“Who knows where the time goes?” laments folk singer Sandy Denny.
Perhaps no one relates more closely to that question than the writer, especially the writer who tries to balance writing productivity with dozens of other tasks. Here at BlogMutt, we understand the struggle. That’s why we make writing productivity a focus of many of our posts here on the blog.
However, even when we’re aware that we should make writing a priority, life always finds a way to intrude. Someone in the office calls in sick and we’re saddled with their responsibilities for the week. Our plan to work diligently from home is foiled when the water pipes down in the basement take it upon themselves to burst.
You know how it goes.
If you’re ever going to get anything done, you’ll need to tap into your most productive writing self. To that end, here are some vital ways to defend against productivity detractors (procrastination, never-ending to-do lists, ineffective communication strategies) and finally reclaim your writing time.
Get a clear grasp of what you need to accomplish.
First, ensure that your goals are SMART – otherwise how will you know what you’re even trying to achieve?
Once you’ve established SMART goals, prioritize your daily work with the Ivy Lee Method, a tool that requires you to focus on six essential tasks for each day. Here on the BlogMutt marketing team, we’ve found this an effective safeguard against spreading ourselves too thin to accomplish anything worthwhile.
The Ivy Lee Method likewise has implications for writing. If you know you need a blog post drafted by tomorrow so that you can review it and edit it for SEO optimization before it publishes, it should definitely be one of your six tasks! (If you know that a post takes you longer than a day to put together, refer back to this post to help you discover a good starting point for you.)
Cut down on your writing time.
Although this sounds counterintuitive, studies have indicated that short writing bursts are more effective than long-term slogs through lengthy projects. Your best bet is to break your writing projects into palatable installments, using writing blocks of no more than two hours for each phase: planning, researching, drafting, editing for SEO optimization, polishing, and so forth.
Obviously, this is often easier said than done. As we acknowledged at the outset, even our best-laid plans often go awry. However, if we know how long it generally takes us to write, we can plan our writing blocks more effectively.
How long, then, should a blog post take you to write?
Let’s take a look at HubSpot’s State of Inbound 2016 to establish a baseline:
(via HubSpot’s 2016 State of Inbound)
While some content writers are super speedy and others are definitely working at more of a turtle’s pace, the vast majority take between one and three hours to produce a 500-word blog post.
While there are always outliers, it’s fair to surmise that if a 500-word post is taking you over three hours to take from the infantile drafting stages all the way to published and SEO optimized, you’re spending too much time doing it.
If you find content management overwhelming, BlogMutt would love to help with the heavy lifting. Consider these two resources:
- Our 12-month editorial calendar provides solid, step-by-step advice to earn long-term views.
- Our blog-starting challenge will help you establish a foundation of good habits guaranteed to keep you on the right track.
Designate times to write.
Though all steps in this post are important, this is perhaps the most vital. You must designate your writing times and then communicate them.
And by communicate, we mean you must communicate the crap out of them.
Whether this means putting a traffic cone on your desk to signal to your colleagues that you won’t be interacting; whether you strap headphones to your head and don a pair of blinders reminiscent of horse racing; or whether you simply shut your office door (should you have that luxury) and affix a fussy, librarian-style sign to the outside, you must find a clear way to communicate to your coworkers that you wish not to be disturbed.
Working from home doesn’t eliminate distraction, either. Remote work sometimes means you’re often writing on hyperdrive through your kiddos’ naps like our star writer Simon. Sometimes it means physically changing your surroundings to a neighborhood coffee shop. If leaving the house isn’t an option, perhaps you need to set aside an exclusive writing space or train your brain with some consistent background noise. (For those unfamiliar with the trick of training your brain to work based on background noise, check out Coffitivity.)
Whether you work from home or in the office, once you’ve established your prime writing times and space(s), be firm with your team members, family members, and colleagues.
You’re not a jerk for doing this. Nobody knows better than you that if you don’t guard your writing time, the work simply won’t get done.
To that end, set aside email and other in-office interactions for separately allotted time slots for those purposes or in the form of ‘office hours’ (more email efficiency tips here).
Turn off the internet.
If that means you have to block yourself, do it! There’s no shame in that. We are far more scatterbrained as a society than ever before. Research suggests that the internet is largely to blame for the rise in inattention.
When we’re constantly distracted and interrupted, as we tend to be when looking at the screens of our computers and mobile phones, our brains can’t to forge the strong and expansive neural connections that give distinctiveness and depth to our thinking.
If you need the internet for research but constantly become distracted by social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, you can avail yourself of any number of programs designed to block just such sites, leaving you free to write:
Establish a writing routine.
All the greats did it, after all, including heavy-hitters like Edith Wharton, who wrote from bed every morning, surrounded by a constellation of servants who picked up the sheets of paper she dropped to the floor when completed, and a litter of tiny dogs, who likely didn’t help at all.
Even the writers we’re accustomed to thinking of as the “weird ones” were often punctual as bank clerks.
[Franz Kafka] rose a little before 7 a.m. and always reached work at 8:15 on the dot.
If it worked for Kafka, why wouldn’t it work for us?
Adhere to a single “restart” strategy if you get off track.
Regardless of how well we schedule our writing times, the day will dawn when our brains simply refuse to cooperate. When that happens, we must have failsafes in place to cope with roadblocks and help kickstart the process.
Down through the centuries, artists and writers often commented that long walks seemed to stimulate creativity and help them work through problems. Recently, science has started catching up, explaining why walking helps us think.
Why does walking work so well?
The answer begins with changes to our chemistry. When we go for a walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen not just to the muscles but to all the organs—including the brain. Many experiments have shown that after or during exercise, even very mild exertion, people perform better on tests of memory and attention.
If a walk (or even a quick run) is out of the question, a habit as small as brewing a cup of coffee or a few pushups next to your desk could be enough to get your brain back on track.
Take one day at a time. Be kind to yourself.
If you don’t get the writing done today that you desperately wanted to, give yourself a break. If you’re starting out tomorrow running yourself ragged, you won’t have the umph to pick yourself back up to work at your full capacity.
Ironically, these occasional lulls might actually be necessary. The most productive people frequently cite self-care as essential to stress management and thereby increasing conditions to allow maximum productivity.
Once you have the extra time, you’ll finally be able to look at your blogging strategy. Download BlogMutt’s editorial calendar below to plan your newfound blogging time.