7 More Productivity Hacks for Writers

I’ve been reading a lot about productivity and thinking about how I can be more productive in my freelance career. In April, Diana wrote “10 Productivity Hacks for Freelancers.” Here are seven more.

1. Delegate. Delegate tasks to your spouse or kids, especially when you’re under a tight deadline and need all the help you can get. You can also hire people to take on jobs for you. For example, I now send my interview files to a transcriptionist. My interviews (and my articles) turn out better because I can concentrate on the interview and think up follow-up questions instead of typing madly as the source speaks.

2. Carry a card. In his book The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die, John Izzo stresses the importance of keeping your goals front-of-mind. I have a problem with this; for example, one of my goals is to eat healthfully, but when I’m hungry, the giant cheese pretzel at Borders takes over my brain, shunting my healthy-eating goal to the back of my consciousness. Only afterwards do I think, “Hey, I was supposed to choose the hummus and pretzels!” What I need is some way to remind myself of my goal every time I’m in a position to take steps towards it.

Izzo suggests writing down your goal on a card and looking at it 10 to 20 times per day. That way, when the opportunity comes up to make a move towards your goal, that goal will be on the top of your mind. For example, I could write “healthy food” on my card. If your goal is to break into a certain magazine and you need to generate article ideas, your card could read “ideas.” Whenever you look at the card, you’ll be reminded to look around you for new topics to pitch.

3. Get refreshed. Sometimes the best thing to do when you need to be productive is to take a break. Refreshing your mind (and your motivation) can help you overcome writer’s block and generate new ideas, among other things. When I’m feeling stuck, I go for a walk, make a cup of tea, or surf to random sites online. I also take various martial arts and yoga classes, which help me relax and come back to work feeling renewed and ready to roll.

4. Recalculate. Sometimes you need to step back and examine how you do things so you can reconsider how to make your actions more productive. For example, about a year ago, in my bi-yearly business plan, I wrote down all the tasks I do, from blogging to writing books to marketing my e-courses, and examined them to determine whether I was doing them in the most efficient way — or whether I needed to do them at all. As a result, I deleted several previously must-do tasks from my workload and opened up time for more important jobs.

5. Go techno. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love TextExpander, a Mac program that lets you use customized abbreviations for your frequently-used text strings and images. For example, when I type in “bbio,” my paragraph-long bio pops up. I’ve used TextExpander to pop in different e-mail signatures, my weekly e-course lessons, query closings, and more. So far, according to the program, I’ve saved myself from typing in more than two million words, and have saved 84 hours of my time.

I’m also learning how to use my iPhone to be more productive. I used to keep my interview schedule on a white board, but when I was working at Borders (as I often do), I couldn’t schedule interviews because I didn’t have the white board in front of me. Now, while I’m talking to a source on my iPhone, I can enter the interview into the iCal calendar and later sync it up with my laptop computer. I’m still an iPhone newbie, but I’m learning.

6. Ready-fire-aim. Steve Pavlina’s “ready-fire-aim” approach means that once you think of a task or a project, you immediately start it, even if you’re not yet sure how you’ll get to the end. You can always adjust course along the way as you gain experience. This is a great way to get through query letters: Just write your title and lede — you can always change them later — and launch into the body. Write “TK” in places where you need more information, and research them later.

7. Scratch them. The fastest way to get through a task is not to do it at all. Do you really need to do a certain job that’s been taking up space on your to-do list for the last month?

Do you have tips on becoming more productive? Please post them in the Comments section below. [lf]

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24 comments… add one
  • Lily

    Nice post on a subject where I definitely need all the help I can get! I particularly like the card idea – I think I’ll be trying that one.

    One question: what does TK stand for? Personally, I use <> or if I’m close to an idea but just can’t *grasp* a word, a nonsense word that gets somewhere close to trigger my memory when I look back.

  • Great tips. I just wanted to share some ways that a writer could find a transcriptionist if needed. Of course a simple search will reveal several companies (including mine) but a great way to find a person to transcribe audio that will fit in your budget is to post an ad on one of the freelance jobs sites. Transcriptionists are always looking for projects to work on. That way you can get a competitive rate, choose your completed by date and look at samples. Guru, ifreelance, rentacoder and elance are all very popular. Occasionally Craigslist will work, but ask for samples first. My company will also do the first transcript free, as will others, and that is a great way to try out a service.

  • Lily, thanks for your comment! TK stands for “to come.” (Why the K instead of a C? I have no idea.)

  • Hi, I just signed up for your RSS feed last week, and this is a great post to start off with for me. My writing career has really taken off recently, and these are some really useful tips on how to manage my workload and be more productive and efficient. Thanks!

  • Thanks, Anela! I’m so glad the site is helpful to you.

  • Great blog! Thank you for all the wonderful content!

    I’ve been a dedicated iPhone user since December 2007. Check out the App Store on iTunes, as they have a lot of productivity apps. I use the ToDo app, which can be synced with my computer via the Toodledo website. Very handy when my laptop computer is at home and I’m at the grocery store!

  • I found a great research tool the other day that could be helpful. I was researching a book on corporate social responsibility. There’s a ton of information out there, but knowing which sources are the best is hard. Just out of curiosity, I searched Twitter for my subject and came up with a handful of people who “tweet” on it. By looking at their profiles, I could tell how serious they are about the subject, first of all. Secondly, I was able to follow some of their links to some great and very recent studies! I’ll definitely try using Twitter as a research “assistant” again in the future.

  • Thanks, Brad and Elaine, for your great tips!

  • Elaine, that’s a fabulous tip. I’m working on a story right now where this could be really helpful. Thanks!

    L, I didn’t know you got an iPhone. cool!

  • Elaine, ok, dumb question — how do you search Twitter for subjects? When I plug in my search terms in the search box, I get only folks who have those terms in their Twitter name.

  • OK, figured it out: http://search.twitter.com

  • In a spin off of #3…
    Not only do I like to take a break from writing, I like to do something productive. Even something small like a load of laundry, some light cleaning, or any other task of my to-do list. Not only does it take my mind off of writing for a while, but it gives me a feeling of accomplishment and that momentum carries through when I get back to my desk.

    I recently posted some tips for conquering writer’s block, geared toward freelance writers. Check it out! http://tierakekaula.com/blog/2008/08/13/10-tips-to-conquer-writers-block-for-the-freelance-writer/

  • Linda, I could kiss you for number five. With a new book coming out, your tip easily will save me hundreds of hours. Thank you!

    One tip for being more productive is to connect with others. For example, if I start to feel tired at my desk from writing, I find that blogging, commenting, or communicating with my students, re-energizes and re-focuses me. Rather than just me slaving away at home all alone, being part of a community creates synergy.

  • Great ideas, Tiera and Christine!

  • If you get writers block and need to get the wheels working you should write something on our Creative Writing Game. Its good fun.

  • This article is terrific. I’m going to post a link to it on my Developing as a Professional blog. I’d also like permission to distribute it with attribution to participants in my Developing as a Professional and Time Management workshops. Thanks.

  • Sure, Patricia, feel free! Just please credit the Renegade Writer blog. Thanks!

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