A Strategy Primer for Writers: Part IV
February 25, 2021
Welcome back to the strategy primer for writers; a series in which we deep dive into workflow and productivity strategies used by successful entrepreneurs and creators to decrease procrastination.
Strategies already covered include setting the table, chunking down goals, and the do/defer/drop/delegate system (part I); open loop exercises, hijacking habits, and the Kolbe A Index (part II), and kitchen sink lists, first things, and the Kanban system (part III).
Now in true the-more-the-merrier fashion, let’s dig into our new batch of strategies. Today’s theme is time!
We never feel like we can get enough of it; but if Norman Meade is right, time is on our side. It may simply require a new mindset to shift your concept of time to your own benefit.
Let’s take a look at three approaches to your time and a perspective of it that will increase your productivity.
START WITH FIVE
Anytime I work with a writer, I’ll always ask if the person writes every day. Often the answer is no. I then ask if they wish they were writing every day. The answer so far has always been yes.
While the cause for each writer’s block varies from person to person, I’ve found that many are rooted in one tiny lie: they think they don’t have time.
It’s true; there are some people who do not have time to write, but the numbers of those who actually don’t are far fewer than you’d think. A more accurate statement may be, “I don’t have time to write well,” or, “I don’t have time to write 20 pages right now.”
If your brain demands perfection or high page counts in order to feel successful, it may keep telling you you just don’t have time to write. So how do you trick your brain out of script blocking you? Start with five minutes a day.
Five minutes may sound like such a short time that it couldn’t possibly offer a worthwhile return on investment, but the shortness is the point. It’s such a small task that it feels ridiculous not to try it.
And the key to this strategy is simple: you must stop writing after five minutes.
The aim of this is twofold; first, by stopping after five minutes, you are training yourself to work efficiently. You know you only have five minutes so even with attention and focus issues, the clock may actually run out before you have a chance to get distracted.
Second, and more importantly, stopping after five minutes teaches your brain that you can trust yourself.
Writers often think, “I’m going to write 50 pages today!” or, “I have the whole day free so I’m going to write for 12 hours!” It’s not that a writer can’t do these things, but if you’re just starting to build your habits, it’s more likely that you have tried to hit lofty goals, never hit them, and then given up out of discouragement.
Oddly enough, setting a timer for five minutes, writing for five minutes and then stopping is a clear way to set expectations consciously and subconsciously that will make it easier for you to continue with and grow a daily writing habit. Then, once you have a good habit set you can increase the time as you see fit.
THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE
If you regularly write for longer periods of time but are looking for a good way to structure that time more effectively, you may want to try the Pomodoro Technique.
According to this HubStaff blog post, “interruptions and burnout are two common and major time wasters. The Pomodoro Technique eliminates both of these through timing tasks and taking breaks."
How do you do it? Set a timer and spend 25 minutes uninterrupted on one single task. If interruptions or distractions occur, write them down to be addressed after your 25 minutes are complete.
When your timer signals the end of your 25 minutes, take a five-minute break. Repeat.
These chunks of 25 focused minutes followed by a five-minute break are called pomodoros. The timer creates a sense of urgency, while the breaks help to reduce the possibility of burnout. After every four pomodoros it is recommended that you take an even longer break.
If you want to try it out, you can time yourself or use an app or website like the Marinara Timer. I’ve also discovered an incredible write-along series on YouTube that uses the Pomodoro Technique called Welcome To My Desk. You can check it out here.
Created by Ashley Brooke Roberts, Roberts hosts a live daily YouTube video in which she plays white noise for 25 minutes followed by a five-minute break of chatting, and then 25 more minutes of white noise. Live videos are then archived on her YouTube channel so you can join her in real time or watch the videos later, whenever you need a focused hour of work.
Of note: I’ve actually written most of this strategy series while writing along with Roberts’ Welcome To My Desk videos. I’m a big fan.
LOG YOUR TIME
Mathematical physicist and engineer Lord Kelvin said, “if you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” This is the same thinking behind Laura Vanderkam’s book 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.
As Lanre Dahunsi's summary of the book explains, Vanderkam posits that out of the 168 hours available to each of us every week, most of us don’t use that time well because we’re not paying attention to how we’re using it.
The solution? Log your time. Here’s how:
Log how you spend the 168 hours that make up your week; sleep, work, family, fitness, friends, hobbies, rest, etc. At the end of the week, note any unused or misused blocks of time.
Pick one or more activities from the week that you want to cut down on or cut out completely from your schedule. Note any available windows of time in your schedule that you would like to rededicate to a particular focus in the weeks going forward.
We make time for the things that we value. This exercise will help you spot and rid yourself of insidious time-eating activities, while giving you the opportunity to re-evaluate how you spend your time going forward. That way, if you truly want to be writing, you can make it happen.
There are still a few more strategies to come, but until next time, happy writing!
Written by: Liz ThompsonLiz Thompson is a screenwriter and freelance development consultant. She has one show currently in development, is featured on The BitchList 2020, and won the 2019 Tracking Board Launch Pad Julian Silver mentorship. In between outlining and pitching she runs The Writer’s ARC group on Facebook, and can be found on Twitter at @howtoliz.