I don’t have to sell you on the importance of productivity, right? Dealing with distractions, discipline, and fine-tuning your process are part and parcel of being a professional writer, so no time spent on potentially improving your output is wasted. This post contains a few writing productivity tips and ideas that will work for some, but not for others. None of these are, strictly speaking, mandatory, or even necessary, so feel free to pick and choose which you’re going to use, but whatever you end up doing, don’t implement all of them at once. You know how quickly New Years resolutionists crash and burn when they try to change their life in a day, right?
Extensive Research and Preparation
Get into the habit of making extensive preparations before you sit down to write. The more time you spend on researching and outlining, the less time you have to spend writing. Consider how many times you’ve stopped the writing process to consult Google, or how much time you spent looking at a blinking cursor when you had to figure out what comes next. A detailed outline will save you from both of those issues, not to mention the temptation to go on Facebook when you’re out of ideas for what to write next. Outlines save time, and the lengthier the text you’re writing, the more time you’d be saving by making one.
Clean and Distraction-Free Writing Environment
Before you do anything, clean your desk. The clutter is not only an eyesore, but a distraction. A clean workspace will ensure your mind stays focused on the task at hand, and won’t wonder to that stack of paper that’s been sitting there since, what, November? Come on. Put it away.
“Clean workspace” also applies to the writing tool you’re using: your computer. Write! users already know and value a distraction-free user experience, so there’s probably no need to waste time on describing how important minimal external input is when you’re working.
However, when you’re working on a multi-purpose machine, there’s just no accounting for how many ways to waste time there are. What’s your poison? Twitter? Facebook? Email? Regardless, there are several tools you can go to if your self-control isn’t where you’d like it to be. To save the precious daylight hours you waste on the social media vortex, use software like Cold Turkey or the StayFocusd Chrome extension to block access to sites and applications that distract you.
If you know writing at home will be a distraction-filled process, try relocating to a public space. Cafés are cliché, but they do work. Ditto with parks, libraries, and anywhere else where you can be sure you won’t be bothered. Go hike a mountain if that’s what you need to do to get your quota for the day filled.
Time Management is Key
You’ve probably heard of the Pomodoro technique, but to those of you who haven’t, this might be the solution to your procrastination problem. It goes like this: you divide your work into chunks that will take 50 minutes to complete, and after you’ve spent that time working – JUST working – you get 10 minutes off. If 50 minutes is a tough pill to swallow, you can try dividing the time 25/5, it works just as well. Set a timer and dedicate all of our focus to the task at hand. Once the time is up, resist the temptation to go to your favorite time-sucking website. Instead, get away from your desk – make some tea, go for a walk, anything but looking at a screen will do the trick.
Keep Track of Your Work
There’s nothing that will make you work hard like the horror of knowing how much time you waste on useless things. There are several ways to track how you spend time at your computer, but none so effective as RescueTime. Register for the service, install their tracker, and use your computer as you would normally. In a week you’ll be receiving a report on how much time you spent on different websites and apps, and most likely recoil in horror. All those “just one more episode” Netflix sessions can really add up. We’ve already covered how tracking the amount of words you write every day can help you improve your writing productivity, and you can – and should – do the same with all your time.
But, in the end, what a productive writer needs more than fancy tools or time-management methods is plain old discipline. If you’re doing pomodoros, you’ll still need the resolve to keep going and not shut off the computer and go watch TV instead of completing your plan for the day. Devising a regimen and sticking to it will ultimately be the best thing you can do for your writing, whether it’s a passion project or a professional endeavor.