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When the day ends, do you find you’ve run out of time for writing? Here’s how to be more productive…
I work long, intense hours. But in addition to my paid job, I also volunteer at a local high school. I’m their debate coach and I find it thrilling to help smart, enthusiastic 13- to 16-year-olds improve their public speaking skills.
This week, however, I don’t love it so much. We’re hosting a big tournament and it sucks time from my schedule like a vacuum pulls water from a pool. On the day I’m writing this column, I need to spend six hours at the school — I’ll be there until 9 pm. Normally, I’m pretty efficient. But on weeks like this I have to find extra ways to be devilishly more productive. Here are 11 tricks that work for me that might help you as well:
- Deliberately give yourself LESS time for writing. Have you ever noticed how blisteringly efficient you become when you’re about to leave on holidays? This is because you drop your standards. Instead of focusing on writing the “best” report, letter or email you suddenly become satisfied with just getting it done. I think this is because when we give ourselves less time (say 30 minutes rather than four hours), we learn to quiet the nasty devil sitting on our shoulders.
- Work first thing in the morning, when your willpower is highest. We may be smart, accomplished and very hard workers. But we all experience decision-making fatigue as the day wears on. This happens even if the decisions aren’t overly serious (i.e.: what to eat for an afternoon snack, which route to take home from work). Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist who’s made the study of willpower his life’s work, has discovered that even judges face this problem. Why stack the deck against yourself? Do your hardest work (usually writing) first thing in the morning.
- Stand while you’re writing. Something about standing automatically gives us a sense of urgency. Perhaps it makes us feel that, shortly, we’re going to do something else. I love my new standing desk and I know it’s made me more efficient.
- Give yourself micro-goals. I’ve worked with many people crippled by fear or other forms of writer’s block. The fastest way to fix this problem? Commit to writing for two to five minutes per day. No more! Anyone can do anything for two to five minutes. Establish success with this micro-goal and then start working it up to 10 minutes and more. Once you establish the writing habit, you’ll no longer be crippled by fear.
- Punish yourself for not writing. If you can’t persuade yourself to write, then pick a cause you really don’t like — could be a political party or a social issue about which you feel strongly — and promise to a friend, for accountability, that you’ll make a cash donation to this cause if you don’t get your writing done. The “negative psychology” of a promise like this is vastly persuasive.
- Work in pomodoros. Developed by Italian inventor Francesco Cirillo, the pomodoro is 25-minutes of intense activity focused on one job you want to accomplish. You can’t do anything else (no email, phone calls or web surfing) and you need a noisy timer ticking in the background. People often object to this last requirement, as I did initially. Now that I’ve become a believer, I find the tick-tock to be intensely motivating.
- Write a “don’t do it” list. Time is the most valuable item we all have. It’s the only thing that we can’t recover once we’ve spent it. (Money, we can often find again.) Many of us create elaborate “to do” lists every morning but really productive people focus just as intently on what they WON’T do. Look at your responsibilities and see which ones you can delegate or even abandon. Resolve not to waste your time doing things that won’t help your writing.
- Check your email less often. Our brains crave the novel and the fun. Email — and Facebook and Twitter — are like hitting the jackpot — endlessly entertaining. These tools often give us “things to do” but — watch it — they are often time sucks that distract us from our more important goals. See if you can check your email less frequently. And, at the very least, turn off all lights and noises that signal an email has arrived.
- Give yourself writing assignments to think about while you’re doing something else. I walk. A lot. And I like to think while I walk. Usually, I think about whatever I need to write that day. Thinking while we’re walking (or running or swimming or biking or cooking or washing the dishes) is far more effective than thinking while we’re sitting in our chairs. And to increase productivity, give yourself an assignment for your thinking time. I spend 40 minutes walking to a client’s office every Wednesday. My job? To think about my next Tuesday blog post.
- Don’t be too easily available. Don’t let others hijack your schedule. If you’re self-employed, create some “rules” that allow you to structure your day without too many interruptions. While the thought of a potential client phoning may seem too delicious to ignore, remind yourself that most clients won’t expect to reach you on the first try. And if you return the call within four hours, they’ll be impressed. You’re far better off designating “writing hours” and “returning calls hours.”
- Accept that you’ll never finish your to do list. The purpose of a “to do” list is not to finish it. Don’t frustrate yourself by thinking that it is. The aim is to identify what’s most important for you to do that day. If you have a monster-sized list then run a highlighter through it and ID the two to four items you must accomplish that day.
Now, pat yourself on the back for becoming more productive.
What are your tricks for making yourself more productive? We can all help each other so please share your thoughts with my readers and me. If you comment below, by Jan. 31/15, I’ll put your name in a draw for a no-charge copy of the non-fiction book, Writing Bullets by Kim Long. If you don’t see the comments box, click here and then scroll to the end.