I’ve been obsessed with productivity for as long as I can remember. I’m both lazy and a procrastinator, so naturally I am always looking for ways that I can put things off until the last minute and finish them in the quickest amount of time possible.
But one of the hardest things I’ve discovered when it comes to writing is that I can’t procrastinate or be lazy. And I work from home. I don’t answer to anyone other than myself, so if I really want to take a day off and binge a Netflix show, I technically can. I have to constantly reassess my life to make sure I’m being as productive as I can, and this summer, I’m planning to try out a whole bunch of things to see if I can increase my productivity.
Step One: Turn off the noise
The first thing I realized is that I need to be honest about how much of my productivity is based on external distractions. For fellow Hamilton fans, I saw someone on Twitter recently question “Would Hamilton have written the other 51 if he had the Internet?” And truthfully I don’t think so. Like he would have definitely Facebook stalked Angelica (and sent her too many Macbeth gifs) and trolled Jefferson on Twitter and turned Burr into a meme (#waitforit) and did I take this too far? Oops.
- Social media break
I’m trying three things this summer. First, I deleted all social media apps (except Instagram) from my phone. Second, I installed a Chrome extension called “StayFocused” which lets me set the total amount of time I can spend on restricted websites. Once I hit my 30 allotted minutes per day, I have no way of getting back on. And third, for times I’m feeling particularly unfocused, I’m using my trusty “Self Control” app that will additionally block Hulu and Netflix for however many hours I tell it to.
The point of these apps isn’t to make myself miserable, but to change my focus. I know if I’m really desperate, there are workarounds. This is just to allow myself an extra second to ask: “Do I absolutely need to do this now, or can it wait a day?” And I’m hoping that by giving myself that time, I can eventually get to a point where it isn’t second nature to open up Twitter and not even realize that I did.
And speaking of apps, one of the simplest ways to keep me focused has actually been to turn off notifications on my phone. I’ve had my phone on scheduled Do Not Disturb from 10pm to 6am for several months now. No calls. No texts. But then I decided to try and silence more things during my waking hours. Removing social medias apps made it easier, but last week I took the leap to shutting my email notifications off, too. And wow. I went from checking it every few hours to checking it TWICE a day.
Step Two: Figure out what works for you
I think the thing with productivity is you have to know what will actually motivate you. For example, I like crossing things off lists. I like graphs and Excel spreadsheets that tell me how many hours I’ve worked in a week or how many words I’ve written. I like schedules and calendars. I like accountability buddies—friends I can check in with and talk about how much work we’ve gotten done.
But it’s also important to know what doesn’t work. I don’t really work well with self-imposed deadlines. Either I get really stressed about making my deadline and my productivity declines, or I miss the deadline, feel really terrible and then my productivity still declines. I also hate competition, but I LOVE collaboration (like no joke, I cry at the part in movies where teams unite and start working together). Competition stresses me out a lot, and I will lose on purpose just so I don’t have to deal with it. Basically anything that stresses me out (and for someone with anxiety it’s unsurprisingly a lot of things) will deter my productivity.
Step Three: Track your progress
While I’m not a huge fan of deadlines, I do like daily goals. When I’m drafting a book, my daily goal is easy: 1,000 words a day. But revising is different. Sometimes I’m adding words, sometimes I’m changing words, and sometimes I’m cutting things out. So instead of tracking my word count, I’m tracking my hours worked.
My “easy” goal of each day is 2 hours (or 4 focus sessions of 25 minutes each with a 5 minute break between each one). But my ideal goal is actually 10 focus sessions for a total of 5 hours. I like having an easy low goal because things come up or I can have a bad day and this way I’ll at least know I did some work. But because I only have another 6 months of writing full time, I want to make sure I take advantage of that time and push myself to work more hours each day.
Oh boy. I found out about Habitica from the lovely Susan Dennard, and after much encouragement from Maddy, I downloaded it. And… I am OBSESSED.
All those good habits I was supposed to be cultivating for the last two decades but never found a reason to– well, I have a reason now! It combines so many of my favorite things. It lets me check things off (hooray!) and gives me points for each. I can use those points to buy myself in-game rewards, but also some things I added in, like a glass of wine or turning off “StayFocused” for a day. I get to join groups with my friends and go on quests where we don’t compete with one another but collaborate– the more of our dailies we check off, the better our group does.
It’s giving me the extra motivation I need to not only accomplish all of my writing goals, but it’s also helping me human better overall. I eat breakfast every day and drink bottles (yes plural!) of water because I can check them off. For someone who used to replace meals with coffee and drink a cup of water every other day, it’s amazing how quickly an app is changing many habits for the better and making it fun.
- Shared calendars
Every Sunday I make a calendar for the week and share it with Maddy, who sends me her calendar, too. We set work hours for the week that we aren’t allowed to change. If we want to change our writing hours, we have to treat it like we were requesting time off from a regular job: we have to ask at least 24 hours in advance and justify why we need to shorten or change them. And if the other person says no, we have to cancel that social engagement and work those hours.
This is something I’ve been doing for over a year now. I talked briefly about my writing journal here, but basically I write half a page in the morning (usually goals for the day and how I’m feeling about them), and then check in later that day with what I actually did and how I feel.
Step Four: Take a break!
And runaway with me for the summer! But only if you want to have daily Hamilton and Disney sing-alongs.
I’m the last person in the world to tell anyone to take a break, because I never do. It always felt like a waste of time. But then my friend Erin suggested something that made me see it in a whole new light: scheduling them in. And since I love scheduling so much, it made perfect sense. So now, when I make my calendars on Sunday, I include a day or two that I plan to take off. I spend it reading, free-writing, leaving my house, hanging out with friends and family, and just generally recharging my muse.
So there it is: my thoughts on productivity and how I plan to spend the next few months. And if I’m a little hard to get a hold of, this is why! I’ll check in mid-September and share how these productivity experiments worked for me and anything else I may have learned! Until then, I wish you all a happy, productive summer! <3