This isn’t where I reveal some fake magic recipe for how to get fifty hours’ worth of work done in one day with enough time to watch a little Netflix before getting your eight hours of sleep. This isn’t that kind of place. Here, realism and hard data rules.
This is, however, the place where you can get some realistic tips which really will help you be more productive — if you got the discipline to apply them. So let’s get started.
Prioritize. Yeah, not much fun this one, but there really is no way to get everything done. Most of us have to-do lists both at work and at home which just keep growing. But while you can’t do everything, you can do the most important things first, the ones that matters most to you and will lead you towards your long-term goal. Sometimes this means saying no-thank-you to social events, sometimes it means telling your significant other that you need to read or write instead of spending time with them.
This is also why hanging around the right kind of people can really make a difference. If my girlfriend didn’t understand how important reading and writing fiction was to me, then this hobby of mine would really put a strain on our relationship. Instead, the love for especially science fiction and fantasy is something we have in common, and sitting in the couch reading together and drinking a nice cup of warm tea (that’s right coffee people, I’m one of those weirdos) becomes just another way of spending time together.
Focus. Yep, more hard work and no magic — I told you so. The human mind is terrible at multitasking. Some people might claim they’re good at it, especially at job interviews, but the research is clear: they’re not. What you’re really doing is changing quickly between task, meaning you don’t do any of them properly. Instead, you’d benefit much more from focusing on one task as long as possible, then taking a break before continuing that task or switching to another. One way of doing this is the very simple Pomodoro technique, where you set a timer for, say, twenty minutes and work none-stop until the alarm goes off. This works well regardless if the goal is to practice or produce (more on the differences in a later post).
I learned how important focus is the hard way when I started keeping track of my time spent reading/writing vs. the time I wasted goofing around the the internet. Which brings me to the third point…
Keep yourself accountable. All right, so your prioritized your to-do list, and you sat down to write that story that’s been bobbling inside your head. And in the end of the day how well did you do? Come on now, be honest.
I used to think I spent at least a couple of hours writing fiction each day, but when I started keeping tabs on myself, what I found was that half that time was spend doing other stuff. Sometimes I would feel a sudden urge to do the dishes or pay that bill I’d left on the desk the other day. Other times I would simply read the news for the third time that day. Really, I was procrastinating. Putting the minutes spent on writing, reading, and simply wasting my time in an Excel sheet helped me immensely (and still do) in becoming more productive.
For this to work, you really need to honest with yourself. If you’re anything like me, then you’ll start lying to yourself and say stuff like, If I’ll just round off the minutes, I actually did meet my quota today, and, I didn’t spent a half hour on Reddit, did I? No, i must’ve been 10 minutes, tops. Which is, of course, ridiculous. We are, after all, doing this for ourself.
What ended up happening was me guilt-tripping myself into procrastinating less and spending more time focusing on the task I should be doing. No, it’s not fun, and, yes, it made writing less enjoyable, but only for a time. When I started seeing how much better I became at focusing and how fast I started improving, it was definitely worth it, and writing has become more enjoyable than ever.
Prioritizing, focus, and holding yourself accountable, the above three points all focus primarily on the mental aspect of being productive. And though that is the most important part, there’s also a time management point to make. Sometimes your days are just jammed pack. For most of us there’s a day job that needs doing to pay the bills, there’s a family who we both want and need to spend time with, and there are social events we can’t turn down. Neglecting the job will make you poor and homeless and neglecting the last two points will likely turn you into a lonely, depressed hermit, neither of which is great for productivity. So of course time management has a role to play.
Commuting time. Most of us spend quite a lot of time going to and from work each day. If you don’t, great. Then you have more time at home you can spend on writing/reading. But there’s so much else I need to do when I get home, I hear you say. Head straight to the top of this post to the point called Prioritize. For the rest of us, the commuting time could easily be spend with a book or any sort of writing device.
Personally, I’ve taking to listening to audio books while driving to and from work. This adds at least an hour of reading time to my count, even taking into account that I can’t really focus on the story on parts of the drive because I have to pay extra attention to traffic.
It’s actually come to the point where my weekends are so packed because of social events and things I need to do around the house at the moment (yeah, bad excuses, I know) that I get way more reading done during the weekdays.
The small gaps. Ideally, we’d all have the time to sit and read and write for hours at a time. But sometimes fifteen, ten, or even five minute gaps are all we got. Use them. Jot down the basic premise for a story or read a piece of flash fiction. I do this throughout the day. You can even do it a work if you’re lucky enough to have some time there you’ll spend waiting anyway or if you just need a five minute break once or twice during the day.
That’s it for me. No magic just hard work, but if you manage to apply the tips mentioned above properly, there’s a good chance it’ll add up and you’ll find yourself being way more productive in the future. If you have any tips or tricks that’s helped you get more work done or spend your time better, feel free to share them in the comments.