Time management with young children?
February 16, 2011 5:53 PM   Subscribe

I have two months to put a book proposal together. How on earth do I manage my time?

This is ostensibly a writing question but it's really about time management. It's anonymous because I don't want my agent to see that I'm freaking out.

I've got a literary agent waiting for a revised writing sample from my non-fiction book proposal. I need to sit down and spend quite some time reworking and rewriting the sample chapters. I'm quite nervous about that. I've got until May 1 to get it done.

I am a freelancer, so my time is very flexible and I can slot this work in around my other writing commitments. However, I also have a six-month-old baby (still being breastfed). My partner and I share the child care and I can free up chunks of time to get work done (though I still can't stray too far from the baby, as he needs to be fed).

My question is: how should I approach this time management task? I'm really at a loss right now - sleep time is essential (I'm still running on empty) so getting up an hour earlier or going to bed later isn't really doable. I'm willing to let the housework slide and I know I can count on my partner to support me as much as he can, but I just don't know where to start. Is flexibility the key, or is it rigid scheduling? I realise that there have been many books written on the subject, but ironically I don't have time to read them right now, I just need a quick fix and to get on with it.

Obviously in the end it comes down to what works for me, but I would appreciate any tips you have for carving out work time from a busy day, especially with young children in the mix.

(By the way the baby barely naps during the day, so the obvious "write during his nap time" is unfortunately out of the question.)

Bonus points for tips on getting writing done when under pressure.
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I think the answer you need to hear, if you are already managing other freelance writing commitments well, is "Treat this precisely as seriously as you do your other paying work."

But if you do need more specific advice... Listen, the baby does not need an adult's full attention at every moment. Get an exersaucer, cultivate a parenting philosophy that is cool with benign neglect, and write in small chunks, frequently.

Grasp those serendipitous moments to work when you're on baby duty, but the baby is happy to just nom on a toy for a while, or swing, or practice learning how to crawl. This age is still pretty easy: They can't get up to *so* much trouble if you let them be for a while.

With a little practice and a Boppy pillow, you might also find you can work at your computer *while nursing.* Heaven knows how many tens of thousands of words I wrote like that, and the babies don't seem to have suffered for it one bit.

To get in the habit for the future, and in case you sometimes need bigger concentration: chisel out a couple of two-to-three hour blocks a week to just focus on your work. Best if you can identify a time that your baby doesn't need to nurse anyway and do it then.

And don't panic, you'll get there!
posted by Andrhia at 6:05 PM on February 16, 2011

Bonus points for tips on getting writing done when under pressure.

If you're anything like me, you're gong to start out slow, and slowly pick up steam in terms of productivity as you move forward. So whatever schedule you set up for yourself, don't make it all about a certain number of words per day, and then start beating yourself up when you don't immediately meet your quota.

Related to this, understand that you'll need to do a lot of pure raw THINKING at first (organizing your thoughts etc). Again, if you're anything like me, you'll find that a lot of your best thinking can get done while you're doing other mostly mundane things (going for walks, washing dishes, changing diapers). So an early "work schedule" might look something like this:

- 1 hr at beginning of day (organizing notes, identifying areas that need work).

- Do a bunch of everyday stuff that needs to get done to keep self and baby etc alive.

- 1 hr at end of day where you revisit earlier notes and fill in relevant blanks.

Good luck.
posted by philip-random at 6:12 PM on February 16, 2011

As a writing breastfeeding sharing infant care mommy, I say: embrace the pump. Feed baby, leave house for hours, write and pump elsewhere (university library with lactation room?), come home and feed baby. This is what a pump is for.
posted by k8t at 6:38 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Would it be possible to ask for an extension? Your agent doesn't need to know you're freaking out. I have experience with neither book proposals nor raising children, but if your agent is awesome, they should hopefully be understanding. In my own life, I'd rather take a little bit longer to get something done and be less stressed about it.
posted by lover at 7:22 PM on February 16, 2011

First, a slight aside: I'm a (fiction) editor, not an agent, but it would be weirder if you *weren't* freaking out. I've had people start crying during pitch sessions because they were so stressed about it. This (freaking out, not crying during pitch sessions) is normal and expected, and no one's going to hold it against you if you need to ask questions.

That said, I'm going to recommend against asking for an extension--presumably May 1 is a date that you agreed on. If you think that there's no way you can have it done by May, then let the agent know right now, but if there's a chance you can, DO IT. This is arguably more important with an editor (who usually works with deadlines that she's not in control of and, if you don't deliver, has a shitload of trouble on her hands), but if you can't deliver on this with more than two months to go on it, that's going to be a red flag for her. I'd actually suggest convincing yourself that the due date's a week before the actual date and trying to have it in then.

Re: Time management: This isn't the answer you want, but that's going to be different for everyone. Do you do better with rigid plans, or do you do better when things are flexible? Pick whatever's worked for you in the past and try to make it work now. Maybe that's saying that you write from 9-11, and then again from 1-2. Maybe it's saying that you're going to do one chapter a week, and the details are up in the air. But pick something and go with it.

As to specific advice... I'd suggest pushing everything else to the side for right now. As others have mentioned, nursing while typing isn't that difficult--a sling might help with this, depending on how good at sitting/squirmy baby is. Consider blocking off part of the house--a corner of your bedroom, a particularly large closet, whatever--and declare it your writing space. Then go and sit there. Partner and baby can interrupt if baby needs fed, but otherwise, that's for writing and writing only.

Carry a notebook around with you and start thinking about your book all the time. Potential revisions, things that you might want to change--and take notes on them. Then when you ARE able to sit down, you already have a list of things to address and don't need to waste time staring blankly at the screen and going "Uh, okay, so..."

Did the agent give you revision suggestions? Start by sitting down with that email and a blank piece of paper and writing out a paragraph about how you'll address each suggestion. Pick the easiest of those fixes and implement it, then work from the next-easiest fix to the hardest. By the time you reach the hardest stuff, you'll already be immersed in the book again, and, hopefully, it'll seem a bit more manageable than it does now.
posted by MeghanC at 8:00 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh I totally empathize. I really truly do.

What worked for me-

- Sleep when the kid sleeps during the day.
- When partner gets home at night, I was off duty and working except to nurse.
- Hire a 'mother's helper'. Really inexpensive and you can get some work done. EVEN NAP!
- Talk to your agent. My writing was academic, but my agent said she extended more than half her deadlines, it wasn't a big deal. At all.
- Johnny Jumper. You probably won't be able to write much this way, but it is a good way to read and mark up what you have. Do some outlining.
- If you want the contact info for the guy who did some editing work for me, let me know. He was OMG super fast and so inexpensive that I felt guilty.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 8:01 PM on February 16, 2011

Turn off the internet. That's what I'd need to do anyway.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:22 PM on February 16, 2011

You CAN do this. I am sending massive book proposal mojo vibes (mine is whipping my ass at the moment, and there is no baby to excuse me).

Points of note:

1. You can do this.
2. Break 'er down into smaller deadlines.
3. Tell some other human, preferably another writer who is ruthless and outspoken, and let them know what deadlines you've set.
4. It sounds like you have a great grasp on what's essential and what isn't. Delegate and do not think of your list of non-essentials until your task is done.
5. When I'm writing under pressure, there's the temptation to outline and plan everything into oblivion. I find that just WRITING helps tremendously with the anxiety and can kick-start me into productivity. I don't know about you, but I find that it's far easier to edit a page of total schlocky crap than to will a perfect page into existence.
6. Take care of yourself. If you need to go cry in the shower or take a nap, do it and return to your work refreshed.
7. Timers and short bursts of work are your friend. You may even be more productive with a very specific goal and a very short time once you've worked through the mental "I can't."
8. This is a great opportunity to treat yourself and your writing career as one of your clients. You'll pull it off!
posted by mynameisluka at 10:55 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you tried the Pomodoro technique? It's a way of chunking your time into 25-minute slots - the idea is that you set a kitchen timer to 25 minutes, focus on one thing for 25 minutes, then when it rings, you're free for a break! I've found that it helps me not only focus, but also helps with my anxiety about the crushing amount of work I've got to get done -- I keep telling myself, "I don't need to finish everything, let me just get through one Pomodoro for now.."

There's a free Pomodoro app for the Mac as well which has a loud ticking noise that I find very useful to remind me about work when my magpie brain starts opening tabs in Chrome. And at the end it rings a bell and says out loud, "Well done!" It warms my heart!
posted by ukdanae at 1:15 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

The "Pomodoro Technique" works for me, but I use Egg Timer Plus and half-hour blocks of time. On Monday, I make a list of tasks to be done by Friday--usually a huge task (like a grant proposal) broken into smaller tasks (mission statement, list of needs, staffing plan) and all week during my designated work hours, I run the egg timers for half an hour, working the whole time, then I take my allotted hare-brained, easily-distracted, other-things-on-my-mind time.

In your situation, it might work that during the chunk of time you have no childcare duties (your "work hours"), you set up a timer work/break schedule and then when you're outside of your work hours, you keep pen and paper handy to write down all those random thoughts about your work that spring to mind. A little notepad that fits in a pocket is your friend.

Good luck! If you've gotten this far, I'm sure you can do it.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:02 AM on February 17, 2011

Hire child care for a specific schedule each week, and go out of the house to a library or coffee shop with your laptop. If you're actually paying for child care, you're going to treat the time differently in terms of engagement than you are when the child's other parent is on child care duty. (This is advice I give to all my work-from-home parent clients for crunch-time projects; it comes from the winning strategy my goddaughters' mother has implemented when studying for various medical board exams.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:20 PM on February 17, 2011

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