If you’re anything like me, the biggest thing preventing you from success isn’t a lack of ideas, finding clients, or choosing the words that best express your ideas. It’s putting your butt in the chair and getting the work done.
As a freelance writer, it’s all too easy to let procrastination take over. You put things off until the last minute, then rush through it.
Sure, the writing might still be pretty good. But maybe it could have been better.
Today, we’re going to talk about some of the best tips and tools for improving your productivity as a writer. Everyone has different preferences when it comes to working, but we think you’ll find that some of these are just what you need.
It’s helpful to have some sort of system to help you remember everything that you need to do. This is easy when you turn to the classic to-do list. Many people still stick with paper versions of this, using either a planner or the increasingly popular bullet journal. If you’re attached to your smartphone, you might prefer an app like Todoist or Trello.
However, lists alone won’t necessarily help you stay productive. If the items on your list are too big, you may struggle to manage your time properly. For instance, instead of “Write content for Company A’s website,” you’d want to break it down into things like “Write Company A’s Home page” and “Write Company A’s service page.” Other big projects might require you to break it down into things like research, outline, write, and edit.
Checking things off of your to-do list is a good feeling.
It’s important to take breaks while you work, but if you’re feeling unfocused, it’s easy to find yourself straying. In fact, I’ve probably checked Facebook, email, text messages, and the news about 10 times before writing this sentence. I wish I was joking.
Using “distraction blockers” can help you stay on task when you don’t have the self-control necessary to do this on your own. Some people simply disconnect their internet so that they aren’t able to browse websites while writing. If you need access to some sites for research, though, consider putting adding some extensions that will block pre-selected sites. For instance, StayFocusd will block sites during certain time periods or after a certain amount of time. There’s a 24-hour waiting period after you try to make changes, so you can’t game the system by changing your limits after your time is up.
The Pomodoro Method is another popular way of blocking distractions. You commit to working for a solid 25 minutes, then get a five minute break. You can do this with any timer, but Strict Workflow is an extension that will actually block sites for you.
Music for Focus
Some people couldn’t work without playing music, but others say that they find the music distracting. If that sounds like you, you may want to give it another try with some special types of music. For instance, the music in video games is specifically designed to keep you focused for extended periods of time. You can often find the background music from your favorite games on YouTube. Brain.fm also creates music that’s supposedly designed to increase your focus.
One key element to both of these types of music is that there are no distracting lyrics. So even if you don’t find either of these ideas appealing, you might enjoy listening to other types of music that don’t have words, like jazz or classical music.
Getting Out of the House
When you work from home, you’re surrounded by distractions that go beyond the lure of the kitten videos and art history memes you find on the internet. There are things like dishes, laundry, and vacuuming. Since these are necessary chores, you feel obligated to take them on, but this takes you away from your work.
Get your butt out of the house. Treat yourself to a fancy coffee and sweet thing at the local coffee shop. Save yourself some money by going to the library. Without the distractions of the home, you will feel more focused. Sometimes, the work that I do at the library in two hours is triple the amount of work I do when I’m “working” all day from home.
Your days of having the teacher give you a gold star may be long gone, but there’s no reason you can’t reward yourself for a job well done. Many people feel motivated to do boring tasks when there’s something waiting for them at the end. This could be something simple, like a small piece of chocolate after finishing an article or reading the next chapter in your book after writing 1,000 words. It could also be something bigger like treating yourself to a coveted pair of boots after you hit a challenging monthly earnings goal.
Certain apps have gotten into gamifying and rewarding productivity too. For instance, Habitica is a goal-setting and to-do list type app where you can earn points for completing your tasks. You try to help your character level up to unlock things like pets and skills. It makes productivity fun.
On the flip side, some people find they work better when there’s a risk of a punishment. One way to do this is to pledge a certain amount of money to a charity you hate if you don’t reach your goals. Tell a friend your plan and have them make sure you follow through.
Write or Die is a tool that’s favored by those who prefer this sort of negative pressure environment. You set your writing goals, and if you pause for too long, the program starts to delete your words one at a time.
The more productive you are as a writer, the more money you’ll be able to make. It pays to invest a bit of time in finding ways to improve your focus and output in ways that make sense for you.
Shannon T has been writing professionally for over 10 years. In addition to the thousands of articles, blog posts, and web pages she’s ghostwritten, she has bylined work that’s been published on sites like Headspace.com, ModernMom.com, Chron.com, and Fool.com (The Motley Fool).