Monday, June 11

Avoid Time Sinks: Ways to be a More Productive Writer, Part 6

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Today is the final tip in the series, and it's a bit of a round up. There are so many things in our lives that tempt us from our writing. Some are truly important and have to be dealt with right away, but others are things that can easily wait until we're ready to focus on them. I never realized how much time I wasted until I started keeping track of what I did all day.

So far in the series we've had finding the right time and place to write, then all about preparation, stopping in the middle, not re-reading too much of the previous session, and leaving yourself notes. Today in my "Be a More Productive Writer" series, it's all about wasting time.

Tip number six on being a more productive writer:

Avoid the time sinks that rob you of your writing time.

I went through a period where I was busy all the time and never seemed to get anything done. I couldn't figure out what was going on and it was extremely frustrating. So I started keeping track. Nothing fancy, just an open Notepad file on my desktop, and for a week, I wrote down what and when I did something.

The results were enlightening. (and a bit scary)

That "quick check" of my email? Not so quick. Neither were those phone calls to writer friends, or checking social media, or reading blogs. Stopping my writing to research or look up something also took chunks away. Usually the blocks were small, but stopping six times a day for twenty minutes is two hours of lost time. When I lost those two hours in the mornings, I got very little writing time, even though in my mind I wrote all morning.

Everyone will have their own time sinks, but these are very likely some areas where you're spending more time than you need to.

Checking Email
Maybe you're the kind of person who can glance at your email and then ignore it, but if my email is open, I'm going to look at it. A glance at the screen doesn't sound like much, but if it breaks your concentration and you have to take another minute to get back into the flow, the writing suffers. The only way I can focus is to keep it turned off when I'm writing.

Being Social
Some days Twitter and Facebook are a quick read, other days I can lose hours. And if you happen to use Pinterest, then you might lose the day (I've stayed away from this after hearing so many talk about its addictive properties) I've carved out small blocks of time during the day for these, and it helps knowing that at X time, I can take a social media breaks. And when the time is up, I close the browser. (Set a timer if you need to. You can even use ones online)

Chatting With Friends
When I get stuck on a scene (or if I'm excited about something I just wrote) I'll call a writer pal. Problem is, we usually don't end the conversation after the news is spread or the scene is fixed. These days, when I need to write I stay away from the phone and ignore those urges to take a quick break "just to chat" for a minute. It's never just a minute. If you're easily drawn into conversations with friends (be it the phone, texting, or online messaging) resist the urge to chat during your writing time. Try using that as a reward for getting your writing done.

Doing "Writerly" Stuff
Some days I need to spend a few hours doing research or plotting or the myriad of non-writing writing tasks. But they also steal my time if I use them to procrastinate. Doing research online is a great way to kill a few hours, so is reading or looking things up and making notes for the future. Ask yourself if you really need to do this now or if you're just delaying putting fingers to the keyboard. Days when you're not feeling creative are great days to spend doing non-writing tasks.

It feels like working, because you're writing, right? But if you're tweaking old prose and not writing new words, you're not getting any closer to finishing that novel. Save the edits for days when you have editing planned.

Getting Your Time Back
For a week, keep track of what you do during your writing time (or even the whole day if you prefer). When you start, when you end, what else you do during those allotted periods. Even if it's just notes on a pad beside you, identifying where you spend the most time really helps you see where that time goes. You might discover you're spending more time on small things than you realized.

Plus, the act of paying attention for a week will make you more aware and you'll reconsider those time sinks when they tempt you to stray.

Little things do add up, and they're the ones you don't always notice. Once you see where your time goes, you'll be able to better schedule what you need for your day and find other places for them to go. Maybe you set aside an hour every day for email and social media, or fifteen minutes three times a day. Whatever works for you. The goal is to organize your activities to make the most of your writing time.

And who knows. You might decide to do this for your whole day and see where all your time goes. A little organization could even find you more time to write.

This tip's challenge:
Spend a week keeping track of what you do and where your time goes. What are some of your time sinks? How many can you eliminate?

As for last tip's challenge... Did you leave yourself notes? Did it help keep your momentum going?

This wraps up the Ways to Be a More Productive Writer series. I hope you've found these tips helpful and you're writing more now than you did two months ago.


  1. Great suggestions Janice. I do spend way too much time reading blogs. Which is why I haven't joined Twitter or Pinterest yet. And I revise too much of what I just wrote.

    You're right, we have to keep moving forward in our manuscripts. I'm going to try to work on that this week. Thanks.

    And someday could you do a post on what are good ways to use Twitter? I'm probably going to join but am not sure how to quickly use it.

  2. Ah, the synchronicity of the Blogosphere...I recently did a post on "Moving Forward" and we've touched on the same points. I find that you can't ignore your own writing "rhythms"--trying to write when your productivity is at its lowest point--mornings for some, night for others--can simply lead to frustration.

    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  3. These suggestions are spot on. I can control checking email and social media, although it's hard sometimes. Creature of habit, and all. It's revising and reading to much of what I already wrote that haunts me. I need to work on this one.

  4. I'm totally guilty of the "doing 'writerly' things" time sink. I've done enough "research" to write six books. Another time sink is the quick "five minute" game of spider solitaire when I'm stuck on an idea. Five minutes. Yeah right. Five minutes becomes an hour . . .

  5. Natalie, I wondered why you weren't on Twitter. I think about that when I link to your blog. You're probably better off ;) I actually have a Twitter post coming up soon, (something I've been testing lately) so I'll see what I can add there.

    Terry, oh cool. Ideas do get in the air. Absolutely, timing is important.

    SA Larsen, it's a hard habit to break. You might try limiting what you read to start with and cutting back each time. Like weaning yourself off it, lol.

    LinWash, oh goodness, that's the reason I have no games on my work computer. FB games stole my life for a while, and I'm a huge gamer so I can't have anything to tempt me. Gotta keep those on my gaming system or I won't get anything done.

  6. Great advice. The hardest thing for a writer to do is just write.


  7. Great tips, Janice! I'm guilty of all of these. And I'm definitely not going to join Pinterest! Or any other site. I'm on Facebook and Twitter and follow great blogs like yours, and that's enough!

  8. Most of those and "non-writerly" stuff, too. Texting with the grandkids. Chatting with family and friends who call. Following Red Sox games on-line (which lately is not only time-wasting but very depressing).

  9. I know it is important to participate in some social media as an author, but I avoid most all of it. It does distract from my precious little writing time. It is easy to get sucked in. Besides, do I really care if my friend ate cornflakes?

  10. Great post! I've been working on having more of a schedule for Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. It can get really out of control if I'm not careful.

  11. Debbie, some days that's so true.

    Jodie, thanks! I used to lose a lot of time in Facebook but now I barely use it. They have a weird algorithm or something so if you don't post a lot, your posts don't show up often in your friend's newsfeeds. I enjoy Twitter, but it's been a challenge to know what to do with it.

    LD, it's amazing how much time we lose to that stuff. Though some of it is worth it :) (sorry about the Sox)

    Glacier, I'm honestly not sure how important it actually is. There are authors out there who have zero online presence and their sell like crazy. There's a great post from The Intern about an author who deleted her entire online presence and her sales didn't change one bit.

    Makes you think. If the online stuff isn't for you, and you don't get some personal benefit out of it, I don't think you should force yourself to do it. Goes against common advice, but that's my two cents :)

    Handy Man, Crafty Woman, thanks! Scheduled time does help, or it has with me. Sometimes it's good to take a break from time to time as well. Keeps the habit from building back up.

  12. Yep, new words. That's how I measure progress. Hard to not go back and tweak though. And REALLY hard not to stop and read all your great blogs. :) But I guess that's allowed, right??

  13. I'm SO guilty of being too social! Especially if I'm stuck on something :/

    Great advice, as always!

  14. Carol, lol blogs are okay. But seriously, they can be a time sink as well. :) When I'm procrastinating, blogs are one of my hiding places.

    Julie, it's the stuck moments that are the worst. When the writing is flowing there's no need to waste time.