Wednesday, May 17, 2017

10 Ways To Increase Your Productivity


Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

Feeling unproductive lately? Boy have I ever! To be fair, I did write a 250K book in eight months, not that it's done yet. (Now entering the editing stage...) But King's War was one of the most difficult books to crank out. Ever. Why? I pondered that a lot over the last eight months. The biggest obstacles against me getting that draft out sooner was a combination of my work schedule (or lack-thereof) and my work style, meaning I sat at the computer for far more hours than I actually worked. I Googled things. I Facebooked, Instagramed, and Tweeted. I checked my email. I bit my fingernails. I ate food. All while staring at the screen, wishing I was writing.

I felt I knew what was wrong, and I was mostly correct. I couldn't do much about it, though, because of life. There are things in life I can change and things I can't change. But I learned a lot though this experience, so I'm going to share it with you all.

1. Have a plan. When I set out to write a book, my plan goes something like this. I start by defining the book (ex: 100K medieval fantasy novel set in a new storyworld). Then I look at the calendar, things I have coming, and I set myself a loose deadline. Or if I sold this book idea to a publisher, they will set the deadline. So I have a genre, a word count goal, the general idea of a plot, and a deadline. I'm good to go.

2. Prepare. It's no secret that I am a storyworld first author. I can't start writing until I've done all my storyworld building and character development and some level of storyboarding or outlining. I also need to make a map and create a story bible document. I might also need some family trees or lists of characters and ranks. I might have to create some foreign language, so I'll have some sheets of paper with translations for reference. In this last book I had a list of characters with their titles, magical abilities, the name of their shadir (a creature) if they had one, and the names of their family members.

All this preparation might take me several months. It's actually one of my favorite parts of the writing process, but I cannot write productively until I have all this figured out.

3. Get organized. I print out a bunch of the stuff I created in number two. I need my map and important character lists nearby. I need my foreign translations! It's the worst to be writing a scene and have to stop and go look for something to help me get through it. Then I waste an hour looking. I try not to do that anymore. Instead, I will put a comment in the manuscript as a flag that the scene is missing important information. But I still have to find that sheet of paper later and then go back in and add it. If I am organized, I save time.


4. Set aside time to work deep. I've been reading the book Deep Work by Cal Newport, and it's fascinating. What is deep work you ask? Here is Cal's definition:

"Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It's a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep-spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there's a better way."

I've always been a multi-tasker. Multi-tasking produces a feeling of instant gratification that makes me happy. But Mr. Newport says that multi-tasking is actually bad for your brain! It deteriorates the muscle that helps a person focus for extended periods of time. Now, there is a time and place for multi-tasking says this mother of two. I try not to do work when my kids are at school or sleeping that I can do when they're home. For example, I can save the dishes until the kids are playing in the living room and do something more important when they're sleeping or at school, like writing my book! That's good use of my time. But when I do sit down at the computer, Mr. Newport suggests I set my sights on "immersive single tasking"no distractions!

Writers have been doing this for centuries. It's the concept of going to that cabin in the woods to finish your booka place where you can concentrate and not be disturbed. This is much more difficult when you're sitting at a computer that is connected to the internet. Or when you have your cell phone sitting right next to you with the notifications set so you can hear them. Any little distraction such as glancing at the phone to see if someone texted you breaks your concentration and impairs your ability to focus and complete the task you working on.

I'd like to add a caveat for us writers. Mr. Newport gives examples of taking an hour or two to work deep. And I think that's great for a lot of thingsI can get things done in that kind of time. But I think most writers work best when they have at least three uninterrupted work days in a row. I might only write for two or three hours each day, but the consecutive days help keep my brain stay deeply immersed in my storyworld.





5. Set the timer. Use word wars/word sprints to help you. For example: Write as fast as you can for the next fifteen minutes with a goal of 500 words. Or a goal of 100 words in a half hour. Whatever goal works for you. Intense, focused work trains you in concentrating. This will help you be more productive faster. The reality is, you could learn to write so fast that you only need to work two hours a day! Then you would have more time in your day for others things.

6. Have a routine. I blogged about this a few weeks ago. The human brain likes routines. Click here to read that post.

7. Take breaks. If you have to write all day (or want to), great. But you need lots of breaks. I feel there are two types of breaks necessary to the productive writer. First you need periodic breaks to keep your body healthy. Use word sprints or word wars to help you know when to break, or set a timer and break every hour for five minutes. Get up from your chair and walk around, have a snack, stretch, whatever you need to do, then get back to work.

The other type of break is needed on a daily basis. This is a boredom break. A do-nothing break. Something you need for your mind to stay healthy. Go on a walk. Go sit on your porch for an hour and drink some lemonade. Go for a drive or a bike ride. Exercise. All this gives your brain some free time to think and recharge. And if you do this every day, you'll find yourself energized and inspired with new ideas.

8. Learn to say no. I wrote about this a few weeks ago too. It's super important to "protect the asset," as Greg McKeown says. Click here to read that post.

9. Limit (quit?) social media and television viewing. It's best to turn off the internet and hide those cell phones or tablets when you sit down to write. The internet and social media can be a terrible distraction. But the truth is, we waste our lives online and watching television. While these are different activities, they're both more screen time on your eyes (for us writers who are already looking at a screen all day), and they're both pretty much a waste of time. I can't imagine anyone on his death bed saying, "I wish I had spent more time on Twitter." Or, "My only regret is that I never got around to binge watching Merlin." *heavy sigh* It's fun to spend time on social media. And it's fun to watch television. But we were made to be with people, and we should do more of that in our off hours and certainly during work time!

10. Get enough sleep. This is so important and so neglected by many over-achievers. Not getting enough sleep is bad for you. Period. It's bad for your brain (impairs alertness, concentration, and reasoning). And it's bad for your health (weakens your immune system, which can increase your chances of getting sick; can lead to serious medical conditions like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes; and increases anxiety and depression). Getting enough sleep will keep you from burning out on life. It will help you make fewer mistakes and better decisions, both in life and in the story you are writing.

I have to point out that I wrote a post on a similar theme back in January, so there's proof for you that I've been struggling with this for a long time! If you're struggling too, here is the link to the post I wrote called 10 Ways to Get Something Done When You’re Feeling Unproductive, which you might also find helpful.


Are you a productive writer? Do any of these tips resonate with you? Do you have a tip that works for you that I missed? Share in the comments!

47 comments:

  1. This is really helpful, especially the word sprints. I'm awful about getting distracted:P 1,000 words in fifteen minutes, here I come!

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    1. You've got this! <3
      ~PT

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    2. I know you can do this! Just turn everything off. If you need to, go in your room and seclude yourself until you're done. When I'm around other people, I get SO distracted. it's awful!
      Anyway, you can do it! I know you can. ;)
      *thumbs up*

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  2. I have had a lot of attention problems in the past and I can't seem to keep my focus (which is really annoying). I think I'll try this and see if it works!

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    1. I believe in you, Maggie. Just remember, it will take practice! Getting distracted can be a hard habit to break. :-)

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  3. I love it when I work deep, but unfortunately it's hard to get in that zone sometimes, especially if I'm stuck in a scene to begin with.

    Changing location can help. With my notebook or Bluetooth keyboard, I sometimes sit in a corner facing the walls and write. A plain wall isn't entertaining, so it forces me to focus on my story or be bored solid. The timeout zone is very helpful sometimes. :)

    -Ann

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    1. I will have to try that and see if it works for me! :)

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    2. Haha, "the time out zone". That made me smile, Ann. I work better at my desk, I think. Being able to look outside actually seems to help me recenter my focus, but maybe I'm weird like that.
      God bless
      ~PT

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    3. LOL I love it. Author time out. Whatever helps you is what you do!

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    4. :D

      @Maggie: Hope it helps ya. ;)

      -Ann

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    5. Thanks Ann! :)

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  4. One thing I do is turn off the internet on my computer. No internet? No Pinterest, Email, Google or any other time waster that you really shouldn't be on. Unless you're on Google Chrome. Then just practice self-restraint and don't fall into the trap of the Dino-Jumping game.

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    1. Turning all that off is so smart, Lexi. :-)

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  5. This post was super helpful! I'm coming off of a semester of school that basically shattered any personal writing routines I had developed, so now I'm trying to get back into a rhythm and this post gave me some very good pointers. Thank you!

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    1. What grade are you in? I've been having trouble getting routines developed because of school, too.

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    2. I hope you create the perfect routine for summer, Alicyn. You, too, Maggie. :-)

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    3. Maggie,
      I'm a college freshman (er, was). College is a whole new level of busy! Best of luck to you as you work on your routine as well. :)

      Thanks, Mrs. Williamson!

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  6. Fantastic advice, Jill. I especially like the bit about staying in your ms for 3 days at a time. This is SO HELPFUL.

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    1. Yes. That third day is always so lovely.

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  7. This post was made for me. I found myself sitting, watching Netflix, eating cookies, and longing to write. Then, I figured out that my WIP isn't going to work. All it is right now is a horribly sad, depressing, bloody mess. Darn.
    I need to do some outlining. As much as I hate it, I know I need to do it. I mean, I don't think i'll ever go anywhere with my writing if I don't plan it out. I just go and write what comes in my head without actually knowing what needs to happen in the story. It's driving me NUTS.
    I need to shut down all the tempting apps, email, etc. Though, I'll probably need google for research. Once school is out, i plan to just write, read and focus. (Don't hold me to that because it's summer, ya'll. I know I won't be sticking to my plan all summer, and i don't think sitting in front of my laptop all day is healthy....yeah.)
    I need to be planning....see ya! :)

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    1. I've been outlining my character, and I really urge you to check out this site if you are coming up with characters: (Oh, and it may sound boring at first, but near the end it has a list of questions to ask yourself for your character. Like, how does your character deal with anger?, etc.)

      Here's what to type in: writers write how to create a character profile
      *Hope this helps someone as much as it's helping me*

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    2. But Netflix is the best. JK, focusing on writing and getting it accomplished is really rewarding. It feels great to accomplish goals. Maybe make a list of what you want done long term, such as monthly or even yearly goals. Or do short term such as weekly or daily goals. Or do all of the above if it motivates you.

      God Bless
      ~PT

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    3. Lol, yes! I've been outlining, and I've figured out that.....outlining help me. I thought it was horrid before, but....I was wrong. Lol
      I had this idea, but it was halfheartedly thought of. Now, the outline is really making a difference.
      Thanks for the advice, PT!
      Numbers 6:24-26

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    4. I'm glad you've figured out what helps you. That takes some authors a really long time to figure out. I hope your summer plans are both fun and rewarding. :-)

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    5. I'm glad I did too, Mrs. Williamson. I hope I really accomplish my goals this summer instead of sitting in front of a tv, and not using my brain. (Highly probable on my sleepy days.)

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    6. Outlining does help. I'm glad you found a system that helps you get your writing done. I'll check out that site. Is this something I type in here on GTW or just in the search engine for the internet?
      Thank you for the verse.
      Romans 11:33 (verse of the day on Biblegateway.)
      :)
      ~PT

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    7. I'm glad too. :)
      You type it in the internet search engine. Sorry, I wasn't clear. It REALLY helps. Though it looks boring at first, all you need to do is scroll down until you get to the list. It should be the first link on the page after the search it.
      You're welcome. :)
      Romans 10:8

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    8. Ok thanks! I just looked it up and I'm going to read it. I think they have something really similar here, too. Thanks for the article.
      :)
      God Bless
      ~PT

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    9. They probably do. Lol You're welcome. I filled all the questions I wanted to answer for my character, and so far, I think my writing will be better (for my character at least). :)

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  8. This is awesome! Just what I need--I constantly get distracted when I'm trying to write. Turning off the internet definitely will help. :)
    Thank you!

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  9. I actually have a problem with letting myself take breaks. I put too much pressure on myself to get things accomplished and end up missing out on things outside of writing.

    I need to learn to let my mind rest because that's the only way I'll do really well. The best way to write people is to observe and I can't observe if I continually stare at a screen. I have to live life to the fullest, too.

    Thank you for this helpful post. Your tips have inspired me to do better at taking breaks and being more productive.

    God bless y'all.
    Joshua 1:9
    ~PT

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    1. Yup. You need to take breaks. I found out that as much as i want to write at 1 in the morning on weekends, it makes me frustrated and I feel pushed to scrap the whole thing. And as a writer, that's the worst place to be in. Plus, with me I work for a while and research and write, but then all of a sudden, I get writer's block. Then, writers block makes me feel like my writing is no good.
      Those are just a few things I've learned in my writing years. ;)
      I looked up that verse, and I've fallen in love. Here's one that's definitely my favorite: Romans 5:8

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    2. I'm glad it was helpful, PT! Yes, we need to be with people so we can create people. Good insight. Also, Joshua 1:9 is the verse I use for my Spencer books. :-)

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    3. LHE, there are definitely cycles you go through when you write that repeat themselves. Give yourself lots of patience in those times.

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    4. @Mrs. Williamson: I will. :) Yes, there are some ups and down to writing.

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    5. LHE: I love that verse. I just looked it up.

      Mrs. Williamson: That's cool! I'm doing a Joshua Bible study and that verse stuck out to me last night, so I wanted to share it today. Thank you for the wonderful article. :)

      God bless y'all
      ~PT

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    6. It's by far one of my favorites. :)
      Bless you!

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  10. This is a great post, Jill! I just finished listening to the audio of Deep Work, and I have a few of his ideas that I've started incorporating into my routine. (Right as summer break hits for my kids - ha!) I want to review a few chapters and take more detailed notes so that I can incorporate even more.

    The other one you mentioned that jumped out to me is sleep. Probably because this week it's been a struggle to get a good night of sleep (I think Eli has teeth coming in) and I'm really feeling it.

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  11. This post rocks. I am already planning to do a lot during Memorial Day weekend. And I purposely refuse to have Merlin in my home for I know I would go nuts watching it again (the first time my sister and I were blown away by it, we took it out of the library). I know I could not refuse its siren call if I had it near by. :) And yes, turn off the Internet and get a fierce guard dog with nothing to lose watch over your phone and not let you anywhere near it until you are done writing! :)

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    1. Sounds like a great plan! Lol
      My guard dog needs to be very fierce. My temptations seem to be able to tame them. Lol

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  13. This was epic advice, Jill - thank you so much for sharing it!

    ~ Savannah @ Scattered Scribblings

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  14. Wow, I can definitely relate to this! I'm a HARDCORE multitasker (literally right now I'm doing Algebra and leaving this comment... don't ask xD), and I've never even thought about how that could be harmful to writing. And organizing/scheduling is something I've been learning the importance of recently. :D Great post, thanks for sharing these tips!

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  15. I have to check my email and creative writing club's online site and go teen writers BEFORE I start writing... Otherwise I will get very sidetracked. I'm getting better at it, though.
    ~Mila
    (Don't worry, I'm not supposed to be writing right now:))

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    1. I know how that feels. I can be in focus and then all of a sudden want to go on the internet and check YouTube and GTW. I don't have social media, so I don't have to worry about being distracted by that ... for now. I've never really wanted personal accounts, but eventually I'll have to have accounts for my writing. I just like taking breaks sometimes and other times it's harder to take a break.

      It's awesome you're getting better at it. :)
      God Bless.
      ~PT

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