Sunday, 7 May 2017

Winning the Productivity Game

Maria A Smith 

Is it me, or has this last week disappeared quicker than usual? I only worked at the day job four days, but I'm left feeling I worked much more and harder too. I'm blaming Bank Holiday Monday, as my usual routine fell away and I got involved with doing lots of other stuff, and to be honest, it was all stuff I really didn't want to do, but had to do because I'm not on top of things in the home.

Talking to family,friends and other writers it seems that many of us use these days for DIY (Ugh!) or decluttering, gardening, overdue paperwork or housework! Seems like we feel it's time to catch up rather than chill out, and spend time together, which seems reserved for the longer holidays like Christmas and Easter.

There are many advantages to working from a 'to do' list...

I had big ideas of what I wanted done, and of course I over stretched myself and didn't reach my target. I'd made a list which was far too long, but I wasn't overly upset at the end of the day, because by making the list in the first place, I was able to draw a line through what I did get done, which gave me satisfaction and motivated me at the time, but there was stress and feeling I wasn't going to complete the looooong list of tasks I'd set myself when I was actually doing them. Not to mention the resentment that I couldn't use they day doing something else much nicer. Which isn't a good feeling.

I got to thinking about it, and thought, how can I do things better? How can I feel less stressed during the day, but also achieve what I need to get done? The 'to do' list brings clarity to what you need to do, and helps prioritise actions, you feel more organised and it helps with planning. I kknow I work better with some sort of plan, so I asked around and listened to podcasts on the subject, and it seems there are many more ideas on the 'to do' list and productivity.

I heard about a different way of doing things, which I'll try this coming week. It will either drive me totally mad, or it will work. So here's what you do...

Condense Your List 

Before you go to bed, think of one thing you need to get done the next day. Just one, and write it down. When you get up, look at the piece of paper and promise yourself you are going to do this one thing today. Then go do it, and remember, you only have to do this one thing.  Then do the same you did the previous evening, write down a single thing that needs your attention and do it the following day. And so on, and so on. Resist adding another task to your one, until you have successfully completed your daily 'to do' task for two weeks. See how it goes doing two tasks a day but never add more than three tasks to your day, and if you don't succeed, that's okay you just add the unfinished task to your list for the next day.

It sounds easy doesn't it? I can see the logic of not overwhelming yourself, and training your mind, but we will have to see if I'm able to resist adding other stuff, or feel I'm falling behind with stuff. Personally, I'm going to try the above for non writing related stuff.

The Square Method 

Another idea I heard this week I'm definitely going to try for my writing tasks. Now the person who I heard it from applies the principal on a daily basis, but that isn't possible for me due to working, so I am just going to see what I can achieve in a week.

Here's how it works - Imagine the side of a Rubik cube, you have nine squares, (make a grid) each squares represents twenty minutes. The idea is that you set a timer and write, or do something writing related to fill up each square as you go through your day. So that by the end of the day, you know you have done three hours of writing or writing related activity. It is also a good indicator, or a bar to measure where your time is being spent.

It also focuses you - you know you have twenty minutes to write a flash fiction piece, or to do marketing on FaceBook, or some tweets, or a stint of editing. It will also make you feel good if you are someone who has to fit writing in wherever you can, as you'll see the bigger picture of your day.
If you do more than your nine squares, then that's great!  And if you're a full-time writer, maybe your squares need to bigger time chunks? I'm quite looking forward to trying this out, and I'll share my outcomes next blog post.

Organising myself has fell down a bit this year due to this and that, BUT, I have given myself a pep talk, and finally, I'm doing things to get myself back on track. How did your week go, and what plans do you have?


  1. I work every Monday, bank holiday or not, so it's been a normal week for me. I rarely just do nothing and chill anyway - even if I'm watching TV or a film with the family, I'll have my laptop open or a notepad beside me. I don't think I know how to relax anymore!

    I like the idea of one thing to do each day. I might give that a go :-)

    1. I know what you mean about not knowing how to relax anymore, I felt the same up until Easter. It's slow progress but I'm learning how to get balance in my life.

  2. A great post Maria, it's good to know I'm not the only one trying to fit things in all the time. I had the most unproductive week imaginable. It included five cricket matches in six days, parents' evening, a visit to the dental place in the city (whole morning) and the usual domestic stuff. Honestly, it was hopeless. I sat down to do some writing work on Friday afternoon and, bang, a pigeon flew into the window. So I spent the next hour looking at him sat sorrowfully on the wall and googling 'injured pigeon'. Then he flew away and it was time to collect the children from school. Sigh. I really MUST do better this week. Writing wise I'm getting nowhere fast. I am quite good at meeting deadlines set by clients; I think I need to set myself a few as well. In fact I shall go and make a list for the week right now. Thanks for the inspiration, and good luck with your week. Let's hope both of us have a more productive time of it. CJ xx

    1. Hi CJ, I'm beginning to think the writers I know seem to be juggling all sorts of stuff. It's not easy, and sometimes you have to stand back and accept your week has gone to pot, and you aren't going to be able to retrieve it.
      Hop you've had a better week.

  3. Hi Maria - well done ... it's always difficult managing all things in life - at least the sunny (theoretically !) days are here ... just do what you can - and breathe! Cheers and take care and all the best - Hilary

    1. That's a good positive attitude Hillary...

  4. I've never heard of the square method - it sounds an excellent idea.

  5. Oh, I like the square idea. I might try that! I have done the to-do list thing, and I do twiddle my thumbs if I cross everything off. It is like a green light to do nothing. But I have never done the square method. For me, that will work well in tandem with a (long) list. I will give it a go! Thank you.

    1. Let me know how you get on Ingrid. :-)

  6. I started to make to do lists but I would stress out that I had so much to do, so if I make them I try not to set a time limit. I get easily anxious/stressed sometimes.
    I hate that we feel the need to do so much on a bank holiday, I work bank holidays sometimes and I think we should use these days, or even our days off, to rest and recharge. Maybe not all the time but we should have the odd lazy day, it's good for us!
    The square method is a good idea. I did start reading this book about being a more productive writer and it was useful saying you should set short term, medium term and long term goals. Setting long term goals helps me but I need flexibility as I don't have a routine really (work!).I think you need to find something that works for you, setting short term goals didn't work for me. I need to get into the habit of writing what I have done so when I feel like I'm not getting anywhere I can look back and realise I am trying. Also you need to give yourself a break if stress or some crisis stops you writing because life happens.

  7. I'll try your first idea. I might give the square one a go at a later date. I'm in the middle of IB & A Level exams right now so just one task a day looks good.


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