Balancing the Budget
Life is busy.
Between the day job and it’s attempts to steal my soul, the kids and their busy social, sports and school schedules, the yard work, the housework and the occasional need to eat and/or sleep, there’s hardly any time left to stop and drink the coffee, let alone do anything else. Every day is a delicate balancing act—an attempt to do all the things we have to do while also saving some time for the things we want to do.
As a writer, I’ve struggled to find that balance for years now. Partly it is because of the sheer volume of things I’m required to do; partly it’s because of the large number of things I want to do. What this has netted out to for me is a severe lack of writing time because I cannot find ways to prioritize writing over other demands. Yet, I see other authors I admire putting pen to paper and churning out fantastic [Fiction] Friday or Friday Flash stories each week. I often wonder how other people have managed to balance their time and put a priority on writing when they clearly have at least as much going on as I do. I’ve tried forcing myself to write when I’m too tired or too stressed to do it willingly, but all this has done is make the writing un-enjoyable – just another chore I am angry for having to do – and ultimately it is just as stressful as anything else I might have on my to-do list. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I resent the time I spend writing, the bitterness and anger shows through in the words that get onto the page. While I might have used this negativity to my advantage when I was writing performance reviews, it is not usually something I want coming through in my fiction.
Thinking about this as I often do, I’ve come to the following conclusions:
- There is not enough time in the day.
- I do not know where all the hours go.
I’ve spent a fair bit of time pondering these two seemingly-simple items and I’ve determined that there is nothing I can do to resolve the there-is-not-enough-time-in-the-day conundrum – thus far, I have found no practical, sustainable and environmentally-friendly way to increase the available pool of hours per day beyond the current arbitrary limit of 24. So I’ve set my mind to working on the second item.
Many of you may know that my day job for the past 14+ years has been writing and supporting budgeting and financial reporting software. I’ve helped countless businesses figure out and manage where their money goes. And since “time is money” as the saying goes, I should be able to apply much of what I have learned about money over these many years to my problem with time.
To approach this issue, I have started keeping a chart of how I spend my time. I am currently using Microsoft Excel to keep track of this data because that’s the kind of geek I am, but eventually I hope to use the new planning and reporting product I am designing and implementing to do the work, thereby combining a work-related “have to do” item with a personal “want to do” project – after all, it’s all about efficiency and finding myself a few minutes for an extra cup of coffee each day!
Basically, I’ve been attempting to put together a general list of what I do each day, from the mundane “go to the gym” or “drive The Girl to dance class” to the more broad-based “hours spent on the day job”. My goal, of course, is to find a few hours per week to dedicate to writing without taking away even more time from tasks I hate but must do anyway (sleep, for example).
I’ve only been working on this for a few days but what I’ve found already via my pretty charts and graphs is interesting:
- I spend less than 5.5 hours per day sleeping
- I spend 1 to 2 hours per day watching television
- I spend at least an hour per day (on average) driving the kids to and from school or events.
- I spend 9 to 12 hours per day on the day job.
- On average, 1 to 2 hours per day is spent on household chores such as laundry, dishes, pet care, etc.
- I spend, on average, less than 1 hour per week dedicated to writing.
- There are, on average, 2 hours per day that I can’t reasonably account for.
Looking at the above items, it is clear why I’m not getting enough writing done – less than one hour per week is not enough time! It would be easy to say “well, just cut the television time and write instead.” But the problem is that I am a daylight-hours kind of person. Once the sun goes down, I am essentially a useless excuse for a human being and it takes an exorbitant amount of effort to do anything that takes thought. I only watch television at night because it takes little-to-no mental activity to do so. The bit that bothers me, though, is the 2 hours I can’t account for – just like when you’re tracking money, anything you can’t account for is bad.
Clearly, this is only a first, tiny step toward conquering this problem by starting to build out a budget and a plan. My plan of attack is to find those two missing hours and beat them into submission. My second step will be to re-arrange the tasks and order them such that mindless activities, such as dishes and laundry, can be put into the evening hours. Ultimately, I hope to end up with a balanced budget for my time and, hopefully, more time in the day.
I am very interested in how other writers find ways to balance their need for sleep, food and family with their need or desire to write. Do you schedule time to write? Do you budget your time like I’m describing? Do you have other tricks or tips?