How to Hack Your Way to Writing Productivity

Today, the word hack has taken on a different meaning than what it used to mean. Previously, when you hacked into something, it usually involved an ax or sledgehammer. Something that would cause some serious damage.

We’ve also heard about people who hack or break into computer systems.

But there’s a different kind of hacking that’s helpful to writers, and in this case, hacking means a workaround. Finding a back door to slip in through.

When it comes to our brains, it helps at times to do a little hacking. We can be our own worst enemy when it comes to being productive. Bear with me on this. I’ll explain.

We make a lot of excuses when it comes to our writing. We trip ourselves up with our insecurities and fear of rejection or failure. We might try to give ourselves a pep talk, but that usually doesn’t work. Because it’s never worked before.

Even if our critique group loves our book, we won’t believe it. Even if I tell a writer his novel is great and almost ready to be published—the writer will freeze up, procrastinate, find ways to not finish his novel.

This goes into self-sabotage, which, I promise, I’ll be discussing at length further along.

But right now I want to talk about productivity hacks. These are choices we make to push past the roadblocks we ourselves set in our path. We’re looking at the “C” in our Productivity ABCs, and that’s choices. Choosing how to handle these roadblocks can make the difference between our being a static writer and a super productive one.

Productive People Create Hacks That Work for Them has a great slide show featuring thirteen CEOs and their work hacks. Here are a few, to get your brain simmering:

Bryan Guido Hassin, a university professor and start-up junkie, uses “Airplane days.” After noticing that he got some of his best work done on long intercontinental flights, Guido established “Airplane Days” to help him get things done. On “Airplane Days,” Guido restricts his Internet access, removes distractions, and churns through his high priority to-do items. “At the beginning of each week, I carefully look at my schedule and declare one day (or two half days) to be Airplane Time. I block it out on my shared calendar and treat it as if I were in the air: working out of the office, disabling my phone, and shutting off network connections on my laptop. The rest of the days are for meetings, etc. but this blocked-out time each week is my most productive by far.”

Is he really on a plane? No. But he’s pretending he is. This is his hack to get around his usual succumbing to distractions.

Alok Bhardwaj, the founder of Hidden Reflex, a software start-up, says he starts his day by doing the least desirable task first. He recommends starting your day doing the thing you don’t want to do first:

  1. Do least desirable tasks first thing in the morning. Try to work two to three hours straight on getting stuff done first thing in thing in the morning, before email or anything else.
  2. Do not read any news or anything similar while working.
  3. Workspace is for work only.
  4. Daily to-do list of three to five things you must get done.
  5. Don’t try to do too much, don’t try to optimize too much, delegate, stay focused on the big picture.
  6. Exercise, meditate every day.

Here’s a variation on Rosen’s suggestion (discussed in the previous chapter):

Christian Sutardi, a cofounder at Lolabox, uses David Allen’s famous “Two-Minute Rule.” Sutardi explains: “For two months now I’ve been following David Allen’s famous ‘Two-Minute Rule.’ It’s very simple: When a new task comes in and I see that I can do it in less than two minutes, then I do it right away. This easy rule increased my productivity a lot. I love it, because it’s not a groundbreaking rule, it’s no fancy app or software, it doesn’t even require learning or dedication, and you can start doing it today.”

Jason Kanigan, a sales trainer, says, “Figure out when your ‘golden hours’ are, and protect them at all costs. Permit no distractions during those times. Then ‘Eat That Frog’—pick the biggest, hairiest, most difficult goal that stands between you and the next giant step toward success . . . and do it now. A small number of decisions make up the majority of your life experience. Therefore, a small number of activity choices make up the large majority of your achievements . . . or lack thereof.”

Hacking Our Attitudes

Are you starting to get some ideas of how you might hack your way to productivity? It’s not just the scheduling that might need hacking. It’s also your mind-set.

We looked at the need to change the way we talk to ourselves, to be positive in our thinking. That’s a hack to productivity.

Consider this, too. Management guru Peter Drucker says, “Efficiency is doing the right thing. Effectiveness is doing the right thing.” Many people who work hard and smart still don’t seem to accomplish all that much. Certainly not all they are capable of accomplishing.

So how do we ensure we’re as productive as we can be?

By being courageous.

Boldly Go . . .

Some writers lack courage because they aren’t distinguishing between real and perceived risk.

We’re afraid of failure, so instead of focusing on the one project staring us in the face, we split our attention among various projects. We tend to go with what’s safe, what’s worked before. Becoming a super productive writer means venturing out into some uncharted territory for us. We are setting aside huge blocks of time on a chance. We may be spending valuable time that we feel should be spent making reliable money so we can support ourselves or our families. It’s easy to make excuses because they’re good excuses.

So by procrastinating and spreading our attention widely, we guarantee that none get the time and energy each deserves. A book is a demanding mistress, and she does demand a lot of time and energy. Anyone who’s written a full-length book can attest to this.

We may feel if we use a lot of book hacks (quick learning aids) to plow our way through our project, we’ll do justice to it. But we won’t. When it comes to mastering the skills to write a book, you just can’t hack that.

So hack what you can. Use mental and emotional hacks to find a back door to being super productive.

We all have roughly the same access to the tools we need to be productive, but it’s the courage to push through (hack through) our resistance that separates the doers and the wishers.

It’s said that we only have two to four hours of high-level energy per day. (I have a whole lot more than that, but it’s taken years of discipline and cementing habits to get there. And we’ll be covering the topics of habits next.) Those two to four hours translate to about ten to twenty hours a week. A lot of writers can be super productive putting in only ten hours of writing a week. (I’ve written full-length novels in three months on just that number of hours.)

Once we use up those peak hours, we hit a wall. We still might have energy to do other things that are important, but we aren’t at our peak performance.

So pushing through to try to do more can sometimes stress us unnecessarily. Just as with determining your peak times to work, you don’t want to lay a guilt trip on yourself if you weren’t able to get more done. This is why I’m against setting a word-count requirement. Some days we write slower. Some scenes are harder to write.

When we demand a word count for the day before we stop writing (many successful writers do this), we put a lot of undue pressure (maybe we should change it to “undo” pressure, since it ends up unraveling us) on ourselves. Especially if we don’t have the luxury to write all day and night and quit when we finally hit that mark.

So instead of working longer or harder, we should work smarter. Creating those hacks will help. But they aren’t the solution to being a terrific writer. You still have to put into practice what you learn.

What are some hacks you’re considering to help you become a super-productive writer? Are you using any now that work? Share in the comments.

Regardless of whether you write fiction or nonfiction, if you want to get established as an author, you need to be productive. Highly productive.

You can’t just write one terrific book and call it good, expecting that singular work to carry you atop the wave of success for years to come.
Studies show readers want 3-4 books a year from their favorite authors. And to build traction and a growing audience, authors need to deliver.

The key to being highly productive is centered on knowing yourself. First you need to identify your distractions, excuses, and attitudes that are keeping you from being the productive writer you want to be. Then you need to assess your unique biology, to determine the best times to write and to optimize your sleep and eating habits. It’s all here in Crank It Out!

Get your ebook or print copy HERE.

Turn your life and career around by learning the surefire way to be the super-productive author you long to be!

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  1. “Undo” pressure — I love that! And it’s so true. I’ve never held myself to a certain daily word count either, and at some subconscious level I think this is the reason why. I don’t want to set myself up to _think_ I’ve failed just because I didn’t hit 500 or 1000 or [insert number here] words a day. That works for some people, but because I’m so deadline driven I think I would feel elated on the days I hit my number and absolutely pathetic on the days I didn’t — even if the writing I did do may have been pretty good.

    Thanks, Susanne. You always know what to say!

  2. Thanks for sharing the work hacks of those CEOs and for your insightful and practical advice. I suffer much from lack of confidence, so I especially appreciated “First you need to identify your distractions, excuses, and attitudes that are keeping you from being the productive writer you want to be.” I’ve got the biology part down (morning person), but I will now actually make a list of the d-e-a and devise a workaround for each one. Just what I needed! ~thx

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