I’m often asked how do I manage to do so much, or work so fast, and I’ve written about it before, but here are some further thoughts in case they are of use to you.
Contrary to popular imagination, I don’t work 80 hours a week. Quite the opposite: I have only about 25 hours available during the week, and squeeze a few further hours from a largely family-orientated weekend and some evenings. It adds up to about 30 hours a week in an average week. Here’s roughly what happens, in an average day:
5:30 am I wake up and check messages and emails, then check over my latest blog post before posting it into the Inner Circle Writers’ Group on Facebook, as well as on Twitter (which is about the beginning and ending of my involvement with Twitter), LinkedIn and in the MeWe group. I then have to get up, prepare my wife’s and daughter’s lunches, my daughter’s and my breakfasts, and get everything ready for the school run.
9:00 is when I get back from the school run — this is part of my daily exercise and I sometimes extend this so that I can take photographs as we are fortunate to live in a particularly beautiful part of the world and I think that should be shared as much as possible.
Between about 9:00 and 10:30 I work on social media and promoting the books and magazines that I’ve already produced, answering questions and engaging as much as I can in conversations.
10:30 to 12:00 is usually spent on reading or proofreading, depending on what work is around — I normally have dozens of submissions to check, as well as the magazine to prepare. This is a key time, as you might imagine — the time when most of the hardcore ‘work’ gets done — but it’s hardly a distraction-free environment. Though I work from an armchair in a sunlit library on the edge of the Yorkshire moors, I often pause to check social media and just browse. I don’t get many visitors, which is useful — the post-lady sometimes needs a signature, but that’s about it.
Am I a fast reader, then? Not especially. I have measured myself at roughly one minute per page, slightly more if I’m proofreading. That means that an 80,000 word book takes me approximately 4 hours to read over — in practice, it’s longer, due to all the stopping and starting. If I could have a minor superpower, it would be the ability to read 100 times faster while retaining full understanding and appreciation, I think. That would be life-transforming in my line of work!
12:00 to 1:00 is a lunch break — I will cook up something and then relax in front of maybe 15 minutes of a movie while I eat.
1:00 back to work — I will try to do something different than in the morning session, probably the magazine if I’ve been proofreading earlier, or vice-versa. My mind likes to change gears a few times to keep itself ‘oiled’.
How does this work in practice? Well, let’s say I have submissions to process for an anthology, or the next issue of the magazine to prepare, or an editing job to do. I’ll work on all three during these blocks of time during a standard week, edging each one forward to completion. At some point, one of the projects will get nearer to finishing point, and I’ll focus on that solely through to completion, then go back to the others.
Just before 3:00, I have to go and collect my daughter from school. From then until around 7:00, it’s really family time. I might be able to answer a few messages on social media, but between entertaining her, making meals and so forth, not a great deal of work gets done.
After 7:00, once I get my daughter to bed — not an instantaneous process, I can assure you — I often work for a couple more hours until around 9:00 or 9:30, then head to bed.
Bedtime is also reading time. At this writing, I have about five books on the go, including the brick-like The Isles by Norman Davies (which will probably take me another year to get through, fascinating though it is), Blood in the Dust by our own Bill Swiggs, an Avengers graphic novel, and I’ve just finished Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. I read a bit at a time of each one — maybe half a chapter or so. Some last minute social media interaction, and then it’s lights out by around 10:00.
That’s the basic pattern. Life has a way of interrupting: this weekend, for example, we are going to the Penistone Show, an annual agricultural extravaganza in a local town, which is all-absorbing, especially this year as we are entering a number of competitions in the show. Then there are household chores, car repairs, medical appointments and so forth, which grab time out of the above schedule.
It’s a schedule which has helped me to produce over 40 books and 8 issues of a monthly magazine, plus a daily blog that’s coming up this October to its fourth year without missing a day. Something like two million words written over the last three years, altogether.
How can I do what I do in the available time? I don’t really think it’s about Time, as such. It seems to be to be more about concentration, purpose and voice. If you have confidence in your own voice — a sort of knowing sense of what you want to say, so that you are not self-doubting or undermining your own work all the time — and if you have a defined purpose, then I think you can concentrate more readily, and, even in the presence of active distractions, get things done.
I’ll talk more about the visualisation process that lies behind much of this soon. But for now, please look over the above and take from it whatever seems useful to you. I hope it helps you to be more productive in some way.