Some days, you really feel productive: you are crossing things off your to-do list (or “next actions” list for those GTDers among us) left and right. There’s nothing you can’t do.
Other days, it seems as though you spend all day taking one step forward only to take two steps back. Nothing comes as easily as it did the day before, and no project seems to move toward completion.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could take actions to have more highly productive days and fewer days stuck in the Slough of Despond? Other blogs that discuss ways to apply productivity principles to your work and personal life often feature ways to engineer those highly productive days we dream of. See: 15 Tips to Make Today the Day You Finish Your To-Do List, Your Most Productive Week Ever!, Make Every Day Your Most Productive Day, and Purpose Your Day: Most Important Task (MIT). As these links show, a popular tactic is to prepare for a productive day the day before.
As you know, at Writing Power our mission is to discover productivity principles that will work to improve your writing life. So, let’s apply this day-before productivity principle to writing. Here are five ideas that you can do today to make tomorrow an insanely productive writing day.
1. Leave yourself clues. Before you finish writing for the day, jot down whatever ideas, examples, metaphors, or new directions are in your head. When you’ve been writing for a number of hours, there are always extra ideas in your head that you haven’t put on the page. Perhaps you hadn’t gotten to that point in the essay yet, or perhaps you’re not sure if the ideas have merit. Or perhaps they’re ideas that aren’t relevant to what you’re writing at the moment. Write those ideas down, and you’ll have a gold mine to work from tomorrow.
Your mind is like an engine, and when you’ve been writing for a while it is warmed up. It is churning out many ideas and thoughts, only a fraction of which you have used. When you write down those ideas, your unconscious mind will continue to think about them for hours after you finish writing. Then, when you begin to write the next day, reviewing those notes will give you a trail of breadcrumbs to follow until your mind gets warmed up again.
2. Stop writing in mid-sentence. This technique is also designed to get your brain moving without the resistance that often comes with starting work. Often, we stop writing for the day when we finish a section. We have a nice sense of accomplishment when we do that; however, that also means that we’ll have to start a new section tomorrow. Talk about a recipe for procrastination.
By stopping in the middle of a paragraph – nay, in the middle of a sentence – it will be easy to get going again. You’ll feel compelled to finish that sentence, and maybe write a few more to finish the paragraph. By that time, your brain will have warmed to your topic again, and you’ll be off to the races.
3. Plan a mix of revision and drafting. As you set writing goals for tomorrow, consider mixing drafting in with other tasks. There are two ways to do this. You could begin writing tomorrow by reviewing, rereading, and revising what you wrote today (or most recently). This will get your mind working with your topic without having to overcome the dreaded blank page. However, revising can often become its own procrastination method – if your goal is to draft more material, you’ll have to take care not to let revision take up half your day.
The other method is to begin by drafting (perhaps using the methods above) and move to revision in order to give your day variety. It is exhausting to work at one task for hours, so use revision, reading, or research to stay productive while avoiding burnout.
4. Keep a time or page log, and update it. How much did you write today? You can think of this in terms of time spent writing (minutes or hours) or in amount of written product (words or pages). Write it down, and see if you can equal or beat it tomorrow. Then tomorrow, write your total down, and see if you can equal or beat it the next day. Pretty soon, every day will be an insanely productive writing day.
I don’t know why this works, but I speculate that it’s human nature to achieve. For example, lots of people have collections: doll collections, baseball card collections, shot glass collections, t-shirt collections…each item collected feels like an achievement. For those who practice simple, uncluttered living, each item de-cluttered is an achievement. For people who aspire to be productive, each task completed, each life goal met is an achievement. So, take advantage of this innate human desire, and put it to work in the service of your writing.
5. Reward yourself. The problem with be-more-productive schemes is often that they presuppose a measure of dissatisfaction with the way you currently work. If you want to be more productive, the thinking goes, it must be because you’re not being productive enough right now. But that isn’t necessarily so.
Take a moment to be happy about what you have already achieved today, and look forward with hope for a great day tomorrow. You can do it.