Game Over! Clock Out!

Welcome back, readers! If you’re like me, then you’re obsessed with writing. While this is a good thing in general, it can be problematic in practice. At some point during each day, we all turn back into pumpkins! Pumpkins aren’t well-known for being great authors. This post is about knowing when to throw in the towel for the day.

While I could quite literally write every waking minute of my life, I know that’s not smart, healthy, or productive. How many hours of writing you put in each day entirely depends on your situation. If you have a traditional job, then that plays an obvious role in the matter. If you have a family, then that adds another layer of complexity. If you consider your craft a hobby, then that becomes another beast entirely. In this article, I will share my situation and experience. While I’m not recommending that you follow my path, I’m hoping that it will provide you with a roadmap that you can use to create your own path.

As I am retired from the United States Air Force and quit my job in telecommunications engineering, writing is now my career. That said, I do have a family including a spirited 3-year-old daughter. I’ve always said that the best way to approach life is to take everything in moderation, but I don’t think that applies in relation to family, money, or writing. Before I share my thoughts on when you should know to call it a day, I’ll share a typical day in my life for reference.

Normally, I wake up around six o’clock in the morning, but, on occasion, I wake before the sun rises here in Vietnam. Since my family tends to sleep in until at least eight, this serves as my prime time for writing. Opening my laptop, I get straight to work and I don’t stop for at least the next two hours. When my family wakes up, I take a short break to spend a few minutes with them while they eat breakfast and get prepared for the day ahead (I normally skip breakfast).

As they go about their mornings, I get right back to work and continue writing through lunch. Typically, I’ll take a break around one or two o’clock in the afternoon to eat lunch. At this point, I might spend an hour or so with my daughter watching Nastya, her favorite television series, coloring, or helping her to learn English. In all cases, I go right back to work when I’m done and never take longer than a two-hour break.

If you’re tracking time invested in writing, then you can see that I’ve already been at it for about seven hours. At this point, if I’m at a good spot for stopping, I work on blog articles, check my sales, or work on book promotions. If I’m not at a good stopping point, I continue writing until I am. Normally, I take a break for dinner around six o’clock in the evening. This means that I’ve already been at it, whether writing or promoting, for about eleven hours.

With the sun going down, it’s family time. Most nights, we have a “dance party,” as my daughter likes to call them, to music videos or watch a family-friendly movie. Sometimes, we’ll just go out for a long walk through the neighborhood. Either way, I’m back at my computer by nine, often much earlier. Two or three hours later, I call it a night and go to bed only to repeat the process the next day.

If you do the math, then you can see that I’m putting twelve to thirteen hours per day into my work. Some days it’s more and some days it’s less, but I think that’s a fair average. The point of this article, however, isn’t to document how many hours I work but to illustrate how I know when it is time to stop.

Here’s the deal: If I didn’t monitor myself, I would stay up writing all night until I passed out in bed, but there is a good reason why I don’t – I know that it would detrimental to my health and to my work. Most people believe that they are most productive at the crack of dawn; this is a fallacy. While many are more productive in the early mornings, that doesn’t apply to everyone and it doesn’t even represent the peak of productivity. According to a study of half a million exams taken by university students in Germany over a five-year span, peak performance is achieved in the early afternoon. While that’s an interesting fact, it still doesn’t represent how we all work.

One statistic that we can depend on is Stanford University’s study which shows a significant drop in productivity after eight hours of work. With each additional hour thereafter, it declines to the level of negative or questionable results. This means that there really is a witching hour. Push too far and your effort will become either pointless or destructive.

Again, that’s interesting information, but I know that you didn’t come here for an education on random studies of productivity. You came here for advice. A fan of lists, I will list my top four suggestions on how to know when it’s time to clock out.

One: Know Your Limits

If you feel that you work better at night, then work at night. If you’re a morning person, work in the mornings. If life prevents you from putting in more than five or six hours, then put in five or six hours. If you have the freedom to put in as much time as you like, limit it to what you can comfortably withstand.

This isn’t something that you will learn overnight, but, with a little effort and attention, you’ll develop the writing schedule that best suits your availability, obligations, and limitations.

Two: Stay Within Your Limits

On some occasions, you might be tempted to go past your limits. Don’t! If you push yourself beyond your limits, then everything you write will be trash. I realize that’s a harsh statement, but I believe it to be true. Worse, it can screw up your entire train of thought and cause you to completely rethink your story.

When you know that it’s time to clock out, CLOCK OUT!

Three: Live!

Never allow your work to interfere with your life! If you have a family, then enjoy your family time. If you’re employed, then do your job and do it well. Writing ALWAYS takes the backburner to life!

Four: Track Your Progress and Adjust

If you’re writing three or four chapters in the mornings and only a few paragraphs at night, then STOP WRITING AT NIGHT! Find your own peak hours and utilize them effectively. With a little time and effort, you’ll find your groove. Once you do, stick to it religiously.

Much love and best wishes for your future,

David Maxwell

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