How Do you Get So Much Done?

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I was recently asked this question: How do you get so much work done?

What have you found to be the single most important element to boost your writing productivity?

Office hours. About 8 years ago, my husband and I bought a 3-story Victorian house in downtown Little Rock. The bottom two floors are my husband’s real estate appraisal office, but I got the attic. I go to work. When I still had kids in school, it was 9-3 office hours; however, if the family needed something, well, I am self-employed and could take off. Just not too often. Now, my office hours are more like 8-4. If you’re at home with small kids, though, you can do office hours, too. 1-3 pm while the kids sleep and 9-10:30 at night. Just DVR that great 9 pm program and keep your office hours.

What are your three greatest productivity challenges and what ways have you found to counteract them?

Being self-employed is the biggest challenge, how to stay motivated when no one much cares what you do, except you. This Fiction Notes blog, gives me an audience, readers who expect me to post on a regular basis, at least 2x/week. I get regular feedback on the blog, so it’s not just shooting things out into space. In other words, I’ve found a real audience (YOU!) for something small, yet useful. If I am productive here, it carries over to the bigger fiction projects. Find a real audience, doesn’t matter where. It might be reading your fiction to your child’s class once a week, or writing the newsletter for your church. Real audiences motivate.

The second challenge is that as a freelance writer, I must juggle many different projects at once. I’ve tried without success things like calendars, online project management software, and finally went low-tech. I have a yellow legal pad that I turn landscape (sideways). Across the top, I hand write categories of things to do: speaking, writing, blog, PR, friends, publishing, other. Then, each week, I jot down tasks in each category. When I finish a task, I cross it off and look over the tasks written there to see what to tackle next. In other words, I am not saying to myself that I must do this first, then that. Instead, I list the range of tasks to be done that week and over the course of the week, try to make sure it all gets done. What doesn’t get done is carried over to a clean sheet for the next week and mentally, I prioritize those tasks. Notice that I have a category for Friends: It’s just as important for me to critique my friend’s manuscript as it is to write my 750 words. Or to meet a friend for coffee. I try to stay balanced, yet get things done.

Third, the challenge is that as writers, we work alone, with only our own thoughts for company. On days when I’ve gotten a rejection, or I have a cold, it’s hard to stay upbeat and productive. For those days, I talk to friends both on and off line. They keep me sane and working. Thanks, gals!

How do you organize your writing day?

Organized? Me? I just go with the flow of the day. My yellow legal pad is my only organization.

What does a productive writing day look like to you?

I usually start by answering emails, because that gets me writing. Next, I try to do some rough draft writing. Since January, I have been using 750words.com to make sure I write at least 750 words daily. Of course, I do much more than that each day, but the discipline of doing that helps.

What advice on productivity do you wish someone had shared with you, rather than you having to learn it the hard way?

Office hours. Even when it means just 15 minutes. Do it!
Or, try 750words.com and try to do it every single day for a year.

7 Comments
  • Jill Esbaum
    August 1, 2012

    Great post, Darcy! I’m back to pen/paper, too, to remind myself of daily tasks. I think the act of writing something down fixes it better in my mind. Still struggling with setting (maintaining!) regular office hours.

  • Chihuahua Zero
    August 1, 2012

    Yesterday, I made a to-do list for me to follow for the two weeks until school starts. I have a lot of stuff that I need to finish, and I want to get into the habit of having a structure, so I don’t risk crashing once the homework piles into the equation.

    It has been a while since I used 750 Words. I really need to get back to it.

  • Yesenia Vargas
    August 1, 2012

    Great post, great advice! Sharing this for sure. I try to do this every day in my home although it’s hard when you have a little one.

  • Ruth Donnelly
    August 4, 2012

    I’m a teacher, and as I transition back to school each fall, I need to stay organized to make sure writing time remains a priority. These are great tips. I like the photo, too–what a lovely place to work!

  • Darcy Pattison
    August 4, 2012

    Thanks for the compliment on the office–it’s great.
    Yes, making the switch to back-to-school is a big one! Stay committed to your own work, though!
    Darcy

  • Krissy
    August 5, 2012

    I actually finished a year of 750 words a day just the other day. It was by far the best thing I have ever done writing wise.

  • Darcy Pattison
    August 7, 2012

    Wow! Congratulations!
    Darcy