you write “every” day. What is important is consistency—whatever that means to you—since consistency is what staves off that loss of inspiration Joan references.

8 Do’s of Time Management for Writers

The following eight “do’s” of time management for writers are all practical steps to take in aligning your daily schedule to your vision for your writing life. Note, that it’s important to start with your vision. Start by getting clear on your own goals, not just for writing but for other areas of your life as well. This will help you identify your ideal schedule, as well as what is achievable at the moment.

1. List Your To-Dos So You Can See Them All in One Place

If your day is anything like mine, then it is made up of a bazillion little to-dos. Many of them are so infinitesimal (emptying comment spam on the website) or ordinary (brushing my teeth) that I don’t always think of them as “to-dos.” And yet, they add up fast. When trying to get clear about how to streamline your schedule and create flow states throughout your day, take the time to analyze everything. Time management for writers isn’t just about writing. It isn’t even mostly about writing. It’s about optimizing the entire day so the writing time comes as easily as possible.

2. Create “Batches” of Related Tasks

Once you’ve created a list, group your tasks thematically. A personal motto that serves me well in some instances and not so well in others is “do whatever is in front of you.” Sometimes this is the single best method for moving forward through a large task or for creating momentum when you feel stuck. Other times, it just ends up scattering your focus all over the place. Instead of eating the elephant one bite at a time, you eat a little of the elephant and a little of the giraffe and a little of the hyena—and you end the day feeling you haven’t accomplished anything.

Batch your tasks, so you can focus on one thing at a time. For example, don’t check email throughout the day. Reserve a slot at an optimal time of the day when you can sort through and respond to all emails at once.

3. Multi-Task (With Care)

Multi-tasking is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can undeniably help you move through multiple projects at a quicker rate. On the other hand, the growing amount of research on the loss of productivity associated with multi-tasking is sobering. Even though all that busyness can make us feel super-productive, the actual metrics don’t always weigh out. Use caution and consciousness when adding multi-tasking to your schedule.

That said, there are times when multi-tasking takes everything to 2.0. For example, you might plan to listen to an audiobook or podcast whenever your hands are busy elsewhere (e.g., commuting, doing the dishes, or, for me, designing weekly social media graphics such as the Pinterest image at the top of my posts).

4. Schedule Downtime Relentlessly

When we think of time management for writers, what usually comes to mind are all the tasks we want to do. But particularly if you’re wanting or needing to cram a lot into your daily routines, one of the most important things you can schedule is downtime. Make downtime your priority. Except in situations in which you have no choice (e.g., your paycheck is on the line, your child has an emergency, etc.), the downtime on your schedule should be the last thing to take the hit. I’ve learned this the hard way. These days, I adamantly schedule “downtime” and self-care first thing in the morning. If I don’t do it first, I don’t do it, and because it is the most important part of my day, I prioritize it relentlessly.

5. Make a Commitment With Yourself

Making schedules is the easy part; sticking with them is where the road can get rough. There are two key pieces to sticking with a schedule. The first key is creating a schedule that works. This often requires trial and error, some degree of flexibility, and self-forgiveness.

The second key is discipline. Think of your schedule as a commitment to yourself. Not only are you committing to do all the tasks you’ve laid out for yourself, but when you show up to one of those tasks, you’re going to give it your full attention. This is true for every task on your list, but as a writer, it’s the writing time that should be particularly sacred.

It can be so easy to carve out an hour or two in your day for writing… and then spend half or more of that time twiddling it away. Now, sometimes twiddling is really just creative lollygagging or even dreamzoning, both of which are part of the creative process. But other times (and you know when those times are), the twiddling is just procrastination.

6. Schedule Writing Tasks and Writing-Related Tasks Separately

People often ask me if outlining, researching, and editing count as “writing time.” In my view, they do. However, when it comes to time management for writers, it can be valuable to schedule them separately. Depending on your preferences, the temptation to do a little of everything during “writing time” may end up being counter-productive. For example, if I’m trying to get myself into the headspace of flowing with a scene I want to write, I don’t want to interrupt that with the sudden urge to go research some tidbit. I try to schedule myself out of my distractions by penciling in a slot for researching or editing or whatever else at a different time from my writing.

7. Create a Quick Warm-Up Routine

After zooming through all the to-dos that fill the rest of your day, it can be tough to sit down at your desk and suddenly turn on your inspiration and creativity. And yet, you only have an hour, and you can’t afford to waste any of it!

One of the best tricks I’ve ever used for transitioning into my writing time is a personalized warm-up routine. At certain times in my life (when I’ve had more time), I’ve scheduled warm-ups as long as 30 minutes. These days, my warm-ups are usually quite short. I choose tasks that help ground me, pull me out of a mental space and into my deeper, body-oriented imagination—such as a quick grounding meditation, lighting a candle, breathing some essential oils, or taking a bite of chocolate or a sip of coffee. I may also read over what I wrote the day before or read a quick section from my research or character notes, to help pull myself back into the mindset of my story.

8. Write in Fifteen-Minute Spurts

There you are, sitting at your desk right on schedule, ready to write. And… the words just aren’t coming. The urge to twiddle is strong. You look at the clock and suddenly this precious hour seems like for…ev…er. Before you know it, fifteen minutes have passed and you’ve rewritten the same sentence a total of three times.

The brain hack I like to use is writing in fifteen-minute spurts. I tell myself I’m going to write 500 words (or whatever) in fifteen minutes. Writing 2,000 words in an hour seems overwhelming, but 500 in fifteen minutes? I can do that! Then… when the fifteen minutes is up, I take another drink of coffee or a bite of chocolate, and do it again.

6 Don’ts of Time Management for Writers

1. Don’t Create a Unrealistic Schedule

One of the chief reasons people struggle with time management is that they set unrealistic schedules. I get it. There is just so much we need to do in a day, on top of everything we want to do. Except in rare circumstances, we simply can’t do it all. The key to success with scheduling is to get realistic on what is actually feasible and sustainable—and enjoyable. This requires that you know your own energy: how much you have, when it peaks and ebbs, etc.

To the degree you require cooperation, you also need to understand other people’s energy and to work around it when necessary. It’s one thing to create the kind of schedule that might work on an ideal day, and another to create a schedule rugged enough to flex around the demands of life, including relationships and holidays.

You also need to be realistic about how long your writing time should actually be. What fits into your day—and your energetic limitations—in a way that nurtures your creativity rather than stressing you out?

2. Don’t Dismiss Your True Priorities

Successful time management is about scheduling the big stuff first. What’s “big” for you will be entirely personal. This might be your job; it might be your kids; it might be writing; it might be self-care. Get real with yourself about your true priorities. Sometimes our priorities aren’t always what we think they are or even what we want them to be. If you’re struggling to make time for your writing, it may be because writing is not currently your top priority. There is nothing wrong with this. However, the struggle could also be because your schedule is currently arranged around something that really isn’t a priority. Get real with yourself, and when you do identify your top priorities—whatever they are in this season of your life—honor them.

3. Don’t Guilt Yourself When You Don’t Get It All Done

Schedules are there to serve you. You are not in service to the schedule.

Let me say that again: Schedules are there to serve you. You are not in service to the schedule.

Rewriting this pattern is a challenge for many of us. When we set up schedules and (inevitably) fail to adhere to them perfectly, we can sometimes experience an unrealistic amount of guilt or even shame for our “failure.” For schedules or time-management tools of any sort to be effective, they need to help us and not hurt us. Rewriting your schedule into a routine that is realistic for your lifestyle is a good start. But if you ever feel beleaguered by your to-do list, make space to work with and heal those old patterns.

4. Don’t Say “Yes” When You Want to Say “No”

Something I was told early in my career was “say yes to everything.” Although that mindset certainly allowed me to take advantage of many opportunities, it is ultimately a perspective I have happily hurled into the trash bin. Learning to say “no” can be a long journey for many of us (especially women), but it is the foundation of a successful schedule. Ultimately, this is the same thing as getting super-clear on your own priorities. If you truly want to hold authority over your own time, then don’t schedule what isn’t true for you. And don’t change your schedule later on because you feel obligated to say “yes” to something when you’re really a “no.”

5. Don’t Let Others Disrespect Your Writing Time

Along with being able to say “no” comes the skill of creating boundaries around your schedule, particularly around your writing time. Although there will, of course, be times when flexibility is important, start creating the habit of expecting that others will honor the commitments you’ve made for yourself throughout your day. Ultimately, this is about nothing more or less than you radically honoring those commitments yourself. I realized very early in my career that if I didn’t respect my writing time, no one else would do it for me.

6. Don’t Constantly Check Email and Notifications

Finally, just say no to the notifications. Internet brain is a real thing. Largely, it is inescapable, but you can manage it. Minimize email and phone notifications to whatever degree is feasible in your life. The only push notifications I allow on my phone are texts and appointment reminders. I don’t allow notifications for email, blog comments, social media, apps, or anything else. I schedule times in my day to manually check all of those (an example of “batching” from “Do” #2, above), so that my attention is not fragmented throughout the day and I’m not tempted to detour off my schedule for who knows how long. More than that, I keep my phone in airplane mode most of the time and check it purposefully a couple times throughout the day so that my interactions are at my discretion rather than the other way around.


Time management for writers can make all the difference not just in how productive we actually are but in how fulfilled we feel at the end of the day. Learning to create realistic goals, to schedule tasks to match our energy flow, to make plans to control and avoid unnecessary distractions, and to create flexibility and grace within ourselves for when things inevitably don’t go according to plan—these are all skills that greatly enhance the quality of our lives and our writing.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What have you found is the most helpful tip in time management for writers? Tell me in the comments!

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