I usually like my first blog for a new year to be all about resolutions, but after the year that was 2020, and with 2021 shaping up to be more of the same, making resolutions or plans is a moot point (or a cow’s opinion—a reference for anyone who spent a good chunk of lockdown binge-watching Friends).
So instead of making resolutions for 2021, I’m going to aim for one goal—and that’s being more productive with my writing sessions.
While we’ve all been spending more time at home and the chance to write has increased, I’m sure I’m not the only one who found my productivity nose-dived. My creative brain preferred to binge-watch shows over writing in the last year (and, yes, that included watching Friends again, even though I already know the episodes off by heart).
That lack of productivity is something I’d like to change for 2021, and these 3 steps are how I plan to do it…
3 Steps For A Productive Writing Session
1. Make Writing The Priority
It might be obvious that you’ll be writing when you sit down for a writing session, but how many times have you spent that precious time doing something else?
I’ll hazard a guess and say it’s the majority—and my guess comes from experience. More often than not, I will spend my writing session doing anything but.
I might get caught up checking the news. I might suddenly decide to re-arrange everything on my desk. Or I might end up reading instead of writing. That doesn’t get words on the page, or me any closer to my goals or deadlines.
When you sit down to write, you should be writing. Steps 2 and 3 will help with that, and so will things like writing first thing in the morning. It’s something I’ve been doing for the last 19 months, and it’s honestly the only way I’ve gotten anything done.
I’m not perfect at it. Some mornings I sleep through my alarm, but I find if I get up and the very first thing I do is write a blog, edit a chapter, or add a new page of words to my WIP, there’s no better feeling of accomplishment.
I know some writers aren’t morning people, or they have other commitments that cancel out AM writing sessions, but you can still make writing the priority at other times during the day or at night. Just work out when you can write, how long you can write for, and do it. Nothing more. Nothing less.
2. Get Rid Of Distractions
While distractions come in many forms, the biggest distraction for me is my phone.
In some writing sessions, I can barely get a sentence down before I’m scrolling my screen, checking to see if anything new has happened in the last ten minutes. Usually, nothing has and I just waste time and pull myself out of the writing flow for a poor reason.
If this sounds all too familiar, put your phone in another room. Put it in a phone jail if you’ve got one of those handy. Go as far as having someone else hold on to it for you if you can’t trust yourself to not look at it for 10, 20, or 60 minutes. It’s harsh, but it must be done if you truly want to make writing progress.
Another distraction-ridding tip is to unplug your Internet. After all, you can’t check Facebook if you can’t visit the site!
If you need the net to write, install a site-blocking extension in your browser and add the sites that distract you the most. It’ll take away the temptation to visit them every time you finish a paragraph.
Another must-do is to switch off your notifications. I recently had a 12-day break. I didn’t go anywhere, just spent the festive season at home, but for the first time in 5 years, I turned off all of my notifications and I didn’t check Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or my blog.
Do you know what happened in those 12 days?
I didn’t miss any important messages, I didn’t lose a bunch of followers, my social media world did not end.
When I returned from my break, I didn’t turn those notifications back on. They were a distraction that fed my addiction to checking my phone. Now, with no red dots popping up on my screen, I’ve found I don’t look at my phone as much and I don’t get stuck in rabbit holes where a “quick” look at Twitter leads to an hour of lost writing time.
The priority now is to check those apps once or twice a day, but always after a writing session. Try it and see if it helps you too.
3. Write Out Your Goals And Set A Limit
If you’ve been a reader of my blog for a while, you’ll know I’m big on goals. I love setting them and I love writing them down on a whiteboard in fancy colored markers. They keep me organized and focused, which is perfect for a productive writing session.
At the start of each writing session, write what you want to do. Don’t take the easy route and simply list “write”. Help yourself and be specific.
“Write 700-word blog post on goal setting” or “craft better ending for chapter 3 in WIP” are tangible goals and will give you an achievable task to aim for. Knowing what you’re going to write will hone your focus and make it less likely that you’ll go looking for distractions.
Along with that specific goal, set a time limit. Not a deadline for when you want it done by—although feel free to do that if you want—but a specific amount of time to work on the task during that writing session.
I’ve learned the hard way that a “write this today” goal very quickly turns into 10 minutes of writing and a day wasted on distractions and procrastination. However, a “write this in one hour” goal automatically gives the task stakes. Even better is trying to get it written before you have to leave the house. If you’ve only got a certain amount of time to do something, it’s amazing how focused you can become to get it done.
When you’ve completed that task, tick or cross it off! Not only will it signal that you’ve been productive, but it should leave you inspired to chase the same high in your next writing session.
When you have specific goals to achieve on a time limit and you’ve eliminated all distractions, writing will be your priority. With that, a productive writing session should happen every time you write. Just follow these 3 steps—and don’t watch Friends for the umpteenth time.
— K.M. Allan