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4 Tips to Help Your Productivity

Here are a few more tips to help you with productivity. These have worked for me - they might not work for everyone, but I suggest that you adapt them to your own situations as you see fit.

1. Adopt a plan that extends for decades.

This is the Big Picture, around which all the rest of your production schemes will materialise. I developed a Forty Year Plan (I’m heading into Year 8 right now) and included everything that I could possibly think of, including moving house, rearranging finances, settling in, dealing with other logistics - and book production targets for each year. Looking back, I can see that I have more or less kept to these plans so far, though some have ‘mutated’ a little on the way, while some things happened slightly earlier or later than predicted.

Developing a very long-term plan like this can be a liberating experience. And here’s the thing: if you don’t put your vision of the future out there, someone else will put theirs in your way.

2. Work out a rough guide to the production for each year.

I started by sketching out the publication of about ten books each year. Yes, that would mean 400 books at the end of the forty years - but why think small?

As it happened this last few months mean that I will be approaching 50 books this year alone. Does that mean that I can slack off a little next year? Maybe. The point is that my production of books sped up due to me becoming more familiar with the process, and the fact that I started publishing anthologies of others’ work. But in between those anthologies I have published several books of my own and written over five million words which I will shape into more books in the future.

Obviously, Life happens and some of these plans might have to be changed or modified. But having a guide to your year is better than not having one - you will find that you will get more done.

3. Draw up a monthly calendar.

I started trying to do a weekly calendar but was frustrated because once you get into the nitty-gritty of things that happen at a weekly level, obstacles and unforeseen changes come up and throw the schedule off. We’ll come to weekly timetabling in a minute, because I am not saying don’t do it - quite the opposite. But try starting with a monthly calendar so that you have some goals which are do-able and which you can see approaching day by day.

4. Weekly timetabling.

This is where I found that it got interesting. I was trying to fit too much into a week, and constantly misestimating how long things would take, which is why I eventually gave up and flopped back into a monthly schedule.

BUT then I realised that I was doing it wrong. Instead of writing out a list of what I wanted to do each week and then not meeting the targets, I decided that I should simply divide up each day of the week into slots, like a school timetable, and set targets for each slot. Having spent nearly 20 years as a teacher, the daily timetable thing appealed to me - I tend to respond to units like that. And it worked here too: by dividing each day into hourly periods, and then filling those periods with different tasks, I found that not only was I getting more done, and getting less distracted on the way, but I also felt that I was getting more done, which is important. Morale is crucial - if too much time is felt to be wasted, a malaise creeps in and can throttle you. It can be just a feeling of wastage rather than anything measurable. The hourly periods helped to show my ‘emotional brain’ that I was actually getting quite a lot of stuff done.

How does it work?

Simply draw up a timetable, starting as early as you like each day and assigning each hour to a different activity. The trick is - and this is important - to include everything that you know you will need to do on that day.

For example, my timetable might say ‘6:00 - 9:00 am: breakfast and school run’, followed by ‘9:00 - 10:00 am social media and emails’. Then ’10:00 - 11:00 am reading and proofreading (or in your case, perhaps, writing)’ followed by ’11:00 - 12:00 am research (or in my case, more reading and proofreading - I have such a lot of it to do!)'

Then timetable in lunch, block in the rest of the afternoon, including the school run or whatever non-writing activities you know are going to have to be done, and go as far into the evening as you wish.

Timetable in the things that you know are going to come up as potential interruptions: assigning them a time to be dealt with means they are less likely to jump out at you as annoyances. These can include family matters, appointments, calls that you have to make, boring things that you have to do like household chores.

You can even timetable regular breaks, social media ‘interludes’ and so on.

One of the things that you may find is that you are getting quicker at getting the other things done too.

Don’t be too rigid with all this. If you get too fixated, you tend to also get too fraught and disappointed if your schedule goes awry, which it will from time to time. You don’t want to get into a situation where you are saying to yourself ‘Oh no! I’ve gone four minutes overtime into my lunch slot!’ or things like that. Use the timetable as a guide, rather than a regime.

Putting all the above together should boost your production to some extent. And you will feel yourself getting closer to the annual goals and the Big Picture that spans decades, step by step.


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