Are you one of those people who sees writing as a creative act?
If so, you’re right—but only partly. Writing is perhaps 20 percent creative; the other 80 percent depends on good time management.
That may sound heretical, but much of writing is mundane. You have research and interviews. You must write sentences and later edit them.
Over the years, many writers fall into dysfunctional writing habits. We delay and procrastinate, making writing more challenging. Many of us become addicted to email, social media or other online distractions.
If only we could plan our time better and use it more efficiently, we’d be able to write more productively, right?
Recently I’ve increased my productivity by more than 113 percent. How I’ve done it is so simple, I’m embarrassed I didn’t start decades ago. I now schedule my day to minimize distractions and stay on task. Here’s how you can do it too:
1. Understand your writing speed. I know I can write 400 (hard) or 650-750 (easy) words in 30 minutes. This knowledge allows me to plan my writing day. If you don’t know how many words you can write in 30 minutes, start timing yourself.
The actual number doesn’t matter. What matters is that you know what it is. Once you have this information you’ll be able to plan your day.
2. Begin every assignment by reverse-engineering it. As I explain in my book, 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better, writing consists of a series of discrete steps that are best tackled individually and in a particular order. Research before you write, for example, and only edit when you have finished writing.
When you receive an assignment, your boss or editor won’t care when you perform these tasks so long as you meet the deadline, but you must care. Don’t leave the planning up to chance. Instead, attach a date and a timeframe to each task. Enter them in your calendar.
3. Understand when you work best. I write most easily in the morning, so I try to reserve my time before 11 a.m. for writing, which means I usually schedule meetings or interviews for afternoons.
I also know that no matter what time I wake up or how big a breakfast I eat, I am always hungry by 11:30 a.m., so I make sure to get a snack at that time. Respect your preferences and make them work for you rather than against you.
4. Try to shorten the time you allow for writing. You might be familiar with Parkinson’s Law, which holds that work will expand to fill available time. Don’t let loose planning steal hours from your day.
Write with a noisy timer ticking in the background to create some discernible pressure while you’re working. It’s better to feel that you’re not going to have quite enough time—rather than more than enough time—to finish your writing. Play “beat the clock” with your timer and see if you can finish ahead of schedule.
5. Set appointments with yourself to do your writing and other daily tasks. Appointment setting is the secret sauce to becoming ultraproductive. Blocking off slices of time has made a profound difference in my life.
I began by setting up a Word table, in which I divided the day into 15-minute chunks and slotted in tasks for each of them. This was too tedious for me, so I switched to 30-minute chunks. Now, it takes me no more than five minutes each morning to schedule my day.
I schedule simple jobs, like making phone calls or filing papers, between more energy-intensive tasks like writing or editing. This scheduling makes my day productive and still leaves room for breaks.
Remember to make your schedule flexible. If someone cancels a meeting at the last moment, you can always slot something else in. You can’t predict how the day will go, but following a schedule will minimize time wasted checking email or social media.
You may be wondering how I arrived at the 113 percent productivity improvement figure. It’s an estimation, of course, but I’m certain that I’ve more than doubled my productivity in the last few months. I believe you can as well. All it takes is strategically scheduling your day and sticking to the plan.
How do you protect your writing productivity? Feel free to share any tips in the comments.