Many say that success is about time management, so you simply need to learn to manage your time better—but that isn’t the problem. Every one of us is given 24 hours every day. I don’t get more than you, and you don’t get any more than me. End of story. Should be simple, right? But it isn’t.
The problem comes in when we think about managing time, which is an external force, when what we need to do is manage ourselves. You sit down to work at your computer to finish a report or meet a deadline, and then you see a notification pop up, or maybe you hear that ping and see that your good friend posted a really cute puppy video, so you go onto Facebook and watch it and have a great laugh, and you send it to your sister and two other friends. Then your calendar pops up to remind you of your dinner plans for tonight, and you realize you forgot to make reservations, so you get sidetracked and do that. Then you see a bunch of ads saying the weed-whacker you’ve been wanting is on sale for a great price at the gardening store.
I could go on, but I think you get the point: Suddenly your morning is gone, and you haven’t finished your report or whatever project you sat down at your computer to do. It doesn’t end there, either. I mean, how many of you incessantly check emails during the day rather than taking the time to make a salad and eat properly? Instead, you grab whatever prepackaged carb is easy, and then instead of getting up early and hitting the gym and looking after yourself, you hit the snooze button and roll over and grab that extra thirty minutes of sleep.
I’ve written blogs about this before. As a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, I can tell you that distractions are the death of a writer. It has happened to me numerous times, including this past winter—the winter from hell. This was a great example of a distraction that only exacerbated my extreme housing issues that ran from November through March, with ongoing water problems, from derelict plumbing, to a broken deep well pump, to the discovery that with nearly every component of plumbing in my home, a Band-Aid approach had been taken to fixing previous issues. This sucked up all my energy and focus from my work, from finishing my books, that is, until March, when I put my foot down with all the involved parties who weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing and were cutting into my valuable writing and working time.
It’s imperative for all of us to eliminate distractions. I don’t check emails first thing in the morning, I don’t answer the phone, and I turn off my notifications and don’t check them until I’m doing the business side of writing in the afternoon. I don’t schedule appointments during the day when I’m writing, and for people who just show up, I’m really clear on saying no now. Everything is off, and even my voicemail message tells people I’m working and to please send an email, and I’ll get back to them later in the day. Every morning, I get down to writing. After that, I look after myself, and that’s the most productive time of my day. In the afternoon, I focus on the business side, checking emails, answering what I can, and doing ongoing marketing. When you have the number of books I do, marketing takes up every spare minute, because books do not sell themselves.
What does it take to make a living now as a full-time author? I write a book a month, and then there’s the business and marketing side of writing, which is the area most authors fail in. I buy ads everywhere every week, new ads, with new creatives. I make new covers and work back and forth with my editor. I post on social media. I have an assistant who creates my newsletters and works in the background to keep everything flowing. When you first start out and have only a book or two, your marketing and the business side isn’t as time consuming, but when you have the eighty-plus books and novellas I have, the time involved in keeping your backlist visible and still selling does not allow any room for distractions. Add in a family—in my case, three kids, one of whom has special needs—and there is no extra time.
Once you learn to manage yourself and learn to tell people no, to set very clear boundaries, to silence your phone and emails and notifications and get down to business and what you need to do, you will find you can accomplish far more than you ever expected.
And do you know what happened for me? On April 11, The McCabe Brothers hit the USA Today bestseller list. This was a major coup for me and could only have been accomplished by me setting very clear direct boundaries with everyone and eliminating all distractions.
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