When we talked about flow, I mentioned Mark McGuinness’s advice to ring-fence your time. The question then is—how?
Actually, your first question might be—as it was for one student who took my time management seminar a few months ago—what does that even mean, “ring-fence your time”?
A ring fence is a corral. It not only keeps things in, it also keeps things out. To ring-fence your creative time is to set apart a block of time into which you will allow no distractions, either from yourself or others.
Which isn’t to say that it’s easy. But that’s the goal.
Protect your writing time and your writing space. If you have an office with a door, close it and make it clear that you are not to be bothered while working.
One of my critique partners has a desk that’s in an open part of the house, so his wife made a “Don’t disturb the writer” sign for the back of his chair. He puts it up when he’s working, and takes it down when he’s open to interruptions from his kids.
In other words, we have to manage other people’s expectations.
In his booklet Time Management for Creative People, McGuiness says, “Install a buffer between others’ demands and your response.” Very few things have to be done today. Most of them can wait till tomorrow.
Whatever the boundaries are that you’ve put around your writing time, or your personal time, protecting them is a matter of letting people know what to expect. I have one colleague who always answers her e-mail at about one or two o’clock in the afternoon. If I reply to her e-mail at three p.m., I will hear from her the next day at about one or two o’clock in the afternoon. This has never been a problem.
Train your friends and colleagues to not expect instant response. They might not like it at first, but they’ll get used to it. People know if they call me outside of business hours they are likely to get my voice mail. They know if they e-mail me on my personal account it is likely to be days before they get a response. This has yet to create an emergency.
Teaching on this subject at the 2014 PENCON editor’s conference, Cecil Murphey said we must learn to say no without offense. He suggests declining with a compliment:
• Thank you for asking, but…
• That’s an excellent opportunity, but…
• I appreciate your thinking of me, but…
You don’t have to be available to everyone all the time. Learn to say no. Quit your e-mail app. Turn off the phone. Reserve the right to be unreachable.