21 hours a week
It's discouraging, having to hold down a day job when you really want to be hacking on that great idea for a web app you're kicking around, or writing your book, or starting your own business.
You look at your lack of progress on one hand, and the huge block of your day that you spend building someone else's business, and it's tempting to think, “If only I didn't have to spend so much time at this job, I could really get things going …”
I feel that way sometimes as I work to get my self-publishing business off the ground. OK, maybe it's more like several times a week.
But it's a lie
It's a lie I tell myself to let myself off the hook, to avoid having to show up, day in and day out, and do the boring, repetitive work it takes to succeed.
Anthony Trollope is proof
I'm reading Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Currey. The book is a well-researched compilation of short sketches of the working habits of well-known writers, painters and other artists.
One of the first chapters describes the daily routine of Anthony Trollope, a prolific Victorian-era author. I'd never heard of Trollope until last night, but he's my hero.
His productivity was jaw-dropping: He wrote 47 books over the course of his career. He was so prolific, in fact, that his publishers expressed worried that he might overwhelm his audience. With a pen!
But here's what I found so inspiring: He produced his first two dozen books while holding down a full-time job as a postal clerk.
The myth of “not enough time”
You don't need endless swaths of free time to do good work, Trollope said:
All those I think who have lived as literary men—working daily as literary labourers–will agree with me that three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write. But then, he should so have trained himself that he shall be able to work continuously during those three hours–so have tutored his mind that it shall not be necessary for him to sit nibbling his pen, and gazing at the wall before him, till he shall have found the words with which he wants to express his ideas.
You need focused, daily effort
Trollope was a writing machine.
He woke early, slid into his desk by 5:30 a.m., sucked down his morning coffee, and started writing.
He guarded his attention closely as he worked, keeping his watch open on the desk in front of him and using it to maintain a steady pace of 250 words every 15 minutes.
He wrote for three hours a day, seven days a week.
And after he completed his 3,000 words, he ate breakfast and headed off to do postal clerk things for the rest of the day.
Are you telling yourself, “If I could only quit my job”…
For me, like Trollope, it's writing. I want to build a business churning out books like the one I'm writing for programmers about Sublime Text.
I find myself, at times, frustrated by the time constraints imposed by my day job. While I'm immensely grateful for the opportunities my employer has given me, I can't help but cast a jealous eye on that 8-hour block in my calendar labeled “Work.”
But you don't need 40 hours a week
I can't yet match Trollope's 21 hours a week. But I can fit in an hour or two per day, and I'm aiming to write 1,000 words first thing after sitting down to my computer each morning.
It's adding up quickly.
What are you putting off until you're somehow magically free from your day job?
Instead of focusing on how little time you have, set an appointment with yourself. Show up, every single day. Focus.
And if three hours a day is too much to carve out, How about two? Or one?
You have enough time.