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Do you want to learn how to improve productivity as a writer? Here are eight counterintuitive ways….
I wrote a post headlined “13 ways to improve your writing productivity” a few years back. Since then, I’ve come up with eight more strategies you can use. Together, they give you 21 ways for writing more efficiently and effectively. Here are the new ones:
- Take plenty of breaks. I know, I know. Taking a break makes you feel like a slacker. But there are actually two reasons why time off helps us become more productive. First, breaks keep us from getting bored and therefore from becoming unfocused. (That’s why I take a brief break after every pomodoro.) Second, breaks help us make new connections. Our minds solve the most challenging problems — including ones related to writing — when we aren’t actually working on anything. We may be walking or driving or taking a shower and, kaboom, the solution suddenly pops into our heads. But if you don’t take breaks this kind of grace note will never happen to you.
- Always start with a mind map. I can’t believe I failed to mention this in my last productivity post! I’m a zealot for mindmapping because I’ve seen how it helps so many people defeat writer’s block. We all know that the hardest part of writing is figuring out how to begin. Surely, there’s nothing worse in this world than the blank page. But the great thing about mind mapping is that it’s a fun and approachable way to get some words on the page and figure out the direction you want to take with your piece of writing. People sometimes tell me that “mind mapping just doesn’t work” for them. As soon as I hear those words, I’m pretty sure they’re doing something wrong. If mindmapping hasn’t worked for you, have a look at the no-charge, seven-minute instructional video on my website. (Members of my Get It Done group get access to a much more detailed, 30-minute video.)
- Meditate at the beginning of your day. Here’s another task that appears to have absolutely nothing to do with writing. But it does. Meditating will help ease your anxiety if you’re fearful of writing. It will teach you to shut out your distractions and quiet your inner editor — that nasty interior voice that keeps telling you your writing is no good. Meditation will also give you some detachment and help prepare you for insights. I’ve written about meditation before and my strongest advice is to start small — say, with five minutes a day — and withhold your judgment until you’ve done it for a few months.
- Be sure to get some exercise. I can see some readers rolling their eyes here. What does exercise possibly have to do with writing? Well, here’s the deal: if you run, swim, row or cycle, you’re unplugged from everything — email, Facebook, Twitter, your phone. Even at the gym, people will give you the fisheye if you spend too much time on your cell phone. As well, writers tend to sit a lot. Our brains require oxygen and sitting doesn’t help generate it. But exercising does. If you exercise, you’ll find that your brain starts to work more effectively.
- Multitask only with exercising. I hope I don’t need to tell you why multitasking is a bad idea for writers. If you doubt me, read more here. But there’s one type of multitasking where you’ll have a clear pass: multitasking while exercising. For example, I write while walking on a treadmill. Yes, working treadmills are a thing. I can type quite comfortably while walking, and when I want a break from typing I use my voice activation software. Also, while walking outside, in my neighbourhood, I like to listen to podcasts on my headphones. (These are the only instances in which I allow myself to multitask.)
- Turn off your phone. In my last post on productivity I suggested turning off your email notification, which is super-important. But why did I forget to mention turning off your phone? Any time we are distracted from our writing, it takes us a shocking 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task. And that’s on top of how long the phone call takes. Don’t allow your phone to sabotage your work. Turn it off and catch up on your calls later, when you’re finished writing.
- Get enough sleep. I know this sounds really counterintuitive — why am I telling you to sleep, when you want to learn to be more productive? It’s because everyone’s productivity hinges on being well rested. Arianna Huffington found this out the hard way and broke her cheekbone in the process. Listen to her interview here, to find out why she wrote her new book, The Sleep Revolution. We’re all different but most of us need somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. My sweet spot is seven. And don’t drag yourself out of bed early to write. Getting enough sleep is more important.
- Decide, in advance, how much time you’re going to devote to writing. I once spent an entire morning working on a PowerPoint presentation. It took me more than four hours — time I had neither expected nor allocated. Don’t do this! Instead of leaving work to the last minute, as I’d done in this case, give yourself shorter, smaller goals. If you start far enough in advance, you can keep going back to the project in short bursts until it is finished. This will make you feel more in control, which will also help you be more productive.
There are many benefits to being a really productive writer: you’ll be happier, you’ll be healthier, you’ll make more money, and you’ll be better respected by your boss and your peers. Oh, and the quality of your writing will surely improve as well.
An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on Sept. 6/16.
How do you help yourself become more productive when you write? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Sept. 30/21 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.