“How to Live On 24 Hours a Day”

A couple weeks ago now-retired Minnesota public radio host Gary Eichten interviewed another public radio figure, Garrison Keillor, about his life and his advice for young writers. The entire interview delighted me, but I especially appreciated one word of advice Keillor gave to a caller. The caller identified himself as a freelance writer, and asked Keillor, if you don’t have a 9-5 day job, so that you have the flexibility to work when you want, how do you structure your day?

Keillor’s surprising answer was that he works from 4:00 am to noon on weekdays. He reasoned that early in the morning is the most distraction-free time to work, and typically afternoon is not a productive time of day.

This advice really connected with me, a long-avowed “night person” who now contends with kids and their school nights and – more to the point – their schoolday morning routines. For a period of time a couple years ago, when I felt there was no quiet time to be found in my life, I started getting up at 4:45 some mornings to go for a quick run and then enjoy a leisurely breakfast and watch the sunrise. I felt like I’d come upon buried treasure – I had discovered a secret time period in the day that I could have all to myself!

I also know exactly what Keillor’s talking about when he says the afternoon is a lost cause. Even when I did work a 9-5 job, afternoon was the hardest time to apply mental or creative energy to a task. Yet, for my own writing time, I had recently been attempting to carve out afternoon hours for writing – and mostly, I had failed to keep them.

So, last week I began waking at 5:00 am on weekdays, writing for a good 90 minutes each morning before dealing with household and children. No one calls or stops by the house at that time of day, and since it’s a limited chunk of time, I can muster the discipline to stay out of my email and off of Facebook! I only require a good cup of coffee and a listen to the daily Writer’s Almanac┬áto get me started. Ninety minutes five days a week is only 7 1/2 hours of solid writing time, but then again, it’s 7 1/2 hours of solid writing time that I can count on, and the more I exercise those writing muscles, the stronger they will be for further work hours when I’m ready.

For a short, entertaining, mildly inspirational, highly dated/sexist/classist work on the use of time, I recommend this free e-book I read in about an hour yesterday – How to Live On 24 Hours a Day. I see it’s available in several paperback editions as well.

What sorts of tips and ideas have you found helpful in your own use of time, as it relates to creative work, or any other interest or task you want to pursue beyond the “must-do” activities of your life?