Time Management For Student Pilots

A few years ago, I went to a panel at my local con called “Time management for writers.” I expected a lecture on writing every day – maybe even pontificating on how you’re not serious about writing if you don’t write every day. The first panelist said she did indeed write every day, and if she didn’t, she lost rhythm and didn’t get anything done. She didn’t necessarily write a lot each day, but she wrote every single day. In contrast, the second one said he got all his outlining ready, and made a big three month push to write a novel, then edited at a more leisurely pace  the rest of the time. The third got a hotel room for three days and exited a wreck, but with a completed first draft of a novel.

In the flying community, you’ll hear people pontificating about making sure you fly at least once a week, to keep your skills fresh, especially once you’ve finished your private license. Because a lot of people finish their license and then barely ever fly again, citing that it’s so hard to get into the swing of things again. When training, they say to fly at least once or twice a week, or you’ll end up spending more hours on training, catching up on what you’ve lost.

They’re probably right. But the reality is, not everyone has the money on hand to do that.

When I started flying, I was able to give away most of my shifts for several months and flew 4-5 days a week, finishing my private license in about three and a half months. Not everyone is able to do that, and most people complete their private license in 1-2 years, flying once or twice a week.

Many young people are in school or university, but are living at home and have more money to put toward flying, making it possible to train faster. I have a full time job, we’re a single income household and I can’t afford to take too much time off outside of vacation. In fact, after I did my private, possibly as a result, the union wrote a clause into the new contract preventing people from giving away more than one shift a week. I like to say I have my own clause in the union contract.

I do much better when I can focus on just one big thing at a time, so time-building was hard for me. I couldn’t give shifts away anymore, so it was a flight here and there, and sometimes when it was very cold, I didn’t fly for months at a time. Because I was mostly flying the RAA club plan and not the school’s planes, my instructor couldn’t tell how frequently I was flying, I’m sure she worried that I might lose my momentum and give up. So many do. She would send me emails every once in a while, about every six months, asking how I was doing, and I’d send her an update with my hours and where I’d been, that I’d passed the written when I passed it. And finally I was finished time-building and one of those replies was “Okay, I’ve got vacation booked in May/June, and this is my plan.”

And for the flight test, I just did exactly the same thing as I did for my private, flying 4-5 times a week for several weeks. It’s what works for me, and I’ve succeeded doing it this way. I was able to give my instructor lots of notice so that she was able to make sure she was available when I needed her. Not all schools or instructors might be as awesome as that, so that was one struggle I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with.

On the other hand, doing my float rating, or likewise, my night rating, I was working full time at the same time. I tried to fly once a week, but often things didn’t work out that way. The other difference is there’s no test at the end of these ratings, so once I had the hours and the instructor was satisfied with my performance, that was all I had to do.

I think it’s far more important to have goals and a plan, than to fly a particular number of days a week. That plan naturally has to take into consideration the fact that if you haven’t flown for a while, your skills will go stale, but that may mean that you just need to get practiced up sometimes. If your goals are to stay current and develop your experience as a pilot, then maybe a goal of flying once a week or however often you can afford it might be your best plan. When I’m prepping for a test, that short period of intense flying multiple flights a day is what I need, so I’m not as concerned about staying current in between times when I’m forced to drag my ass back to work. I’ve put my writing on the back-burner a long time now, which is also okay, because I have clear goals and a plan, and I know it won’t be forever.

The pontificators are right about one thing though. You don’t find time. You make time. You ditch your video game and study. You skip social outings. There was a writing event the whole weekend I had planned my 300nm cross country trip, and I stopped in after I landed to to catch the last half hour. You do what you can do, and what you have to do, and there’s no right or wrong way to pace yourself, as long as you have a plan.

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Serving Two Masters: Writing vs Flying

I’ve been a bit torn lately. I get why they say “No man can serve two masters.”

I’ve had my writing for a long time, and that’s been my main focus for the last fifteen years. Then the flying thing came along, and I said okay, I’m going to throw myself at that right now while I have the opportunity, and set writing aside for a bit. It’s not going to kill me to set writing aside. It would if it was for something I didn’t love, but I love flying at least as much as I love writing.

This winter, C-FLUG isn’t allowed out to play if it’s colder than -20 Celsius, so I haven’t been able to fly much. I’ve been writing, and there’s things happening on that front, so it’s encouraging. So at once I’m kind of turning my focus back to writing, while still trying to get in the air every chance I get. I keep feeling guilty about putting one before the other, and vice versa. I feel like I’m doing a terrible job of managing my time, and I get frustrated.

But then I realized that was why I was frustrated – because I had these two things, and I can’t do them both at the same time. I’d have more time for both if I didn’t still have to keep the day job, but as it is, that’s not yet an option. I’m very close to one or the other of them taking off (excuse the pun), one if I could get a break with the weather to get some flying in and finish my commercial license, the other if I could get a break with an agent. And that closeness to making it with both makes it that much more frustrating that I’m dividing my attention between them.

So from there, taking that step back to realize that’s why I’m getting stressed out about it, I think that’s going to make it easier to deal with. Because to hell with anyone who says I have to pick one and give up the other. If anyone tells me no man can serve two masters, here’s what I have to say to that!