Not Enough Time to Write?

The biggest barrier to writing for many people is time — more specifically, the lack of time.

Writing takes time and attention, both of which are precious resources in the modern world.

For many years, I built my consulting business on the reality that even the most adept writers struggle to find that time in the modern workplace. Product managers or technical experts who were often excellent writers hired me because their jobs didn’t leave room for the work.

So I sympathize if you feel that you don’t have enough time to write. But in this, as many things in life, the perfect is the enemy of the good.

Perhaps you cannot find uninterrupted hours, days, and weeks in your calendar. Most of us lead busy lives. But can you find 15 minutes a day? Half an hour?

If so, you can take advantage of the magical time-expansion properties of the daily writing practice.

Create a Minimum Daily Writing Practice

Set aside a small chunk time each day to work on a writing project. If you can only find 15 minutes, then find and take that 15 minutes.

Try to do this work early in the day; otherwise, more “urgent” tasks will take precedence over writing.

Then show up and write, think, outline, take notes, revise. Do whatever you can accomplish toward your writing goal in that chunk of time. If you can do more, great, but stay at least for your minimum dedicated time.

Maintaining a daily writing practice benefits you in many ways. It breaks the work into small chunks (the only way to do achieve something major or improve your craft.) It develops resilience, a necessary attribute for any writer.

But the daily writing practice also helps you find more time in a busy schedule. Here’s how:

You probably won’t finish much in your short writing period. You may just be getting started when your time is up. You might even stop right in the middle of a great idea or stream of thought.

Excellent! That’s that’s how you activate the magic of the daily practice.

Unleashing Your Mental TaskRabbit

I’ve written before about the Zeigarnick Effect — or the brain’s tendency to reserve processing for unfinished tasks. This minimum daily writing practice activates that effect by creating an unfinished project that you return to, every day.

Once you walk away from the daily practice, background processes in your brain continue working on the project while you go about your busy life. Those mental processes look for new inputs and patterns, make connections, and otherwise continue working on what you have done so far.

Think of it as hiring mental workers to rummage through thoughts, memories, and impressions for you, like a Fiverr or TaskRabbit in your brain. You may not realize what’s happening, unless you start getting ideas out of the blue or having crazy dreams related to your writing.

The net result is that you gain time spent working on the project, even if you’re not aware of it.

That’s like “free” writing time added to your day!

You weren’t actually putting words down, but the next time you sit down in your daily writing practice, you’ll be more productive because of the work your brain has been doing. And you can capture and work with the bursts of ideas and inspiration that happen between writing sessions.

Cash In On Your Free Writing Time

If you don’t have a daily writing practice yet, give this idea a try. Even if you can only set aside 15 minutes a day, commit to showing up at least six days a week. (You might find that on the seventh day, you get a pile of great ideas.)

Try setting a timer to keep you focused on the work at hand. I’ve started using TheRightMargin as my virtual writing desk: it offers a timer to track your time.

Try the daily practice for a full month and see if you notice a difference. Are you able to get more writing done? Do you generate more ideas, or write more fluidly when you do have the time?

Let me know how this works for you.

Visit this page for a series of short videos about the barriers to writing — including this one, lack of time.

Originally published at on January 24, 2017.

Author, Writing Coach: Writing about Marketing, Technology, and Writing Itself (very meta).