There are 168 hours in a week. Even if you work 40-plus hours, sleep 56, and spend a reasonable chunk of time on housework and family responsibilities, there will still be time leftover.
However, a lot of this time seems to come in bits and pieces. There are nooks and crannies everywhere: while you’re waiting for water to boil so you can throw the pasta in. When you’ve got 10 minutes after the kids get dressed but before they need to be at the bus stop. The 15 minutes between conference calls that always seem to slip through your fingers.
In her book Overwhelmed, Brigid Schulte refers to these chunks as “time confetti.” They’re not ideal. I do believe that with good scheduling, and letting some things go, many of us can carve out larger blocks of open time for restorative leisure if we want. However, bits of time can bring bits of joy, and my attempt to do a National Novel Writing Month project (NaNoWriMo) this November is showing me how usable these chunks are when I truly want to use them.
NaNoWriMo requires writing a 50,000 word draft of a novel in 30 days. That’s a bit under 1700 words a day. One of the upsides of writing for a living is that I’m realizing this is quite doable. I’m already writing a lot. Adding 1700 words is much like saying that instead of running 3 miles a day, I commit to running 4-5. It’s more, but not an order of magnitude more. The habit is already there. I just need to crank it up a bit.
The nooks and crannies of time turn out to be great options for cranking up the volume. Like most people, when I get bits of time, I normally check email, read headlines, or surf social media. I’m not saying I’m not doing any of that during November. I am. But a key component of the NaNoWriMo magic is that you turn off the inner critic. There is no editor. Words are words. If I’m just typing something interesting about my characters, something they might try that strikes my fancy, in 5 minutes I can write 100-200 words pretty easily. If I do that every hour or so, I can get a big chunk of the way to the 1700-word goal without even budgeting time for it. The time I do budget for it doesn’t have to be peak-productivity time. Twenty minutes before a phone call starts is good for another 300 words or so. The last 20 minutes of the work day, when I’m often inefficient anyway, is good for more.
Indeed, I’m so fascinated by how usable this time is that I’m trying to think of what I’d like to do when NaNoWriMo is over. I could edit this ridiculously-lousy stream of consciousness I’ve been cranking out. Or maybe I could read a book of poems or short essays. I made it through The Screwtape Letters over the past few days in bits and pieces. Or I could do strength-training. It’s hard to know. But it is interesting to see what can fit in little spaces.
What do you fit into your time confetti?
In other news: I’d love to make questions from readers into a regular feature on this blog. If you have a time management challenge that you’d like other people to weigh in on, feel free to send it over! You can be completely anonymous. My email is lvanderkam at yahoo dot com. Thanks!