Before you can play the game Final Fantasy XI, you should know why you're playing the game and what drives you to play that game. For me, I needed something to do to fill in my evening hours between school and sleep. Of course, over the years, I've had other things introduced into my life that made my game time less and less but I am still able to enjoy this game quite a bit even with a limited time schedule.
That is one of the hardest things to do in this game: being able to enjoy it with the limit time we have. It is a bit funny too. People have always thought that end-game is a huge time sink and you have to devote your entire life to it and so on and so forth. I beg to differ here. In my LS, we do quite a bit of end game and spend a lot of effort into it. However, a good chunk of our members work a 9-5 job, occasionally go out every so often and live normal social lives. It is a bit ironic too because I see a lot of people who do spend a lot of time playing this game end up saying that end game is too much for them to handle in their lives. However, I'm not gonna continue stating my opinion of others on that aspect. I will try to help players who don't have time be able to properly make the time to play this game.
First thing is that one of your main goals in FFXI when you first start off is to be able to hit level 75 on a job. This can be a bit rough in the beginning, especially when there is sort of a period in our early FFXI lives, called the "newb" period. Now, yes we all start off as newer players into the game and well, we need to adjust. So do many others and also, many people can click in really well or they take a bit of time to get better. Either way, this s an issue that you will face as you will be forced to party for XP for quite a duration of time. Later on, the process of this can be changed but it requires a bit of leveling subs and so on to be able to solo by yourself. This is probably the only real time sink you'll encounter in FFXI. There are ways to make this easier for yourself though and this requires knowing a few people.
Linkshells are very important. Much like guilds but not as exclusive, Linkshells allow you to connect to a network of other FFXI players who can help you or at least entertain your eyes. Make some friends and try to find some people of identical level. Once you do, you can actually do an EXP party with less than 6 people if you know what you're doing. A lot of people that do pick up parties will opt for 6 members. However, if you remove that restriction and have a few friends that can work something out, you can get guite a bit of EXP and maybe even some nice stories to tell. Just remember, Signet helps you a lot as EXP is slightly increased with a party of 2-5. You can completely negate the entire 2 hour party search this way if you know a few friends.
However, I'm sure there are some anti-social people out there who have a hard time making connections. Trust me, being able to be friends with people is a great way to enjoy this game. Anyways, there are some options for you as a soloing player. Note that with how the game is now, you can probably solo from 1 to 75. However, it would be a process that can take quite a bit of time but lets what your options are. Also, this can apply to any player out there and you can do this to help you with things as well.
Goblin Pets. They are the key to soloing at certain levels. By doing a bit of research, you can find some pets that you can take down easily and earn EXP that way. Note that this can be hard to do for certain jobs. I'll let that for you to experiment and decide (as that is what half the fun in FFXI is).
ENMs. Some of them can be soloed but you can only do this once every week and also, you need to get a group to even get you to some of these in the first place. ENMs are much like BCNMs, in the sense that they are closed battle fields where you fight a monster or group of monsters. When you win, you get a good chunk of EXP and also even some items that you can sell. It is a good deal indeed.
Campaigns. You can do these completely solo and if you had the patience, you can probably do them for a good chunk of experience. What is also cool is that it is widely acceptable to look for party while taking part in campaign. Definately something you can do while looking for an EXP party.
Certain jobs have the ability to solo mobs that certain other jobs can't. THF is a good example of this. BST can practically solo from 1 to 75, PUP can do quite a bit of soloing themselves.
What I really want to poiint out though is that with all of these things, it will take time but some of these things can be just "your time" and you can stop whenever you want. That is kind of a nice thing isn't it? You go to school, you're restricted to the professor's lecture time. You go work and you're restricted to the hours you were assigned to. FFXI doesn't need to be that way and a lot of people sometimes treat it as so and they get burned out easily.
So, now that you realize that you have more control over your time than you think, lets talk about ways to make your time playing FFXI from being too boring. A grind is a grind no matter how you look at it... but lets try to find ways to reduce that. It is much like trying to go through your day job and trying to kill the few minutes until your shift is over. Except you have your whole house to yourself so you should have more... options, right? Some don't do this for whatever reason and there will be times in FFXI where it can get slow.
First, do you have a Gameboy? A Nintendo DS? A Playstation Portable? Some sort of handheld game? If so, try some games that you can play during the periods that you have to wait or if you want to take a quick break. Short and quick games work well but it all depends on what type of gamer are you. Oh, but you're not really a "gamer?" Well, there are quite a bit of things on the Nintendo DS and PSP that doesn't require "twitch" reaction to play or anything of that sort. Sudoku... Tetris... Nintendogs. The list goes on. Try looking at a list of games for the DS or the PSP. I consider myself fairly knowledged about video games in general so feel free to even drop me a line as to what games I think you would enjoy a lot.
Aside from that, take a few steps away from your computer or console and just simply walk around for a bit, get that blood flow going and get some water. Come back fresh, heck, bring a sandwich with you too.
Also, try to see if your linkshell has a Ventrilo/TeamSpeak server. It can help a lot with the long grind if you have someone to talk to that you can also relate to in the game. Talking makes time fly by fast so it helps a lot.
Find out what works for you and go for it. It'll help you enjoy the game more.
And as for that... keep your spirits high. Even though things may be hard to grasp in this game, it is much like real life. Strive to keep your eye on what you want most and work as hard as you can to get it. Don't think "Oh man, I can't afford it." Instead, think "What do I need to do to get this?"
You will be surprised.