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Do you need to get more done in less time? Here’s how to dramatically increase your writing productivity….
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% creative. But the rest of it — the other 80% — depends on your skill at time management. (The Pareto principle explores uneven distribution in more detail.)
“What?” you say. “That sounds crazy.” But think about it. Much about the act of writing is mundane — and sometimes even a bit dull. You need to do research. You probably need to interview people. You must write sentences and, later, edit them. (And, in my experience after working with hundreds of writers, I can say that most who enjoy editing hate writing and most who like to write usually despise editing. There are no free passes here.)
Over the years, many of us have developed dysfunctional habits when it comes to writing. We delay and procrastinate which in itself makes our writing more challenging. Many of us allow ourselves to become addicted to email (I fall into this camp too frequently); others lose hours to Facebook or Twitter or to mindlessly surfing the Internet.
If only we could plan our time better and use it more efficiently, we’d be able to write more productively.
Recently, I’ve been able to increase my productivity by more than 113%. And the idea is so simple that I’m embarrassed I didn’t start using it decades ago. I now schedule my day. Completely. Here’s how you can do it, too.
1-Understand your writing speed. I know that 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, then start timing yourself. (This may take you several weeks. It’s worth it!) The actual number doesn’t matter. What matters is that you know it. Once you have this information, you’ll be able to schedule yourself.
2-Begin every assignment you have by reverse-engineering it. Writing is far more than sitting at a keyboard and having your fingers move over it quickly. 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 and have taken some time for incubation. When you receive an assignment, your boss or editor won’t care precisely when you perform these tasks, as long as you meet the deadline, but you must care. Don’t leave this planning up to chance. Instead, attach a date to each one of these tasks. Enter them in your calendar.
3-Understand when you work best. For example, I know that I am now a morning lark. (I used to be a night owl.) Because I write most easily in the morning, I try to reserve my time before 11 am 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 starving for lunch between 11 and 11:30 so I make sure I get a snack at that time. You will be different, but respect your preferences and make them work for you rather than against you.
4-Try to shorten the time you allow for writing. You’re likely familiar with Parkinson’s Law, which holds that work will expand to fill available time. Don’t let loosey-goosey planning steal hours of your day. Write with a noisy timer ticking in the background, so you feel some discernible pressure while you are writing. It’s better for you to feel that you’re going to have not quite enough time rather than more than enough to finish your writing. Play “beat the clock” with your timer and see if you can get the writing done faster than you’d planned.
5-Set appointments with yourself to do your writing and your other daily tasks. Appointment-setting is the critical step, the secret sauce, to becoming ultra-productive. After having heard about scheduling (AKA time blocking) for years, I started doing it about four months ago. Wow! What a difference it’s made to 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. (I set up the schedule as a template, so I don’t have to do the formatting each day.) After about a week, I recognized that this was too finely grained for me (besides, it not only took too much time to set up, it also made me feel like a lawyer) so I switched to 30-minute chunks. Perfect! It takes me no more than five minutes each morning to schedule my day.
I schedule easy-to-do jobs, like making phone calls or filing papers, between more energy-intensive tasks like writing or editing. This scheduling allows me to make my day productive while still giving me “breaks.”
Also, I never forget that the schedule is completely flexible. If someone cancels a meeting at the last moment, I can always slot something else into the time. But I find that following the schedule allows me to minimize the amount of time I spend checking email, which is my bugbear.
You may be wondering how I arrived at the productivity improvement of 113%. Of course, it’s a guess. But I know that I’ve more than doubled my productivity in the last few months, and the extra 13 suggests what I perceive to be true – that the improvement is a little bit more than 100%. Try scheduling yourself and let me know how it works for you.
My video podcast last week offered advice on how to deal with old journals. (Or see the transcript.) If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.
How do you protect your writing productivity? 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 July 31/17, will be put in a draw for a copy of Business Writing and Communication by Kenneth W. Davis. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.