How to Use a “Time Block” to Get More Writing Done

I’ve worked with a lot of writers over the past eight years and I can honestly say that there really is one thing that separates the writers who are going to make it from the writers who are not. I know, I know—there are many different variables at play. Believing in yourself, joining a supportive community, finding your audience. I’m not disputing that those factors influence a writer’s success. But the thing I’m talking about is way more basic than anything else.

It’s how a writer manages her time.

And yes, it is basic, but it’s also super difficult.

I have had writer friends who have taken years to work on the first or second draft of a manuscript (because sometimes that happens) but have put much of that time to good use. I have also had writer friends who have taken the same amount of years, not because the story demanded it, but because a lot of their time was siphoned away by video games, Netflix, or social media.

“Not enough time” is also one of the biggest problems new clients come to me with when they’re stuck in their writing. I get it. I so totally get it. I have a day job, a side business, a husband, a two-year-old son, a needy cat, and about a bazillion books I want to read. I also have two work email accounts and a personal email account, calls and texts coming in hourly, and a stack of unopened mail to deal with every day, plus dinner to get on the table and laundry to fold. My situation is not unique. To some degree or another, most writers have just as many distractions demanding their attention.

Yet, when I talk about time management that’s when the groaning starts. I get that too. The words “time management” actually sound  mind-numbingly boring. Also, to-do lists make me feel anxious and pressured. I’ve never been great at that whole organization thing.

But I have found one thing that works.

The time block.

You can use a time block any way you want. You can set it for 20 minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour (or longer). You can do it in the morning, in the middle of the day, or at night. You can do it at home, within the Zen-like peaceful tranquility of your writing desk, or you can do it at a crowded Starbucks.

The details don’t matter. What is important is that you fully embrace the mindset of the writer’s time block and the mindset is:

Everyone (and I do mean EVERYONE) can go to hell right now. I’m ONLY working on my writing for the next [20/30/60] minutes.

That means your email inbox is completely ignored. It means your spouse is going to have to cover for you on toddler duty. It means your phone is totally powered off and the internet shut down. It means you will deal with that thing that has to go to the post office or whatever needs to be dropped off at the dry cleaners LATER.

The time block is sacred. The time block is non-negotiable. If someone violates the time block they better be dying and need a ride to the emergency room.

This all sounds very extreme, and make no mistake, the time block mindset IS extreme. But it has to be. We live in a world filled with a million tiny time-sucking monsters, and all of them have sharp teeth and a ruthless zeal for eating every single one of your spare minutes. If you are not also extreme and ruthless about setting boundaries around your time then your time will continue to be devoured without you having anything to show for it.

The other key to making a time block work for you is to keep moving once you’re inside of it. The time block is not a lazy dreamy space for you to unfold, expand, and reflect. The time block is a concentrated chunk of minutes for you to get down as many words as possible, or move through as many pages of revisions as possible. Yes, it will feel a bit jarring when you start. Kind of like that feeling of doing sprint workouts on the track. But you will feel phenomenal when it’s over, and you will be shocked at how much you actually got done.

Try it right now. I challenge you. Finish reading this post, shut down the internet and write for 30 minutes straight, wherever you are. Push yourself into it and push yourself through it. Don’t stop to reread or even to think. Just start writing and write for the next 30 minutes.

Then let me know how that felt.

I’ll bet it feels fantastic.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to check out:

What Self-Pubbing Authors Need to Know about Getting the Best Book Cover

5 Things You Should Know before You Hire an Editor

3 Major Types of Rewrites, and the Big Mistake to Avoid with All of Them

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12 Comments

  • Reply Phillip McCollum 10 July, 2017 at 8:55 pm

    The time block is my single greatest weapon in what Steven Pressfield calls The War of Art. I can see a visible difference before and after I began scheduling at least 25 minutes a day to write. Those times aren’t always easy, but I always show up and I always focus on the task at hand. I hit start on my Timex watch and enter focus mode (a book I recommend on this topic is Cal Newport’s Deep Work). If I find my mind fighting back, I gently pull myself back to the work and soldier on.

    Great article, Lauren! You impress me with how much you get done while dealing with all of yours responsibilities. Mothers like you have nothing but my greatest respect.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 11 July, 2017 at 9:14 am

      Oh yes! I forgot to add that setting a timer can be VERY effective in maximizing the positive effect of the time block. Thanks for this reminder Phillip! And btw, I also know that you dads are just as busy and tired as us moms. My husband is stay-at-home dad and he’s basically Superman every single day. I can’t even approach all the stuff he gets done.

    • Reply Alison Brodie 12 July, 2017 at 4:44 am

      This is such an excellent post. You are so right. Ignore social media and the hot, bare-chested builder across the road re-guttering. Just block out time to WRITE. I don’t do this. But I will from now on. You need to post this post regularly, Lauren, to remind us writers to FOCUS!

  • Reply Cindy Bills 11 July, 2017 at 5:56 am

    Oh, YES! I love the line, “We live in a world filled with a million tiny time-sucking monsters, and all of them have sharp teeth and a ruthless zeal for eating every single one of your spare minutes.” I laughed and laughed at that one. So did my husband. He applies it to his dog agility training. I think anything we really want to do that is not our day job requires us to be ruthless. Or we just give up.
    Thanks for this reminder post today! And now, I’m going down to my office to write!

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 11 July, 2017 at 9:15 am

      “I think anything we really want to do that is not our day job requires us to be ruthless. Or we just give up.”

      Well said, Cindy. I couldn’t agree more.

  • Reply Clarissa Harwood 11 July, 2017 at 9:28 am

    This is such great advice, Lauren, and very timely for me right now! I also find it useful to make a few quick notes before I set the timer (if I haven’t already made notes after my previous writing session) so that the time block is even more productive and focused!

  • Reply Phylis Capanna 12 July, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    I love this one. It’s about commitment and prioritizing and being selfish in the most powerful way. Plus, timers ease all the stress and let the mind really unwind. Thanks, and I’m so glad to have found your blog. I bought the INFJ writer today!

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 13 July, 2017 at 10:51 am

      Thank you Phylis! I hope you find the book helpful 🙂

    • Reply Clarissa Harwood 13 July, 2017 at 1:17 pm

      I highly recommend The INJF writer! A great book. It’s wonderful to know we’re not alone.

  • Reply Dario Ciriello 15 July, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    Very fine advice, Lauren — I couldn’t agree more. And I really like how vehement and uncompromising you are on this score. It’s vital to lay down rules and make that time inviolable. Great post!

  • Reply Rachel 18 July, 2017 at 9:17 pm

    I agree and I also loved the moments of levity and self-aware humor in your writing style. 🙂

  • Reply Kristen Brand 22 July, 2017 at 7:13 pm

    Excellent advice! I use pomodo.work for my time blocks. Twenty-five-minute work blocks followed by five-minute breaks, it’s really helped me get a lot more written. I don’t let myself browse the internet until the breaks, which used to be my biggest waste of time.

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