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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

The Time Myth

Wrapped up with the Multitasking Myth – that you save time by multitasking – is the myth that we need big chunks of time to write. We think we need hours and hours to really get into our writing and the only way we can imagine getting that kind of time is to multitask like crazy the rest of the day.

The truth is that you don’t really need hours and hours to be creative.

You will get more done consistently showing up for 15 minutes a day, five days a week, than you ever will waiting for the rare day when you’ll have hours and hours to yourself. You’ll even get more accomplished and feel more satisfied devoting 15 minutes a day for five days a week (which adds up to 75 minutes) than you will in one 75-minute session.

Daily practice builds momentum and keeps your unconscious working even while your conscious mind is doing other things. Conversely, waiting for big chunks of time means you have to reintroduce yourself to the material, remember where you left off, reacquaint yourself with the characters, ideas, research, etc.

In fact, the rare days when it looks like I’ll have more than 4 hours for writing are the days when I have to be most vigilant about the temptation to “take just a few minutes” to clear up my email, catch up on office administrivia, make phone calls, have lunch with someone, let clients reschedule appointments into the middle of the day, etc. If I’m not careful, I can find myself at 3:30 in the afternoon wondering what the heck happened to this whole day I supposedly had to write.

When you know you only have 15 minutes, you feel less anxious and are more likely to show up. When you have 15 minutes, you’re also more willing to say “no” to distractions and to refrain from attempts to multitask. This in turn makes you better prepared to engage the kind of focused attention you need.

How I Avoid the Time Myth

What works best for me is to reserve blocks of time for writing on my calendar, which I call my Target Time. This morning it’s 8 to 10 am. I showed up at 8 am knowing I was only committed to 15 minutes. Any office emergencies (short of needing to evaluate the building) can wait another 15 minutes. Other people’s priorities and agenda items (in the form of email, voice mail, phone calls,meetings, etc.) can wait another 15 minutes.

Once I get started writing, once I reconnect with what brings me joy and allow myself to focus on this challenging, engaging puzzle of how to best string words together to convey what’s in my head to yours, once I’m in the writing zone, I don’t want to distract myself. I’m good to go until I have to stop and reluctantly shift gears to running the office.      

Some days I wrestle with the day’s writing puzzle and I’m ready to quit after 15 to 20 minutes. I’ve put in my time, I’ve reacquainted my conscious and unconscious with the pieces of the puzzle and my conscious is ready to move on to other tasks. I know my unconscious will continue moving the pieces around so that by tomorrow my conscious mind will see something I can’t see today. These are the days I put in my 15 minutes and stop guilt-free. The rest of the time I reserved as Target Time is open for whatever I choose to do.

The key is to show up at the start of the Target Time and remind myself that everything else can wait another 15 minutes.

Is there anything in your life that truly couldn’t wait for 15 minutes while you write right now?

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3 Comments on “The Time Myth”

  1. rosannebane July 26, 2010 at 8:40 am #

    Thanks Michael. The trick of course is recognizing the Saboteur’s sly voice in the question “Will it really hurt your writing if you just get this done first?” and to remember that the Saboteur is never satsified, so once you get that one thing done, there will be another and another until you wake up one morning and realize how long it’s been since you spent time with your wriitng. And then of course the Saboteur will say “It’s been too long. No point in going back to the writing now.”

    Saboteur = Never Satisfied


  2. Michael Kelberer July 24, 2010 at 11:47 am #

    Nice post, as always. Of course the answer is “No” but I never am able to give that answer until I start writing. Before then, Resistance is always there with the question, “Will it really hurt your writing if you just get this done first?”



  1. The Deadline Myth « The Bane of Your Resistance - July 28, 2010

    […] if you recall from the previous post on the Time Myth, the truth is: You will have time to create if you focus on what is most important to you in small […]


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