Hello and happy Wednesday!
Are you short on time? Are you tired of work but never manage to get through it? Have you reached your limit and yet the tasks keep coming?
I may sound like a really bad infomercial, but I understand. In fact, I think every person – regardless of occupation – can relate to some extent.
There just doesn’t ever seem to be enough hours in the day. Between church, family, work, education, housekeeping, volunteering, friends, hobbies, rest, and/or any number of other obligations, our schedules can stay filled to the brim very easily.
And what do you do when there’s an imbalance in that schedule? When your work or your education prevent rest or time with family? When all the things you have to do should actually be there (if they’re not a priority, chances are you have or at least should have cut them out), and you’re still out of breath from running toward them all?
I wish I knew.
Over the years, I’ve watched many family members wrestle with this, and have had an especially close seat for my parents. And I think they do a phenomenal job. But I also know it’s not easy.
And as I’ve begun to get into that same sort of busyness, working and volunteering and generally just being a productive member of society, I’ve tried to maintain a good balance between work and rest. My thinking has been that I develop good habits earlier, it’ll make it easier to stay on top of things later.
Hopefully that’s the case anyway.
And with that hope, I’ve taken note of how the people around me manage their schedules, ironically spent a bit of time researching what tends to work best for others, and experimented with those methods in my own life, to see what helps me be most efficient.
Unfortunately, there’s no magical one-size-fits-all method. Everyone is different; thinks differently, works differently, focuses differently. But there are definitely some strategies that seem to be helpful for most people, at least to try and then adapt to their own lifestyles. So today, I thought I’d share five of the best tips I’ve found to work for me as I strive to use my time wisely, with the hopes that they might help you as well!
You might have expected this to be on the list. Any time you look into being more productive and efficient with your time, you’re likely to find this advice. And it’s true! When we’re distracted, we don’t get as much done, and what we do accomplish tends to be poorer quality because we didn’t commit all our energy toward it. Our brains usually work best when we can devote uninterrupted time to focus on one thing until it’s finished.
This looks different for everyone. Some people prefer to work in silence, while others prefer music, and still others prefer the ambience of a coffee shop or their family around them. Some people like working in dim lighting, while others need bright surroundings. Some people’s creativity is stifled by tidy environments while others need the clean to focus. The point is to get rid of anything that distracts you from your task for a set amount of time.
For me, this means closing my door, putting on classical music to tune out any other noise in the house, keeping my hands on my keyboard and/or mouse so I can’t fiddle with anything else, and either turning off the internet so I can’t research (if writing fiction) or telling myself that I can’t open any unrelated tabs until I finish my current task (if blogging). I also don’t allow myself to daydream. Any time I find my mind starting to wander, I quickly refocus. Otherwise, I’ll wander down rabbit trail after rabbit trail…
Batch Similar Tasks
Here’s a tip I didn’t discover until the start of this year, and it’s made a huge difference in my productivity! After we’ve successfully rid our surroundings of distractions and worked at a set task for a while, our brains will get into a ‘flow state’. While here, we’re more motivated to keep accomplishing things of the same nature, and we have an easier time of it than if we hop around from a fiction project to a blog post to a school essay, etc.
I’ll say right away, some people may like hopping from one thing to the next. Many people use their fiction writing as a reward for after they finish their schoolwork or other obligations. And that’s okay! To some extent, everyone has a unique process that works best for them. But for many, lumping similar tasks together can really help your ideas keep flowing and your brain stay focused, rather than interrupting your state of concentration.
For example, when blogging, I set aside a chunk of time to first prep the posts for that month (creating images, formatting them, jotting down key points, etc.). Then I go through and choose the ones I feel most inspired to write at that moment and start drafting them, one by one. Usually, the more I write, the more I feel like moving on and writing the next one afterward. Editing works the same way. Edit, schedule, edit, schedule…and pretty soon my calendar is full of check marks where my blog posts are ready and waiting to go out!
But how do you know what to batch together if you don’t know what you have to do? Lists to the rescue! Yes, I’m one of those people that have to keep lists or else I’ll forget anything and everything, no matter how hard I try not to. In order to stay on top of my schedule, I keep daily lists, weekly lists, monthly lists, and even a list for each year. These lists contain everything I need to or should do, from huge to tiny tasks. Honestly, nothing’s too small.
Again, not everyone needs to use lists as much as me. I don’t know how, but a lot of people can just keep track of everything in their heads, and don’t find lists motivating anyway. But if you’re not sure whether they’d help you or not, I encourage you to give them a try! Even if you can remember everything, I find that the feeling of accomplishment I get as I cross off completed tasks encourages me to keep working at the rest of the tasks on the list.
And then make sure you keep your list where you can see it throughout the day. I typically keep a broader list of tasks on my phone and leave smaller, more specific lists on post-its or journals at my desk. One of the best times for me to write out my to-do lists is the evening before I need it. So for my weekly lists, I’ll set aside a little time to compile everything Sunday evening. For my daily lists, I’ll jot them down before I head to bed each night. And of course, I’ll write out my yearly and monthly lists at the ends of the previous.
Along with writing lists, setting goals for yourself is another excellent way to stay on top of everything. Think about what you want to accomplish or do more of in the coming days, weeks, months, and/or years. As a writer, do you want to complete a rough draft of a novel? Write more short stories? Release more blog posts? What about other goals? Do you want to read and/or review more books? Exercise more? Form better sleeping habits?
Take those things and start by forming bigger goals. Then break them up into more manageable pieces. If you want to write more short stories, you could set a goal for 12 in the next year. That’s one a month, which could be split into wordcount goals for each week, and then each day…and so on. Dream big, but then make sure you break them into small enough pieces, or else you’ll always feel too intimidated to try reaching those dreams.
Those small pieces are what should then be put on your lists. I personally find it very encouraging to look back at them after a while and see just how much I’ve done just by taking small steps. Before long, those small bits add up to incredible progress! And the consistency of completing those tasks over and over, again and again, help create habits that will lead to even better productivity as time continues. Don’t be afraid to adjust your goals – smaller or bigger – if you need to, but having somewhere to start is always good.
Despite how it sounds, this tip is less about speed and more just being intentional with your time. After researching how to get more done in less time, I was convicted to keep better track of where I was using the time that I did have. After all, everyone gets the same 24 hours each day. What changes is how we fill them. So for several weeks, I set timers and wrote down how long it took me to complete various tasks – and was continually surprised!
Knowing about how long it takes me to draft a blog post, or write 500 words, or brainstorm a month’s worth of content, is extremely helpful. Not only has it helped me with scheduling and getting things done before deadlines, but it’s also encouraged me to keep better track of my time in general. It’s easy to spend an hour on a writing project, but it’s even easier to spend two hours researching obscure facts after getting sidetracked.
So now, I set an alarm almost every time I sit down to work. It helps me continue to keep track of how long something takes me, and also often causes me to work faster because I don’t want to ‘waste those minutes’ on extra, unimportant things. If I set a writing timer for 30 minutes, I better be writing and not cheating by checking emails or organizing my desk or deep-cleaning my entire room. A procrastinating writer is an unproductive writer as I well know. It tends to be a fun challenge: how much can I get done before the alarm rings?
Well, those are five of my best tips for managing time wisely and efficiently as a writer! And of course, they can certainly help anyone be productive, no matter what your career, obligations, or hobbies are. While I’m far from perfect at staying on top of these habits, they always help me stay focused, and I pray they help motivate you as well!
Did any of these tips stick out to you? Are you using any of them in your own writing journey? What are YOUR favorite tips for being productive as a writer? I’d love the chance to learn from you – so let me know your thoughts in the comments!