Finding Time For NaNoWriMo: 3 Strategies to Increase Willpower and Save Time

IMG_7634This is the second post in my series on finding the time for NaNoWriMo, and as we established yesterday, time is a more complicated issue than just hours. Its being able to use that time. Time is the easiest thing to manage once other things are taken care of.

Because no matter how much time we have, we need to be able to use it. Energy is one component we’ll address, but an even bigger one is willpower. 

Because you can run out of willpower.

Willpower is one of those things slung around and talked about like it’s in endless supply, and it’s supposed to fix everything (kind of like kale). But willpower doesn’t come from eternal spring, it’s more like a bucket we get to fill every morning – and a bad night’s sleep or hangover will give us a smaller bucket.

Every decision and frustration throughout the day is like taking a sip from that bucket, and when we’re out, we’re done. So while we’re figuring out what to wear, what to eat, weather or not to eat that cookie (and eating the cookie anyway), forcing ourselves to be nice to other people, that bucket is getting drier and drier, leaving us with only so much to keep our hands on the keyboard and away from the YouTube at the end of the day.

This is why some of the most successful people limit their choices every day. Steve Jobs among others utilized a famously monotonous wardrobe, Tim Ferriss of the 4 Hour franchise eats basically the same breakfast every day. While these are extremes, it’s difficult to argue with their success, we can learn from their examples and limit the choices we have to make in the day.

So, in the interest of hoarding willpower for writing, here’s 3 ideas to help – and as a bonus, they’re all also time savers. Yay.

1. Minimize Choices

Fewer choices equals more willpower. It also means more time, because we’re not losing that time deciding. Win-win. There’s no limit on the creativity we can exercise in this, but here are a few ideas:

  • Choose 5 outfits (or fewer) to wear each week, and rotate among them. I tried a version of this while I worked in a coffee shop and wore basically the same 2 black v-neck shirts or a black tank top over dark jeans every day for the last six months I was there. As long as I mixed in a few different accessories and different shoes, no one noticed. And if anyone gives you a hard time, you’re writing a novel in a month and they aren’t – so there.
  • Figure out 2-3 breakfasts you can make and stock up on what you need. I tend to go between wanting sweet, savory, or spicy breakfast, so I keep eggs, salsa, grated cheese, and oatmeal at hand, and I don’t have to spend extra energy or time on figuring out what I want to eat.
  • Pack a lunch or decide in advance what you’re going to have. For that matter, pack snacks too, and eat them when you feel willpower slip (see below).

2. Take Care of Your Body

While we can’t get back lost willpower, we can give it occasional 1-UPs and assist ourselves from losing extra willpower by taking care of our bodies. Calorie deficits, aches and pains, sleepiness, and other discomforts sap willpower and time.

  • Eat, and eat regularly. Just laying there, our big primate brains chew up 30% of our calories every day – even more when we’re making it do things like churn out thousands of words. So if you’re extra hungry, EAT. If you gain 5 lbs, you’re also gaining 50,000 words. Love your body and its magnificent willpower.
  • Keep food and drink handy. Low blood sugar exacerbates willpower leakage, so keeping a steady blood glucose is really helpful – I’m no diet nazi, so eat what works, but I tend to find something with protein and carbs works best – almonds and fruit, cheese and crackers, jerky and gummy bears… you get the idea. And drink when you’re thirsty, because duh.
  • Keep track of aches and pains and do what you need to to help. Stretch a lot, move around, and keep that bottle of whatever your favorite (legal is preferred) pain killer at hand. Typing makes for tight shoulders, headaches, wrist pains. Weird siting positions do things to backs. So keep track of your pain levels and don’t try to be a hero.
  • Don’t quit habits right now. I’m not saying you shouldn’t quit smoking/drinking caffeine/sniffing glue. Just maybe another time. Save that willpower for writing.
  • Rest – whatever you need to do so. 9 hours of sleep, 20 minute naps through the day with 4 hours of sleep, mediation after work, an hour of television decompression – whatever. Play around with what you need to keep your mind working. There are lots of theories out there that go beyond the 8-hours a night jargon, google it and experiment.

3. Automate to Avoid Procrastination (and save a ton of time)

We touched on this earlier, but it’s worth saying again. Get things off your to-do list, especially things that can be automated. That 5-minutes to log into the bank to pay a bill can sometimes include a 30-minute period of delay and procrastination – and procrastination is the ultimate destroyer of both time and willpower.

Just think of how much gets spent talking ourselves into doing things that take ten minutes or less.

  • Make a list of payments and bills you can automate and set up those payments. Think how good it’ll feel to not miss anything.
  • Make another list of the things you procrastinate doing and see how they can be taken care of by others this month. You’re writing a novel – it’s okay to let things fall to the hands of others (or to let the lawn grow). If you know you spend more than five minutes talking yourself into doing something, see if you can get someone else to do it.

Tomorrow we’ll finally get around to the actual finding of time for NaNoWriMo, now that we know how to keep our willpower in play.

And a bonus tip – Plan time off. When people know they’ll have a chance to do what they want to in the near future, they spend less time arguing with themselves about delaying gratification in the moment. Make sure you have time blocked out for Netflix marathons or trips outside, or whatever you’re putting off.

*If you want to show you appreciation for my work here and elsewhere, please consider donating a small token to the Office of Letters and Light under my fundraising page to help me get into The Night of Writing Dangerously. When you donate any amount – even just $1.00, I will send you a password for my Sponsor Content page for the year – get exclusives to excerpts from my novel, secret writing stashes, and other goodies. Keep writing! -Michelle

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