Again, the beginning of a new year is a good time to ask these sort of big-picture questions. Anyone who is juggling multiple priorities will be wondering if they really have time to devote to writing or painting or setting up a side-business. Or you may already be making some time for this passion on the side, but you are frustrated that you are not able to spend enough time on it, enough time to really hone your skills, or take on an ambitious project that will give you a lot of traction. In that scenario, the sensible voice inside your head tells you to shelve your project till you have more time later.
Reading Laura Vanderkam's books, who studies how people spend their time, I realized that we actually have a lot more free time than we realize, or rather time that is not being used by working and sleeping, time that we can allocate how we choose. The problem is that most of us use a lot of that time inefficiently. Sometimes we take on chores or commitments that don’t reflect our values, we do things that we don’t really need to or want to, and give up on things that are more important to us, because "we don’t have enough time". At other times, we aren’t conscious of how we are using our time, and before we know it, 3 hours have gone in watching mindless TV that wasn’t even that important in the first place, or an hour has disappeared into "catching up with friends" on social media, even though we didn’t exactly send any personal messages. What could we accomplish with just 3-4 hours every week devoted to our passion projects?
One thing I have been experimenting with this week is scheduling what's important to me first, and then worrying about everything else. The famous exhortation of Stephen Covey to put "first things first" is apt here – I found that things that I want to do and naturally used to say 'no' to before thinking I didn’t have time for it, I can very often make some time for it. I just have to be more mindful of how I am using my time. I also have to be more willing to let the dishes pile up in the sink, and ignore the siren call of the laundry or the unread newsletters in my email. I won't really suffer if any of those things aren’t done right now, and instead devoting half an hour to my current WIP is more satisfying, or taking the time to find new ways to market my books which could yield more sales is ultimately a better use of my time.
I also found strangely that the chores were still getting done; I was just getting through them faster, or perhaps batching them made it more efficient. Regardless, deciding how I was going to use my time, rather than just going about on autopilot, just doing what I always did before, actually helped me to find more time.