Managing time for success - November 2014
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Just A Minute with Laura Vanderkam
What the most successful people know about time

Time management seems like a pedestrian topic. For many, it conjures up a bleak image of life lived in 15-minute appointments. I have told people what I write about for a living and had them declare that “I don’t want to manage my time. I just want to live.”
Well, so do I. But since life is lived in hours, the proper stewardship of time is the key to making big dreams happen. (Tweet this.) Luck is nice, but success is seldom serendipitous. It requires effort. It requires choosing how to spend the hours that pass whether you think them through or not.

I was reminded of this while writing an article for Fast Company recently on time management lessons learned from National Novel Writing Month (“NaNoWriMo” for short). Every November, hundreds of thousands of people sign up to write a 50,000-word draft of a novel in 30 days. Writing a novel seems like a dramatic undertaking, but that’s because people have the wrong image of creativity. “I think of NaNoWriMo as this grand exercise in time management,” says Grant Faulkner, the executive director of NaNoWriMo. “I think time management is under-rated in creativity.” Inspiration gets all the press. We celebrate that blinding flash of light, that hole that opens up in the sky. If you get that, awesome. But even then, no epiphany will put 50,000 words in some semblance of order on a page. “Time management is what makes it happen,” he says.
Indeed, writing a novel draft is a pretty straightforward time calculation. Writing 50,000 words in a month requires writing just shy of 1700 words per day. Faulkner will be doing his sixth NaNoWriMo this November (cranking one out is an occupational hazard of working for the organization). With a few under his belt, he knows he can write 1700 words in 2 hours. So he needs to find 2 hours per day, or 60 hours over the month.
November has 721 hours, total (if you live in a place where the clocks fall back). Finding 60 should not be that hard, even if you’re sleeping for 240 and working for 144 (18 8-hour days, with Thanksgiving and that Friday off here in the U.S.). That leaves 337 hours for other things. Elect to spend 60 of those 337 hours writing and you will have a rough draft. An extremely rough draft, to be sure, but something that could become something better. Elect to spend those same 60 of 337 hours watching TV, and you will not have a draft. That’s what most of us do. According to the American Time Use Survey, the average American watches TV as a primary activity for 2.77 hours per day. That clocks in at 83 hours during the 30 days of November, which is enough time to finish that draft and do some editing too.
Creating a work of art starts with carving out the time to make it happen. (Tweet this.) There is no way around this. There is always something else that could fill the time. The question is what we want more. Successful people know that by being a wise steward of the hours we are granted, we can take life from pedestrian to extraordinary. This is what I’m trying to learn. That’s why I think about time.
All the best,
PS. Speaking of novels, my novel, The Cortlandt Boys, will be published as an ebook before the end of the year. Please keep an eye out for the announcement, and for how you can download a copy.

flickr images courtesy of Rob Brewer


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Tweaking an idea (children's book reviews)

I’m always on the lookout for children’s books that aren’t purely formulaic. Kids don’t like to be bored by stories any more than grown-ups do. That’s why How To Train A Train has become a favorite for my 5-year-old. Jason Carter Eaton and John Rocco take children’s fascination with all things locomotive, and ponder the question of what it would be like to have a train as a pet. How would you catch it? You’d approach it slowly, of course, proffering coal. Then you’d give it a name. Some popular train names include Milo, Pushkin, and Captain Foofamaloof. You might even be able to teach it to jump through a flaming hoop! In any case, you’ll know your train is happy if it’s grinning from ear to ear (or the train equivalent).
This tweaking is also why I enjoyed M.R. Nelson’s Petunia, The Girl Who Was NOT a Princess (illustrated by Holly Liminton). Young Petunia likes frogs more than frilly things, but then she befriends a neighbor who wears pink dresses and plays in the mud. Regular readers of Nelson’s blog (Wandering Scientist) know she likes to question the baggage adults carry as children try on identities. That your 4-year-old likes to play princess doesn’t mean she won’t grow up to be an engineer. Indeed, little boys who like nurturing their trains, and not just ramming them into walls, might grow up to design excellent transit systems!
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