Fiction Writing Made Easy

#134: How To Stop Procrastinating: 5 Productivity Tips For Writers

March 19, 2024 Savannah Gilbo Episode 134
Fiction Writing Made Easy
#134: How To Stop Procrastinating: 5 Productivity Tips For Writers
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“It's really important to focus on the big picture story first and not worry about granular details that you can figure out later.” - Savannah Gilbo

Get more done in less time, overcome procrastination, and become a master at time management with these 5 super simple productivity tips that I’ve been using daily for the last 10 years.

Read the blog post here!

Here’s a preview of what’s included:

[01:07] What is productivity and why does it matter?

[04:44] How to time block your days in a way that works for YOU—plus, what this looks like for me (spoiler alert: I’m a night owl so I do my best work at night!).

[10:49] Tips for prioritizing your most important tasks so you don’t get stuck in the weeds doing things that don’t move the needle in terms of finishing your book.

[17:12] Why multitasking is NOT the answer to higher productivity—and a few surprising ways writers multi-task without even realizing it.

[27:26] Cultivating these habits is a gradual process that requires consistent effort. If incorporating all five tips seems overwhelming, experiment with a single tip this week. As you progress, incorporate additional habits and eventually, you'll evolve into a more productive writer.

Links Mentioned In This Episode:

Want to write a novel but not sure where to start? Click here to grab a FREE copy of my Story Starter Kit workbook that'll help you get clarity on your characters, setting, theme, plot, and so much more!

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Speaker 1:

It's okay if you don't like editing, it's okay if world building is stressful for you, or it's okay if you wake up on any given Wednesday and just don't feel like writing. Right, that doesn't mean anything. They're just feelings and preferences. So you know we're not going to enjoy every single piece of the process. But if you feel the procrastination gremlin kind of starting to rear its ugly head and you're like, oh gosh, I need to get things done, but I can feel this kind of resistance coming Times, is really helpful to start your day with the task that you enjoy the most. First, welcome to the Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast. My name is Savannah Gilbo and I'm here to help you write a story that works. I want to prove to you that writing a novel doesn't have to be overwhelming. So each week I'll bring you a brand new episode with simple, actionable and step-by-step strategies that you can implement in your writing right away. So whether you're brand new to writing or more of a seasoned author looking to improve your craft, this podcast is for you. So pick up a pen and let's get started.

Speaker 1:

In today's episode we're going to talk about productivity, and I wanted to tackle this topic because one of the most common questions I get asked is how can I be a more productive writer or how can I make the most of my limited time so that I can actually finish my book this year? And I get why questions like this are really common. Thanks to social media, emails, text messages and the millions of other notifications we receive on our smartphones every single day, it's no wonder we have a hard time focusing. The truth is, most authors can only write in limited pockets of time. They have day jobs that keep them busy, families that they want to spend time with, and other hobbies or obligations that result in a jam-packed day. So not every author is lucky enough to make writing their full-time job, and some don't even want to. Plus, there's the whole thing about being distracted by shiny objects, right? You know what I'm talking about here. One minute you're working on your novel and the next minute you're looking at a YouTube video all about how to groom your golden retriever. So this begs the question are we doomed to deal with chronic procrastination and unproductivity forever, or can we hack our productivity and start making more progress with our creative work? Luckily, I'm here to tell you that there are some mindful habits that you can easily implement into your daily routine to dramatically improve your focus, productivity and even your overall quality of life.

Speaker 1:

In today's episode, I'm going to share with you the five things I do every single day to breeze through my to-do list and produce my best quality work, whether that's working on my business or working on my novel. And this is true even when I'm feeling super unmotivated to get work done. But before we dive into those specific tips, let's make sure we're on the same page about what productivity is and why it's important. So what is productivity and why does it matter? Well, many of the authors I work with associate productivity with how much they can check off their to-do list. But the truth is, checking off items on your to-do list is not what productivity is really about. True productivity is more about how productive you feel you are and how accomplished you feel at the end of each day, and that is very subjective. It's all related to your individual goals and expectations. So what feels productive for me and what might make me feel accomplished is probably very different from what makes you feel productive and what makes you feel accomplished, and that's okay. It is a very subjective thing and I think that's really important to note.

Speaker 1:

As writers, we also have to do a lot of kind of invisible work as well, right? So, for example, let's say you spend an entire day brainstorming different ideas for your novel. On the surface, it might not seem like you accomplished much that day, because how do you actually show that you brainstorm something? Right, it's hard to make that tangible, but in reality, you've actually done quite a lot of important work towards finishing your novel. So just a couple things to keep in mind. Right, productivity is going to look different for everybody. It's very subjective, and when it comes to writing, there is a lot of invisible work that goes into the process.

Speaker 1:

Now, I'm a firm believer that there is a time and a place for everything a time for brainstorming, a time for planning, a time for writing and a time for review and revisions. Life is all about balance, and this is true when it comes to your writing as well. So, not every day is going to be a writing day, and that is okay. It's important to recognize the value of brainstorming and planning, and even those revising days too, right? It's all part of the process and all of that work counts. So, with all of that in mind, here are my top five productivity tips.

Speaker 1:

Tip number one is to time block your day, and I think this is the key to maximizing your productivity. It's to figure out when you work best and then time block your day accordingly. So are you an early bird who gets their best work done in the morning, or do you get an afternoon rush of energy and creativity, or are you like me and you're more of a night owl? Now, something that I wish I had known earlier is that there's not a right answer to this. So I used to think that because I don't get up at 5.30, that you know something's wrong with my process, or maybe I wasn't being as productive or as efficient as I could. But in all honesty, I am just not my best self or my most creative self in the morning. So once I kind of realized that and learned that about myself, it was a lot easier to block my days around when I feel most productive and most creative.

Speaker 1:

So for me, I block my days like this I set aside time to be creative, I set aside time to handle administrative tasks and or projects, and then I have time for meetings. So those are kind of like the three chunks of what I do when it comes to my business and to writing my novel. Now, like I mentioned, I do my best work in the evening or at night, so that's when I dedicate time to being creative or doing bigger projects that require me to be a little more creative. So this is typically when I get the most writing done, the most content creation for the podcast and even some of my client work. I schedule most of my meetings for the first few hours of my day, so these could be meetings with other people in the industry, or it could be coaching calls with my clients. I just like to have those calls done with first thing in the morning so that I'm freed up to use the rest of my day in a way that works for me. So in the afternoon, when I'm in a very left brain state, I will do administrative tasks or respond to emails or social media comments, or I might even edit podcast episodes and things like that. So, like I mentioned earlier, this was not something that just happened overnight. I didn't develop this system just one day and it all worked. It took a lot of troubleshooting and kind of figuring out when I work best or at what time of day do I work on certain projects best and things like that.

Speaker 1:

So I think it's really important to note that everybody has a different creative time. So you also will need to experiment with kind of how you work and notice when you're at your creative best. And then, if writing a novel is on your to-do list this year, which I assume it is, I assume you're either writing, editing or publishing a novel. If you are listening to this podcast, then you'll want to schedule everything else around that as much as you can. So protect your creative time as fiercely as you can. I know this is not super easy for everybody. Like I said, we all have life and family and hobbies and all these things. Right, we have all this stuff to plan our days around, but when you can protect your creative time as fiercely as possible. So that's tip number one to time block your day and figure out when you work best, when you're at your most creative, and then protect that time and dedicate it to being creative and working on your novel.

Speaker 1:

Tip number two is to be mindful of how you start your mornings. So I think it's really important that you make sure you're starting every day with the right state of mind, which is easier said than done when you consider the stress and chaos that most of us encounter during our morning routines. Maybe you were up all night with a screaming baby, or maybe the dog threw up all over the carpet at 5am. Maybe you're going through some personal stuff, or you got a very unfriendly text or email first thing this morning. I mean, there's always something right. Any of these things can sabotage your productivity for the day, even before your scheduled writing time, and although they're not necessarily avoidable, you can be mindful of how much stuff you let in first thing in the morning.

Speaker 1:

So for me personally, I mentioned earlier that I don't do my best creative work in the morning. So this is really when I like to do meetings or take client calls and things like that. So the very first thing I do when I wake up in the morning if I have calls right away that morning, I will put my phone on do not disturb, which I know is such a simple thing, but it makes a huge difference in my ability to concentrate and kind of ease into the morning right. Then I go to the kitchen, I make myself a cup of coffee, I feed the dogs and I spend about 30 to 45 minutes really just kind of drinking my coffee, watching the dogs sniff around the yard or whatever it is that I feel like doing. Personally, I like to ease into my mornings. I like a little more time in the morning than you know other people will, but that's just how I work. I also like to try to be mindful that my baseline for the day is slow, steady and mindful and I'm not, you know, getting up and rushing or feeling stressed right away.

Speaker 1:

Even if all you have is five minutes in the morning, I recommend taking the time to think about how you could give yourself an easier start to your day. Even if you're not able to sit down and write first thing in the morning, or if your creativity happens better at night, starting your day off on the right foot will have a ripple effect out through the rest of your day. So if you're like me and you are kind of a night owl or you like to write in the afternoon or the evening, sometimes, just the difference of kind of easing into your day and having a good morning that doesn't feel hectic or stressful it's like a row of dominoes, right. But you know, imagine you had had a really stressful morning and then by the time, I don't know. Three o'clock, six o'clock, nine o'clock rolls around, you might still be feeling the effects of the stress from that morning. So you know, I think this is just really important to think about and it will make a difference in how you show up for your work and for your writing. So that's tip number two is to be mindful of how you're, you know, going into your mornings. Try to ease into your morning if you can and just think about kind of current habits and if any of them need some tweaking to give yourself a better foundation for the rest of the day, all right. Tip number three is to prioritize your most important tasks.

Speaker 1:

Now, many of the authors I work with spend too much time working on the wrong things, and what I mean by this is that they tackle the process of writing a book a little bit haphazardly just because they don't know any better. And no judgment, because I used to be in this camp too. Sometimes I would successfully carve out the time to work on my novel, but I would end up using that time to work on tasks that didn't really move the needle in terms of making progress and finishing my novel, but they did make me feel busy and productive. So, for example, I would download a character questionnaire to get to know my protagonist. Or I would spend way too much time writing the opening of my first chapter because I knew how important that opening chapter was. Or I would spend a lot of time researching and kind of collecting information, you know, putting it in the pretty binder or writing it in the pretty notebook with the pretty pens. Or I might even mess around with an outline and get super lost in the weeds and, just you know, kind of not move that needle forward in terms of getting to the end so fast forward.

Speaker 1:

Months and months later I still hadn't made any kind of significant progress on my novel, even though it felt like I was working so hard. So eventually I realized that there is a big difference between being busy, or feeling busy, and actually being productive, and in realizing that I also realized I was spending time on things that actually weren't moving the needle in terms of helping me get to the end of my draft. Now I know many of you listening can relate. Many of the writers I work with in my notes to novel course feel the exact same way or have similar stories, and I think the reason that we do this is because the things that actually do move the needle in terms of getting you to the end of your draft usually feel challenging and require us to do a lot of deep thinking. They're also the things that will absolutely ask us to move out of our comfort zones, and as humans, we don't like that very much right?

Speaker 1:

So the tip here how to kind of combat this is to map out your most important tasks, and this will help you prioritize what you actually need to get done on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. And if you're thinking well, I'm not even sure how to prioritize the tasks that go into writing a novel, then I would like for you to go download my Story Starter Kit. This is a free workbook that will walk you through the first five things to think about when it comes to writing a novel. So these questions are designed to help you flesh out the foundation of your story and really get to the meat of what your story is about. So if you are having trouble getting started or kind of prioritizing what's the most important, go to savannahgilbocom forward slash starter kit that's one word starter kit and download my free story starter kit. That will help you prioritize the most important questions to focus on when you're starting any new writing project.

Speaker 1:

Okay, so for me personally, every Sunday I like to look through my calendar and my overarching to-do list and I kind of prioritize the most important tasks that I know I can realistically get done in the time that I have that week, and then I assign days and times to accomplish each task. So I just said something really important that I want to reiterate, and that's to prioritize the tasks that you can realistically get done in the time that you have that day or that week. Okay, so the keyword is being realistic about what you can actually do, and this is one of those things that I see trip up a lot of writers. So they have this great goal of, let's say, writing five scenes per week or, you know, 5,000 words per week, whatever that goal is. And then if someone were to ask them okay, well, is that realistic? What does that look like in your schedule? They might realize that they actually don't even have time to write a thousand words, but their goal is 5,000. And then they end up ending the week feeling super disappointed and questioning whether they can be a writer and feeling like a failure and all that stuff right. So it's really important to consider the time that you can realistically dedicate towards something like writing your novel and, you know, seeing where you can make tweaks if you don't feel like you have enough time set aside to do that.

Speaker 1:

For me personally, I like to separate things that I need to do by the one, three, five rule. So that means I like to focus on one big task like, let's say, editing a client's manuscript or outlining act two in my own story or recording a podcast episode. I'm kind of mixing business with my writing here. Then I like to do three medium tasks, so that could be something like reviewing a client or a student scene or recording a podcast episode that I've already written out, or something like that. And then also five small tasks, which could be as simple as responding to an email that maybe has been sitting in my inbox for a while or scheduling a call with somebody. If I was just working on writing my novel, this might look a little bit different, but hopefully you get the idea. The cool thing about this kind of system is there's no right answer for what equates a big task versus a medium task versus a small task. Some of the writers I work with might call writing a scene a medium task, while others would call that their one big task for the week. So again, there's no right answer. Just make sure you're being realistic with yourself and your schedule.

Speaker 1:

Now, speaking of being realistic with yourself and your schedule, it's important to think about when you're the most naturally productive during the day. We kind of talked about this a little bit already. Right, for example, if you're a morning person, you might start your day off with the big or most difficult tasks first and then work your way through the medium tasks, ending the day with the small tasks. If you wait until later to do the hardest thing, your creativity and energy might be depleted and it will be more difficult for you to focus on that task and it will probably take longer as well. I know for a lot of people, you know that afternoon, evening, night timeframe isn't going to be the most productive time. But you know, like I said earlier, I'm more of a night owl, so I really don't do my best work in the morning and because of that, like I said, I either like to have calls or meetings or, if I don't have those, I start with the smaller tasks and then I work up to the bigger ones. This helps me to ensure that my creativity and energy are at their peak when I need them most. Again, it's going to be different for everybody and sometimes life is going to get in the way of our plans and things like that. So, you know, just be as realistic as you can and give yourself a little grace if things don't go according to plan, especially when you're just kind of getting into a new routine like this. Okay, so that's tip number three to prioritize your most important tasks and schedule them according to when you're most productive. Tip number four is to work on one thing at a time.

Speaker 1:

So I know that multitasking seems like an efficient way to get more things done, and I'm super guilty of believing this as well. But studies show that multitasking can decrease your productivity by 40%. And in these studies they talk about how constantly switching from one task to another is stressful on the brain, which results in less efficient focus and a lower quality of work all around. And sometimes, when I ask a writer if you know, are you trying to multitask too many things at once? They'll, you know, start out by saying no, and then we kind of dig into what they're doing and they realize, okay, yes, I'm multitasking, but I'm kind of doing it in a way that I didn't really realize at first. So let me explain what I mean by that.

Speaker 1:

I see a lot of writers who will, let's say, be working on two stories at once and let's say they're both in the outlining stage. So you know, this writer is working on story A, they're trying to outline it from start to finish and they're working on story B, which they're also trying to outline from start to finish. Personally, I have never seen this work for any writer that I know. Maybe it works for somebody listening out there If that's you, I would love to hear more about your experience, but I've never seen it work for somebody.

Speaker 1:

What I do see work for certain writers is that maybe you can have two projects going on at once, but one needs to be in, let's say, the writing or outlining stage and the other is in the editing stage. So you're using two different sides of your brain on, you know, one manuscript, you're kind of in more the creative side and the other one you're in more that analytical side of your brain. So just let me think about and speaking of writing and editing at the same time. How guilty are most of us of doing this on the page level, right? So this is another way that I think we are a little bit sneaky about how we multitask and then we don't realize we're multitasking, right, but writing a book and editing a book, or writing a scene and editing a scene, those are two different tasks, okay.

Speaker 1:

So if you are writing a scene and editing it at the same time that you're writing it, you are multitasking and it's going to be hard for your brain to you know, stay in one lane and focus and produce the best work that you're capable of. So I just want you to think about that and you know this is why I recommend to all the writers I work with do not edit until you've gotten to the end of something. So once you're at the end of an outline, feel free to go back and, you know, revise it, edit it all you want. Once you're at the end of a scene, you can also pause and kind of go back and edit, like I know some writers that I work with. They choose to do that at the end of their work day. So their goal is to write a scene or whatever that is, and once they're done, their kind of little reward for the day is that they are allowed to go back and edit that scene and then they put the pen down.

Speaker 1:

But if you really struggle with this, it might be good to just, you know, get to the end of a draft and then worry about going back and revising because, like I said, they are two different jobs, okay. So I wanted to point these examples out because I think multitasking looks different than we might realize sometimes. Now, if you have multiple things to do in one day which I know most of us will be in this scenario right, this is where your list of the top you know three to five most important things you need to get done will come in handy. So we talked about that in tip number three, right, focusing on things that really help us move the needle instead of just busy work. And I really do think that learning to properly prioritize the workflow that goes into writing a novel is one of the most important things that any writer can do. So it's really important to you know, focus on the big picture story first and not worry about you know the granular details such as word choice, or you know some of the details that you can figure out later. So just something to keep in mind.

Speaker 1:

And you know, if you really want to shave time off outlining or drafting your novel, you can try one of my favorite tricks and that is to use the letters TK in place of any details you don't have figured out just yet. So basically, if your character is going to a bakery downtown but you don't know what that bakery is called, you can just write Bakery TK or TK Bakery. And the reason I'm saying the letters T and K is because they don't naturally occur next to each other in any word in the English language. So when it comes time to go back and fill in those details or to edit and kind of flesh things out more, you can just do a search for the letters TK and you'll find all the instances of where you need to go and add a little more detail or name things and figure things out like that. Another use case of something like this is, let's say, your characters need to find a magical object, but you don't know all the details. You could just put something in your outline or your draft like magical object details TK. This little trick has been a total game changer for me and I know a lot of my students love it as well. So you know, give it a try and see how it goes for you.

Speaker 1:

The last thing we'll share within this tip is that it's okay to not enjoy every single part of the process of writing a novel. Sometimes I feel like, as writers, we feel like we have to be in love with every single piece of the process, and that can totally be true. But some days we're just kind of not in love with anything, right. So it's okay if you don't like editing, it's okay if world building is stressful for you, or it's okay if you wake up on any given Wednesday and just don't feel like writing, right, that doesn't mean anything. They're just feelings and preferences. So you know we're not going to enjoy every single piece of the process. But if you feel the procrastination gremlin kind of starting to rear its ugly head and you're like, oh gosh, I need to get things done, but I can feel this kind of resistance coming sometimes, it's really helpful to start your day with the task that you enjoy the most first. I think this is a really good way to kickstart your engine and to start building that momentum that will help you get things done. So, again, just something to keep in mind and that is tip number three to work on one thing at a time and make sure you're prioritizing the bigger things that you need to get done, or the things that will move the needle, and then work on one of those things at a time.

Speaker 1:

Tip number five is to try the Pomodoro technique. So the Pomodoro technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. It uses a timer to break down the total amount of time spent working into smaller intervals with breaks in between. So typically that's like 25 minutes of work with a five minute break in between each of those 25 minutes. And this technique works really well because it makes a big task feel less daunting.

Speaker 1:

So for many writers, the thought of sitting down to write an entire scene or chapter can feel overwhelming, and when you're in this headspace, it's really easy to put off tasks for weeks and weeks, sometimes even months, right. But when you approach your project or your task from the mindset of I just need to work on this for 25 minutes, it becomes a lot less overwhelming and you're way less likely to procrastinate because we can do anything for 25 minutes, right. It's not as scary as thinking you're going to sit down and write a whole chapter or write for two hours, but the important part of this is that you actually need to take the scheduled breaks. So, yes, this means standing up, doing some stretches, leaving your desk, maybe grabbing a snack or some tea or whatever it is. It does not really mean checking emails or working on another writing project or doing something that's going to engage the same brain function that is required to write your book. You do need to give your brain and your body downtime to avoid burnout, and that's exactly what these breaks are designed to help you do.

Speaker 1:

Now, of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Every writer knows the magical feeling of reaching that flow state with their work, and when you're in that flow state, the last thing you want to do is break it and risk losing it, right? So when this happens to me like, let's say, my 25 minute timer goes off, but I'm in the middle of that flow state I will keep working instead of taking a break, but then I will make sure to take a longer 15 to 30 minute break once I feel that flow state start to dissipate. So if you want to give the Pomodoro Technica try. You can set your own timer or use one of the many free Pomodoro timers online. You can just Google Pomodoro Timer and that will help you get started. So that's tip number five to try the Pomodoro Technique to break down a bigger chunk of work into smaller, less daunting pockets of time. So there you have it. Those are my top five productivity tips to get more done in less time, overcome procrastination and become a master at time management so that you can go on to finish your book and have the writing life of your dreams.

Speaker 1:

Now to do a quick recap of what those tips were. Tip number one was to time block your day. So figure out when you work best and then time block your day accordingly. Tip number two is to be mindful of how you start your mornings. So if you can ease into your morning and create a good baseline for the rest of your day, even if you're not planning to sit down to write until later on in the day. Tip number three is to prioritize your most important tasks. And remember I said, if you need help doing this, if you're not sure where to get started with your novel, go to savannahgilbocom.

Speaker 1:

Forward slash starter kit that's one word starter kit and grab my free story starter kit. That will help you start to prioritize this, so that starter kit will walk you through the five questions to ask an answer before you start outlining or writing, and it kind of forces you to focus on the big picture and prevents you from getting stuck in the weeds. And then tip number four is to work on one thing at a time, so remember to avoid multitasking, because this creates stress on your brain and it results in less efficient focus and a lower quality of work all around. And then, finally, tip number five was to try the Pomodoro technique. So this is essentially 25 minutes of work with five minute breaks in between each chunk of 20 minutes and look. If those five tips feel like too much to put into practice right now, that's totally okay. Just pick one and give it a try one day this week and see if it helps your productivity.

Speaker 1:

I think I mentioned this earlier, but for me personally, this is not something that just changed overnight because I implemented five tips. It's something that you have to consistently work on and put effort into so that you can create these new habits and ultimately be a more productive and efficient writer. So that's it for today's episode. As always, thank you so much for tuning in and for showing your support.

Speaker 1:

If you want to check out any of the links I mentioned in this episode, you can find them in the show notes listed in the description of each episode inside your podcast player or at savannahgilbocom forward slash podcast. If you're an Apple user, I'd really appreciate it if you took a few seconds to leave a rating and a review. Your ratings and reviews tell Apple that this is a podcast that's worth listening to and, in turn, your reviews will help this podcast get in front of more fiction writers just like you. And while you're there, go ahead and hit that follow button, because there's going to be another brand new episode next week, full of actionable tips, tools and strategies to help you become a better writer. So I'll see you next week and until then, happy writing.

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