Two years ago, I quit my job and became a full-time author. With no other income than my books, I’ve been working crazy hours ever since to realise my dreams. I make a good living and have built enough savings to get me through emergencies or bad months, but there’s always the worry that it’s not enough. And so I work. A lot. Every day, all day. Even when I still had my job, I’d use every lunch break, evening and of course the weekend to write and work on my author career.
Free time? What’s that?
Holidays? Only with my laptop by my side.
Then, last winter, I came close to burnout. I could barely write. Getting out of bed felt as exhausting as running a marathon (not that I’ve ever done one of those). My emotions were all over the place. I found it hard to gather the creativity I need to write my books.
That was a wake-up call. I decided I needed to calm down, reduce my output, focus more on my backlist and repurpose my existing books through audiobooks and translations.
Then came the coronavirus and erased all my plans. The pandemic plus some events in my personal life meant I didn’t write much. This wasn’t the time to change my way of working; my routine was all that kept it together.
Now though, I finally decided to make a change. After reading an excellent report by Skye Warren (subscribe to her author newsletter, she's full of amazing advice) about how working only four hours a day can be just as effective as working long hours, I set myself that very challenge: a week of four hours a day or less. Not a minute more.
I split my four hours in half: two hours for writing, two hours for admin, marketing and whatever else needed doing. I printed off a time sheet to keep track of what I was doing in that limited time to hopefully learn if I did things that were unnecessary or repetitive.
I used a stopwatch to track the total time I spent working, pausing the timer whenever I got distracted or took a break.
At the end of the first day, I was surprised I’d managed to tick off everything on my to do list. Knowing I only had a limited amount of time, I’d raced through my tasks without procrastinating, checking social media or thinking about how to word an email for half an hour.
Writing also went well. I usually write in sprints and can average at least 1,000 words in half an hour. While I can do up to 5k words a day, I try to avoid that outside of deadlines because it makes me crash the next day. My target for this experiment had been 2-3k a day and I achieved that on five days. One day I spent my writing time editing a finished book instead and another day was a no-creativity day thanks to a migraine. Still, my daily average was 2,021 words so still within my target.
I realised that two hours of straight writing was more than I need. Two hours of sitting and thinking about words, easy, but sprint writing for two hours would mean I’d write at least 4k, which is more than my brain can manage most days. I don’t plot my books and rarely have any idea what will happen in them. My subconscious needs time to process and come up with fun plot twists, so I’ve found that after ninety minutes of writing I usually end up slowing down. Splitting the two hours into one full hour and then two half hours spread across the day turned out to be the most productive schedule for me.
I’d already tried working less on weekends in the past few months, so in this experiment, I reduced the four hours to two, with complete freedom what to do within those two hours.
After a week of this, I’ve come to a few realisations:
So, am I going to continue with this?
Yes, I am. This week, I didn’t keep track of what exactly I was doing because that actually took up time I could spend on other things, but I am still using my stop watch to make sure I stick to four hours. I even backed an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to get a TimeChi, a smart productivity tool that might help me use and track my time even more effectively.
What I will change is that I’ll be more flexible about how much of my four hours I’m spending on writing, admin, marketing etc. On days when I’m really creative, I want to be able to write for more than just two hours, and vice versa.
I might experiment with other productivity techniques in the future, but I’ll definitely stick with this for the month of September – minus a few days off for my birthday celebrations.
What do you think about this? Could you get all your work done in four hours? Are you willing to try?
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Scottish storyteller. Tea drinker. Cat tamer. Highland walker. Believes in unicorns and happily ever afters.