I am always looking for ways to increase my productivity.
For me, productivity means spending my time consciously on the tasks that I know will help push my writing business forward.
This includes spending more time writing and less time doing other activities that don’t contribute to my writing career.
Some of these tasks you can’t avoid such as admin and other life stuff.
So how can you make sure your time is being spent productively to build your writing and author business?
There are three things I have discovered that help me to continuously be more productive in my writing and keep the overwhelm at bay.
#1. Track the Past- use a daily time log
Over the past few weeks, I have been tracking my daily activities by the hour. My diary is split into hourly chunks and I literally write down what I was doing every hour.
This may seem a bit over the top, I certainly thought it was. But it really opened up my eyes to see what I was spending my time on. I came across this idea from Gretchen Rubin, Author of The Happiness Project, who has this free daily time log tracker you can download. This is the one I used.
I initially dismissed this idea because I thought it was wasting my time. But it forced me to admit and own up to where I was spending my time.
It may seem tedious at first but logging what you are doing every hour brings more awareness as to how you are spending your time.
Sometimes we think we know what we are doing but it’s only when you write it out in black and white do you see where you are really spending your time! And you don’t have to do this forever, just do it for a week to see the benefits of tracking your time.
By using this method you can’t hide away from seeing where you actually spend all of your time. And after doing this for just a few days I found my results quite shocking.
- I was watching more TV than I thought I was
- Spending more time on social media that I thought I was
- Discovered I did have chunks of free time that I was not using productively
- What I thought was a few minutes spent on the same activity but at different times were actually building up to hours of lost time.
Let me give you an example of (4) above:
After going to the gym (a daily task), I would walk to the grocery store to pick up groceries. This meant I was walking to the store (10 mins), spending up to 20 mins getting my 1-2 items, then spending another 10 mins walking back home. And I was doing this almost 3-4 times per week.
I didn’t think this was a big deal but only when I realised this did I see how I was using my time inefficiently.
I am now Batching my time. This means I only do a grocery shop once per week. This takes up the same amount of time, approx 30 mins. In one go I can get all my grocery shopping done rather than dragging this task on over a course of a few days and wasting time.
I have also placed time limits on social media (20 mins max per day, at the end of my day).
I don’t watch TV and if there is something I want to watch, I will catch the repeat shows so that I can watch it in my own time as opposed to dropping everything I am doing to watch it at the time the show is broadcast.
I used to watch almost 15 hours of TV per week. Now I watch less than 4 hours per week most of which is usually related to my writing for research purposes.
#2. Organise the present
Using this analysis I can now look at where I can make improvements. And the key thing that jumped out at me was to use Batching. This is where you group similar tasks and do them in one go rather than doing them over a number of days.
Using the examples above , these are the changes I have now made:
- I was watching more TV than I thought I was – I was totalling 15 hours per week of TV. This is now down to less than 4 hours. And these 4 hours are consciously chosen TV programmes rather than watching TV mindlessly (which is what I did a lot of before).
- Spending more time on social media that I thought I was – Social media is now limited to a maximum of 20 mins per day, at the end of the day, and only if I have completed my writing goals for that day.
- Discovered I did have chunks of free time that I was not using productively – Time spent commuting is now time I spend reading or listening to podcasts.
I am applying the batching principle to all areas of my life and writing. For example, I will only check email once or twice a day and not every 5 minutes.
I will write 2-3 blog articles in one go, then I will edit them all in one go. Then I will schedule and publish them at the same time.
By batching my time I can get more done. Trying to switch tasks every hour was actually consuming too much energy and this is something Cal Newport talks about in his book Deep Work.
Multitasking is so overrated. In fact, I have always struggled to multi-task but thought it was what was required to keep up this hectic and frenetic pace of life.
Batching allows you to get into the flow of the task at hand. In this way, you are focused get things done.
#3. Plan for the future
By reflecting on the past and organising the present, I can now plan for the future.
As a general rule, I now keep all my mornings free of appointments and meetings. Mornings are now dedicated to writing (blog posts or book material)
I have also minimised meetings I attend. And the meetings I do have, I ensure there is a clear agenda. I have also reduced time spent at meetings by 50%. For example, where I had a 1-hour meeting, I requested this be cut down to 30 minutes.
Most of the time, things can get done in less time. Try it and you will see. The more time you allocate for a meeting, you will notice the task will expand to fit that time. This is also known as Parkinson’s Law.
But there is a need to be flexible. For example, I have now completed the first draft of my book and find I am writing less as I am in editing mode.
So when I look at my monthly word count and see it is less than the previous month, I’m not going to give myself a hard time about it.
Writing a book is a journey. And that journey consists of writing (where you will write more), editing (where you will likely cut out half of what you write) and marketing (which means writing marketing content as opposed to book content).
Last month I wrote almost 15,000 words. This month will be much less as I’m now editing. And I can’t edit and write at the same time. So be aware of why and when you will / will not be creating.
Does it really matter if I write less this month? No. Because I am still using my time productively (and this is the key). This is because editing is a necessary part of the process towards achieving my goal of writing and publishing my book. And this is how you plan for the future.
Build Your ‘Finishing Energy’ Potential
Now you know how you can use batching to increases your productivity. Don’t think you need to do five different things every day to be productive.
Switching tasks five times every hour is exhausting and wastes time as your brain has to ‘re-orient’ it towards the demands of the new task you have presented it with.
I now dedicate half days to complete a task. For example, I will edit three blogs posts in one batching session. Or I will spend 3 hours working on the technical aspects of my blog.
What this allows me to also do is experience finishing a task in the given time. You refill your ‘finishing energy’ potential. I find it easier to start things and harder to finish them because you need energy to get you through to the end. I call this ‘finishing energy’.
It’s like when you’re running in a race and when you are at the start of the line, excitement will get you out of the starting blocks. But you need to sustain your energy levels to get you through to the end.
And it’s typically the finishing line we find hard to get to.
But it is only when you cross the finish line that you have transformed. This is where you need to get to. If you are writing your first book then you just need to get it completed.
There is no value generated in creating a dozen half-completed books. Focus on getting to the end of every project. This will build up your finishing energy.
My Book Update:
I am still editing my book. It’s going better than I expected. My editor has done a great job creating a solid structure and organising the content to that it flows better.
However, it is taking a lot longer than I had anticipated. But that is OK. The journey of writing is different for everyone and the key thing to remember is that there is no ‘one size fits all ‘ approach . Just turn up every day and so the work. That is what makes you a Pro writer. And that is what I will continue to do every day.
Have you used the batching technique before? What other ways do you increase your productivity as a writer?