In this series about productivity, I’ve been talking a lot about excuses and distractions. Many writers complain to me how they just can’t find time to write, how they can’t seem to finish their book they’re writing, and how they can’t get motivated.
I mentioned that the key to becoming a super-productive writer is you gotta want it. That’s at the heart of why so many aspiring writers spin their wheels and never finish or publish anything. If you really don’t want to put in the hard work to see the success you’re after, be honest with yourself. It’s fine to dabble in writing as a hobby. Writing is fun, and if you’re pressuring yourself to be a famous best-selling author and it’s really not what you want with all your heart, you should examine why you’re pushing yourself toward this goal. Maybe it’s time to take up golf or sewing.
On the other hand, if you truly want to crank out books—quality books—and you’re struggling with your attitude, your biological challenges, and/or your habits, you need to identify the culprits and attack them. We’ve looked at many things a writer can do to evaluate the roadblocks to super productivity, and we’ve looked at a number of hacks or workarounds to get passed those behaviors.
In this post I want to share a few more insights and hacks for our habits that, I hope, will help you further.
When We Overcommit to Writing
Sometimes we push ourselves too hard. I mentioned earlier how we only have so many highly productive hours in a day, and we each need to determine when those fall on the clock. If we work many more hours during times when we’re not at our peak or should be winding down for sleep, we can lose productivity.
I see this a lot with writers who set a daily word count (which, I believe, for many is a bad idea). They’ll push to get that word count if it kills them. Well, it usually doesn’t kill them, but it might add a whole lot of unnecessary stress, make them grumpy and snap at their family members, and drain their creativity so what they do write is lousy.
While I set loose goals for my writing (get one scene done a day, for example), I don’t set these in concrete. If I’ve got a rush editing job, I’ll forego the writing for that day. Maybe if I finish that job a day earlier than expected, I’ll reward myself with a full day of writing (with chocolate trimmings).
If your writing time is limited and often interrupted by things you can’t control or ignore, you’d do better to undercommit to your writing. While you may be able to get those around you to leave you alone for one hour while you hide in your office and write, you may feel, then, that “the pressure’s on” and you have to hurry to get that scene written.
Most people don’t work well under that type of time pressure. Even though I like tough deadlines, which push me to be super productive, most people are not like me. Research shows that for most, tough self-imposed deadlines don’t work. And some who say they like deadlines and are more productive are just, in actuality, more stressed or neurotic.
Use Your Weird Time to Your Advantage
Weird time, according to Naomi Dunford, marketer, consists of those little snatches of time that land in your lap when you’re waiting somewhere for something. You might be in line at the library, sitting in your car waiting for the kids to come out the school’s double doors, in the dentist office waiting to be called in.
Most of us just play games on our phone or text someone (or if you’re like that couple at the NBA game, you take selfies repeatedly).
Maybe all that weird time adds up to a half hour. Maybe more.
Could you use that time to write? If not actually write a scene, how about toying with scene ideas? Character quirks? Coming up with names for characters and places?
I’m not suggesting you get obsessive and put every “free” second of your life to work, but instead of getting frustrated while waiting, or “killing time” (violent, isn’t it?) by playing Solitaire on your phone, why not be productive and work through a plot problem that’s been bugging you?
If you feel like you’ve lost control over your writing and writing life, this may be a helpful hack to get you back in the saddle. Yeehaw!
Turn Mundane into Productive
In addition to weird time there’s mundane time. We all have plenty of that. Washing dishes, folding laundry, even jogging on the treadmill.
No way I’m going to get through my half hour on the treadmill five times a week if I don’t have my phone on. I listen to podcasts (writing shows, uplifting sermons, gospel music, even play TV episodes—lately I’m going through all the seasons, again, of Merlin).
I’m still playing with the idea of getting a work station I can set up on my treadmill so I can walk while I write. It’s appealing to me, especially because I hate sitting still and get stiff and sore at my computer all day long.
Okay, your hands are often occupied while you’re engaged in mundane activities. Doesn’t mean you can’t listen to or watch something inspiring or instructive. Something that might tie in with your WIP. I like listening to author interviews, to get tips on writing or hear what helpful writing habits an author might have (such as writing while walking on a treadmill . . .).
How about writing workshops or seminars that you bought or downloaded but haven’t listened to? Think about subscribing to podcasts such as Michael Hyatt’s This Is Your Life or Joanna Penn’s The Creative Penn Podcast.
These are more helpful habits you can form that will help you become a super-productive writer.
And is it possible that you could afford to hire an assistant (maybe a virtual one) part-time to do some of the tasks you feel are mundane or tedious and you don’t want to do? I hire assistants all the time. I don’t spend all that much money on them, in light of the payoff for me.
Presently I have a friend who does a bunch of Pinterest work for me (since I don’t know and don’t care to learn how that all works). I have an assistant that puts in about ten hours a month helping me with marketing and writing newsletter blasts. He does a lot of little techy things that intimidate and aggravate me. It’s worth it to me to pay him so I don’t get stressed. I’ve even paid a friend on occasion to post images on Instagram or send out queries to book reviewers. If I have a lot of these tedious things on my to-do list and I don’t delegate, I’ll get burned out or overly stressed, especially if I really want them to get done.
Routine Leads to Efficiency
Now that you know your peak productivity hours and how many hours of sleep you need, aside from those commitments on your schedule that you can’t change (such as when the kids need to be dropped off and picked up from school), the more you can turn habits into daily or weekly routines (done at the same time each time), the better off you’ll be.
First off, having a schedule for doing many tasks takes out the confusion and the wasted time spent trying to fit things in at odd or inconvenient times.
And again, if you “know thyself,” you know what’s going to work best.
Here’s a for instance: I just cannot get into my writing zone in the morning until I’ve cleared my in-box. Sorry, not happening. I won’t focus if I keep wondering who’s emailed me. A client might be asking me a question, and I don’t like to put clients off. Or a friend wants some help with something.
If I get through my in-box (which can be fifty-plus emails), I feel ready to face the day without distraction. No, I don’t eat, because I’m not a breakfast person. But you might be. If you need to eat a meal or even a piece of toast before writing, then eat.
You’ve probably already got a routine for many of your habits. But one way to check if some are falling through the cracks is to jot down everything you do during the day. Do this for a week or two. Just a quickie “checked my email 8:10-8:30” or “washed the dishes 10:15-10:30.”
Here’s a hack I do with routine. I hate folding large piles of laundry. So I’ll dump the clean, dry pile on my bed or leave it in the basket by my worktable. Then, every time I pass the pile, I fold three items. That’s all. Instead of taking fifteen minutes to fold it all, to me it’s as if I’m not really doing any laundry at all, ever.
Okay, laugh. I’m rolling my eyes. I know. Dumb. But it’s just a habit I’ve gotten into. Somehow, while I’m getting those scenes written, my laundry gets folded. Voila! Magic!
Spending hours on social media, are we? How about you schedule two fifteen-minute blocks around your peak writing time for that? Go ahead and set that timer, if you tend toward addiction and obsession. I allow myself about ten minutes to check the news apps on my phone in the morning as well.
Don’t get all crazy about this. The idea here is to create some good habits via routine so that your streamline your time. Too many people waste way too much time, and part of that time is spent complaining how unproductive they are and can’t seem to ever get any writing done. I’m just trying to help you look at your habits so you can be that super-productive writer you dream of being.
It’s as easy as ABC: attitude, biology, and choices.
What one habit are you working on right now to change? Share in the comments how that’s going for you.
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!
Turn your life and career around by learning the surefire way to be the super-productive author you long to be!