Six mental tricks to boost writing productivity
My friend Sue has a Jack Russell terrier named Roger who has springs in his feet. Whenever Sue plays a video game, Roger jumps up and down as if he’s playing along. Sometimes I feel like I have a Jack Russell in my brain springing around from thought to idea to thought again as I go through my day.
In my ongoing quest to calm my inner terrier and be more focused and productive with my writing and other tasks, I’ve figured out several mental tricks — mind games I can play with my brain — to help me get things done. These tips place structure around the daily chaos.
Prioritize your top three to five tasks. Each day, I think of the three or four most important things I need and want to do and write them on a Post It note that I stick to my computer monitor. This helps me focus on a manageable number of tasks that are absolute priorities. To decide my priorities, I ask myself these questions: What’s been grating on me? What would make me feel most relieved if I could knock the task off my list? What has a deadline attached to it? What would be most profitable? What would help me move a project forward to the next level? As the day goes by, I look at it to stay on track.
Follow the two- to five-minute rule. Some tasks really don’t take that much time to do but just seem like they do. Many e-mails can be dealt with in a few minutes or even less. Other things can easily be dispatched in five minutes. Knocking off a bunch of quick tasks gives momentum for all the more time consuming ones.
Consider your “Later self.” We all have a “later self.” That voice inside us that looks back and is happy with what we’ve accomplished or laments what we didn’t get done (like those dishes that are now staring us in the face). I sometimes get things done by telling myself to do a particular thing now because my “later self” will be so glad I did.
Set appointments with yourself. Sometimes it’s hard to get to the gym if it’s just a matter of going whenever it works out. But if I have the structure of a scheduled class or an appointment to meet a friend there, it’s easy. How many things can you get done by setting an appointment? Meet a friend for a writing date at Starbucks. I bet you’ll make your daily writing goal.
Set deadlines. Deadlines impose a sense of urgency that propels certain tasks forward. Throughout a day, I might tell myself that I need to have specific tasks done by specific times. It adds structure and a sense of focus. NaNoWriMo is one way some writers make a big push to meet a writing goal. See Carol’s post from yesterday, Have a writing project to finish this month? Join #ProjectAugust, for another way of using a deadline.
Meditate. Many writers meditate as a way of quieting the mind and injecting peaceful focus into their daily work and writing routine. Check out this post by Carol, Five ways to quiet your mind to create better art.
For more productivity tactics, see my recent post, Five tools and tactics to increase writing productivity.
Sometimes I need to set rewards. It might be heading out to get something to eat, watching a TV episode or working on something for fun. I spend a lot of time listening to audio interviews and moderated discussions – it can be a drain but it’s easier if I give myself something to look forward to.