“Oh, I want to write today, but I just don’t have the time!”
You’ve probably felt this way more than once. In fact, if you’re like many of us in today’s world, you’re feeling frequently pressed for time, and like you just can’t find enough of it—especially for writing.
The bad news is that when you’re constantly under the gun, creativity suffers. In a 2002 study, researchers analyzed more than 9,000 daily diary entries from people who were working on projects that required high levels of creativity. They found that stress, in the form of time pressure, resulted in less creative projects.
“When creativity is under the gun,” the authors wrote, “it usually ends up getting killed.”
The good news is that you don’t have to feel this way. Here are five tips that can help you slow your perception of time so that when you do get a moment to write, you can approach it with a calm, relaxed state of mind.
- Slow down your movements.
When we feel rushed and behind, our movements are typically quick, jerky, and fast. This is why when we’re stressed out, we tend to hurt ourselves. We run into things, hit our heads, and trip and fall more often.
My dad used to say, “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” Whenever you hurry, you not only stress yourself out, you also increase your risk of making mistakes, missing something, or even causing an accident.
Try this: When you sit down to write, make a conscious effort to slow down your movements. Imagine yourself in a slow-motion replay. Focus on each step that you take, from turning on the computer or laptop to clicking open the file to reaching over to pick up your glass of water to raising it to your lips. Give yourself 1-2 minutes to exaggerate all these movements.
Feeling constantly behind the clock is a feeling, one you can control by your thoughts. When you purposely slow your physical motions down, you signal your brain that you have plenty of time, which helps you to feel more relaxed. (After a couple minutes feel free to go back to normal speed!)
If you’re feeling constantly pressed for time, you may be trying to meet too many deadlines. Perhaps you’re a perfectionist and you have difficulty letting some things go. You can slow things down in your life and create more relaxed writing sessions by prioritizing the important activities in your day.
“Excessive time-urgency is a problem in thinking,” says Michael Ashworth, Ph.D. over at PsychCentral. “Everyone has some pressure to get things done. However, if you consider everything is equally urgent, you’re likely to experience stress problems.”
Choose three things you absolutely must get done and get done well, and focus on those. (Writing is probably one of them.) For everything else, simply do the best you can and then let it go.
- Call out the negative thoughts.
Positive thinking promotes creativity and productivity. Negative thinking, on the other hand, kills both. Unfortunately, when you’re feeling rushed, you’re not likely to approach the page with positive emotions.
The second you notice thoughts in your head like, “I’m behind,” or “I don’t have time to write” or “I’m not going to get anything done today,” state those thoughts out loud. Notice how these thoughts make you feel—how they contribute to your tight stomach, your tapping foot, and your feeling of being defeated.
Simply giving voice to these thoughts can immediately reduce your stress levels. According to a 2007 study in which researchers monitored brain activity via MRIs, simply labeling how you feel in this way can diminish the response of the amygdala and other limbic regions, reducing the stress response.
Calling out these “rushed” feelings can also help you replace them with calmer thoughts. Even if you have only 10 minutes to squeeze in a bit of writing, tell yourself that you have plenty of time and that everything is okay. These sorts of thoughts are more conducive to creativity, and will help you make the most of the time you do have.
- Face your fears.
When you feel rushed to get your writing done, realize that fear may be contributing to that feeling. You may be pushing yourself to get the next book out there or to meet a self-imposed deadline because you fear falling behind or losing the attention of your readers.
Bringing your expectations for your writing into your writing sessions is a surefire way to increase fear and stress, and make you feel like you don’t have enough time to “write well.” Many times, these feelings will cause you to skip your writing session entirely.
When it’s you and the blank page, try to forget about your expectations for the work and just focus on the work itself. Allow yourself to relax and have fun, and don’t let outside concerns to tread on the sacred space that is your writing.
- Bring your full attention to the task.
The level of attention applied to a task can also make a big difference in how long it seems to take. Studies show that paying more attention to what you’re doing slows time perception down. That means if you can focus your thoughts exclusively on your story, you can create a more relaxed writing session.
In a 1985 study, for example, researchers found that the more difficult the task, the worse students were at accurately judging how much time had passed. They found similar results in 2010, and theorized that because more of the brain was involved in the task, less was available to accurately judge the passing of time.
How fast or slow time goes is often completely about your perceptions. You know how quickly it can fly by when you’re spending time with a good friend, right? Yet if you’re standing in line at the grocery store, five minutes can seem like an eternity.
You can use this to your advantage. Say you have only 15 minutes to write. Tell yourself you’re going to slow that 15 minutes down so it feels more like 30. Imagine you’re in a fantasy world where that is possible, and then set a timer so you don’t have to watch the clock.
Next, bring your full attention to the task. Focus only on your story, blocking everything else out and expecting that you have plenty of time. You may be amazed at what you can get done.
Create a New Mindset
Our world travels fast these days, but if you think it’s all because of technology or today’s society that you feel rushed, consider this: In 1979, professor emeritus at the Free University in Amsterdam Bob Goudzwaard wrote about “scarcity of time” in his book, Capitalism and Progress.
“Nearly everyone in western society suffers from a frightful shortage of time,” he wrote. “This lack of time is apparent not only from the quick tempo of our lives and from our crowded schedules, but also from the manner in which the modern family spends its time.”
Remember—this was long before smartphones, and even before most people had computers in their homes, and still people felt pressed for time. So it’s not necessarily modern-day technology that’s causing you to feel this way (though of course it doesn’t help).
Instead, it could just be how you’re looking at things. Today, during your writing session, see if you can allow yourself to believe that you have plenty of time, and all you have to do is relax and create. You may be amazed at how much it helps.
How do you slow time down for your writing sessions?
Colleen M. Story is the author of Overwhelmed Writer Rescue: Boost Productivity, Improve Time Management, and Replenish the Creator Within—a motivational and inspiring read full of practical, personalized solutions to help writers escape the tyranny of the to-do list and nurture the genius within. Discover your unique time personality and personal motivational style when you get your copy from Amazon and other common book retailers. Enjoy your free chapter here!
Colleen has worked in the creative writing industry for over twenty years and is the founder of Writing and Wellness (writingandwellness.com). For more information, please see her website (colleenmstory.com), or follow her on Twitter (@ colleen_m_story).Author @Colleen_M_Story gives writers 5 ways to slow down time for better writing sessions. Click To Tweet
Amabile TM, et al., “Creativity under the gun,” Harvard Business Review, 2002; 80(8):52-61, 147, http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/12195920/reload=0;jsessionid=fObN5ldi38y4x7wKcTqQ.18.
Michael Ashworth, “Always in a Rush? Maybe it’s Time-Urgency,” PsychCentral, May 17, 2016, https://psychcentral.com/lib/always-in-a-rush-maybe-its-time-urgency/.
Matthew D. Lieberman, et al., “Putting Feelings Into Words,” Psychological Science, May 1, 2007; 18(5): http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01916.x.
Goudzwaard, B., and Josina Van Nuis Zylstra. Capitalism and Progress: A Diagnosis of Western Society. Toronto, Canada: Wedge Pub. Foundation, 1979.
Brown, Scott W. “Time perception and attention: The effects of prospective versus retrospective paradigms and task demands on perceived duration.” Perception & Psychophysics 38, no. 2 (1985), 115-124. doi:10.3758/bf03198848.