The clock moves inexorably further toward the deadline, sped by the flashing of the cursor on the screen.
Whether I’m writing press releases, landing page copy for a law firm in Timbuktu, or crafting some other form of scintillating prose, sometimes I wish I could just type faster. Or maybe transmit my words to the screen via osmosis.
According to experts, we can hack our lives to get the most productive hours out of each day. Though these tips won’t save you from occasional days that shred your motivation to confetti, they will help you increase your output to cover for those moments.
1. Go to your happy place.
Whether it’s the bean bag on your living room floor or the Starbucks down the street, go someplace that frees you from distractions. Did you know that Agatha Christie, the author of 80 mystery novels, never owned a desk? I like to think I’m channeling the mystery maven, because my happy place is a coffee shop, instrumental music, and a double-shot caramel latte. What’s yours?
2. Clear your slate.
If your mind keeps jumping to your to-do list, keep a piece of scratch paper with “things to think about later.” Write that nagging thought down and put it aside for now. Google’s Executive Chairman says his productivity secret is to hang onto a single, laser-like focus on the task at hand. Do whatever’s necessary to secure that focus. It helps me to have a literal blank slate—I have to work at a clean table or desk. Otherwise, my mind feels as cluttered as my surroundings.
3. Get off Facebook (or email, or whatever).
Tell yourself you’ll check your communications when you finish your current project, or at the top of the hour. But don’t leave those tabs open on your computer screen. They’re evil forces that will undermine your crisp, sparkling prose. 99U’s article, “How Effective People Handle Email,” has some good starting places to help reform your inbox.
4. Schedule smart.
A recent study shows that the non-optimal might be the new optimal; night owls are actually at their most creative toward the beginning of the day. Experiment with the time of day that works best for you. Having a goal or an end in sight works wonders: “I’m going to write until 11 a.m.” fits my attitude far better than “I’m going to write until I’m regurgitating adjectives.”
Don’t feel badly about taking breaks, either. Musicians do it; why shouldn’t you, the composer of semantic brilliance?
5. Work smarter, not harder.
When you get paid by the word, it’s easy to jump to get that blinky cursor moving across the screen ASAP. But writers don’t often get paid for some of the most essential work they do: pre-writing. Take a moment to create a mental map. You don’t have to write an actual outline, but having a plan before you start writing will help you finish faster. According to the Harvard Business Review, this type of planning can help you get more done in less time.
Steffani J is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.