How to stop wasting time

From where I currently live, I commute an hour and a half each way to work. I don't live in some remote village and drive to the city, either. I just live in the suburbs.

I grew up in a small town, population ~13,000. When we talked about traffic, we meant there were more than three cars waiting at the stoplight. So when I moved to the big city of Minneapolis, it was like a whole new world. Then I moved to London, which was like another planet, with double-decker buses and black taxis everywhere. Now I'm in Melbourne, and I rely almost 100% on public transport to get around, since hardly any of the places I need to go are within walking distance and we only have one car.

So I guess what I'm saying is, I've worked my way up to this commute, but here I am, with about three hours each workday where I'm either walking to or from a bus stop, waiting on a train platform, sitting (or standing) on a train, or walking to or from the station and my office.

It's a lot of time that could be considered wasted. The problem is, I'm a full-time marketing writer, but I'm also a novelist. I spend every workday writing, and every weekend day writing too. That means I really don't want to blow those 15 hours a week when I'm commuting by sleeping or scrolling through an endless Twitter feed on my phone (although, let's be honest, I sometimes do the latter).

Here's what I've learned about how to stop wasting time:

Take control over the hours that you have no control over.

For example, I don't have control over the fact that I have to commute 15 hours per week. The only way I could stop that is by quitting my job, which I don't want to do, or buying a house closer to the city, which we can't afford.

I can't control if my train gets delayed or if my bus doesn't show up. I can't control the fact that I live so far from my work that I have to spend hours on public transport every day. But what I can control is what I do with that time.

stop wasting time

stop wasting time

I always have two or three podcasts downloaded on my phone, ready to go. These are mostly true crime and legal issue podcasts, meaning that I can use a lot of the info they offer as research for my novel. Not to mention that I just find them interesting. I also always carry a book, and in fact do the majority of my reading on the train. Doing this has allowed me to read about 15 books already this year.

Another thing I do is write notes about my novel. I've got a special notebook just for Justice Novel, and it's full of outlines and ideas, character notes and random thoughts. I don't do this as often as I should, but I occasionally (gasp) take out my ear buds and listen to the people around me, jotting down snippets of conversation. Public transport is a great place to get an idea of how people talk to each other.

What parts of your day get sucked away into the vacuum of wasted time? Do you spend an hour doing laundry, or taking the dog for a walk, or cooking dinner? Instead of thinking that you never have time to write, try keeping track of how many minutes you spend doing the same thing every day, and then figure out how you can harness that time to develop your creative ideas.

That 15 minutes you spend taking a shower or putting on your makeup can also be spent thinking about a character you're trying to write. The seven minutes it takes to wash up the dishes gives you plenty of time to work out a snippet of dialogue or think about what's motivating your protagonist to move into the next scene of your novel.

It's easy to feel like everyday mundane chores take up time we would rather spend writing, but the majority of writing happens away from your computer.

I don't know any writers who only ever think about their novels when they're sitting down to write. So much of plot development, characterization, and voice happens in the hours between your time at the keyboard. That's why so many writers keep notebooks next to their beds, because sometimes the best ideas come when you're trying to shut your brain off for the night.

On that note, don't be afraid to turn off your phone, take off your headphones, and stop doing things. I think as writers, we spend far too much time distracting ourselves and not enough time just thinking and listening. It's become even more of a problem now that social media and email are always available.

Time spent thinking is not time wasted, even if all you are doing is just sitting on the train, watching rain speckle the windows as a giant tube of metal carries you and hundreds of other passengers into the city.

Stop. Think. Listen. Nothing is wasted if it helps move you one step closer to your goals.