13 steps to becoming a more productive writer

Time of day matters, as do making time to read and keeping a tidy workspace, and that ticking timer can have you salivating over the prospect of composing your latest essay or blog post.

Is your writing as productive as it ought to be?

Here’s a checklist that will help you figure that out:

  1. Do the most important job first. I’m a strong believer in writing first thing in the morning. You don’t have to get up at 5:30 or 6 am, as I do, but try to write before you do anything else, even everyday stuff like eating and having a shower. The critical brain seems to be slower to wake up in the morning, meaning that you’ll find it easier to write without your internal editor giving you a bad time.
  2. Work with a timer clicking in the background. I’m a big believer in the Pomodoro. This means working on anything, but especially writing, for 30-minute blocks of time during which you refuse to do anything except the work you’ve identified. (No email, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Internet surfing.) Initially, I’d thought I could ignore the clicking-timer requirement of the Pomodoro, but I was wrong. The tick-tock of the digital clock I use (I work on a Mac, and I like Action Enforcer) keeps me focused and engaged. Maybe it’s Pavlovian conditioning, but now, as soon as soon as I hear the ticking, I want to write.
  3. Reward yourself. Celebrate every accomplishment. Even finishing one Pomodoro on writing can be feted with five minutes on Facebook. (Use a timer, though.)
  4. Forgive yourself. So you don’t meet your goals. That happens to all of us. There’s no point beating yourself up about it. Just resolve to do better tomorrow.
  5. Write a to-do list, every day. As with every other activity in life, you’ll get more done if you make a plan for doing it. I use a free app called Wunderlist that also works on PCs.
  6. Make sure your well has enough water. Writers can’t write if they haven’t been surrounded by enough interest and beauty. Take more walks outdoors. Read more books. Listen to more music. Go to more concerts, movies or plays. It’s not procrastinating; it’s filling your well.
  7. Understand your priorities in life. If you want to be a writer, make sure you give it the time it needs and deserves. You don’t become a writer by procrastinating about it every day or, paradoxically, even by being published. You become a writer by writing, a little bit every day. Here are some suggestions about how to find the time.
  8. Clean your desk. This may be a personal peccadillo, but I cannot work with a messy desk. It makes my mind feel cluttered. Even if I’m not actually filing the papers that mysteriously accumulate in my in-basket every week, it helps for me to sweep them away, at least temporarily.
  9. Break big jobs into smaller tasks. Never let yourself become overwhelmed by the size of any writing job. Instead, break it into a series of much smaller jobs. Writing a big report, for example could include: figuring out whom to interview, conducting those interviews, doing a mindmap, deciding on a lede (beginning), writing a rough draft, letting it incubate and editing/rewriting.
  10. Delegate everything that doesn’t meet your goals. I know this will be hard if you’re self-employed, but figure out ways to get other people to do things you really don’t like or that aren’t core to your writing. I loathe everything to do with my own accounting, so I have a bookkeeper. Preparing my files for him still exhausts me, so I’m trying to figure out a way for someone else to do it. Ask yourself: Can I ignore this? Can I get someone else to do it?
  11. Pick up your email manually. When you’re writing, be sure to turn off your email so it doesn’t arrive in your inbox automatically and taunt you with its little red number. Instead, pick up your email manually, after you’ve finished writing. Bonus points if you can pick up your email no more than twice a day.
  12. Read more books. I try to read for an hour a day and always finish at least 52 books per year. Reading relaxes and engages me. It also is the best and most cost-effective source of writing education on the planet.
  13. When overwhelmed, just write a little. We all have days that are too much. A child breaks a leg. A dog gets sick. We crash a car. We have 12 hours of work we must accomplish in six. Stuff happens. Still, try to find five minutes when you can write. It needn’t be more than a sentence. It can even be about what’s overwhelming you.

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Develop the habit of writing for comfort, and you’ll have gone a long way toward improving your writing productivity.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

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