This article provides proven strategies to improve your writing productivity.
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: It's perfect if you use it).
Although much advice about productivity relates to the workplace, freelance writers can use some strategies to accomplish more. These productivity strategies will also help writers who're balancing the creative life by paying the bills.
- 1. Start With The End In Mind
- 2. Create an Effective Morning Routine
- 3. Prepare Your Writing Work In Advance
- 4. Keep A To-Do List
- 5. Pick One Productivity App, Stick With It
- 5. Plan With Your Calendar
- 6. Do It Right Away If It Takes Less Than Two Minutes
- 7. Track Your Progress Like an Accountant
- 8. Eliminate Distractions
- 9. Harness The Power Of Small Daily Wins
- 10. Hold A Weekly Review
- 11. Think In Terms of Systems
- Writing Productivity: The Final Word
- Interview: Simple Steps to Becoming a More Productive Writer With Arthur Worsley
1. Start With The End In Mind
It's easy to spend the day on busywork: long meetings, lengthy email chains, an endless stream of notifications, and more. Instead, clarify what you want to have accomplished by the end of each week.
Then work toward that. Depending on your priorities, these steps might include a set number of interviews, a blog post, or a book chapter.
Then, make room for smaller activities that sap your time and energy. As a writer, for example, 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.
2. Create an Effective Morning Routine
Should you get up at 5:00 a.m. or 6:00 a.m.? 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, your rising time is less important than having an hour or two to write without interruption before the demands of the day take over. You can use that time to write a book or on freelance projects for high-paying clients.
3. Prepare Your Writing Work 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. Arrange your notes and research in one place.
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.
4. Keep A To-Do List
In Getting Things Done, the business productivity author David Allen famously wrote,
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 in 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.
5. Pick One Productivity App, Stick With It
What's this? Trello released a new desktop app. Now, you can use your fingerprint to log into 1Password. Evernote has redesigned its user experience for iOS.
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.
Get into the habit of recording tasks throughout the day in on a spreadsheet, the notes app on your computer, or in a dedicated productivity app like Trello or ToDoist.
5. Plan With 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.
6. Do It Right Away If It Takes Less Than Two Minutes
This strategy also comes from 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.”
7. Track Your Progress 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 in the long-term, but if you know how you're spending your time, you can decide what activities to purge and do more. 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. On Friday, review what's taking longer or less time than you imagined.
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.
8. Eliminate 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.
9. Harness The Power Of Small Daily Wins
Isaac Newton's first law of motion states:
This law applies to accomplishing more each week too. In other words, if you gain a little momentum on a writing project by working on it for just 30-minutes, you're far more likely to sustain this momentum for the working week.
Alternatively, if you attempt to power through a writing project during a single three- or four-hour blocks, it will take a lot more of your energy and time.
10. 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.
Once a week, spend 30-60 minutes reviewing what you worked on, what lessons you learned and what you want to accomplish next week.
11. Think In Terms of Systems
Stephen King writes 1,000 words per day, 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 4:30 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!)
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, in 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 every day trying to arrange important calls with clients.
The calls are important, but the logistics are less so. You could put a time-saving system that automatically helps clients book times in your calendar using a tool like Calendly or Booklikeaboss.
Writing Productivity: The Final Word
Mastering 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.
Productivity is something that's fascinated me over the years, in fact, it's how I started Become a Writer Today. It also led me to stay in touch with my guest Arthur Worsley, who I first met at a mastermind a couple of years ago.
He's an expert when it comes to productivity. His blog, the Art of Living (formerly Faster to Master), was created to show people how easy it is to stop working harder and accomplish more.
One of the big arguments against productivity is, you never get to the bottom of your to-do list, and this is one of the questions I put to Arthur. You'll find his reply helpful and insightful as you continue on your journey to becoming a more productive writer.
Interview: Simple Steps to Becoming a More Productive Writer With Arthur Worsley
Productivity is something that’s fascinated me over the years, in fact, it’s how I started Become a Writer Today.
It also led me to stay in touch with my guest Arthur Worsley, who I first met at a mastermind a couple of years ago.
He’s an expert when it comes to productivity. His blog, the Art of Living (formerly Faster to Master), was created to show people how easy it is to stop working harder and accomplish more.
One of the big arguments against productivity is, you never get to the bottom of your to-do list, and this is one of the questions I put to Arthur.
You’ll find his reply helpful and insightful as you continue on your journey to becoming a more productive writer.
In this episode, I talk to Arthur about:
- What causes procrastination and how to overcome it
- Arthur's writing process for turning ideas into articles
- Tools and resources that he uses to structure his day
- His morning routine and how he prepares to write each day
- The importance of putting life, not work, first
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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