As someone who writes books, runs a website and does their own marketing and publishing, I'm often asked how I stay productive.
It's no easy feat. I have a never-ending list of things to do, and it can often feel as though there aren't enough hours in the day.
However, I do have some secret habits that help keep me on track, and make me feel as though I'm making progress.
So, let's dive in to the five secret habits of a productive writer!
1. Do-To List Tactics
I'm a massive fan of lists. Lists help me feel more organised, like I have a purpose and goals to work towards.
However, with so many different aspects of my job, even organising tasks into lists can become overwhelming, so here's how I approach it:
- Always keep the list shorter than one page. A list that goes across multiple pages is a recipe for disaster.
- Put smaller tasks you know you'll accomplish on your list. For example, I often add things like 'shower' and 'go for a walk', which aren't work-related, but they're something I have to do that day, so it helps me a) manage my time more effectively, but also b) it makes me feel good when I can cross them off.
- Have two separate to do lists – a weekly and a daily. Each day, I take tasks from my weekly list and add them to my daily. It makes keeping track of the larger tasks easier, and you get to check them off both lists as you do.
Bonus tip: If I finish a task and then leave my desk to do something else, I don't cross the task off as complete. Instead, I wait until I'm back at my desk starting the next task, and that's when I cross it off.
It makes me feel accomplished and confident crossing something off right before I start the next job. It's an odd little mind trick I play on myself, but it works!
For me, using a to-do list should make me feel good about the work I'm getting done.
It's about getting yourself in the right mentality to work, rather than how much work you're actually getting done.
2. Wake up early
There's nothing I hate more than waking up to find that half the morning's gone. Immediately that puts me in a frustrated mindset.
Even though I work for myself and work from home, I get up at the same time every day – 6am. By 6.30, I'm at my computer with a cup of tea preparing my to-do list for the day and getting anything urgent out of the way.
There's something about being awake before everyone else that makes me feel productive. By the time people start their 9am jobs, I've already done 2.5 hours of work.
Of course, everyone's different. Some people aren't morning people, for example. I suppose the key to this habit is making it work for you.
Figure out what time of day is most productive for you, and try to structure your day around that time.
3. Exercise and self-care
This is probably one of the hardest habits for writers to form, but I can't stress enough the importance of exercise and self-care.
Getting out of the office and into the fresh air can do wonders for your mental health and productivity.
A lack of self-care can lead to burnout, and a burnout is a lot harder to recover from than setting aside some time each day to look after yourself.
Personally, I like to take a mid-morning walk along the beach to clear my head and hit 'refresh' on my mind.
This does wonders for my productivity.
4. Use a timer
Setting an alarm or a stopwatch puts the pressure on slightly, and decreases the chances of procrastinating.
It's also a good way to ensure I take regular short breaks, which are essential for keeping my mind sharp and engaged (see exercise and self-care above!).
Using a timer is a great way to ensure that I use every second of time I've allotted.
Breaking tasks down on my list by time, rather than tackling a complete task, makes things seem more manageable.
For example, rather than putting 'Write Chapter Five' on my list, I'll put 'Chapter Five – 1 hour'.
5. Set realistic goals
One thing I'm incredibly passionate about is setting realistic (and therefore achievable) goals.
Without goals, it's easy to struggle to find a focus, and to cruise through doing the bare minimum.
When you set goals, however, you're making yourself accountable for your future and career. Setting realistic goals makes it far more likely you succeed, because they encourage constant improvement.
As my dear friend Claire says in her article on achievable goals for freelance writing, 'Goals are the difference between writing as a hobby and writing as a career'.
Personally, setting goals and being able to achieve them on a regular basis makes me a far more productive indie author.
I've always got my goals set out clearly before me. For example, an excerpt from this year's goals:
- 1 x novel per year (August/September)
- 3 x short stories (Jan, April, July)
- Increase subscriber base by 300
Having my goals laid out for me like this helps me power through, but it's worth noting that they're realistic.
It's up to you to know what's achievable for you.
While I'd love to publish two novels a year, at the moment, I know it's just not feasible for me, so I have to limit my goals.
And there you have it! Five now-not-so-secret habits of a productive indie author!
What are your go-to strategies for getting your writing done? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below!