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Why taking time off is one of the most productive things you can do

Advanced tips for writers

A Spanish Balcony

The villa was in darkness when we first arrived. I stood next to the swimming pool looking out on the lights of town spread out below me. I could smell jasmine in the warm night air, and behind me a breeze played with the surface of the water and the curtains fluttered in the breeze. Finally, I could relax. The phrase ‘weight off my shoulders’ literally came true. It was as if my shoulders unclenched right there next to the jasmine and the pool. Work and life had been stressful in equal measure. I never seemed to get an overview. I was fairly successful at both, but I always seemed to be in the day-to-day, the endless to do list. I couldn’t stand back and look – there was always too much to do – until that moment, looking over a Spanish city on a warm night.

The power of time off

That was about fifteen years ago now, but it sticks in my head, because it showed me the power of time off. Here are some reasons that spring to mind about why time off is so powerful:

  • We need to recharge and refresh
  • We get to spend time with family and friends
  • It’s important to look after ourselves
  • We’re more than the work we do day-to-day

BUT there’s also another reason that time off is so powerful, that might not be immediately obvious, especially if you’re caught in the day-to-day: the power of time off is also about getting perspective. If you can stop, for a few days preferably, you start to figure out what’s important. If you don’t have a few days, a few hours can work can work – or even half an hour – as long as you do it fairly regularly.

Crucial questions

Gleaned from reading several of the productivity and time management books, here are some crucial questions you can ask yourself when you do get some perspective time.

  1. What roles do I play in life? For me, three are: mum, tutor, writer, for example. Thinking about the next three months, identify the most important aspects of each of these roles.
  2. What do I spend my time doing? At the time I stood on that Spanish balcony, I might have said working, singing in a choir, more working.
  3. And the crucially, what would I like to spend my time doing? Make a note of anything – don’t prioritise while you’re initially brainstorming, you can do that later. Here are some that have come up for people when I asked them this question: I would love to learn to play the piano. I want to write my memoir. I want to set up my own business. I want to build my own house.

Break it down into small steps

Now take each one of those and break it down into small steps. For example, to write a memoir, you’d need time and space to do it. You might want to read memoirs written by others. Or maybe you’ll do a course – which will take an investment of time and money. Maybe you could find a couple of books on writing a memoir in the library? Keep breaking these things down until you get to something you could do today or tomorrow (in normal times). For that, the steps needs to be small enough and concrete enough so you know how and when to do them – you need to understand what it will take to achieve each one.

Questions designed to get you thinking

Now identify the answers to the following questions. To do your thing – whatever it is you want to spend your time doing – you’re going to need to take some action. The questions are designed to get you thinking about what action you need to take.

  • What don’t I know yet? What do I need to learn and how can I learn it?
  • What support do I need?
  • Do I need any specific training?
  • What are the barriers?
  • What space / equipment do I need?

Let’s take: I want to write a memoir and identify the answers to these questions. (I’m making this up for the sake of the example!)

  • What don’t I know yet? What do I need to learn and how can I learn it? I’m not sure how to structure the book. I could read some memoirs to get some ideas.
  • What support do I need? Is there an online writing group I could join?
  • Do I need any specific training? No. I might consider joining Jericho Writers later.
  • What are the barriers? Finding time to do it.
  • What space / equipment do I need? My laptop. I could clear a space in the spare room.

Take some time to recharge

Why not see if you can deliberately take time out of your schedule to get some perspective time? If this seems hard, then make it a goal, write it out, and break it down into small steps, until you get to an action you could take today. Even if you can’t take some perspective time at the moment, you can make it a goal and come back to it in a couple of weeks.

Your challenge

To get your perspective time, what would need to happen? Write it down – however cynical you are! – and now break that down into small steps. I’d love to hear how you get on in the comments.

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Louise xx

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