When I say Go-To, I’m not talking chocolate or subway stations. I’m talking about that thing you do when you don’t know what to do first. I’m talking productivity. I’ll be the first to tell you; it took me years and years to find a productivity model that worked for me. Everyone is different, and so are our jobs and responsibilities so how do you create a productivity model that suits you? Start by answering this one question. Is your primary focus on serving others or yourself? Don’t get that mixed up with who you work for or what you do. Ask yourself this: If you woke up tomorrow and were advised you would only have time to attend to one task, what would it be?
Whether you’re a full-time writer, part-timer, or simply want to write but can’t find the time, it may be because you have prioritised the world ahead of you. Before you get upset or start throwing your reality at me virtually, let me ask this: What is the first thing you do when you sit down at your desk? Do you check your calendar? Do you Check your To Do List? Or do you read through your emails? Almost everyone I speak with tells me the same thing; they can’t get to work until they have tackled their email. This is a problem, you see, checking your emails first is not very productive. If anything, it’s setting you up for failure. Think about it. How many times have you wasted an entire day answering, sending, and solving all the challenges your email delivers to you?
Our email is not about us or our writing. It’s about what the world needs from us, for us, with us, or some other form of demand. I hear you saying it, “I can’t relax and get to work until I’ve checked my email.” Okay, I get that, but I wish you could see you’re stuck in service mode not creative. And this doesn’t just apply to writers. No matter what your career or job, the moment you start on your email, you’re starting the service portion of your job and giving up on your creative time.
Whether you understand the science or not, humans can only juggle about five to nine things in their heads at once and the older you get, the more difficult this gets. After all, you have a lot of junk floating around your brain. All those years of experience on top of the day-to-day stuff you need to do can create a fog even the smartest people have difficulty overcoming. When you start your day by adding the demands of the world before you get the creative juices going, you have pretty much guaranteed it will be hard or impossible to concentrate of what you need to do for you.
I see it with part-time writers and many full-timers too. They plan to make time in their day just for writing but can’t get there when work heats up, or life gets hectic. Hey, I get it. If you’ve read any of the good books out there on productivity, they will cover many of the same habits:
- Schedule your week
- Keep a To-Do list
- Make notes at the end of the day to prompt you the next morning, so your not stuck scratching your head trying to remember where you left off
I want to add two more suggestions I believe these are as important or maybe more than the above.
First off, start your day productively by focussing on your work first, even if it’s just for the first hour. Tell your business associates, co-workers, friends, and family not to expect you will never read your morning emails before the time you set. I tell everyone my productivity time is between eight and ten. Tell them, “If you need me before 10 AM, don’t even think of sending an email, no matter how URGENT you mark it. I won’t see it. If you need me and it can’t wait, then go old school and pick up the phone.” Next, mark your productive time on your public calendar and add the same note: If you need me during my productive time, you MUST CALL ME ON THE PHONE.
Next, you need to have a Go To. It’s that thing you do with your time when you can’t get your head wrapped around anything else. Have you got thirty minutes before your next class? What if you just can’t concentrate on finishing that budget? Time to Go To your set productivity habit. For me, it’s writing. I find it interesting the number of writers I know who post their daily progress to Facebook or Linked In. They report meeting their daily writing goal of one-thousand words or maybe fifteen hundred. I don’t set my goal by words but by time. I don’t find a word count helpful. For one, it doesn’t gage the quality of your writing or truly define you progress unless you have set out to limit your work. I’m more interested in writing the story being created in my head. How long will the work be? As long as the story needs to do it the justice it deserves.
For my Go To, I always have a Word document open. More often, I have several open: My Blog template, my work-in-progress, and my idea folder. When I get tired of writing content for my mentored writing course or get overwhelmed at by the tech driving my business website, I don’t waste time wallowing over my challenges. I reschedule whatever it is I need to do, whether for an hour later, a day, or until I have covered the problems with my business partner. Then I write. This is my Go To. Always.
Here’s how my day looks: 8-10AM, Productivity Time. This is where I write for me, for my business, or edit the work of the authors I mentor. At ten, I open my email accounts and dig in. I make two passes. First, I quickly answer those things that can be solved fast. Once that’s complete, I take my time and tackled the more complicated stuff while I clean and prioritise everything else. I follow the remainder of the day according to what I have in my schedule and when and if I get bogged down in the minutia of technology or business, I switch to my Go To for the period I have assigned and now rescheduled for whatever I couldn’t wrap my head around.
It’s simple and provides the best outcome for me. For example, I just finished a 90,000-word manuscript in forty days by adhering to these rules. If you’re saying you can’t because others are depending on you, I have to ask: Are you giving them your best if you won’t put you and your best first? Yes, sitting down and clearing your email does feel like an accomplishment but in the reality of life and business, you need to be doing much more. If your first concern is for everyone else's needs and not for you, or the quality of your work, how are you going find the time to produce quality you can stand behind consistently?
A strange thing starts to happen when you write first and manage the world second. Your writing get’s better and faster. You don’t suffer from writer block because you always have more than one thing to write about. And most of all, your mind, that incredible machine capable of so much more starts to understand your schedule and works hard to make sure you have all the content you need as you need it. You stop worrying about what comes next. It’ll come when your ready and you find yourself ready for more, not just in your writing, but in all your jobs whether at work or home.
I’ve had so many people say they can’t work like this, “What if I have an urgent email? What if I can’t think of something to write? What if I get going, and never get to my other work?” Stop! Set your time, and use. When your alarm warns you, time is up. Tell your brain; it’s okay. You’ll be back, and I promise you, when you return the next morning you will be even more possessed to write, and your writing will become more automatic and creative. You will learn to stop on time and even better, start on time. And when you hit a lull in your day, use those extra 15, 20, 30, 60 minutes to write. Don’t waste your time on keep busy work or worse, brain-sucking FB games. Candy Crush will not train your mind to write more, better, or faster. Scheduling your creative time, putting you before your colleges, and having a productive Go To, will.
It’s not brain surgery, but it is mind science. So, give it a try. My recommendation: schedule the next 30 days and see how well it works for you.