Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Art of Juggling; or, How Many Balls Will I Drop This Week?

Retirement was once a far-off dream for me. Now it has become my official status. I never worried about what I would do when I retired. All the projects, postponed pleasures, reading and travel that I wanted to do would have made a long list. And, oh yes, somehow I would fit in the writing that I had never found time to do before. What I didn’t think about was that the length of the days wouldn’t change. So, here I am still juggling all the things I have committed to do and having just as much trouble fitting it all in as I ever did when I worked full-time.

Over the past few weeks, energised by a retreat and inspired by the commitment of other writers, I have begun to reconsider my priorities. It was especially interesting to me that Jana’s post yesterday discussed whether it is a good idea to quit a day job to devote more time to writing. I made a choice to retire early, which is almost the same thing. However, it has taken me a long time to realise that writing has become my most important objective.

So, what prevents me from giving writing top spot? It sometimes isn’t obvious to others how difficult it is to juggle writing along with everything else I try to pack into the time that is available. I have the same amount of time as anyone else on this planet, but it only stretches so far, even if efficiently used. I haven’t always recognised this myself. So after I officially retired, I enthusiastically volunteered to sit on the library board, agreed to deliver meals on wheels, was elected to the Sask Writers’ Guild board. I joined a book club. I’m a political junkie, so got involved with constituency politics, then provincial and national conventions. My mother is elderly (but in good health, thank goodness), and my five grandchildren live in another province in two different cities. I like to visit all of them as often as I can. Every once in a while an opportunity to travel somewhere new pops up. So what is a retired gal to do?

I drifted through a long phase of not knowing if I should even call myself a writer because I had not produced anything that I thought was worthy of attention. My involvement with the SWG, an organisation that is infinitely supportive of writers at all stages of development, gave me courage to seriously allow writing to take me on a journey. To that end, I enrolled in summer workshops, joined two writers’ groups, took some creative writing courses, and began to funnel more energy into writing activities .... to the detriment of some of the other commitments I had made. Hence, more juggling needed all the time.

The more I know about what it takes to actively write, revise, submit, revise, market, enter contests, revise, and attend useful conferences, the more I know that something has to go. This week I almost dropped the ball because two months ago I left a meeting date out of my appointment book. Noticed by chance that I had to send out the agenda. Whew, just in time. Another ‘ball’ is already labelled for rice krispie squares for the library fundraiser at the baseball game on Friday. When I go to my meeting in the city later today, I will stop for coffee with my mother. That’s high on my priority list.

But in the meantime, I have furniture in my house getting dusty while I write, not to mention the grass that needs cutting as soon as the rain showers quit. So not having a full-time job doesn’t make it any easier. I always laugh a little when someone says, “Oh, but you’re retired. You don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to.” Are you kidding? I’ll consider doing nothing when I CAN’T do the things I want to do. Please don’t encourage me to waste my precious time.

My task right now is to set some clear goals and then determine the best way to achieve them. That unfortunately means I will drop some of my volunteer activities. Lately I have been trying to look at the whole year, instead of planning month by month, or week by week. That involves setting deadlines. (Might as well admit that I am no better than most in keeping New Year’s resolutions, so it remains to be seen how successful I will be.) And my lifelong tendency to procrastinate is still with me, so I have to fight that one off.

Over the years I have attended many a session on time management. It’s a good review to check out websites, such as Terescia Harvey’s, which Jana mentioned in her post on Time Management for the Chicks back in January. Terescia outlined her battle with time management in a very helpful way. Another post suggested making lists, which I do for other purposes, why not for writing? I have drafted countless schedules which tell me to sit in front of my computer every day as routinely as I brush my teeth. Hopefully, my new regime will focus my efforts and my writing habit will continue to gain momentum. If I make my life simpler, maybe I won’t hear any more balls being dropped on the floor due to conflicting commitments.

Well, folks, how do you manage to juggle all your commitments as you try to make time to write? What have you given up in order to focus on writing? Has it been worth it?


Yunaleska said...

I have given up more time on my hobbies.

At the moment it's one episode of anime a day, not two.

Some days I don't touch my games consoles.

These may not seem like huge sacrifices, but I'm an addict to both. It's very hard. But I need this current wip edited for my beta-reader by 1st July.

Janet C. said...

I am always amazed, Helena, when retired people go back to work claiming they are bored! BORED! Like you, I believe I'll have more than enough to keep me busy when I retire (having had a 4 year hiatus from work when we lived on the East Coast proved that). And of course, writing will be a top priority (fingers crossed).

Time management - hmmm, that remains an issue. Perhaps if I could give up the need to be 'connected' to the world wide web? Seems to be my addiction, Yuna :)

Great post - good luck with your new career of Juggling.

Helena said...

It is really hard to cut back on the things we are addi.... hmm, in the habit of spending a lot of time on. It used to be solitaire or free cell for me. But it's like eating sweets. I try not to get started, then I won't have to worry about stopping. Easier said than done!

But good luck with the editing, Yuna. That has so much more potential, therefore should be a motivation to avoid the 'bad habits.'

Thanks for your stop at the Chicks today.

Helena said...

Couldn't agree more, Janet. It was always puzzling to me when people said they didn't know what they would do with all the free time ... yikes, give some of it to me!

I don't expect you to have a hard time developing the work habits you will need once you get your 'freedom' later this summer. But if you need a support partner to report to, fire away. We could have a little competition by email to make sure we each put in our time at the keyboard.

Thanks for your support. Always much appreciated.

Silver James said...

Oh, sing to me, Helena! That's my theme song, only my balls are often chainsaws! My number one addiction is blogs. I can spend hours each morning checking and rechecking the blogs on my RSS feed. I'm trying to get that under control.

We retired folks still have homes and choores, have errands, have social and volunteer commitments (because uhm, you don't work so you have time to do all this stuff that those of us with day jobs can't...d'huh?) Some days I can't get beyond the 'net and those commitments and I go to bed guilty for not having done a thing on my REAL work - writing. Being published has helped a bit. I can now say I have a REAL job again and need to beg off whatever.

Okay. I have page proofs to finish. Must. Close. Firefox.....*drags self kicking and screaming away* Niiiice pooooost, Helena!

Karyn Good said...

My scrapbooking supplies lay unused and unloved. I read less (not sure that's a good thing), watch less TV (pretty sure that's a great thing) and say yes to fewer volunteer requests. I also try to spend more time actually in my house instead of being out and about doing 'stuff'. Oh, and I gave up cleaning the house which isn't so good but at least I can write ideas in the dust.

Helena said...

I hear you, Silver -- good points, all of them. Yeah, retired folks are the first to be called on, and why on earth wouldn't we have time?

So lovely to be published, the best excuse you can possibly have -- sorry, I'm working on my next book. Oh, but that's you, and it's my dream. Some day!

Thank you for sharing your thoughts today.

Helena said...

Hi Karyn! (First time I've typed your new name -- which I really like, btw)

Yeah, I am reading less, and I agree it is not good, but I too am trying to wean myself off TV (easy to say when the season is over!!) Blogs are harder, as Silver noted. I spend time reading those, and I'm not convinced it's that bad a thing because of staying in touch with like-minded people and the book world in general, but it is a truly wicked time-buster.

Good to hear from you today.

Helena said...

Have to take a break now to get to the city for the meeting I spoke of in my post.

Keep the comments coming. I love to hear other perspectives. I will check in again this evening, and if I miss any of you, please check back in the morning. I will read them all and respond.

Thanks for your understanding.

Ban said...

joining Karyn as i scribble in my dust too ... ;)

Jana Richards said...

Hi Helena,
Yes, being retired is no guarantee of having time to do everything you want to do. I discovered that during my four year hiatus from work. But at least what you do is your decision and not your employer's.

What have I given up? I don't read as much as I wish I could. I actually enjoy flying simply to be able to have the time to read in the airport and on the plane. I haven't given up as much TV as I should but I'm working on it. I don't socialize with friends as much as I'd like to, and I don't invite people over as much as I'd like to, mainly because that would mean having to clean the house. And gardening. I would love to spend more time in the garden.

Organizational tools like lists help to keep all the balls in the air. So do calendars and reminders of tasks on Outlook. I reread Anita's blog about Allie's advice about making lists about everything, even going to the gym. I have to find an organized way to make things work.


Hayley E. Lavik said...

Unfortunately I don't think I'm that good at scheduling time for writing, which is something I need to fix. The instant other things come up--such as now--I can schedule everything but. Writing remains sort of an ephemeral abstraction that I can slip in anywhere, which of course means if I'm too busy it just keeps sliding around and disappears. When I'm completely free of school-ish commitments I have specific times of the day set aside for writing.

I'm sitting down this morning to plan out my work schedule for summer classes, now that the second has started and it's busy-busy. Readings, research, romances (the closest thing to not-work, but I'll be analyzing them to bits), and 6 assignments of various length before the 22nd of this month. Some for the morning, some during the day on campus, some in the evening.. and what's that? Writing? Oh I'll just do that whenever I have a spare minute. Sure.

I've dropped some major potential time sinks in the last year (tv, gaming) but honestly they weren't hard habits to break. Just things I stopped bothering with when I realized I really didn't care. When things are this busy, I'm starting to realize the commitment I might have to sacrifice is time with my husband. Spend less time during the evening today, get some damn writing done, and then get more time together on days off. It's the only one flexible enough to drop amid pressing commitments, but it's also the most important.

Captain Hook said...

At the moment, I only have two things that compete with writing for my time, and they usually win (job hunting and being with my kids). Writing does happen, but slowly.

I am part of a book review blog which satisfies my reading addiction, and everything else I don't mind doing without.

Suse said...

Hi Helena,

Finding and making time to write is a major challenge. At present I don't make it a priority and I usually feel guilty about that. I find however when I make lists that I can get done what I want to do, so I need to get back to that.

Toby Keith has recorded a song called "My List" that might help people think about what they want to include on that list. Check out his video for this song: www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPqp8z2zLHw

I'm also sorry I haven't taken the time to keep up with the Prairie Chicks. Keep up the great posts.


Helena said...

Hi, Suse, welcome back to the Chicks. Glad to connect with you whenever you do make it.

I don't know the song, so when I have a minute (!) I will check it out.

I'm like you -- I feel guilty when I didn't get a slot of writing time in my day. But hey, that's good. It means it's on the top of your mind, and is important to you. Therefore, it will be easier to pull it back onto the table at any time. We all have detours off the road we intended to take, but they are supposed to lead us back again to our original route and destination.

Sorry, I was not here to respond to comments yesterday in the afternoon and evening -- a meeting and then a family event in the city. Hope you check back anyway.

Helena said...

Capt., I like your attitude and your focus. Your priorities are pretty spot-on, too. Nothing more important than family and making a living.

As a librarian, I certainly approve of reading being high on your list, as well. There is nothing that gets me irritated more than *not reading* whatever the reason. I seem to need it as much as eating and sleeping.

Everyone has to satisfy the creative urge to write in whatever way is the best fit for herself. It doesn't necessarily have to be pell-mell. So I'm happy that you make the best of the time you have available.

Thanks for your continuing presence here on our blog.

Helena said...

Hayley, I know all about how 'slippery' the writing thread can be. And while I dared to compare the regular time slot for writing with brushing my teeth, the actual writing is not something that transfers as easily from mind to page as toothpaste flows from the tube to the brush. (That's really a forced analogy, I know.)

Be careful about borrowing time from the most important areas of your life (glad to know TV isn't in that category). However, I know your husband supports your writing, so he might consider it to be a reasonable trade-off for extra time together on his days off. Good luck with the 'negotiations' for a temporary adjustment to your schedule!

Helena said...

Jana, your comments are right on the money. I do agree that the matter of choice is an important distinction between retirement and employment. It is also what makes retirement more difficult. The fact that I had to be at work every day for a certain number of hours meant I did it, no question. But since I can choose to sit at my computer or not, this means there are alternative designs on my time, some of my own making and others come from elsewhere, sometimes in the most insidious ways (sure, I'll meet you for coffee; what! you found a great new blog? etc. etc.)

And I am familiar with all the demands on time that you mentioned. I too like flying for the reading time I get. Now that's sad. Part of my recent analysis led me to decide that it is just as important to schedule my reading time as my writing time. Maybe when I've done that I'll see that I actually don't have time for anything else but basic maintenance around home.

Don't forget the therapeutic value of gardening, also provides for lots of daydreaming time, which is probably part of the therapy. And could lead to some really interesting new plots!

Thanks for the reminder about tools like Google calendar which I have only used in a sketchy way but I know its potential. Specifically, what can you do on Outlook that is applicable?

Thanks also for *taking time* to comment!

Helena said...

You know, Ban, what I admire most about you is your brevity!

I'll bet you write in a snappy style, too.

Thanks for joining in.

Anita Mae Draper said...

If anyone's rec'g this by email, know that I'm a couple days late and this is Hazel and not Janet's post...

Ditto what Karen said. The only thing different is that I was never a scrapbooker but everything else matches.

In Allie Pleiter's workshop, she said she had to give up all volunteer activities and become an 'interrupter'. She explained that meant she told everyone not to put her down for scheduled volunteer activities however, if anyone had an emergency appendectomy or went into early labor, they were to call her and that's how she would contribute to her community. She said she was amazed at the relief this gave the community because she could be interrupted and provide aid at a moment's notice.

Helena, if you have your own vehicle and the new schedules coming out in a couple months, you might want to try this instead.