Fingers on the keyboard, you look at the time and commit to an hour of focused writing time. Then you begin to write.
Slowly, very slowly the words appear on the computer screen. Each one feels like giving birth…painful and difficult..but you continue writing.
At the end of an hour, you put your hands in your lap and look at what you produced—a few hundred words…maybe.
Low Productivity Begets Lower Productivity
I know what it feels like to have an unproductive writing period—or unproductive writing day, week, month. It’s crazy-making, especially if you need to get a project done…fast.
Moreover, the less productive I am, the more likely I am to find lots of ways to be even less productive. I’ll do research. I’ll look at YouTube video, scroll through Facebook’s feed, fill bird feeders, or play with the dog.
None of this makes me a more productive writer.
In the last three years, however, I discovered four steps guaranteed to make me consistently more productive as a writer. (These come out of my Certified High Performance Coaching work with writers, which I now offer in the Nonfiction Writers University Masters.) I’ve tested the steps month over month with members of my Nonfiction Writers’ University during our virtual writing sessions. The writers to whom I’ve taught this methodology report significant improvements in their productivity.
As they say in the 12-Step Programs, the steps work if you work them. You can opt to take one or more of the steps before writing. You can mix them up to see which order works best for you. However, I find that the four together work like a charm.
No matter the order or amount of steps you choose, as soon as you finish, sit down and write! Watch your productivity skyrocket!
Step #1: Release your thoughts and concerns.
Before beginning your next writing period, take at least two minutes to meditate. That’s right; slow your mind down. It’s normally busy circulating thoughts about things unrelated to your writing, and these distract you and make it hard to focus.
I use Brendon Burchard’s Release Meditation Technique, and this is the one I recommend to my students and clients. It’s pretty simple: breath in and out while saying the word “release.” The idea is to let go of any thoughts or concerns, and you’d be amazed at how just two minutes of meditation with this mantra—or any mantra—prepares your mind fo focus.
You can use any meditation you like. And you can meditate for more than two minutes. However, don’t use meditation as a way to procrastinate. I have found that two to five minutes is enough to get my brain calm, focused, and ready to write.
Step #2: Energize your body.
Your body and brain need to be ready to write as well. So take a minute to rev them up with a breathing exercise before starting your next writing period. After all, your brain needs oxygen to function at it’s best. Your body also gets into high gear when given the oxygen it needs.
The breathing exercise I teach has several aspects:
- Breath deeply and forcefully in and out through your nose. This should be a diaphragmatic breath. (Your stomach, not chest, fills with air.)
- Bounce up and down, either with heels leaving the floor or knees bending, as you breathe.
- Smile as you breathe.
- Clap as you breathe.
I know… I’ve asked you to do something that sounds harder than chewing gum and walking. If you can’t smile and bounce, okay; drop these and try to add them in at another time. Clap and breath quickly and forcefully through your nose, but don’t make yourself dizzy! Go at your own pace while still pushing a bit past your comfort zone.
You will clap and take deep breaths 20 times. When done, you will clap five times more, this time saying, “I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m READY!” as loudly as you can. (I typically get louder as I go.)
Step #3: Set your intention for the writing period.
This 15 to 30-second step can make all the difference to your writing period. It’s so important to have a clear idea of what you will write or the goal you want to accomplish. Without such clarity, you will flounder around and waste time on false starts, tangents, and revisions.
So, take less than a minute to set an intention. Say to yourself, “I intend to write 500 words in the next 30 minutes.” Or “I intend to complete my blog post on productivity tips.” You get the idea.
Step #4: Set a defined end time for your writing period.
Always have a writing deadline—even for your daily writing period. If you look at proven productivity methods, like the Pomodoro Technique, they all use deadlines to help create urgency.
I suggest you write for 30 to 50 minutes for maximum effectiveness. During the set time, write as fast as you can—and only write. Don’t edit or research. You are writing, which uses a different part of the brain than other tasks.
Mix It Up to Find Your Productive Place
As I said, feel free to mix these steps up. Some of the NFWU members prefer to breathe first, meditate, and then set an intention. Others like to set an intention, meditate, and then breathe. Still others will set an intention first, breathe, and then meditate.
Here’s my preferred progression with a few extra productivity enhancers mixed in.
- Set an intention.
- Write for 50 minutes.
- Take a 5 to 10 minute break during which I:
- Stand up, stretch, and take three deep breaths.
- Drink water. (Your brain also needs H2O to function well.)
- Move—take a five-minute walk, do a few squats, complete one round of Sun Salutations, or just march in place.
- Drink more water (and maybe visit the bathroom).
Then I start over again—if I plan to write for another 50 minutes. However, sometimes all I have is an hour for writing before I go on to a different project or task.
Give these writing productivity tips a try. Leave me a comment below and tell me about your results.
Photo courtesy of Melpomene