Keep Track of Everything
It can be as simple as a text file, or as detailed as a spreadsheet, but a record of when you started and ended a work-session is incredible helpful to have. Keeping measurements of how well you’ve done, and in what environments have done wonders for my ability to get things done. The projects where I record my productivity show clearly where I work best and under what conditinos I work best. They also show where I don’t work also.
For example, when I’m working on my novel I keep track of start and end times, my word count before and after, and a note of what part of the story I’m working on along with a note on the environment. The spreadsheet does the rest, and clearly shows that I’m at the height of my productivity out of the house in the mornings, in a place that’s neither empty nor busy. Which brings me to my next point:
Environment is Everything
So it might not be any surprise to you that the biggest hamper to my productivity is sitting at my desktop PC in my own home. But if I pick up my laptop and sit on the patio? Or walk to the university campus, sit in a cafe, or the library? My numbers climb exponentially.
The only problem I find with this approach is that outside of your home or office means you might have to worry about your laptop battery. There aren’t always wall-sockets for you to plug into, and unless you have a laptop that can last all day you could be in trouble.
But wait! I can tie that into another piece of advice!
Try Writing in Sprints
Now this certainly doens’t sound like it’s for everyone, I certainly didn’t like it at first. That said, if trial, error and the internet have taught me anything it’s that you can make it work in a way that suits you.
For example: I read on Rachel Aaron’s blog about increasing words per hour (which must be internet famous by now right?) that she found a lot of success in thinking about what she was going to write before she actually wrote. So I gave it a try and came up with a variation that works for me. When I finish writing a part of my story or a section of work, I’ll write in my notebook a question or two about owhat comes next and spend time between sessions thinking about those. When I sit back down I hopefully have an idea, and write a short paragraph or two about the upcoming parts, which usually encompas two or three sprints. Between these sprints, all I tend to unwind and prepare myself mentally.
The goold old Writers Notebook requires no introduction. It’s a great idea to keep one near by at all times. In my experience, spending a bit of money on a nice notebook tends to mean you value it more and take the act of keeping a notebook more seriously. Not to mention that actually writing something down means you remember it better and if freewriting teaches us anything, it’s that handwriting things helps us get things straight in our own minds.
And they’re not just great for ideas. While mine certainly is mostly ideas, I find it’s a great way of taking problems and thoughts out of my head and putting them in a place where I know I’ll come back to them later. It’s almost like a real-life Pensieve. (I don’t need to explain the Harry Potter reference I hope)
Easily Achievable Goals
You’ve heard of lists. They’re a great way of breaking things down into equal bite-sized chunks. Just don’t go overboard, you want to spend as little time dealing with the list as possible, otherwise it’s just procrastination. There’s something quite motivational about checking items off the list frequently. Once you’ve divided things up as small and equal as you can, they you start setting goals.
For example, when I work on my projects, I set the goal of doing 8 sections of the new Age of Fear 3 campains or 1000 words of my novel, minimum, on days that I do them. That’s alongside at least one item from an “Other” list I have, which is things like replying to emails, working on blog posts and some personal productivity tools.
Of course, sometimes you can’t motivate yourself to do something on that list. That’s where the beauty of the 4D time management technique comes in!
4D Time Management
Eliminate, Automate, Delegate, Concentrate and Procrastinate. This little gem I got from a TED Talk. The basic idea is that you pass a task through a cycle of possabilities.
First, do you actually need to do the task? If you can just get rid of it, you should. This approach is also used by bullet journaling. If a task passes through the cycle too many times, it’s clearly not important enough to do.
Next, ask yourself if the task can be automated. For instance, I once had to convert a script (as in writing) into an xml file. I could have gone through page by page and rewrote it but that wouldn’t be fun. Instead, I made a python script (as in programming) to automatically do that for me. It was more fun, and probably saved me quite a bit of time.
If you can’t do either of the above, then can you get someone else to do it? As the charismatic Rory Vaden in the linked video says, “anything can be delegated.”
Assuming the task’s gotten this far, it’s now a question of does it need doing now or can it be done later? Thus, concentrate or procrasstinate. That’s not to say putting it off is bad, as it goes back through the cycle again, however you have to consider the project that the task is a part of. You can’t justifiably say you can’t do something now when that thing is a prerequisite for something else, especially when there is an overall deadline. But that just goes back to “Goals.”