Blog this, tweet that. Oh, I’m late for my guest post on so-and-so’s blog. Friend me on Facebook – oops, now it’s LIKE my Facebook page. What? My weekly stats for Facebook are negative thirty? How did that happen – I made six more posts than last week! So, Pinterest is the new Facebook? What happened to MySpace? Does anyone even go there anymore? What’s DIGG? Isn’t that something the dog does in the backyard? Do I need to start DIGGing with the dog? OMG, I can’t think of anything else to post. Did I mail my book to that reviewer – I can’t remember. I can’t keep up! Is any of this helping to sell my book? How did I miss paying my electric bill? It was due last week? Exercise ... who has time for that? Oh yeah, I remember now, those little people living in my house are my two kids ... or are there three of them? What am I doing with all my time? I don’t have time to write anymore! Help! I think my brain is exploding!
OK, admit it. All you authors out there have screamed the same thing or something similar at one time or another, some more often than others. Some of you may be losing sleep over your web site SEO or blog site metrics or ... whatever ... instead of staying up late to finish a chapter because you’re having so much fun you can’t stop writing. If this sounds like you, and you’re ready to throw in the towel and say to hell with all that marketing and branding and self-promo crap, here’s one word that may help...
BALANCE. That’s right, say it again. BALANCE. Repeat that word again and again like she’s your new best friend. Otherwise you’re quickly going to become roomies with BURNOUT.
BURNOUT is not a friendly roommate. In fact, he’s one of the worst roommates ever. He’s messy, grouchy, slothful, and doesn’t give a flip about anything or anybody. Trust me, you do not want to room with BURNOUT. You don’t even want to be a casual acquaintance of BURNOUT. If you see BURNOUT winking at you from across the room with a come-hither ‘Let’s drop everything and relax’ smile, run in the opposite direction and don’t look back.
BALANCE, on the other hand, will help you ... well ... BALANCE everything in your life. BALANCE will give you the incentive to put things in perspective, manage your time, and prioritize every aspect of your daily routine so you can feel a bit more in control of what you’re doing and what’s happening in your life.
BALANCE has some basic guidelines to help you manage everything in your life – family, work, writing, promotion, health, and happiness. When you realize and accept that everything – everything – revolves around what you do with your time and how well you spend it, you can then see how important it is to budget your time just as you budget your money so you don’t run out of spending power before you can pay for everything that needs to be paid.
Everyone gets twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week – no more, no less. So time defines the limits on what you can do or accomplish within a given hour, day, week, month, year, or lifetime. The key is to balance your activities to match your time available so that you can accomplish the most within the time you have. If you manage well, you might actually find yourself with more free time to relax a little and enjoy your life instead of feeling like you’re falling further and further behind in the marathon called daily living. To manage your time, start with these simple guidelines:
1. DON’T OVERBOOK.
Don’t have any time to do anything, even think? Take time, make time. If your day is so packed full of activity that you don’t have any time to breathe, you are overbooking your life. Remember, you are a person, not a commercial airline. You need time to take care of things for yourself. You need to learn how to say ‘no’ – not all the time, but when it matters, when it interferes with your life and you can’t handle any more responsibility. No, I’m sorry, I can’t watch your kids every day after school. No, I’m sorry, I can’t work your weekend shift for you. No, I’m sorry, I can’t bake five dozen cupcakes for the Campfire Kids picnic. If you don’t learn to take a stand and not give all your time away to other people, you are going to shortchange yourself and create the perfect situation for BURNOUT. You may suffer mental burnout or physical burnout where your health begins to deteriorate to the point that you will not be able to keep up all your obligations no matter what you want to accomplish or think you need to do. So, don’t wait for burnout to make decisions about your life for you. Stop right now to reassess what you’re doing and cut out unnecessary activities. If you are having trouble deciding what you can cut, you need to prioritize your time usage.
What does prioritizing your time mean? Here’s a simple exercise that explains it...
Visualize an empty clear jar on a table. Beside the jar is a pile of stones, a pile of pebbles, and a pile of sand. The jar can only hold so much. Your job is to decide how to best to fill the jar with all your stones, pebbles and rocks. If you put the sand in first, it will almost completely fill the jar and leave you with many stones and pebbles that won’t fit in the space that’s left. If you put in the pebbles first and then the sand, you’ll still end up with too many stones left over to fit in the jar. However, if you put in the stones first and then the pebbles, the pebbles will roll down into the spaces between the stones. Adding the sand last will allow those tinier particles to sift down and fill all the spaces between the stones and pebbles. And then your jar is filled with all three piles of stones, pebbles and sand. Maybe you’ll find you have some extra room left at the top of the jar!
In realistic terms, the jar is your time. The stones are the most important things you must do within the allotted time you have – like paying your mortgage on time every month, or making sure your kids get to school on time, or showing up for work when you’re supposed to. The stones should go into your jar of time first. The pebbles represent other important things, but not as important as the must-do things represented by the stones – optional but necessary things like mowing your lawn or washing your car or taking out the trash. The sand represents all the other little things in your life you do that, when added up, represent a large block of time. These are not critical, they’re optional – like stopping for that morning latte before work, clipping coupons from the Sunday newspaper, or watching reality shows on TV.
When it comes to writing and marketing, you need to first of all decide how important these activities are in relation to everything else that fills up your life. If writing is very important to you, make sure it is a stone that goes in your jar of time first before other optional things. If you find you have too many stones, then maybe the writing will become a smaller priority temporarily – a pebble rather than a stone. But realistically, if you allow your writing to be only a tiny grain of sand that you try to fit into your snatches of ‘free time’ during the day, you’ll leave your writing for last, after everything else. So assign your writing the level of priority it deserves in your life and reserve time for it. Otherwise it will become a miniscule activity that blends with all the other insignificant grains of sand on your beach, become a tiny part of a footprint that dissolves away quickly under the pressure of the tide of life.
3. PLAN AHEAD.
Once you have prioritized your daily obligations and activities to pinpoint those that are necessary and most important, you can then schedule your time to fit your planned activities. Managing your time effectively with a predetermined schedule will create a routine that you can follow easily and predictably instead of constantly having to reassess and replan your activities on a moment’s notice several times a day.
Obviously if you have an outside job that brings in necessary income, you should make that a top priority. You gotta eat to live, so put food on your table first and foremost. If you look at writing as a second job where you have to put in time and effort to get results, you will automatically give it a bigger block of your time.
If you’re a parent with children and household chores taking up all your time outside work, try to find creative and effective ways to enlist aid from your spouse or others close to you to help and take on more responsibility. Sometimes it’s beneficial to give older children more responsibility for their own upkeep. This helps teach self-reliance and builds a good work ethic and healthy respect for your role as a parent. There should be a balance that dictates a sharing of responsibility for the family – don’t think you have to take on more than is reasonable for anyone to handle. Make sure others in your family take on responsibilities that relate to them and their activities.
To find time for writing and promotion, take advantage of any flexibility in your current lifestyle to adjust your routine. Choose a time that’s optimum for your writing – early morning before others awaken, or late at night after everyone else is asleep, during lunch hour at work, whatever time you can carve out. Make it your time and don’t let anyone interfere unless the house is on fire.
Assess your writing projects and break up what can be done easily in limited blocks of time. This includes marketing and self-promotion. If you’ve committed to a blog tour and promised to provide thirty different interviews or unique articles that feature you and your new book, work on those articles well ahead of time and have them ready for every venue so you are not playing catch-up at the last minute. Spend enough time on these articles to make sure you turn out interesting quality pieces that will showcase your writing in the best light. You will not always have a thirty-day blog going on, so obviously self-promo won’t always take up all your time reserved for writing. You have to add enough flexibility into your writing schedule to handle surges in promo when needed. If you’re looking at an editing deadline for your book, then maybe that will take priority for a while. Whatever’s going on in your writing life, as in the rest of your life, needs to be assessed and managed properly so you can stay on top of everything like a professional, not a scatterbrain.
4. DECIDE WHAT WORKS AND WHAT DOESN’T.
Bringing balance to your life to avoid chaos and confusion requires that you periodically reassess what you are doing with your time. Life changes, and so will your priorities. Logically and realistically reassess what you’re doing from time to time. This will help you approach change with less panic and more self-control.
For instance, if you get laid off from your job, you had better drop most of your other optional activities and concentrate on finding another job. This will necessarily take time away from writing for a while. Or you may find that this is a perfect opportunity to move into some other line of work that more closely aligns with your writing goals. But you have to be financially prepared to make that kind of move, and be realistic and honest with yourself to say ‘no’ to that option if you’re not ready to take that leap to a full-time writer. Sometimes you may find you don’t really have a choice in the matter. The bottom line is, you have to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done to take care of the business of life. Scheduling and planning aren’t always going to work for every situation that comes up, so be adaptable.
If you find you are spending day after day, hours at a time, fiddling with Facebook and tweaking Twitter, yet your book sales are going nowhere, you definitely will want to take a cold hard look at what you are actually doing on Facebook and Twitter. The intermediate goal may be to find more friends and followers who will turn into book buyers and recommend your book to others, but in the long run, you have to realize that Facebook and Twitter are merely avenues of communication. What you are doing is communicating with people. Facebook and Twitter and Digg and Pinterest and LinkedIn and all the rest of these social apps can easily take over your life and make you lose sight of what is essential and important to you. You have real people around you who want and need to communicate with you, so don’t ignore your family and friends and coworkers by getting so wrapped up in social apps that you forego being a real live person for the sake of existing as an online avatar.
Remember, YOU ARE NOT YOUR BOOK. Once you write your book, it will take on a pseudo life of its own. It is like a child you bring forth and then nurture to grow into the best book it can become. Not every book is the same. Not every book will be a bestseller. If you want to be a career author, be ready to commit for the long haul and continue producing new books that are your best effort yet. And remember that while writing and promotional activities are an important part of your life, they are not the only aspects of your life. If you lose sight of that fact, you may end up with BURNOUT as your only friend. And BURNOUT will try his hardest to convince you that you don’t want to be a writer anymore. BALANCE lets you do it all – write and still enjoy your life – with confidence, grace, and style.
Pat Morrison, Penumbra Publishing