In March 2019, I started writing for a major online publication. With little to no prior writing experience, I was stoked about the opportunity.
At the same time, knowing that I wasn’t a great writer, the only way I could avoid getting fired was through sheer commitment. For someone who was not even used to writing 500 words a day, each day was a struggle. Each day I doubted myself. I wondered why I was putting myself through so much pain just for the sake of a job.
To make more room for writing, I moved to a new town where I barely knew anyone. I would shut myself inside my 1BHK and relentlessly write all day long. I slept as little as five hours a day and skipped meals at times.
Though my first month of writing was excruciating, it helped me build a strong work ethic. But in the months that followed, something started changing. The better I wrote, the more confident I became. The faster I wrote, the more I procrastinated.
As a result, my inner doubts started bubbling up again. My self-control went haywire. My writing suffered.
Over the past year, taking one step at a time, I’ve learned to become more productive than ever. More so, not only increase my writing capacity but also create a balanced lifestyle. Here’s how you can do the same:
Step 1: Kill all gadgets.
A minute of scrolling through Instagram turns into hours. One cat video turns into ten. And before you know it, you’ve watched the whole day pass by, with nothing achieved. A simple yet not-so-easy way of killing distractions is turning off your phone and blocking all notifications on your laptop.
Remember, the best work is achieved when it is a priority.
If you’re expecting an important mail or call, blocking potentially distracting applications works just fine.
Step 2: Create your work vibe.
Focusing too much on creating the “right vibe” for work can be counter-productive. But just by investing a little into your work setup, you can avoid unnecessary distractions and almost double your productivity.
So here’s how you can effectively tweak your work environment for better results:
- Declutter your workspace: Creative minds are often chaotic, replete with new ideas. To keep these ideas flowing — without any external influences — working in an organized space is ideal.
- Set reminders: No matter how far technology takes us, we’ll never stop depending on sticky notes. And now that you’ll be switching off your phone during work, sticky notes are vital.
- You can use them to jot down your goals for a given day. Or, just set daily reminders and quotes that’ll help you stay focused. My personal favorite is Gary Vee’s: “You’re Gonna Die!”
- The Extras: Based on your budget and comfort, you can invest in good lighting. Additionally, you can decorate your workspace with pictures, artwork, and plants. Just don’t go overboard with it.
Step 3: Create a Fixed Work Schedule
As mentioned in the intro, I’ve tried my hand at flexible work schedules. I’ve spent weeks burning the night oil. I’ve also experimented with working very early in the morning.
For me, mornings are the most productive hours of my day. Followed by afternoons, which are slightly less productive. Evenings are usually dedicated to activities that take my mind off work. And nights are reserved for a few hours of focused work and planning.
I keep things less rigid by not assigning fixed hours to my work. But if having fixed hours keeps you more focused, then that’s even better.
When creating a schedule, make sure that it is more fixed than flexible. With more flexibility, we’re naturally inclined to procrastinate.
Step 4: Warm-up before writing
Just like our bodies need to warm up before workouts, our minds, too, need some warming up before a hefty session of writing. I call this “getting in the zone.”
Before you start writing, read something that has a tone similar to what you intend to write. Think about it this way. Every time you recall an author’s work, you not only remember the language but the tone as well. So reading in the tone of your intended writing serves more as a reminder of how you should interact with your audience.
Put simply, it just sets you in the right mindset before you start writing.
Step 5: Hold yourself accountable.
The key to commitment is to hold yourself accountable. And the key to keeping yourself accountable is to find creative ways to do it.
Here are some accountability hacks that’ll keep you going:
- Write it all down: Just writing your goals down makes things a lot easier. It gives you a better vision of what’s a priority and what isn’t.
- A list of written down goals for a day allows you to focus on one task at a time instead of getting overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done.
- Even when it comes to long term goals, try breaking them down into short term milestones. That makes things a tad bit easier.
- The Carrot and Stick Approach: If monetary rewards heavily drive you, pay a dollar or two to a friend every time you fail to reach a particular goal on time. This way, you’ll know that you can only save money by completing your work on time. In turn, you’ll be more productive and less distracted.
- Review your progress: There’s nothing more rewarding than progress. But the problem is that we often forget how far we’ve come.
- As a writer, if you’re demotivated and struggling to hold yourself accountable, look back at something you wrote about a year ago. I’m sure that will be enough to make you realize that you may be far away from your end goal, but you’re getting there.
Step 6: Take consistent breaks
Once you finally get down to work, make sure that your schedule has well-placed, structured breaks. So, if, by any chance, anything distracts you, you can delay it for your assigned break time.
As I’ve mentioned in my previous article (How to Avoid Burnout), our cognitive capacities are on a steady decline throughout the day. So it is advisable to take longer or more frequent breaks as the day progresses.
Unless it’s indispensable, avoid scrolling through social media during breaks. Instead, go for a walk, cook a meal, listen to music, meditate, or do some light reading.