As an insanely busy person, I'm always looking for techniques to better manage my most precious resource: my time. Mind you, I'm glad I have everything that eats my hours: a husband and daughter I love, a good job, a book deal and the prospect of future ones, the house we're likely to close on next month, etc. I don't really want to be who I was at 23 or 24 again--working an easy job that barely paid the bills and didn't challenge me, writing but lacking the focus to finish what I started, friends aplenty but no prospect of more permanent ties. But, day-um, I miss the time I had to curl up in bed with a book or surf the net or sit talking in coffee shops for hours and hours.
And focus doesn't come naturally to me. I've had to unlearn all kind of bad habits from my school days, when leaving things undone till the last minute but still getting A's and B's was my good-girl, vanilla form of thrill-seeking, and from my first decade of adulthood, before I started to challenge myself in my writing and in my day job.
My latest discovery is something called the Pomodoro Technique. The official version described on the website makes it a bit more complex, but at its most basic level all it entails is setting a timer for 25 minutes, working steadily at a predetermined task for the entire time, then taking a five-minute break. Lather, rinse, and repeat for four cycles, then take a longer break. Previously I'd done something similar, but with 45-minute work cycles and 15-minute breaks. However, I'm finding I'm more productive with the shorter chunks of time. With 45 minutes, if I get to a good stopping point after 20 minutes, it's all too easy to cheat and start my break then. 25 minutes, on the other hand, is just long enough to be productive. I can write anywhere from 300 to 500 words, depending on how far in the zone I am. I can respond to half a dozen emails or make three or four phone calls. And if I get to a stopping point before the time is up, I tell myself it's lame to quit early when I only have to focus for 25 minutes. So I start the next scene, or do some filing, or answer as many emails as I can before the timer goes off.
So, if you too are too busy and lacking a natural gift of focus, give it a try!