How to improve your writing productivity by doing less

Reading time: About 3 minutes

Do you want to improve your writing productivity? Your best step is to plan on doing LESS….

I am intensely motivated to be productive.

But I draw a very clear line against the tactics currently being used by some employers. Amazon’s notorious habit of clocking its warehouse workers by every second, never mind every minute, for example, is starting to spread to other industries, according to a recent piece in the New York Times. (I’ve unlocked it for you.)  

Shockingly, even hospice chaplains are starting to be evaluated in this way, which strikes me as particularly chilling and wrong-headed. 

The emphasis on making every second count not only seems overly intrusive to me. It also draws attention away from a far more important measure of productivity: how people are doing with respect to achieving their goals.

Not only do we need the time to do things like grab a coffee or go to the bathroom, we also need time to think and to plan — activities that simply cannot be measured by how many strokes we’re applying to a keyboard (which is how today’s monitoring tools typically operate.) 

I’m lucky enough to be able to work for myself, so I don’t have to put up with the nonsense of tracking every second. (And, if I did, I think I would spend all my spare time plotting my way into a different job.)

But I still track my time. I just do it in a much more relaxed and forgiving way. I also allow myself plenty of opportunity to do stuff that doesn’t require being at a computer — reading books, blog posts, documents, reports and even the occasional spreadsheet. As well, I also focus on non-work-related actions that are going to help me be more productive. 

If you want to improve your writing productivity, here’s what I suggest:

    1. Time-block your day: This approach will sound crazy to many people. I know, because I was originally skeptical about it, but it really works. Every morning, I plan how I’m going to spend each half-hour of the day. You can read more about time-blocking here. (The page also allows you to download the form I use, at no charge.) As soon as I started time-blocking, I became at least 50% more effective. And, not only that, but my work also became less stressful. Note that I also give myself permission to change my plan later in the day, if I feel I’d be better doing something different. And some of my half-hour plans are for relaxation. The big secret to planning your day involves planning what NOT to do. 
    2. Take plenty of breaks: Taking a break may make you feel like a slacker. But, actually, it will help you become more productive. First, it will keep you from getting bored and therefore from becoming unfocused. Second, it will help you 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. 
    3. Use the pomodoro method: To perform a pomodoro, set a noisy timer (one that allows you to hear a tick-tock, tick-tock while you’re working) for 25 minutes. Then, give your work your total concentration for that time. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t check email. Don’t surf the internet or check Facebook. Don’t do anything except your work. As soon as the timer “dings,” take a regulated five-minute break and then start on another pomodoro. (I time-block my day into a series of 16 pomodoros. Some of them are for reading, thinking, exercise and for activities like lunch!)
    4. Be sure to get enough exercise: 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. I’m able to do my main form of exercise while I write, thanks to my treadmill desk. But if you don’t have one of those devices, then schedule some other activities into your life. 
    5. Work away from your desk more often: Many of the academics I work with get themselves into all sort of problems because they try to do all of their thinking at their desks. But a desk is the world’s worst place to think: it’s way too confining and it doesn’t allow you to move (and movement is what helps to get your brain operating.) Don’t ever chain yourself to your desk. Instead, go for a walk and think about your topic. If you’re worried that you might forget something important, take your cellphone with you and dictate some notes to yourself while you’re walking. 
    6. Get enough sleep: Everyone’s writing productivity hinges on being well rested. 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.
    7. Do your writing first: Many of the people in my Get It Done writing group report that when they plan to write later in the day, other work (or just plain old Life) gets in the way. You can avoid this problem by writing first — even for a very short amount of time — so that your writing time is always protected. I call this strategy ‘doing what’s important before doing what’s urgent. 

If you want to improve your writing productivity, plan to spend about 20% of your time taking breaks. Research has shown that this is the optimum ratio for the greatest productivity. There is absolutely no need for you to track every second or to worry about how much time you’re logging on the computer. Remember that writing — even non-fiction writing — is a creative act and it requires time and grace and planning. And plenty of breaks.


My video podcast last week discussed how to deal with a creative dry spell. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.  


Have you ever been paralyzed by fear of writing? Don’t let this nasty psychological barrier make your life miserable or cost you missed income. I’ve developed a series of 18 videos (with audio and text versions) for just $95 that will help you banish the fear. Plus, you’ll get membership to an online group of others facing the same challenge. Have a look at the program here


Need some help developing a better writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. There is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.


Do you take adequate breaks during the day? How do you monitor your productivity? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below. And congratulations to Elaine Lung, the winner of this month’s book prize, for a comment on my Aug. 16/22 blog about how to get into the ‘write’ mindset. (Please send me your email address, Elaine.) Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Sept. 30/22 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, 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. It’s easy!

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