Early Productivity

I know I haven’t posted a lot of writing tips lately, and I hope to get back to that soon, but today I’d like to focus on my second favorite topic of conversation: productivity.  Writing is great, and all these techniques are useful and fun, but it’s useless if you can’t sit yourself in a chair and do something.  Productivity gets your story written.  Productivity dies when you get writer’s block.  An enormous part of learning how to do art is learning how to be productive.

My life has a lot of deadlines in weird places through the day.  I might spend six hours of the day out of the house, driving, meeting people, whatever needs to be done.  In all that time, I am physically unable to produce.  Those hours are black holes that devour the three-second flashes of inspiration that come with menial work.  I might be ready to write in the middle of the drive home, but when I get there, that urge is gone.

Doesn’t it make sense, then, to make the time at home extremely productive, and the time away my recharging time?  I’ll think a bunch, talk to people, glean ideas from my surroundings, and come back ready.  But that means the time at home has to use that creative energy, or else it goes to waste.  I need to be productive when I have the opportunity, and allow myself to rest when I can’t be productive.

One cool thing about productivity is that it breeds productivity.  You’ve experienced it before.  You have an hour until you have to leave the house, and you haven’t done any work yet.  You sit down, put your hands to the keyboard, start forcing words out, and suddenly you’re flying along.  You look up and you have five minutes, but you’ve never typed faster.  If you had three more hours, you could get so much work done— but the deadline comes in the way.  Productivity breeds productivity.

But it’s hard, isn’t it?  You get all your other tasks done first and clear your schedule so you can write, but when you sit down to work, you start procrastinating.

The funny thing is, you’re already in work mode— you’re just not in writing mode.  You could do school, or clean, or blog extremely efficiently right now.  You just can’t write what you want to write.

Here’s the thing: in terms of productivity, we get into modes where we can work on a certain thing very efficiently for a long time.  Then we switch modes, and we can work on that for a long time.  The easier the task, the longer we can work— and the earlier in the day you begin working, the longer you can work.

When I start reading or watching TV shows, it’s really difficult to stop and be productive again.  Experiencing stories takes almost no energy from me, so I can do it all day.  Going from that to creating stories is difficult.

But once in a while, I wake up with an image in my head.  I start writing hard and only stop when my body starts screaming for breakfast.  During that day, I am on a productive high.  I finish my requirements and get three times my normal amount of writing done.  No, I don’t always get to read during that time, but which is more important, reading or writing?  Because I started with what I really wanted to finish that day, I manage to be extremely productive.

Contrast that day with the opposite.  I do all my school, finish everything that’s required of me, and meet all my deadlines.  I get home at nine or ten o’clock at night and fire up my laptop.  Even though I haven’t written at all yet today, maybe I can bang out a paragraph or two before bed.  I start writing.

It’s 1 AM when I stop, with two new scenes and a Workaholics Anonymous membership card.  Great, I’ve been productive, but at what cost?  The next morning is terrible, and I get almost no work done.

Sleep resets you.  It refreshes you to a better state of mind.  If you start with that and begin working, you get yourself into a mode that lasts all day.  Yes, you wake up feeling tired and groggy, but once you start working, that passes within five minutes.

Does this mean you have to write first thing every day?  Of course not.  It’s going to be different for everyone.  But the mind is always fresher after a good sleep— if you merely shift the most important thing in your schedule to the first thing after breakfast, you’ll begin doing better at it.  I’ve done this with writing.  I’ve done this with calculus.  I’ve done this with physics.  Where do you need a push?  Do it while your mind is uncluttered.

As the day proceeds, your productivity is going to wane a little.  Beginning the day with writing doesn’t mean spending the entire day writing.  As time wears on, things pile up and you get tired again, less eager to write.  But that’s okay— you’ve already been productive.  Now you can focus on other things like reading or menial labor.

Productivity is not equal throughout the day.  It doesn’t peak somewhere near three o’clock, and things go downhill after that.  At the beginning of the day, the possibility for productivity is high.  As you live and things start cluttering up your mind, you slowly get less and less productive until finally, when you think it’s writing time, there’s almost nothing there.

The easy fix is to schedule writing time somewhere in the day, but if you’re like me, you write whenever everything else is done.  Don’t focus on that.  Focus on writing first, and the entire day will be more productive.

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18 thoughts on “Early Productivity

  1. Good thoughts and a valid point. Instead of doing my favorite part of school first, I’d probably be better off starting with something hard.

    Unfortunately, I have to finish my “have-tos” like school before I can write or do anything else. And of course, that anything else is divided into “should do” and “want to.” I may really want to read, but my desk is piled two stories high…

    Therein lies the problem. Having all those things I need to do or should do, by the time they’re done, I no longer want to do anything that involves effort.

    I guess my question is, what about when I can’t rearrange things?

    1. That’s a difficult position. I guess the thing to do would be to schedule writing as much as possible. If you sit down and force yourself to work at the same time every day, eventually it will get easier to focus during that time, and during the rest of the time.

      1. Yes, perhaps so. Unfortunately again, when I schedule things, I usually end up frustrated because like a true homeschooling family, our plans change…a lot. Literally the only schedule we have goes something like this: Start chores by 9 a.m. Try to get all the kids in bed before 11.

        Still, I guess I could work on it. I don’t sound very committed, do I…but then again, I’m still stuck in that annoying can’t seem to write phase. I did write a song today, though. Surely that counts for something.

      2. Songs definitely count. Nice work.

        That’s too bad. I guess I’m lucky— I’ve figured out a pretty good schedule because I’m either working alone or leaving the house for something extracurricular. I hope you figure it out.

  2. Excellent post and very true. This is why if I have certain cleaning projects to work on, I try to do them after cleaning up breakfast. I don’t actually want to clean, but if I get it out of the way when I am eager, then it goes seemingly quick and is done and then I don’t have to dread it anymore.
    Writing is the same, only I actually do want to do that most of the time. And I’d like to add that my writing productivity oddly does go downhill at about 3. For some reason, I have trouble writing in the mid to late afternoon. But in the morning (especially before hobbits get up) and at night (especially at night) I can be ridiculously productive.
    But yes, excellent post.

    1. It’s easy to be productive at night because you’re already awake, but it takes away from sleep, which is just as important. It’s easier to be consistently productive in the morning than at night. But I see what you’re saying.

      1. Part of my problem is that I’m very much a Night Owl. If I could do it without the consequences, I would pick writing at night over writing in the morning every time.
        And unfortunately, I really need to turn that around.

      2. I know you’ve been up late the past few nights, but that isn’t really a problem if that’s your process. You just need to figure it out.

      3. I honestly never thought about it as a process. I feel suddenly relieved. The next few days are busy, because my grandma and aunt are going to be here on Wednesday, so really the only time I can reliably write is at night. But thinking about it as a process helps. Thanks.

      4. Of course. My process is not your process, ever, at all. Which gets annoying if you really need a late-night writing buddy, but yeah.

      5. I wasn’t speaking of your process when I said I needed to turn my writing schedule to mornings. It was a suggestion of my mother’s. And I can’t go long after getting up without eating something or I risk feeling really ill, anyway.
        But that reminder also makes me feel better, so I thank you for that as well. And yes, it is a bit vexing when I want a writing buddy at a sane person’s bedtime.

  3. Oh gosh, yes. When I was actually capable of getting up at six in the morning and sitting down to write, when the only sibling who might also be awake is the one who knows how to keep quiet, and I told myself that there was no procrastinating allowed until after school (strangely enough, that seemed to work…or maybe it was just that I was more oblivious to the Internet back then), I got so much done. That was back when I could say that my average amount of words written per day almost always exceeded 2k.

    Now… well, heheh, it isn’t so great. I do want to try to work on getting up earlier in the mornings (though certainly not at six) and working on…if not writing, then at least drawing. Actually, I do want to try to start drawing (or at least sketching something out quick) everyday, and doing it every morning should hopefully help keep me doing it regularly, at least until I make a habit of it.

    Anyway, good post!

    1. I’m glad it’s not just me who’s excited about this. I haven’t been able to work early every day recently, but it’s been good when I can.

      Thanks.

      1. Yeah, definitely. I don’t think I really can do this much with spring break still going (…and now I realize that today’s my last day of spring break), but once school (and our routine) starts again, I think I can manage to get up earlier to write more.

      1. Wow… the “Winter Soldier” soundtrack is almost as bad for making me unintentionally kill off characters as… um, I think I’ll switch to “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Jack Sparrow is an idiot, but it’s the soundtrack so I don’t have to put up with him. 😛

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