Do you ever feel like you spend most of your life juggling? I know I do. Three kids. Marriage. Teaching. Coaching. Speaking. Writing. Facilitating. Blogging.
Life is crazy.
Perhaps, like me, you find it difficult to find time to write. You know that if you just had a little more time and a lot more quiet (and maybe that dream cabin in the woods) you could write your novel, prepare your script, or develop that program you’ve been wanting to create for years.
Unfortunately, at least for me, the cabin in the woods will have to wait for another day. Because I have real life to attend to, and there’s no time for a writing retreat. (Someday…)
But here’s the good news. We can write more and we can be more productive.
I’ve had the privilege of working with some phenomenal authors. Many of them are best-sellers. These high-caliber writers create mountains of words every week. And they juggle other responsibilities just like you and me.
The difference is that, as I’ve studied these thought leaders and publishing giants, I’ve realized that they have habits and time management tricks that help them multiply their creative input. Thankfully, when you and I harness those secrets, we can multiply our output too.
So what can you do to tap into the work and writing habits of these highly successful, efficient, and productive writers?
1. Write with passion.
If you have trouble getting up early or staying up late to write, then maybe you don’t have a motivation problem, maybe you have an inspiration problem. Boredom is the death of creativity. If you want to increase your productivity, then make sure you care deeply about the words you are putting on the page. Write about things that make your heart beat. Write the words that swirl in your head when you lay down to sleep. Write words that pour out of you because they come from the deep places in your mind and soul. Write the words that ache to be expressed. You only have so much time on this earth and there’s a finite number of words you can write in your lifetime. Don’t waste your words. Life’s too short to spend yourself on work that doesn’t set you on fire.
2. Give yourself a deadline.
Recently I completed a Blogging Challenge with Jeff Goins. (You can check out the details here.) The challenge was intense, but the daily tasks (and accountability) made a huge difference in my productivity. At the end of seven days, I was shocked by how much I had accomplished.
Now, if you aren’t a professional writer, then perhaps you’ve never had a strict deadline before. Your world doesn’t come crashing down if you don’t hit publish or mail off your manuscript. It’s easy to put off your work because there’s no obvious penalty for procrastinating. This isn’t true for a professional writer. If we don’t write (and publish) then we don’t eat.
The truth is that we suffer from the same desire to procrastinate or over-perfect our writing that you do. The difference is that we have no choice. There’s no time for another edit. We can’t wait for another day. I can’t wait to feel inspired. The work has to be done.
Deadlines are actually a beautiful thing. Because there is promise and potential in positive pressure. Deadlines are a catalyst for great work because they force you to take action. Here’s what you need to know:
If you don’t feel the pressure to create, you will create less.
Even if you don’t write professionally, you can harness the power of deadlines. Set them for yourself. Artificial deadlines can be effective as long as you hold yourself accountable for them. When you do, you’ll find that both the quantity and the quality of your output will improve. The more you write, the better writer you become. Win, win.
3. Give yourself less time.
Deadlines that stretch too in the future can be counter-productive. If you want to get more done, then give yourself less time. Don’t give yourself reasons to stall. Don’t give yourself time to perfect every detail of your work. There’s no such thing as a perfect speech, blog post, podcast, or book. Everything can be rewritten and improved. In fact, as I explained in my recent blog post, Perfectionism is a Cage, perfectionism can actually hold you hostage. It can silence you. When you give yourself less time, you have fewer opportunities to make excuses and critique your work to death. If it makes you feel better, let me share a little secret.
Great writers aren’t perfect writers. If they waited for perfection, they’d never publish.
Your favorite writers publish imperfect work all the time. So, quit waiting for perfect. When you do, you’ll find that you accomplish more. Don’t let fear get in the way of sharing your work with the world.
4. Get out of your box.
Most of us are creatures of habit. You probably have a niche or genre where you feel comfortable. I imagine you tend to write in a particular style or for a specific audience. I encourage you to challenge yourself. Re-think the expectations you have of yourself. If you aren’t careful, your expectations can become your limitations.
I first learned this lesson when working with a leader in the publishing industry. If you’d like more insight into my story and how I learned to dive into new territory and how it changed my career, I encourage you to sign-up for my newsletter. I will be doing a free teaching call on this very subject in the next couple of weeks. (And if you are on my list, you get access to free resources, special offers, and teachings that you don’t want to miss.)
So, get out of your comfort zone. If you typically write nonfiction, try a fiction piece. Write for a new audience. Create a new piece of cornerstone content. Write about something that really riles you up. Develop a new product or keynote. Write about a current issue or a controversial topic. I guarantee that you are capable of creating things you haven’t even imagined yet. Force yourself out of your rut and see what happens. You might just surprise yourself.
5. Plan for your pockets of time.
When it comes to finding more time to write, one of the easiest things to do is to maximize the time you already have. Start with the pockets of time that already exist in your normal schedule. Pockets of time are the few minutes here and there that you might typically waste because you are waiting—in line at the bank or doctor’s office, while your child is finishing soccer or piano, or even in the few minutes it takes for the coffee to brew. And though these pockets of time don’t last long, it’s amazing how much you can accomplish when you use that time wisely.
They key is to have a plan for your pockets of time. Instead of getting on Facebook, talking on the phone, or texting a friend – make that time work for you. Know what you’re writing next and start drafting. Or make a list of upcoming blog post ideas. Outline your upcoming keynote speech. Brainstorm ideas for your next chapter. Keep a list of quotes and use one as a launching pad. Carry a book with you and do research for your next chapter. Look for the “pockets” in your day and make them count. Just because the time is short doesn’t mean that it can’t be (very) productive.
6. Practice regular jam sessions.
This is an idea that I borrowed from Darren Hardy, CEO of Success Magazine. A jam session is simply a sixty or ninety minute block of time that you set aside for your highest return-on-investment activities. You turn off your phone. You don’t check email. You eliminate every possible distraction and focus entirely on work. From the first second, you are on GO. Full throttle.
This is one of my favorite “hacks” because it has given me the greatest reward. For me, however, the only catch is that there is only one time of day that I can (almost) guarantee a distraction-free zone. First thing in the morning, before my three young children wake up. And though I hate that time of day as much as the next person, I’ve grown to love how much I get accomplished. I don’t just get some work done – I get a lot of work done.
Pick your highest priority this week and schedule two jam sessions on that priority. Give yourself the gift of complete focus during those two sessions. This one practice – if done repeatedly – can change your work (and your life.)
7. Keep a Spark File.
A spark file is simply a file of ideas that “spark” your interest or imagination. And it is an invaluable tool when it comes to having a plan for your time. I keep my Spark File in an app called Evernote. Since I write frequently about perfectionism, writing, business, leadership, and personal growth, I keep files of articles related to those topics. I save quotes that inspire me as well as stories that I know I’ll use in a future article, blog post, or book. I keep a running list of books (and articles, podcasts, and blog posts) that I want to write in the future and I start saving material for each one. I may not write those pieces for a few years, but I’ll have a pool of resources ready when the time comes.
If you do the work – there will be no need to twiddle your thumbs when you sit down to write. These stored lists and resources will ensure that you make the best use of your time.
8. Expose yourself to great thinking.
You can’t pour from an empty bucket. Ultimately, the quality of your writing is dependent on the quality of your thinking. If you want to improve your work, then improve the quality of the ideas you engage with on a daily basis. Fill your life with inspiring, thought-provoking, fascinating people and experiences. Fill your mind with good raw material – read great books, go to seminars, and listen to podcasts that relate to your areas of interest. Read the major works in your niche. Create a bubble of great thinking in your world and watch it spill over into your thinking and writing time.
9. Multi-purpose your writing.
In my experience, most people don’t consider the ways they can leverage their writing to create bigger and better results in their life or business. It is, in fact, one of the biggest reasons that people engage my services as a thinking partner. Writing may be a creative endeavor, but it is also a business. If you want your writing to pay, then you must become an entrepreneur. And that means that you have to think about the business of writing. One way you can do that is to think about how you can get the most out of your productivity. Think about how your work can pay you as a product or service. Consider how you can transform your existing content into something new.
For instance – have you thought about turning your last article or report into a podcast? Could you create a workshop out of your keynote or a keynote out of your workshop? Have you thought about breaking your book into smaller pieces and then blogging your way to the finish line?
If you really want to stretch your output, then you need to stretch the ways you use the content you create. And then you need to monetize it. Writing for the sole purpose of writing is great – but if you want to increase your income, then it takes strategy to do so. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a content coach or consultant if you need help in this area of your business.
10. Focus on long-term rewards.
One of my coaching clients recently admitted that he puts off writing because there’s no immediate payoff for the time he invests. And he has a good point. Often, the payoff doesn’t come until later. But the work you do when no one is watching, when you don’t have to do it, is the work that sets you apart. It’s the very work that makes you exceptional. It’s the work that pays dividends in the future. Don’t let short-sightedness keep you from the rewards of consistent writing. Remember, instant gratification is rare when it comes to high-quality work. But you can reach your long-term goals—keynote speeches, workshops, books, and more—when you devote time to writing right now.
Here’s the thing. These tips can help you develop the habits that lead to increased creative output. You really can be more productive. You really can do work that inspires you. But if you change nothing, then nothing changes. Focus on implementing one or two of the above tips and pay attention to how it changes—and increases—your output. And be sure to let me know how these tips or strategies work for you OR share your tips for increased productivity in the comments section below.
Do you want to learn more about increasing your capacity and productivity? Sign up for Free Updates to get information about the upcoming Q and A call I have scheduled on this very topic. We’d love to have you join us!