Productivity Hacking and Working Healthy
As writers, we’re often at a loss for time. Our days are filled with regular jobs and our nights are filled with the vague remains of social lives. So how do we find time to write, publish, push our work etc?
For those starting the full-time writing grind, how do you work without destroying your body, your creativity and your love for writing?
The Eight Hour Day.
Firstly, let’s look at what we think of as a “work day”. The 8 hour work day is a myth constructed during the industrial revolution. The intent was to divide the day into three equal sections – one for work, one for sleep and one for play. However, modern society has us travelling and working longer days in order to squeeze energy and productivity out from us. Our day jobs are not built in a healthy manner, so we cannot think of a writing career in the same terms. Above all “knowledge workers”, those who rely on the contents of their own brain to produce, are not able to work for these long intensive hours. We cannot wait for “that day I’ll spend the whole day writing” because that day doesn’t exist, instead we must learn to find focus and flow states, periods where the work moves quickly and without trouble. This can be hard, and the study of “flow” is a hotly debated field for executive coaches.
By focusing instead on shorter periods of work, we maximise our focus and the energy we can invest in a task. Our cognition has limits, thinking burns calories and tires us out. Four hours has been calculated as the amount of exertion we can invest in a task before we see diminishing returns. This means clocking a few hours in before work will almost certainly result in your best writing. Alternatively, blocking out the whole four hours for the morning on the weekend will see you power through your word count and result in you having fewer words to cut out in the editing process.
Writing a novel isn’t about writing the most words, it’s about writing the best words. It doesn’t matter if it takes years, what matters is the quality of the end product. It doesn’t matter if you can only find a few hours a week to write, just get them in early, and keep setting aside the time. Climbing a mountain takes many steps, writing a novel takes many writing sessions.
Preparing the Mind
So now we know short bursts of writing are best, how do we prepare our minds for creativity and how do we make the most of our creative windows? The key is empty time, space where you can allow your mind to wander and let your brain solve problems. The subconscious is vastly more powerful than your conscious mind, so leaving plot problems with your subconscious can result in the answers appearing out the blue. If something isn’t coming together, try to put it out of your mind and create an empty space.
An empty space can be a walk by the sea or a short drive. For some it can even be a simple, undemanding day job (Einstein worked at the patent office remember).
Breaking Things Down
Writing can be broken down into two categories – big jobs and little jobs. Not the most clear and inventive terms, I know. Big jobs are the bulk of your writing, getting the plot on paper, breaking down plot points etc. While your small jobs are things like “I need to insert a sentence about X earlier on”.
The pomodoro technique is a methodology for moving through big jobs. It starts by breaking down your day into 25 minute windows. During these windows, power through, blast out your writing, use platforms like write or die. Whatever you do, don’t edit.
To start, jot down the three small things you want to cover. Next start your timer, and then work until your allocated time is finished. Once the timer has gone off, you can review, make small tweaks, correct typos etc. You should have covered all three of the points you noted at the beginning or worked out they need to happen later. If you managed to cover everything, take a 5 minute break for coffee, to make a sandwich, whatever. You earned a break. When you’re done relaxing, repeat until the job is done or your writing window has finished.
For small jobs, set yourself a two minute limit to make tweaks, or add single sentences. If it can’t be done in two minutes, it doesn’t need doing now. Make a note and save it for an editing session.
Remember, writing shouldn’t be a punishment, nor should you loahe it. It should be a joy and a privilige, and it should be something you stick with for years.
© 2020 Connor Sansby
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Connor Sansby is a Margate-based writer, editor, poet and publisher through his super-indie Whisky & Beards publishing label.