Just Get to Work

I just finished reading “The Art And Business of Online Writing” by Nicolas Cole, and I’ve been thinking about something from the first chapter.

When Cole was beginning his writing career, he was determined to improve his skills by writing every single day. For six months, he says, his routine consisted of working as a copywriter for nine hours, communing an hour on the train, eating five meals per day and spending an hour and a half in the gym, and then writing until midnight.

Hearing about this routine is both encouraging and convicting.

I tend to use the “I don’t have time” excuse a lot. Before I started reading on a regular basis, I would say that I have a lot of books that I want to read, but not enough time to read them. Even now that I have made the time to read, I still tell myself that I’m too busy to do things.

This excuse isn’t completely without cause. I usually work 9 to 11 hours a day, plus I have to commute about an hour each way. There have been days where I wake up at 2:30 AM, start work at 4:30 AM, get off at 4 PM, and make it home with just enough time to eat before I go to a Bible study. I make it home around 7 or 8 and immediately go to bed, sleep for 6-7 hours, and repeat the process the next day.

There are other days, however, where I spend a lot of time doing nothing. When I can get home from work at a reasonable time, I always plan to be productive, but I end up scrolling through social media until I fall asleep. On days when I don’t work, it often takes me until past noon to finally get myself to work on something.

I checked the screen time on my phone from last week and my total usage time was 29 hours (excluding the 14 hours I was using Google maps; I don’t count that as screen time since I was more focused on the road). 15 of those hours were spent on YouTube. 7 hours were spent on Instagram.

Would you believe me if I told you that only a month or two ago I had gotten to the point where I was only using Instagram for about 5-10 minutes a day?

What these numbers tell me is that I absolutely DO have time. Maybe not on a work day, but the majority of my screen time comes from my two days off. If I treated those two days like a work day, spending 9 to 11 hours on something I actually wanted to work on, I could get another 18 to 22 hours of writing in per week. If I get a few hours in during the work week as well, I could get even more.

I could reclaim almost a full day every week.

As I said in my article Much To Say, writing is something I have a genuine passion for. I want to get better at it, and if possible, make a career out of it. But that isn’t something that just happens. As Cole emphasizes throughout his book, you don’t become a writer by wishing upon a star; you become a writer by writing.

This kind of attitude is lacking in our culture. Everyone wants to meet their goals, but they don’t want to put in the work required–and I am not excluding myself. I like to see immediate results, and struggle to keep going with something when I don’t get them.

When we hear a schedule like the one Cole described, it is very easy to become discouraged or give up. His routine sounds exhausting, and we don’t want to put ourselves through that. But if you have an ambitious goal (like I do), you don’t really have another option.

In saying this, I don’t expect that I will be able to work on writing as much as I hope. I’m not going to force myself to follow a strict routine like Cole did. I won’t beat myself up for writing less because I decided to spend some time with a friend instead. My goal isn’t to write for a certain amount of time every week at any cost, but to put my time to better use.

I don’t want to sit around doomscrolling when I could be doing something productive. I just want to get to work.

I would encourage you to do the same. Consider what your goals are and what time you can put toward working on them. You may not want to give up your leisure time, but consider this: if you spend 7 hours a week watching TV (only 1 hour per day), you could replace that time with something productive.

Within a year, you will have spent about 15 days working toward your goal. After 5 years, 76 days.

You will spend those 76 days doing something. In five years, would you rather look back and think about all the Instagram posts you saw, or see the work you did to achieve something?