Here, we provide proven strategies to improve your writing productivity and accomplish more with the written word.
As a productivity nerd, I’ve spent hours reading books, testing apps, and obsessing over what the perfect to-do list looks like. (Pro tip: there’s no such thing as the perfect app or system).
Although much advice about productivity relates to the workplace, freelance writers can use proven strategies to accomplish more with creative work too. These productive writing strategies will also help writers balance a creative life with paying the bills.
- 1. Set Creative Goals
- 2. Create A Writing Habit
- 3. Book Writing Sessions In Your Calendar
- 4. Break Big Writing Projects Down
- 5. Prepare Your Writing In Advance
- 6. Avoid Writing and Editing At Once
- 7. Dictate First Drafts
- 8. Track Your Wordcount Like An Accountant
- 9. Eliminate Writing Distractions
- 10. Write In a Coffee Shop
- 11. Try Free Writing
- 12. Find An Accountability Buddy
- 13. Set Writing Deadlines
- 14. Keep A To-Do List
- 15. Pick One Productivity App, Stick With It
- 16. Do It Right Away If It Takes Less Than Two Minutes
- 17. Hold A Weekly Review
- 18. Think In Terms of Systems
- The Final Word On More Productive Writing
- FAQs About Writing Productivity
1. Set Creative Goals
It’s easy to spend the day on busy work: long meetings, lengthy email chains, an endless stream of notifications, and more. If you want to become a more productive writer, clarify what you want to write each week, in advance.
Then work toward that. Depending on your priorities, these steps might include a set number of interviews, a blog post, or a book chapter. How you spend creative time should advance your priorities.
Then, make room for smaller activities that sap your time and energy. For example, as a writer, my output includes one to three finished articles per week. I can make time for Twitter and Instagram after I’ve finished writing those articles.
Read my guide to writing goals
2. Create A Writing Habit
Should you get up at 5:00 a.m. or 6:00 a.m. to write? Is it better to meditate or exercise first thing? And just how much caffeine is enough before breakfast? Although it’s nice to wake up early and write that doesn’t work for everyone. You can block book time in the evening to write if that’s when you feel most productive.
Your rising time is less important than getting into a habit of writing regularly. Creating an effective writing habit usually means working in the same place, at the same time consistently. You can also use prompts like ambient music or a timer to easily enter flow state.
Learn more about good writing habits
3. Book Writing Sessions In Your Calendar
A calendar is your shield and sword in the trenches of modern life. Use it to block book 30 or 60-minutes each day to work on your most important creative projects.
Then, fill the rest of that white space up with admin and meetings. Planning ahead means you can protect your writing time. Ideally, review your calendar once a week, looking forwards and backwards to gauge if the items align with your writing goals.
4. Break Big Writing Projects Down
Many new writers balance the craft with a full-time job and family commitments. Instead of trying to work on your book, stories or blog posts for hours on Saturday or Sunday, write a little every day for 15-30 minutes. Most writers can find that much free time each day.
If you write 300 words a day for five or six days a week, that’s enough to produce two or three thousand words a week. That word count translates into over ten thousand words a month and the first draft of a book within three to six months.
Alternatively, if you attempt to power through a writing project during a single three- or four-hour block, it will take a lot more of your energy and time. And you’ll feel bad about missing a big session
Learn how to write every
5. Prepare Your Writing In Advance
Have you ever sat down at your desk first thing, read the news, checked your email, and thought about doing everything but work? Then, when you finally feel guilty enough to start, you spend another thirty minutes opening up your writing project and looking for a place to begin.
Instead, prepare your work the night before. For example, if it’s academic writing, arrange your notes and research in one place before you start writing that paper.
For more creative projects, leave a note to yourself about exactly where to start. You might, for example, record the phone number of a customer next to a list of questions to ask.
The trick is to make it as easy as possible to start writing when you sit down the following day. You don’t want to have to spend any time looking for your notes.
6. Avoid Writing and Editing At Once
Writing and editing is terrible way to work. These tasks engager different parts of the brain. While working on a first draft, focus on getting the words out and hitting your target word count. Don’t worry about typos or mistakes. When finished, let your writing sit for a few hours or days. Then, approach it with a fresh, more critical eye.
Claim my self-editing checklist
7. Dictate First Drafts
Dictation is far faster than typing. You can write thousands of words per hour simply by speaking. It’s also harder to stop and edit while dictating, meaning you can finish the first draft much faster than by typing it out. Bonus points if out for a walk as you can exercise too. All you need is a good dictation app and a decent set, an outline and a decent set of earphones.
Read our list of dictation tips
8. Track Your Wordcount Like An Accountant
The old maxim “What gets measured gets done” is attributed to Peter Drucker among others. Record how long you spend on writing tasks for a week and record your word count if applicable.
You don’t need to do this for the long-term, but you can decide what activities to purge and do more if you know how you’re spending creative time. An app like Harvest is useful for tracking how you’re spending your hours.
Or you could track your day for a week in a spreadsheet. Review what’s taking longer or less time than you imagined on Friday evening so you can plan for the coming week.
You can also see if you’re spending enough time on key projects and too much on less valuable activities. This knowledge will enable you to plan for the week ahead.
9. Eliminate Writing Distractions
If you want to cultivate a consistent writing habit, distractions are the enemy. They come in many forms. When I was a young writer, I thought I need to go on a writing retreat to create. In reality, a retreat is expensive and impractical. Then, I discovered the power of white noise.
If you live in a house or apartment with other people, consider investing in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and use them as part of your writing practice. Similarly, Freedom App is useful for turning off social media sites like Twitter and Facebook when you’ve got work to do.
If you struggle with procrastination, you can even use this app to disable internet access entirely for a pre-determined period.
10. Write In a Coffee Shop
Although many writers prefer working in the same place at the same time every day, the ambient noise of a coffee shop is [scientifically proven] to trigger a more productive state. Plus it gets you out of the house or a staid routine. This, in turn, can trigger fresh thinking when faced with the blank page. Alternatively, you can use a service like Brain.fm to replicate this mental state and started writing faster.
Learn more about procrastination and writing
11. Try Free Writing
Free writing is a great productivity strategy for writers because it warms you up for a difficult session. Simply open up a blank page and write about whatever comes to mind without editing yourself for 10-15 minutes. It’s like warming up at the gym. When done, open up your first draft and go from there.
Read my guide to free writing.
12. Find An Accountability Buddy
Joining a local writing group or collaborating with other writers is a great productivity strategy. Often the fear of letting someone down is enough to keep motivated. Plus, you can get feedback about your work from them.
I joined a local writer’s group for two years when I started taking the craft more seriously. We critiqued each other’s pieces and also collaborated on writing contest entries.
13. Set Writing Deadlines
Many writers fear deadlines. However, they’re a type of creative constraint. If you’re a freelance writer, meeting deadlines is what good professionals do. It’s also key if you want to keep getting paid work. If you’re an indie author, set deadlines for yourself in terms of when you’ll send a book to an editor or publish it.
14. Keep A To-Do List
In Getting Things Done, the business productivity author David Allen famously wrote,
“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.”
Writers have creative ideas, lots of them. If you struggle to keep track, a to-do list is your friend. It’ll foster creativity by liberating you from worrying about updating your website or filing a tax return.
All of these mundane ideas belong to a single productivity tool. The reassuring ding or swoosh of completing an item in Things, Trello, or Asana should fill you with an alarming sense of satisfaction. Like an artful gardener, take special pride in weeding out items from your to-do list that you’ve no intention of completing.
- Audible Audiobook
- David Allen (Author) - David Allen (Narrator)
- English (Publication Language)
- 02/23/2016 (Publication Date) - Simon & Schuster Audio (Publisher)
15. Pick One Productivity App, Stick With It
Writers can choose from a plethora of productivity tools. Far better to pick one and stick to it. It might not be perfect, but your time is best spent writing. Jumping from one productivity app or tool to the next is a form of procrastination.
If in doubt, get into the habit of recording tasks throughout the day on a spreadsheet, the notes app on your computer, or in a dedicated productivity app like Trello or ToDoist. That way you can focus on writing and not on administrative tasks.
If you need help, check out my guide to find the perfect writing productivity system.
16. Do It Right Away If It Takes Less Than Two Minutes
This strategy comes from Getting Things Done author David Allen. The psychological burden that comes with postponing tasks and logging them on your to-do list takes more time than if you’d attended to the item immediately.
You’ll be surprised by what you can accomplish in 120 seconds, but if the activity takes longer, write it on your to-do list. In Getting Things Done, Allen wrote,
“The rationale for the two-minute rule is that that’s more or less the point where it starts taking longer to store and track an item than to deal with it the first time it’s in your hands-in other words, it’s the efficiency cutoff.”
Listen to my interview with David Allen.
17. Hold A Weekly Review
The weekly review is an effective productivity tip for the overwhelmed. I also learned about the weekly review several years ago from Allen, and it’s helped me avoid feeling stressed about balancing the writing process with a day job. He wrote:
“Most people feel best about their work the week before their vacation, but it’s not because of the vacation itself. What do you do the last week before you leave on a big trip? You clean up, close up, clarify, and renegotiate all your agreements with yourself and others. I just suggest that you do this weekly instead of yearly.” David Allen
Once a week, spend 30-60 minutes reviewing what you worked on, what lessons you learned and what you want to accomplish next week.
Read my guide to a weekly review for writers.
18. Think In Terms of Systems
Stephen King writes 1,000 words every day, so he doesn’t have to worry about writer’s block or having nothing to publish come deadline time.
Former U.S. Navy SEAL, Jocko Willink gets up at 4-4:30 a.m. every morning to train, so he doesn’t have to worry about becoming unfit. (Visit his Instagram feed for motivational images that will get you out of bed!) He’s also an accomplished business and children’s book author!
Warren Buffet reads every day for almost the entire day, so he recognises smart investments before his competitors. Whatever your most important work looks like, create a system, so you focus on it, almost exclusively, at the same time or place. You’ll know you’ve succeeded when it’s become a habit you follow without question.
Use software if you must. For example, say you spend thirty minutes trying to arrange important calls with interviewees or writing clients. These calls and interviews are important, but logistics are less so. You could put a time-saving system that automatically helps clients or interviewees book times in your calendar using a tool like Calendly or Booklikeaboss.
Read my guide to the best writing productivity systems
The Final Word On More Productive Writing
Mastering your writing productivity means knowing what to work on and when. Whether you’re a freelancer, academic, or blogger, taking charge of your competing priorities will help you get more done and focus on becoming a better writer.
If you still need productivity tips, listen to my interview with Arthur Worsley about how to become a more efficient and productive writer.
FAQs About Writing Productivity
How Do I Become A Productive Writer?
Pick a single objective for your writing each week and focus on that. For example, if you want to write a book chapter, work on this book chapter early in the morning each day. Eliminate any distractions and track your progress in terms of a word-count. Review how you got on at the end of the week.
How can productivity be improved in writing?
Gather your notes, materials and research in advance. Find a quiet place to work without interruption. While writing, disable internet access to distracting websites or turn off your Wi-Fi. Avoid multi-tasking. Work for a predetermined period with interruption. Take regular breaks. Repeat.
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