8 Productivity Questions Writers Need to Ask

When writing is your profession, you have to do it, day in and day out. You can take the occasional break, but the number of words you put on paper (or on screen) directly corresponds to the number of dollars in your bank account. Even if you’ve got some good passive income streams going, you still have to write up your products and marketing materials. All of that means that anything you can do to become more productive is beneficial.

But every writer has a different creative process. What gets me in my chair and working isn’t necessarily going to get any other writer working. That means that we have to ask ourselves some questions about productivity and how we work as individuals.

  1. What does productivity mean to me? Is it just a question of clearing a couple of hours for writing? Or is it clearing out non-writing tasks? Or something else entirely? The answer usually has something to do with what you want to accomplish is a given day. Personally, my productivity is a question of writing a certain number of words per day. I have to have the time and the flexibility to make sure that I get the writing part of my work done every day. Most of the rest of my work can get handed off to someone else, if necessary and if funds are available. But I’ve got to write.
  2. What do I need to be able to write? I’m a big proponent of the idea that we don’t need anything special to write and that getting caught up in the system and the surroundings is just a way to create excuses to avoid actually working. But I freely admit that there are situations and circumstances that I simply can’t work through. Being productive means setting things up so that those situations are avoidable.
  3. How do I keep track of my writing work? With the solitary exception of fiction writers working on novels that ‘tell’ them what’s going to happen next, most of us need some pretty concrete plans in order to tackle a writing project. Keeping track of those plans becomes necessary in order to keep moving forward, but how you keep track of them is a personal question. I know writers who rely on sticky notes all over their walls because they need the physical reminder to keep moving. I know writers who make up very precise task lists. It’s all a question of what works for you.
  4. How do I divide up my writing work? Not every writing project can be done in a single day. That means breaking it up into concrete tasks. Of course, breaking down ‘write an article’ can be incredibly difficult — does ‘write the first 250 words of the article’ actually help guide you through the process? But there are ways to get things into a manageable set of actions. Personally, I break things down between the time actually spent writing and everything else. I have set times when I go through and do all the interviews I need for a given project, as well as set times for the writing aspects.
  5. How do I handle the non-writing part of my work? As much as most of us don’t want to worry about anything except actually writing, we’ve all got little details that need to be handled. Tasks like setting up interviews are a necessary part of our day. There are plenty of strategies for attacking your every day tasks, but as a writer, there’s an unusual aspect. How do you balance writing with everything else that needs to get done? If you’re off sending emails, after all, you aren’t writing.
  6. How do I follow up on my writing? My work doesn’t send itself out to clients, more is the pity. That means that I have to have systems of some sort in place to get my work distributed, paid for and other important steps. Writing may seem like a solitary game, but it requires regular communications as well as an ability to work around specific dates. After all, following up on an unpaid invoice three months later isn’t going to get you paid quickly.
  7. How do I make sure I actually get out of my chair? Writing, for the most part, is a sedentary activity. On top of that, it can be a bit lonely. It’s crucial to get up and out of our chairs regularly — such activities are just as important to our productivity as actually getting our rear-ends into our chairs and working. Just what that looks like can depend on your own goals and needs, of course, but I’ve had to put systems in place that get me up and moving over the course of the day as well as out of my home office and actually interacting with people on occasion.
  8. How do I get the new information I need for ideas? I could spend all day online, just browsing for new information. Despite the fact that I get some of my best ideas that way, it’s probably not the most effective approach to planning my work day. With that in mind, it’s important to consider how much time we’re spending on consuming media, rather than creating it, and how we’re processing that information.

I’ve been thinking about these questions because I’m working on a top secret project with Ali Hale over at ConstructivelyProductive. We’re getting pretty close to finishing up our project and will be unveiling it soon. But we’ve had to put a lot of thought into just how we organize our own approaches to productivity and how anyone in a creative profession can manage her work.

Image by Flickr user Chris Metcalf