Think Small: More Time Does Not Equal Greater Productivity

photo by John Poulos

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If truth be known, lofty goals scare the ambition right out of me. I'm a slow-and-steady-wins-the-race kinda girl. I believe in making realistic goals, initiating a routine, and putting one foot in front of the other.

I was recently reminded of this strategy when a member of my writers' group lamented the fact that her four kids' schedules were so busy, she felt like she spent her life in the car. And at the basketball court. Girl Scout meetings. Gymnastics. Etcetera. It left her scant time to write. Or even reflect.

I know this feeling too well. I know also that while I feel overstretched most of the time, I'm desperate to "create" even in a small way every day in order to balance the scales of my life. I started writing my first novel when I had the least amount of time to devote to it. I didn't know it then, but it was perfect. The less time I have to do something, the more I get done. If I have hoards of time, I waste most of it.

This is what I told my friend−something I tell myself on a regular basis: think small and make use of what's available to you. I'm not saying, "You have to make time for it." I hate hearing that. (Especially as it relates to exercise...) Instead, take advantage of and be productive with whatever you have. There's no point in waiting for the perfect time to start writing or editing a novel. No such thing exists.

Do you have six minutes in the car waiting for your son to come out of basketball practice−a kid who is rather speedy on the court but takes forever walking across the parking lot to the car? Do you have eight minutes waiting in the grocery line as the slowest cashier in the free world rings up and bags the groceries for the guy in front of you who is too lazy to help bag his own groceries? How about the hour you'll spend waiting for your daughter to finish play rehearsal? Half of my first novel was written on junk-mail envelopes, the backs of grocery store receipts, flyers from the dry cleaner, and the Chinese food menus routinely left on my windshield. The other half was written in a notebook I carry around with me everywhere I go.

Some of my best ideas come when I'm held hostage by life's tedious tasks. A great time to think small is in the car. Ponder a great line of dialogue, or someone's physical description, or a setting or perhaps the name of a character. What would your protagonist do if she were in her car panicking because she thought someone was following her? Are you stopped at a red light? Great! Write your thoughts down. No time like the present! Okay, maybe you'd prefer to pull over to the curb. Fine. All I'm saying is that huge vats of uninterrupted writing time may not be available to you until you're ninety. If you can train yourself to be productive with seventeen minutes, think of what you'll churn out when you have more!

For instance, imagine that you're lucky enough to be responsible for a soccer practice carpool for five little kids. That's a perfect time to listen to how they talk to one another and observe their varied mannerisms.

This brings me to my second thought.

Use what's available to you. If you spend wads of time at the grocery store and the playground, realize that all that time is making you an expert. Certainly, the CEO of IBM won't be able to write a scene about toddlers chasing each other through the mud at the park while trying to catch the tale of a goose--like you will. (That did not end well, by the way.)

Once, I found myself at the grocery store (for the fourth day in a row) and I realized I'd never noticed the produce guy before, but on this day I did. This got me thinking about my protagonist and how she might interact with him, and I was so inspired that when I got to my car I wrote an entire scene before pulling out of the parking lot.

So, here's the recap. Think small, use what's available to you, and think of yourself as an expert of something. Just remember, no one ever wrote an entire novel in one sitting. And even if they did, they probably never got a chance to wrestle a goose.

Eva Lesko Natiello is the award-winning author of the #1 bestseller, THE MEMORY BOX, a psychological thriller about a woman who Googles herself and discovers the shocking details of a past she doesn't remember.