I’m winding down on a big freelance project that has occupied about 110% of my time for the last few months. I got a lot done in fairly short amount of time, and now that it’s tapering off and I’m just cleaning up loose ends, I’m wondering why I’m not as productive in my fiction-writing life as I am in my real-world, money-earning life. When I’m on a project, I’m practical, efficient, and speedy. When I’m not on a project, I’m more or less a slug. I work on my writing, but not as hard as I work on a project, and I don’t necessarily get the yard work finished, the house cleaned, or the errands run.
One year at an author panel at the RWA national conference, someone asked Bella Andre, the self-published author who’s sold millions of books, how she achieves life-work balance. “Life-work balance is overrated,” she said, adding that she works from six in the morning to nine at night.
That kind of productivity is not something I have the strength to emulate, but it’s clear that success in part depends on work—on productivity, in fact. So how to get more productive? As I often do to answer many of life’s larger questions, I turned to Google. And I found a blog by Eric Barker, who “brings you science-based answers and expert insight on how to be awesome at life.”
Awesome is probably not something I have strength for, either, but he posts regularly about productivity. One post in particular caught my eye, and I thought maybe I could benefit from some of the ideas. Barker based his tips on the work of Tim Ferriss (author of The 4-Hour Workweek), and he augments those tips with research. The ideas are based in business assumptions, so they don’t map 1-to-1 to my life, but maybe I could adapt them and make them work for me. (For the full blog post, go here.)
These are the “6 things the most productive people do every day.”
1) Manage your mood
Barker says that research shows that how you start the day has an enormous effect on productivity, and people procrastinate more when they’re in a bad mood. Starting the day calm helps you focus, and happiness increases productivity and makes you more successful. What can you do to manage your mood? Get enough sleep. Eat regularly. Take breaks. Do the things that keep you positive. And the first step to managing your mood after you wake up?
2) Don’t check email in the morning
Checking email in the morning sets you up to react—you give your best hours to someone else’s goals, not yours. But if you don’t check your email first thing, what should you do?
3) Ask yourself whether a task should be done at all
Don’t do too many things. Do what’s important—and not much else. Barker points to research that shows that CEOs don’t get more done by working more hours, they get more done when they follow careful plans. But after you develop the plan, how can you focus on it?
4) Eliminate distractions
Modern life constantly offers tantalizing, easily accessible, shiny things. How to focus? Reduce distractions. Limit options. To do that effectively, you need a system.
5) Develop a routine
To improve productivity, routine is more effective than relying on self-discipline. Don’t give yourself the option to do something you didn’t decide to do. To develop an effective routine, assess what activities are responsible for most of your successes. Then look at what activities destroy your productivity. Then rearrange your schedule to do more of the first and eliminate the second as much as possible. How can you make that routine stick?
6) Define your goals the night before
End each work day the same way. Straighten up your desk. Back up your computer. Make a list of what you need to do tomorrow.
Can I apply these tips to my writing life?
- Mood management. Sometimes after a big gig, I “reward” myself with binge TV watching, or otherwise gorging on fun stuff. Perhaps moderation would be better for my fiction goals: Watch TV, but make sure I go to bed at the same time, get right into the fiction-writing routine at the same time in the morning that I started my business project.
- Don’t check email in the morning. I can do that. I won’t check email until I’ve written for two hours
- Ask whether it should be done at all. The dishes in the sink are screaming to be washed right now. This I must do some time today. But I don’t have to sweep the back stairs today, even though they need it.
- Eliminate distractions. Don’t even turn ON email until I’ve written for two hours
- Develop a routine. Write first, always.
- Define your goals the night before. Maybe not so much “define my goals,” but think about what the next scene must accomplish. Review my notes, if any. Let the girls in the basement do their work overnight!
Will any of these ideas make me more productive in fiction? We’ll see!