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Now Boarding: The Year-End ‘Ugly Barge’ of Productivity for Writers


Board the 'Ugly Barge' of Productivity for Writers. Makealivingwriting.comProductivity for writers has a way of going down the drain during the holidays.

It’s all too easy to get sucked into the vortex of dinner parties, gift shopping, time off, and binge-watching a new season of your favorite TV show.

Your usual schedule for freelance writing and marketing gets squeezed by other things.

Sound familiar?

Fortunately, there’s plenty of time to get stuff done, complete assignments, land new clients, and still enjoy the holidays.

But to get from here to there, you’ll want to get on board the Ugly Barge of Productivity for Writers, says business consultant and former U.S. Army officer Charlie Gilkey.

In a recent Freelance Writers Den podcast, we talked with Gilkey and freelance writer Frances Booth about productivity for writers, systems, procrastination, writer’s block, goal-setting and other topics.

The goal: Help you make the most of the 71 days, 1,704 hours, and 102,240 minutes left in 2017.

Want to know the secret to year-end success and productivity for writers? Get on board.

Productivity for writers during the holidays

How are you doing with those big goals you set back in January? As 2017 slips away, is your productivity slipping too? You aren’t alone.

Freelancing can be tough and scary. Staying productive, especially during the holidays, doesn’t happen by accident-it takes hard work, discipline, and organization.

From conducting year-end reviews to staring down the blank page, Charlie Gilkey and Frances Booth share their best tips to keep you going strong all the way through December 31 in this Q&A.

  • Charlie Gilkey helps people and businesses focus on what matters and then execute it. He is an entrepreneur, philosopher, former U.S. Army officer, and runs the site ProductiveFlourishing.com.
  • Frances Booth is a UK-based author, journalist, and blogger. Her influential book The Distraction Trap: How to Focus in a Digital World has been translated into six languages.

How do you find a productivity system that’s right for you?

Gilkey: I like to think of productivity systems as if they were an ugly barge. Yes, I said ugly and barge. A barge is designed to do one thing, get stuff from here to there. We don’t care what it looks like or how it works.

We should have that approach to productivity systems. The primary concern is not how pretty or organized it is, but whether it helps you do the stuff that matters.

First look at simple systems that get you going. Then look at how to make them more efficient.

How do you make writing time a priority?

Booth: Seize the time you get, because there’s not always a chance to write. Even if you’re a full time writer there’ll be other aspects of your business you have to spend time on.

Don’t wait until you’ve got a year, don’t wait until you’ve got that month off. Get two or three hours for your writing if possible. Even if it’s half an hour, take the time you’ve got.

How do you set priorities?

Gilkey: As a freelancer, what you’re getting paid to do is the high value activity, right? And activities that help you do more of that are more productive than unrelated things like watching You Tube.

Get clarity on what activities drive the most value. Set your priorities so you do more of those things.

The things that matter most to you are probably the most personally challenging. If it taps into a deep creative, mental, emotional, or social well, those things are easy not to do. Those are generally the first things that fall off people’s lists.

How do you get past staring at a blank page?

Booth: Starting is one of the hardest bits of writing. One tip would be, just start anywhere. Start in the middle. Start with a line. It doesn’t have to be your first line. Then go back and add the start, and later perhaps the end.

Also, create habits particularly for that moment you sit down to write. That might be as simple as always making the same type of tea, and perhaps wearing the same jumper. It becomes an automatic behavior.

How do you strike a balance between planning and doing?

Gilkey: There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer.

Many creative giants get wrapped around having some big why, this big purpose and strategy. They mess with that as opposed to getting out there and figuring it out. If you’re a perfectionist about planning, lean forward more and experiment.

But if you shoot from the hip, go the other way. Figure out how to take aim rather than firing a bunch of random stuff.

There are tools, tips and principles, but you have to try them on and tweak them. Roll your own system and make it work.

What’s your strategy for dealing with procrastination?

Booth: We all find procrastinations in something, because writing is difficult. Once we acknowledge that we can tell ourselves, “Oh yes, I’m procrastinating again.” Then we can say, “Okay, I give myself five more minutes, then I’ll start writing.”

Focus on one task. If we’ve got too many tasks we get overwhelmed. It’s a myth that we can multitask.

How do you conduct an annual business review?

Gilkey: You want three different views.

  1. What did you do this year that you want to keep doing?
  2. What do you need to stop doing?
  3. What do you need to start doing?

For example, if most of your business comes from word of mouth, what are you doing to encourage more? Make a system so you don’t have to market to all sorts of strange places. It sounds obvious, but sometimes it’s the obvious things that we’re not doing.

In our review we often end up with some darling thing, something we care about, but it doesn’t add up to any real results. Those are the hardest to let go.

Also assess your core daily activities, to make sure you’re doing them profitably and joyfully. That’s the creative crux of the review.

How do you stay productive when you’re tired or distracted?

Booth: Expect different things of yourself and have different tasks to do. There are always bitty little tasks that seem boring on another day, but they’re perfect for when you’re tired.

Other motivators could be small rewards, like a walk in the park or nice food at lunchtime. Deadlines are another excellent method.

How do you set daily and weekly goals?

Booth: Plan for the week ahead on Friday-don’t wait until the following Monday. Plan at the end of each day for the next day.

Don’t have too many big things to achieve in a day. Have one big task or maybe three at most, especially if they require you to take a big leap, something perhaps scary. You can’t do too many of those things each day.

Give yourself the gift of productivity

How will you be more productive through the end of the year? Go back to your goals for 2017. Celebrate your wins, and think about what you still need to do. Then follow this advice on productivity for writers and create your own plan to enjoy the holidays and a bright future for freelancing in 2018.

How do you stay productive as a freelance writer? Share your ideas on Facebook.

Maria Veres is a freelance writer based in Oklahoma and a regular contributor to Make a Living Writing.

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