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It has come to my attention that I do a lot on an average week. I usually have a lot of things going on at once, many projects in the air, and have been asked a few times how I manage to do it all. I’ve jokingly responded “By systematically sacrificing my social life”, and while that’s true, it’s not entirely the whole story. So I’m going to attempt to talk about that and hope what I’ve learned may be of some use to you.
First, it’s important to realize I don’t get done everything I want to. I’m still learning. For instance, this week my Wordy Wednesday will be late. My Curiosity Cabinet was unable to go up on Sunday like I planned due to a tragedy that struck last week when many of us in the Geek community lost a dear friend unexpectedly. But this happens. Because there are many things we can’t control. And one of those things is time.
Something that has always frustrated me is the finite hours within a day. Equally lamented, is that despite the hours my brain feels are being wasted during the process, I also require rest as my energy is also regrettably finite.
These irritating truths are unfortunately self-evident, so I won’t attempt to argue them. I mean, I have. In the past, and I don’t recommend it because it’s an argument we’re all going to lose. Sometimes in more ways than one.
I work a full time job, I commute, I’m trying to finish my second novel, I have a book club podcast once a month, I attend a tabletop RPG every other Saturday, I have a weekly etymology video and I’m trying to do more music as well. Even looking at this, I’m a bit intimidated.
Which is why accepting that there are inarguable truths about my time and energy that I must concede to. First, for my sanity, but second so I can get things done.
I’m a total nut for a good fantasy video game, so I find looking at it like this helps:
Let’s say your energy is your mana pool, and the things you have to/want to do are all spells. They each have a cast time, and they all have rules, and they all cost a certain amount of mana, regardless how negligible it may seem at first. Some spells can be activated and will go live later, other spells require your total focus, etc.
I have 24hrs in a day, 168 in a full week. 7 of those daily hours are forfeit because of my required rest time in order to restore my mana pool. This number will vary per person, but 6-7 seems to be pretty consistently when my body goes, “okay, we’re ready!”
So we’re looking at approximately 119 Castable Hours.
On an average week, I’m at the office at least 40 hours. It’s probably closer to 44-45, but for simplicity sake, we’ll keep it at an even 40. At the office, for the most part, I’m casting a spell that requires my total attention, for multiple reasons, and cannot multi-cast so to speak.
79 Castable Hours.
I also drive about an hour to and from work, usually a bit more if I encounter bad rush hour. Now, under normal circumstances, this is also something I can’t multi-cast during. However, remember that I mentioned that whole book club thing? Audible has made it possible for me to take care of the ‘reading’ portion during my long commute, and it takes only a few mana points. But it DOES take some. Sometimes I don’t have the mana to listen. Sometimes I need silence. Sometimes I need to sing my heart out. But regardless, that’s 10 hours a week where I can find the casting time to either listen to a book, catch up on a podcast, or de-stress by just singing.
69 Castable Hours. Calculating on top of that things like showering/getting ready for the day, meal prep and eating, basic chores (laundry, dishes etc) … Let’s say I have on a normal week I have 38 Castable hours for creativity, socializing, or anything that doesn’t fall into a typical day-to-day activity. This is probably being generous but I’m trying to make a point without boring you with how nitty gritty I can be when it comes to this.
38. Hours. Out of the 119 I spend awake, I have only 38 to focus on what I want to do vs what I have to do.
Let that sink in a moment. It’s not a lot. Especially, when you consider that the majority of that is Sat/Sun. Which means I have only about 2.5 hours a week night to focus on what I want to do before I start cutting into essentials like sleep. And for me, it usually is sleep that suffers first. That or meal prep and I end up getting take out. This isn’t a good practice, it’s not healthy and I’m trying my best to break that bad habit. And that’s a normal week.
Throw in something like the death of a friend, health complications, work stress etc, you name it and you’ll find those castable hours go down even further. Because when you’re dealing with stress or depression, even though you might have the time, suddenly those things take so much more energy, and you might find you’re out of mana, despite that you have the hours in the day to cast. So really take a hard and honest look at your mana and spell slots. They don’t always match up.
The reason I want you to sit down and really quantify your free time into something tangible, is because the biggest part of managing your energy/time and mana, is being able to put in perspective how valuable it is. I have only an 2.5 hours of creativity/free time a day during the work week. Which means I’m very deliberate in how I spend it.
I’m trying to finish the second installment of The Terra Mirum Chronicles. This is, as you might imagine, a rather large undertaking. It’s time consuming. And it’s not something I can do while doing many other things. It takes up my major and minor actions. I have occasionally been able to go for a walk between chapters to clear my head and taken notes/dictated on my phone, but never actually written while walking. The day I manage to genuinely exercise while writing is the day I achieve some sort of life dream.
Because of this, a lot of things have to take a lower priority. The first thing for me is usually socializing. It’s a sad truth but writing is a solitary practice. Sometimes it’s nice to sit in a coffee shop and be around people but you aren’t socializing. To be honest having to stop and start with any sort of conversation while I’m trying to concentrate is a strangely quick way to completely burn what is normally an extraordinarily long fuse of patience.
This means being able to tell people ‘no’, which is a skill in itself. Bear in mind, being able to tell people ‘no’ and people being able to not take ‘no’ personally are two separate things. Only one, you are responsible for. I feel artists in particular, perhaps because empathy is such a large part of our creation process, often take that on themselves. We blame ourselves and end up using mana we don’t have to spare feeling guilty because we simply declined a social invitation.
Again, this is why quantifying your mana/casting time (energy/free time) is so important. If you can really internalize the value of your time (because even if your day is rather free, remember even our time on this plane of existence is finite) is valuable.
If you truly do not want to do something, or if you simply need to prioritize a creative endeavor more, be open and honest about it. For the most part, people will understand.
This is one of the many reasons I love National Novel Writing Month. It requires far less explanation to friends why I might not be able to make it to something. I also have nerdy friends who are usually also participating.
“I’m sorry, I’d love to stay longer, but I’ve got to go home and write, I’m behind schedule.” / “I’d love to go, but I just don’t have enough mana tonight.”
Communicating your energy and capability is key, as is being honest with yourself about what you can manage. I’ve also noticed that when you do go to a social event or make plans, you’re far more deliberate with what you want to do. There’s less, “eh, I don’t know, what do you want to do?”. You’re actively engaged in conversation, you cherish your time together.
We don’t get mana potions in real life, so good management is all about being able to honestly look at the numbers and schedule accordingly. And also being prepared to accept that something may throw that schedule completely off. And that’s okay! You’ll get back on track when you can. Healing/getting better/resting/whatever TLC means to you is necessary and worth the investment. And when you’re ready to get back to business? Calculate your mana and casting time.
Track it, plan it, find out what works best for you. For me? I’ve started fiddling around with the concept of bullet journals because I can’t keep it all in my head without forgetting something. It helps remind me that I don’t have all the time in the world. My time has value. My time is rare. My time is not owed to anyone, and I’m allowed to spend what little of it I have how I chose to and with whom.
And on the first day of NaNoWriMo, that seems like an extremely important thing to keep in mind. If you’ve never finished a story, or find yourself starting artistic endeavors but rarely completing them, or even if you want to spend more time with your friends/family but can’t seem to find the time, remember that. Your. Time. Has. Extreme. Value.
How do you really want to spend it?