Tag Archives: time management

The Power Hour

As a freelance writer of over twenty years, I’ve produced hundreds of articles and features for a variety of magazines all over the world. And as a staffer on some of the biggest lifestyle magazines in the UK, I’ve produced hundreds more. I never missed a deadline. Not once. That’s a great source of pride for me. Some writers I’ve worked with, especially the younger Millennial-types, missed deadlines on a regular basis. It just wasn’t a big deal to them. Maybe it’s a generational thing but it’s important to understand that on a magazine, the writers are not gods. Sure, we are often the public face of the magazine and get most of the accolades, but in reality, we are very small cogs in very big machines. Writers are given deadlines for a reason. People further up the chain, like the section editor or sub editor, as well as the designers and the picture desk, are relying on you to file your copy on time so they can do their jobs and maintain their own schedule, all to ensure that the magazine goes out on time.

Now, it isn’t always easy to hit your deadlines, especially if you find yourself waiting on other people. Building a feature is rarely a case of just sitting down and writing it. If only. No, nine times out of ten, as your deadline looms ever-closer, you find yourself waiting for some random PR person to send you some information or hook up an interview, or maybe you’ve requested some expert opinion or analysis and the designated expert has been too busy to do what they said they would. Once, I waited all day to carry out a 15-minute phoner with tennis legend John McEnroe, who has something of a fiery reputation to say the least. I had one shot at it, and a deadline, so failure was not an option. When I asked what time my slot was scheduled for, I was told by his manager to just ‘stay by the phone.’ So that’s what I did. I went into the office early and stayed late. I didn’t even leave my desk for lunch. In true prima dona fashion, John McEnroe didn’t call. Well, he did, but instead of calling my office line he called my mobile at about 9pm when I was on the train home. I had to disembark before I lost my connection in a tunnel, and transcribe the entire interview long-hand in a cafe on Waterloo Station. He was lovely, by the way. And I made my deadline.

Sometimes, you can’t even blame other people. Maybe you’ve had a last-minute change of heart and decided to change the structure or approach the article from a different direction, or perhaps the photographer you commissioned is late submitting the images. There are so many variables, you have to be flexible. Stuff move around a lot on magazines. Things happen, and things fall through. At the last moment you might have to cut a feature by 30% to make room for a late advertorial that just came through, or on the other hand you might be asked to double your word count to fill some space after an ad gets dropped.

Anyway, one way to ensure you always hit your deadlines when the pressure is on is to have a daily ‘power hour.’

A power hour is when you eradicate all distractions – disconnect the internet, turn off your phone – and focus entirely on knocking out some words. You don’t stop to edit, you don’t check your email, you don’t cross-check that fact you think you might have just made up, you don’t even get a glass of water. You can do all of that later. For the entirety of that hour you sit at your desk and completely immerse yourself in the task at hand. Everything else, even the important stuff, can wait. It will still be there in an hour.

Pro tip: put on your headphones or ear buds; this is an almost universal way of communicating to everyone around you that you don’t want to be disturbed. You don’t even have to turn on the music.

The power hour is a concept I have carried with me throughout my career, and it’s got me out a lot of tight spots though it helps enormously to do any required reading or research beforehand. You can’t write if you have nothing to write about. In my experience they are generally most effective in the morning, as soon as possible after waking up. That’s when I have more energy and when I am most focused. Next time you have a deadline, or even if you don’t, maybe you should try it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Time for Horror

Funny thing, time. And not funny ha-ha. It’s the one commodity you can’t buy, yet is by far the most valuable. And anyone who says that money can’t buy you love has obviously never been to Bangkok. It’s often said that a dying millionaire will gladly give up all his riches in exchange for just a few more minutes of life. Since I’ve never died or been a millionaire I can’t vouch for it’s veracity, but it certainly sounds plausible. The vast majority of people don’t want to die, and do anything to avoid it. That’s why you read about murder victims being stabbed 130 times or something. I’d wager the person doing the stabbing didn’t want to wield their blade that many times, either. Imagine how exhausting stabbing someone 130 times must be. I need a sit down after chopping up a chilli pepper. The stabber would probably much prefer the victim keel over and drop dead with a soft, world-weary sigh after one strike the way they do in movies, but that rarely (if ever) happens. I once saw someone get stabbed at a football match. It just pissed him off.

It grates on me when I see people complain that they’d love to write something, but just haven’t got the time. Not enough that I’d want to stab them 130 times. But close. The reason is, we all have shit going on. Day jobs, night jobs, kids, pets, hobbies, demanding relationships, drug addictions, all of which we balance with the countless other responsibilities that come with being grown up. However, the harsh truth is that we always find time for the things we really value. Things we really enjoy doing. Things we can’t live without.

We all have the same 24-hours in a day. You, me, Stephen King, Lady Ga Ga. The only difference is what we do with those hours. Most writers seem to be ‘morning people.’ I know, right? The mere thought is enough to make most people’s blood turn to ice. The aforementioned Sai King is a shining example; his routine involves getting up early, going for a walk, getting the bulk of his writing done before midday, then slacking off as the day grinds on to its inevitable conclusion.

One of my most productive times as a writer was in my early twenties when I worked full-time at a local packing factory. It was my job to put the little bar codes on boxes of pills. Hundreds of boxes a shift. Thousands. You probably know the score. Your supervisor sets you a target of 15,000. You bust your balls to hit it, and when you finally achieve as much, they simply raise the target to 15,500. this, I’m told, is management.

At its best the job was fraught with difficulty, like when the bar codes won’t go on exactly as they should, or they were blurry or something. And at its best, when everything was going well, the work was mind-numbingly boring. I was alone a lot, meaning that I had hours and hours every day to think about what I was going to write about when my shift ended. I’d run through endless scenarios in my head, putting my characters through all kinds of shit and filling in ever conceivable plot hole. It helped pass the time. When I finally got home I could easily knock out 1500 words or more in an hour or two before going to bed. No messing around. No hesitation marks. No gazing off into space waiting for the perfect word to pop into my head.

Later, when I left the factory and writing became my actual job, and I could spend all day writing if I wanted to, I just didn’t. You know what it’s like; you get wrapped up in a juicy news story or disappear down some rabbit hole or other and everything else fades into the background. Recently, I wasted almost half a day reading about Biffy Clyro b-sides and CD bonus tracks. I don’t even fucking like Biffy Clyro. Who does? They haunt that horrid middle ground between indie and rock without ever fully committing either way, trying to be all things to all people and only succeeding in being nothing much to anyone. So yeah, as my deadline looms ominously closer I procrastinate and generally do anything except write. And it’s not just me. I’ve worked with dozens of writers, and we’re all the fucking same. Well, most of us. There’s always that one guy who does everything on time, and perfectly. Don’t we all hate that dude? The rest of us just watch the clock tick down until, when we can put it off no longer, we start writing. At least that’s my modus operandi. And guess what? I never miss a deadline.

The point I’m trying to make is you can achieve anything you want if you put your mind to it. You just have to put your mind to it. I don’t want to look back at a life of wasted time and missed opportunities, being all bitter and resentful. If only I’d done that, or this, if only I’d found the time. Don’t wait until it’s too late, and don’t you dare point fingers and blame other people for your own shortcomings. Take control of your life, take responsibility, and most importantly, figure out what’s important to you and then spend as much time as is humanly possible doing it. If your thing is horror, immersive yourself in it. Read books, watch movies, explore abandoned mental hospitals, sit in graveyards at midnight. Hell, tie yourself to a chair and force yourself to watch the Star Wars Christmas special from 1978 on repeat if you have to. Trust me, it’s probably the most horrible thing you will ever experience. Savour the dread and soak in the blood.

It doesn’t even need to be good horror. If you’re a writer, for example, you can learn just as much from reading a terrible book as you can from reading a classic. You just learn from the other end. You learn what NOT to do. What’s deemed ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ is subjective, anyway. Have you seen Death Ship from 1980? About the tourists whose cruise ship sinks and are then picked up by a WWII-era German prison ship controlled by a mysterious dark force? No? I’m not surprised. Not many people have. TV Guide called the movie “ludicrous” and gave it a one-star rating. Me, I loved it. Fuck the TV Guide. What’s not to love? Shipwrecks, Nazi zombies, Richard Crenna from the Rambo films. And if all that wasn’t enough, look at that poster!

I advise you to seek it out immediately while you still can, before a rogue terrorist cell nukes the internet or something and you won’t be able to stream it or order it from Amazon. All this calls to mind a depressing yet entirely accurate line from Iron Maiden’s classic tune The Clairvoyant, “Isn’t it strange that as soon as you’re born you’re dying?”

Like I said, it’s a funny thing, time. And not funny ha-ha. We should make the most of it because as someone much smarter than me said, ‘time we enjoy is not time wasted.’ Or something. And if you’re reading this I am 100% sure you’d enjoy Death Ship. By the way, you can read about more hidden cinematic gems, both old and new, in my RetView series.

This piece was first published in the Terror Tract ezine.

How to Have the Perfect Bank Holiday


In Britain, we are lucky enough to be gifted the occasional Bank Holiday. When you are kid it’s like having two Sundays in a week, but when you grow up and start work you learn to really appreciate any extra down time. The big question is, how to spend it?

Time Management

As tempting as it may be, if you spend the whole day in bed (especially if you are alone) you will regret it later. Have a lie-in by all means. But set an alarm and get up at a reasonable hour. Make a list the day before of all the things you want to do, and be realistic about your goals.


Everyone has them, nobody wants them. Get used to it. Doing the laundry, popping to the corner shop for some milk, washing the dishes that have been festering in the sink since last weekend’s curry night, whatever little jobs need doing, get them out of the way early doors. Then we can all move on.

Fun Time

We all have our guilty pleasures in life. Something we truly enjoy, but rarely have time to indulge. If only there were more hours in a day, right? Well, today there is! Kind of. It might mean firing up the Xbox, going for a walk, having a kick about with your mates or masturbating furiously to repeats of Charmed. Whatever floats your boat. Just remember to lock the door if that last option appeals to you, and don’t let ‘fun time’ last too long.

Spread Your Wings

This part is key. It’s very simple. Do something you’ve never done before. It can be anything from visiting that museum you’ve always fancied, to taking up a new hobby. It’s your call. It will make this particular Bank Holiday memorable, and make you feel as if you’ve actually achieved something.


What you shouldn’t do is have a big night in the pub. That would equal a short week from hell. You should have done that on Friday. Or Saturday. Maybe both. In a recent survey, ‘watching a film at home’ topped a list of people’s favourite things to do on a Bank Holiday, coming in just above ‘doing chores’ and ‘relaxing.’ The chores should be done by now. At least, the important ones. So now you can relax and watch a film. Two birds, one stone. You’ve had a busy day. You deserve it.

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