In three-and-a-half years, I’ve published eight books, written at least a thousand posts for a variety of websites, and have averaged reading five books per month, all while working in finance for a Fortune 15 multinational with a wife, child, and a home to upkeep.
Recently, someone on Facebook asked how I still manage to write so much considering everything on my plate. I thought about it and my initial response was “time management.” But that’s a shitty answer, not only because it’s clichéd, but also because it’s not true.
I don’t just manage my time, I maximize it.
That’s not a #humblebrag and don’t get me wrong – I’m not a machine. I enjoy a lazy Sunday morning with coffee and a pastry and every weeknight after dinner, I take at least an hour to spend with the kid before she goes to bed, whether that involves playing, taking a bath, reading, or watching a movie.
But when I’m working, I don’t dick around.
This is especially true at the office.
When people want to get their weight under control, one of the first things they’re told to do is write down every single thing they ate that day because it will paint a clear and immediate picture of how quickly they rack up the calories.
I do the same with time. After working in a variety of offices for a decade-and-a-half, I’ve realized just how much time people waste while they’re at the office “working.” They surf the Internet with no real purpose; they walk around and talk to multiple people like they’re running for office, almost none of it related to work; most of all, they complain. They complain about work, home, marriage, kids, bills, their favorite sports teams, whatever. They spend a lot of time complaining.
I’d rather make more useful decisions of my time (so I can complain at home, according to my wife). I pay for my mortgage with my salary, but my time is also valuable. We all know that engaging in conversation is one of the perks of actually going to work so I’m not rude – when my boss asks about my weekend, I don’t blow him off – and I have several friends in the office, but I don’t actively seek out banal conversations repeatedly throughout the day just to pass the time.
Instead, I’ll read an article I’ve saved or I’ll jot down notes or even write a quick post. For bigger breaks, I always have a book, either physical or Kindle (though usually both), on hand that I carry with me and I read while I eat lunch or take a coffee break.
Even at home, I do things to try to leverage what I have to my advantage. This is a skill I had to hone when my commute consisted of at least four hours in the car every day. My wife arrives home at least an hour before me most days, so she does the majority of the cooking during the week, so I do the dishes, clean the kitchen, make lunches, and set up the coffee for the next day. All told, I’m in the kitchen for about 60 to 90 minutes every night, so I try to ensure this is not wasted time for me.
When I detailed how I work, I said that my best time saving trick was listening to audiobooks and that’s still true. Listening to an audiobook (and a few podcasts) allows me to still read and learn while doing something else. No, it’s not the same as reading because my attention is divided, but it’s the next best thing. My love for hip-hop is well documented, but for a writer and reader, listening to a book is often far more beneficial.
You might say that watching TV is the same, but when you’re watching something, your eyes are constantly drawn to the screen, no matter how many times you’ve seen it. Although I’d like to, I actually watch very few non-animated movies and haven’t seen a new TV show in years. I’d love to dive into Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, but at this point in life, I just can’t devote the kind of time that those shows require. Instead, we usually watch something we’ve seen multiple times like The West Wing or Scrubs.
Unless I’m really intent on finishing something, I don’t write much on the weekends. I always have a list of ideas and possible topics that is constantly being updated, but very rarely do I sit down and bang out a thousand words on a Saturday or Sunday. Those days are usually reserved for relaxation, family time, parties, and chores around the house, but I still bring an audiobook when I’m grocery shopping and I always have an actual book with me. You can get a lot of reading done while sitting in traffic at the mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel.
I used to do stuff like stay up past midnight or wake up at 5 a.m., but as I inch closer to 40, I realized that I’m rarely productive when I’m sleep deprived and even when I am, the output is subpar. This means that I’m even less prolific than I would like to be, but since I only write for myself, my biggest concern is not speed, but the quality of the work.
If you find yourself wishing you had more time to devote to your passion, take a week and write down how you allocate every hour of your day. You’ll be surprised how much free time you have.
Now you just have to maximize it.
Christopher Pierznik is the author of eight books, all of which can be purchased in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, and many more. He has been quoted on Buzzfeed and Deadspin. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.