A few weeks ago I conducted an informal Twitter poll asking if writers wrote every day. While most said no, a significant number of respondents said they wished that they did. When I speak to clients about writing, they express the same desire but declare that they don’t write daily because they don’t have enough time.
Maintaining a daily writing practice is hard. One of the reasons that it’s hard is because writers have an aspirational view of writing. They imagine that to have “writing time” means to have an hours-long chunk of uninterrupted time to think, write, think some more, then write some more.
Unfortunately, that situation isn’t very likely – at least not on a daily basis. What’s more likely is that you have a half hour or so of free time in between other appointments, courses, etc. If you’re lucky, you might have time in the morning to work before the day’s distractions begin. A short time frame, however, does not give you permission to completely ignore your writing. If anything, you should now approach your writing with more focus than ever, because your time is so limited.
From a practical perspective, what do you do with limited writing/work time? You’re certainly not going to be able to make the same progress you would make with a longer amount of time. I am not a fan of the mantra “do more with less.” But, I do think that the reality of an academic’s life is that you don’t have as much time to write during the semester as you do when you’re not teaching (you know, when you’re on your imaginary summer vacation). So to make the most of that time, I have suggestions for writing tasks you can get done when you have only 20 minutes to spare.
In order to make this time worth your while, you should think of it as an opportunity to move your project forward in myriad ways. Some tasks include writing, while some include the other work that needs to be completed on a project.
I think the beauty of these tasks is twofold. First, you can obviously do them when you only have 20 minutes. Second, you can do them as a warm up of sorts for when you have a longer writing session planned. It’s sort of like going on shorter runs in preparation for a marathon. As those sessions may be increasingly few and far between, a short writing activity can get you into the groove for the longer sustained writing you’ll want to accomplish.
Five Tasks You Can Complete in Twenty Minutes
- Write 100 words of one section of your manuscript.
- Copyedit 2-3 paragraphs.
- Update your works cited.
- Format a chart or table.
- Read 2-3 article abstracts and write brief notes.
For five more suggestions, click on the button below for a handy printable. You can put it over your desk, and then stare at it pointedly when colleagues come in your office when you are taking advantage of your 20 minutes. Happy writing!