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When my life coach first mentioned the 80/20 rule, I thought she was talking about diet and exercise. You know, that old rule that says we should eat healthfully 80 percent of the time and indulge our cravings with the other 20 percent.

But she had a different rule in mind. It was this:

Eighty percent of our results are achieved with 20 percent of our time.

This startled me, but think about it. How much of your work day do you spend in useless meetings, surfing the net, chatting with coworkers, making personal calls or emails, etc.? And how much do you spend actually working on projects?

Even though I work for myself now, I’m not immune. I still spend way too much time on Facebook, auctioning off my belongings for a few bucks, and writing for clients. I’m even trying to find a home for someone else’s cat, a woman I met once. (Why?) If I’m only spending 20 percent of my time on my writing, what would happen if I increased that to 30 percent? Or 50? Or even 60? And even scarier, am I spending 20 percent of my time on my goals, or even less?

I’ve been reading a lot of posts by other professional writers that have really scared me. It’s a brave new world out there for writers. While publishers used to be happy with a book a year, the ability to self-publish has increased the demand for more words. And the more novels, short stories and articles you can produce, the more successful you will be as your fans discover you and begin to search for everything else you may have written.

When I first quit my day job, my editor said that he’d expect six books a year from me–five if I spent a lot of time marketing. I laughed, thinking it was ridiculous. But it’s really not. An average novel is 80,000-100,000 words. If I wrote 2000 words per day, which usually takes me just over an hour, that adds up to 730,000 words a year. I could take a fair amount of time off and still have what amounts to six good-sized novels each year. By spending only an HOUR a day on my writing.

It boggles the mind.

You don’t have to be a writer to get the rule to work for you. What are you spending the other 80 percent of your time on? What could you eliminate to become more productive and efficient? For a lot of people, it’s television. For me, it’s a horrible Facebook addiction that I’m beginning to come to terms with. Figure out how to stop the time wastage, and you could be that much closer to the life you want.

Every minute counts. Let’s make the most of it.

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  1. Elle

    Well that’s a scary thought to consider! I’d like to think I spend more than 20% of my time doing my actual writing in the evening. But my word counts would suggest otherwise. I’m going to keep an eye on this and see if I can’t increase both my ratio and my output.

  2. Story Teller

    I know…it scared the heck out of me, too. But if you end up being more productive because of this post, it’s a win! Let me know how it goes.

    And thanks for commenting!

  3. Mystic_Mom

    Good food for thought here, must see how I can make that work. And how to get the rest of the family on board with it. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Story Teller

    No problem, MM. Great to see you back here! Are you still writing?

    I’m glad you were able to take something helpful from this.

  5. Michelle D. Argyle

    I think in terms of word count, yes, you can write that much, but I know for me that’s not feasible at all. I am not a word machine just spewing out words, stringing them together to form stories and it’s just that simple. I think 90% of the time it takes me write a novel is time spent NOT actually writing words. The writing-words part seems secondary, as odd as that may seem. The research, the sheer amount of time I spend daydreaming about my novel, piecing it together in my head, figuring out the characters, the plot, the tiny little intricacies — that, to me, is where I write a novel. So even though I can write 1,500 – 2,000 words in an hour, there’s a LOT more time behind that hour (probably a good 10+ hours) of prep-work.

    Not sure if that makes sense. I guess, after a few years, I’ve finally realized that I can write two books a year, at most. At least with how my schedule is right now. That may change soon because my daughter will be going into first grade. I’ll have a full workday 5 days a week. That will be nice, so we’ll see if I can increase my productivity.

    Anyway, rambling, sorry! I like the 80/20 rule. For me, it’s about balance. If I’m not out there actually living my life, I sure as heck can’t write books worth reading. That’s just me, though. I think everyone is different. 🙂

  6. Story Teller

    Hi Michelle,

    I completely agree with you on a lot of your points. Of course writers have to live and experience and not be slaves to the computer. And there is definitely a lot of “soft” work going on behind the scenes before the words show up on paper.

    I think the 80/20 rule is meant to make your actual working hours more efficient. In my case, when I sit down to work, I spend way too much time fooling around on the internet and otherwise procrastinating. I’m not doing research or other daydreaming to further my story…I’m just putting off the hard work.

    If you have a limited amount of time to write, as I do, and can make that time more constructive, you’ll see more progress in less time. At least, that’s what I took away from it.

    I’m also a really fast writer once I stop procrastinating. My subconscious has already done all the hard work of figuring out the story.

    Thanks for your comments! 🙂


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