My Top 7 Writing Productivity Tips and Tools
As a mom with a full-time job and a forty-minute commute, I don’t get a lot of time to write. So when I do, I want that time to be as productive as possible. After the birth of my second son, I started exploring new ways to maximize my writing time. I asked other writers for tips, and I put their recommendations to the test.
I’m not perfect. I still waste too much time checking emails and scrolling Facebook. But the following tools have helped me become much more productive. Most of these I use every day. Since the holidays are approaching and NANOWRIMO is drawing to a close, I thought you might find them helpful, too.
1. Don't rely on willpower alone.
The Freedom desktop app will block social media, apps, specific websites—even the entire Internet. I have mine set to block social media and Gmail from 7 to 10 a.m. every weekday. That way, I don’t have to rely on willpower to stop me from checking Facebook when I’m supposed to be writing. It has an iPhone app, too, which I find particularly helpful for staying focused during meetings.
2. Be accountable for your time.
If you’ve ever left work wondering where the past eight hours went, RescueTime is for you. This desktop app tracks the time you spend on each program and website, then sends you a detailed report at the end of each day or week. I’m not a huge fan of its pre-selected categories, but I like being able to tell exactly how much time I spent on Facebook and other time wasters. Like Freedom, it also has a site blocking feature.
3. Create a writing-friendly atmosphere.
Ever get sick of staring at the stark white screen of your word processor? I do. OmmWriter removes visual clutter and creates a beautiful writing environment. You can choose from eight backgrounds (I’m partial to the green windows), seven atmospheric sound tracks and seven different keyboard noises. When you're done writing, you can save your work as a plain text file, or copy and paste it into a Word processing program of your choice.
4. Block noise pollution.
I’ve tried a bunch of “white noise” websites, and Noisli is my favorite. It allows you to mix a variety of ambient sounds and adjust the volume of each one, so you can create your own “soundscape.” Once you've created an account, you can also set a timer, save your favorite sound combinations and even use a "distraction-free" text editor that's similar to OmmWriter.
5. Create a sense of urgency (or a sense of ritual).
When I’m having trouble getting started or staying focused, I tell myself I’ll only write for ten minutes. Then I set a timer and get to work. (It’s a spin on the Pomodoro Technique.) I love this candle timer because it pairs the numerical countdown with an animation of a candle slowly burning, which makes the ritual feel a little more sacred.
6. Write and edit on the go.
I switched to Google Docs this year, and I love it for a few reasons. First, Google Docs keeps a history of all revisions, so I don’t have to worry about deleting a paragraph and then needing it later. It’s compatible with Microsoft and Apple, so I don’t have to mess with different file formats. It has an app version, which means I can jot notes or make edits while I’m sitting at a red light. And finally, it’s a cinch to back up and share.
7. See connections everywhere.
When I started making mind maps in place of my regular to-do lists, I became a lot more productive. This simple formatting change has made it easier for me to capture new ideas, link related topics—it even makes tasks seem more like opportunities. I love my good old-fashioned paper and ink mind maps, but if tech is more your style, you can use Bubbl.us to create them online and collaborate with others.
What tricks, tools and writing hacks are helping you to avoid distractions and stay productive? Share them with me in the comments section below.