I see everyone on Medium talking about their process for writing an article per day, two per day, five per week, and so on.
I applaud everyone’s effort and understand that it takes something to put together long-form posts that will be read, appreciated, shared, and so on.
But I can tell you right now that one or two articles per day probably isn’t your limit (unless each one is 4,000+ words), and with enough practice, and enough of a reason to write, you will write immeasurably more than you think you can.
I, for example, write at least 3,000+ words most days, and 5,000+ words on some.
How is this possible? It’s simpler than you think.
Commit to Deadlines & Follow Through
I’ve had weekly publishing commitments since 2011. Yes, for 10 years, I’ve had duties ranging from publishing three blog posts per week, to fulfilling on three or four client pieces ranging from 600 to 1,200 words per day (in addition to any publishing I was doing on my own blogs at the time).
Deadlines may not light you up, but when “like to” or “should” turns into “must,” I can almost guarantee you’ll find something to write about, even when you don’t feel like it.
Before Leo Babauta started blogging exclusively for his zen habits, he had a swack of writing deadlines to meet. These commitments were quite extensive as I understand it, but because he had to, he learned to complete his work with velocity.
Turn your casual commitments into non-negotiable deadlines. Then you will naturally write more.
Take on More Profitable Work
This goes hand in hand with my previous point. When you take on more, you’ll find a way to fulfill on it.
I’m not telling you to work at a burnout pace. I’m suggesting being a little unreasonable. Stop trying to survive your workload and look for ways to thrive in a little chaos. Transform your relationship to work.
Great leaders know how to deal with chaos. They know how to communicate, problem solve, and work with others to generate the desired result. They remain open to possibilities they may not be present to and allow others to contribute.
Maybe you don’t see yourself as a leader now, but if you want to create at the level we’re talking about here, at minimum, you will need to learn to lead yourself well.
And if you’re going to take on more, you may as well seek out profitable work and benefit from the extra load you’re taking on.
When you have less perceived time to do your work in, you discover new ways of solving seemingly impossible problems.
Be Impeccable – be a Professional
If you don’t know what it means to be a professional, read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art (affiliate link).
The best way I know to articulate it is that professionals treat their work like a business.
They open their doors daily at the same time. They’re consistent in their commitment to produce great work and please their customers. They show up even when they don’t feel like it.
Some people fear this level of commitment, but as I’ve been discovering, there is great freedom in it.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (affiliate link) author Mark Manson says:
Commitment gives you freedom because you’re no longer distracted by the unimportant and frivolous. Commitment gives you freedom because it hones your attention and focus, directing them toward what is most effective at making you healthy and happy. Commitment makes decision-making easier and removes any fear of missing out; knowing that what you already have is good enough, why would you ever stress about chasing more, more, more again? Commitment allows you to focus intently on a few highly important goals and achieve a greater degree of success than you otherwise would.
I could not have said it better myself.
Build Out Your Tool Stack
Marketing guru Dan S. Kennedy said:
Walt Disney didn’t start Disneyland with a blank page; he started with already proven, profitable amusement parks and began subtracting things he disliked, adding things he thought could be done better, further plus-ing new ideas on top of the rearranged old ones.
The point? Don’t start from scratch!
You should never succumb to blank screen syndrome when it is so completely avoidable.
Keep notes, create swipe files, save references, develop idea sheets, and so on.
Here are a few tools I use to ensure I have a starting point for all my writing:
What infrastructure do you have in place to support your writing?
Could you start collecting industry stats? Relevant quotes? Resources the reader would find helpful? Maybe you could create blog post templates for different post types…
If you’ve got the right infrastructure in place, you will never need to start from scratch, and you will be far more efficient.
It’s not about writing more. It’s about having a reason to write more. When you’re committed to the cause and there are no alternatives, you will find a way to make it work.
Process is secondary to your reason for doing what you do. If you’re clear on your purpose, the details tend to fall into place.
There are no limits, and there are no requirements. There are only the commitments you make to yourself. And the better you become at following through on those commitments, the more you’ll trust yourself, and the more confident you will become in your own abilities to create and deliver.
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Time management and productivity go hand in hand.
To manage your time, though, you’re going to need to utilize a set of tools.
These tools don’t necessarily need to be the latest, whiz-bang, sophisticated, THICC 3D mobile apps. Personally, I find simple is better.
What matters is that you experiment, pick the tools that make sense to you, and then stick with your processes. Constantly reinventing the wheel will tend to have the opposite effect of killing your productivity.
For some inspiration, here are the four productivity tools I rely on.
1. Yellow Legal Pad
I use a yellow legal pad to organize my to-do list.
I’ll usually start by writing down everything I know I need to do for the week, and then make note of which items to prioritize.
(I don’t mean to glance over it, but prioritizing is critical for a successful week – just so you know.)
Having gone about this process in a variety of ways, I usually find it best to make a new to-do list weekly.
After a while, it gets altogether too easy to miss unchecked items on your list, because they are surrounded by items that have been checked or crossed off. Best recycle your old list and make a new one weekly.
2. Desktop Calendar Pad
I started using a desktop calendar pad several years ago, and it so much a part of my ecosystem now that I feel naked without it.
The main way I use the calendar pad is to add upcoming podcast interviews, meetings, and events, whether they are business related, social, personal, or otherwise. I find it much easier to get a mile high overview of the month (or coming months) using the desktop calendar pad versus a digital calendar.
On my calendar pad, there is a “notes” section on the righthand side, and I use this to track income sources. And that’s how I’ve done it for years now.
I will also consciously black out the dates where I know I will be on break or vacation.
Best to plan your breaks well in advance so they become non-negotiables. We can all be guilted into working more, so schedule your off days and commit to them no matter what.
I’ve created my LifeSheet using Google Sheets, so it lives inside Google Drive.
I make it a point to create a new LifeSheet annually, since a lot of things can change in a year, and my LifeSheet can start to look like a complete mess after accumulating a year’s worth of data.
I have tabs for a variety of things, but the main ones I keep going back to are “Projects,” “Post Ideas,” and “Medium Publications.”
Projects is where I can get a bird’s eye view of everything I’m working on right now and mark projects complete once they’re finished.
Post Ideas is critical since I publish daily. This is where all my article ideas, as well as the ideas others have share with me, are stored.
Medium Publications is relatively self-explanatory. I use this register to match up my stories with the right publications.
Suffice it to say, these tabs (and others) save me a lot of time as I’m going about my daily tasks.
You can use your LifeSheet as a register for whatever matters to you – affiliate relationships, travel, book recommendations, and more.
4. iPad & Apple Pencil
The iPad and Apple Pencil have not been in my ecosystem for long. I literally bought them before leaving Calgary in fall 2019.
But I now use these tools weekly if not daily, to journal, to log ideas, and to track my #StrategySunday minutes.
I don’t use any fancy apps. I just use Notes and handwrite all my entries using the Apple Pencil.
I also do a lot of reading on my iPad, though. The Kindle app is great.
I’ve used a variety of other tools through the years, even to see if going fully digital would make more sense. Nothing stuck. My current system has become habit, and it works.
The only honorary mention here would be Google Calendar, which is perfect for time blocking (Apple’s Calendar app works just as well). But I’m not a rigorous time blocker, and the habit has never stuck with me long-term. Which is fine.
Again, the key would be to find what works for you and to keep doing it. After a point, you probably won’t need anymore productivity tools. But to get there, you’ve got to experiment and work out your processes.
For more inspiration, be sure to sign up for my email list.
You don’t ever feel like you have enough time.
There are just so many things you want to do. So many projects you want to tackle. But you just never seem to get around to them.
You’d like to be able to spend more time doing what you love.
But that’s just a starting point.
You’d love to be able to increase your independent income, have a greater sense of security and freedom, have more quality time with the people and projects that matter to you, and be able to live your life instead of hustling and grinding all the time.
There’s a simple mind hack that, if you activate, will instantly boost your productivity. I’ll show you how it works.
The Simple Technique That Will Train Your Mind
Every day when you wake up, first thing in the morning, tell yourself:
“You have more time than you realize.”
At first, you may not feel the effects of this simple action, and that’s okay. Just keep doing it.
In a matter of days or weeks, you’re going to start to notice a difference.
Suddenly, you will have a greater sense of clarity about where your time is going.
You will see openings for the things you want to do, as well as where you can make subtle shifts and tweaks to make better use of your time.
Let Your Subconscious Mind do the Heavy Lifting
When you keep telling yourself “you have more time than you realize,” you are effectively telling your subconscious mind what to believe.
We all know that the subconscious is powerful, and with repetition, it can be trained.
Like antivirus software, it runs background processes whether we’re aware of it or not, and it goes to work to solve the problems we present it with.
Just beware of using negative statements like “I am not an addict” or “I don’t want to be fat.” Your subconscious mind can’t process the negative, so these statements will come out as “I am an addict” and “I want to be fat,” perpetuating what you already have.
The solution is to turn these into positive statements like “I am focused and healthy.”
You Will Begin to See More Opportunities Than Ever Before
This technique is not a miracle worker.
What happens is that you begin to see opportunities to better utilize your time you never saw before. Your subconscious mind presents them to you, because by universal law, when you give it a problem to solve, it must.
Maybe you start getting up an hour earlier to tackle the most pressing issues in your life.
Perhaps you multitask during meals, even if just to engage in your passion for 15 to 30 minutes.
Maybe you return messages and make phone calls while on walks, so you can get your blood pumping, think clearly, and get some exercise while you are batch processing communication.
I don’t need to tell you what to do. Your subconscious mind already has the answers. The key is to accept that you have more time than you realize, because this is not about hustling and grinding. It’s about making better use of the tools available to you.
You Have More Time Than You Realize & Your Life Will Improve Dramatically
When you see that you have more time than you realize, you will get more done. But that’s not all.
Maybe you’ll finally be able to take weekends off or even have three-day weekends because of how efficient you are.
Perhaps you’ll be able to increase your income or add additional sources and feel a greater sense of security and freedom.
Maybe you’ll finally get around to projects long forgotten and ideas abandoned and feel more accomplished and fulfilled.
Perhaps you will learn to trust yourself more and you’ll be able to spend more quality time with your friends and family.
Give this technique a try and see what happens.
For more inspiration, be sure to sign up for my email list.
So, you’re looking to accomplish more as a creative or creator.
But you wake up late, check your phone first thing in the morning, and end up watching videos on YouTube before even getting your day started.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
But motivation is an inside job, and unless you have a reason to get up and do what you know you should be – and want to be – doing, you either won’t do it or won’t give it the attention it deserves.
One productivity hack that has worked for me, and that goes against conventional wisdom, is addition.
Doing More is Doing More
I’ve shared much about focus and doing less, but the ugly truth is, the main reason I get so much done is because I have deadlines to meet, and because I keep adding new to-do items to my list.
What!? How does that work?
Look, I’m not saying I don’t cull my list periodically. Whether it’s things that don’t bring me joy, don’t help me create an income, or simply aren’t effective, I actively eliminate, automate, or delegate what shouldn’t be on my docket anymore.
But before I ever reach that point, I just keep adding new items to my to-do list. Currently, my weekly list is up to 18 items (with some representing three to five tasks each). I’m due for a serious culling.
But if I’m looking to get things done, this is the way to do it.
As they say, if you want something done, ask someone who’s busy.
And I’m busy (although not in the sense that I’m out of control).
Both Positive & Negative Motivation Produce Results
There are plenty of pieces on Medium about writing a certain number of blog posts per week, or how to set up your writing processes to support the creation of new content regularly.
Look, I’m all for maintaining a library of swipe files, templates, and references. Processes are great to have.
But here’s the thing – you’re not going to do the work unless you have a reason to. It doesn’t matter how nice your keyboard is unless you start putting those fingers to work!
A deadline, however unsexy, is highly motivating (even if it’s what some would call “negative” motivation).
Towards the end of March, I decided I wanted to replace my digital magazine with an eBook, and there weren’t many days left in March.
So, in four days, I wrote 8,000+ words, edited, and formatted a brand-new eBook. Just in time for April 1.
I was clear on what I needed to do, and when it needed to be done by. I got to work, and any creative challenges I encountered, I solved along the way (instead of planning for millennia before even beginning).
Can You Handle Organized Chaos?
If you’ve been at this for a while, then you might know what organized chaos looks like.
In fall 2014, I started ghostwriting blog posts from home, teaching guitar at nights, and working at the University as a theater tech on the weekends. I even tech hosted community gatherings, played gigs, recorded music, and maintained my own websites and blogs. I kept up that pace until summer 2016, when I started working completely from home.
But if you haven’t been to that point yet, then I’m sorry (not sorry), you still have no idea how much you can accomplish in a day or week.
If you’ve been through organized chaos, I would give you a pat on the back and congratulate you on emerging victorious through the smoke of battle.
Otherwise, you’ve got to keep stretching. You will not write or create more just because. You will write or create more if you have non-negotiable deadlines to meet and clients you’re accountable to.
People on Medium often talk about earning $1,000, $4,000, or $6,000 per month writing. Trust me, it’s easy to earn at that level when you’re disciplined and have a solid work ethic.
Don’t Forget to Cull
I couldn’t handle organized chaos forever. Unless your name is Gary Vee, I suspect you won’t be able to either.
It’s all well and good to push yourself, at least within the limits of what’s healthy. But that line can get mighty blurry when you start waking up in a fog every morning (could be an early warning sign).
So, if you’re going to increase productivity through addition, please remember to purge from time to time. Discard tasks and projects that no longer serve you. Replace them with better ones. Or begin to cultivate more discipline and focus for the projects that matter to you.
Use addition as a tool to get things done, not as a strategy for freelancing, business, or life.
You could achieve more if you were in a position where you had no other choice.
If you get too comfortable, and have no reason to stretch, you’re not going to do more.
It’s as simple as that.
If you have a lot of free time in your day to stop and think, it might be time to start adding more to your to-do list.
Because you will begin to see just how much you can accomplish in a day or week.
There’s a lot more time than you think.
For more inspiration, be sure to sign up for my email list.
In the digital age, our reliance on digital tools grows.
But there can still be tremendous value in paper-based tools like notebooks, yellow legal pads, index cards, and of course, desktop calendar pads.
I have been using a desktop calendar pad to organize my life since 2016, and when I don’t have it, I almost feel naked.
The calendar pad gives me a bird’s eye view of what’s to come this month (as well as the months ahead). I have used this function to plan meetings, gigs, social gatherings, vacations, and even social media posts.
Although most digital calendars do have monthly views, they are often cluttered and harder to make out. I like the immediacy of the calendar pad.
Step #1 – Log All Upcoming Events
You won’t necessarily be using your calendar pad to plan your routine or what you’ll be doing hour to hour. This is something digital calendars do better.
But all calls, meetings, interviews, social events, and other activities and commitments should go in your calendar, along with the times at which they are to occur.
Don’t forget to keep adding to your calendar as new events are booked.
This is the most obvious use of the calendar pad, but the benefits that come from planning out in this manner might be unexpected.
For instance, twice per month, I have an early call on Wednesdays. But on Wednesdays when I don’t have these calls, I can work on something else. Or maybe even sleep in.
When you have a bird’s eye view of your month, you can easily make snap decisions about your day. Although I have a high degree of flexibility in my life already, I have always found this freedom exhilarating.
Pro tip: Plan your vacations well in advance and put them in your calendar. Otherwise, something will always come up and you’ll never be able to get away. You’ve got to prioritize yourself.
Step #2 – Log Income Sources
This is optional. In saying that, anything beyond the first step is optional.
On my calendar pad, there is a substantial “memo” section on the right side. Sometimes, I use this for ideas. But most of the time, I just log my income sources.
And that’s my system for creating an income ledger. I may transfer the data to a spreadsheet later (for income tax purposes), but I like to keep things simple, and this works for me.
I have all my calendar pads saved from 2016 onward.
Step #3 – Log What Matters to You
It’s possible to use your desktop calendar pad in a variety of other ways.
Earlier, I mentioned that you could use it to track your social media posts. Well, that’s where I got the idea to use a calendar pad in the first place. I’d read about someone who was using theirs to track their digital marketing activity.
Obviously, I use mine in a different way, but it still ended up becoming an invaluable tool.
Anyway, there’s nothing saying your calendar pad can’t be multi-purpose, and I will sometimes use it to track my scheduled posts (for my blog, Instagram, etc.).
It’s always nice to be able to work ahead and knowing when something is scheduled saves me the guesswork of having to log into WordPress or Instagram Creator Studio to try to figure out when my last post was scheduled.
Whatever you need to track, you can put it in your calendar to make your life easier.
The desktop calendar pad is most useful when used in connection with other tools (like a yellow legal pad for notes and to-do lists).
The best book on setting up a paper-based productivity system is David Allen’s Getting Things Done (affiliate link). Although I do not subscribe to the entire methodology, I have applied it piecemeal to my processes, and the habits have stuck with me ever since.
There may not be anything especially enticing about a desktop calendar pad, but as I’ve found, it can be a useful tool in helping you organize your life and boost your productivity.
I don’t know whether you do more meetings now than you did pre-lockdown. Personally, I have had far fewer commitments overall.
I still feel naked without my desktop calendar, so I keep one around regardless.
But the more you have to keep track of, the more you will likely benefit from incorporating a desktop calendar into your productivity routine.
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One of the reasons we even worry about productivity is because we have things on our to-do lists, we don’t even want to touch.
Go ahead, look over your to-do list. How many items do you actually feel motivated to tackle? Chances are, there are only one to three items that give you any sense of excitement.
Invoicing your clients is essential. It’s always nice to get paid. Answering your emails might give you a tiny dopamine fix. Having to call your bank can probably wait. And the fetch quest tasks (research options and submit to client, partner, boss, etc.), well, they don’t exactly make the fires of passion well up in your belly.
Maybe the way we’ve been thinking about productivity has been wrong all along.
Because if we just focused on the things that excited us, we’d have a hard time peeling ourselves away from our desk or lab. We wouldn’t be watching the clock, waiting for it to turn 5 or 6. We’d be so deep in flow, we’d have to be deliberate about having a hard stop.
“But I still have things I need to do that I don’t want to do, David” you say. “What you’re suggesting is highly impractical.”
True, you can’t outsource exercise. If you want to maintain your health and fitness, you’ve got to put in the work. There is no other way. It’s the same way with invoicing, emails, calling the bank, and so on.
And we can’t very well escape communication, whatever form it may take. Even ruthless time manager and author Dan Kennedy accepts faxes.
But if we’re serious about productivity, we can’t just think in terms of getting things done. Because that’s not where the important work happens. The truth is the important work only happens when we prioritize and schedule it. Otherwise, it has a way of getting swallowed up in the deluge of urgent tasks that force productivity instead of inspiring it.
If you want to inspire productivity, you’ve got to work on something you love.
Just yesterday, I completed a new 8,000+ word eBook. I wrote it in three days, and I happen to think of it as a timely, important work.
I had my reasons for wanting to get it done, mostly because I plan to release it by tomorrow (April 1, 2021), and because it’s replacing a legacy product.
If I were tasked with writing an 8,000-word listicle, unless I was especially excited about the subject matter or had a hard and fast deadline for the piece, I would probably needlessly stretch it out over the course of four or five days.
“It’s so boring,” I would whine. “I just want to be working on my own stuff.”
Now, I’m not saying that you will love everything you work on, even the things you call your passion.
It’s funny – on some level, I actually hate my new eBook. But I got into flow as I was working on it, and I didn’t want to peel myself away from it until it was done. And in this case, I took hating it as a sign that I was engaging in important work.
The point is that we all need work in our life we can’t help but engage in. And, if possible, our lives should revolve around it. Usually, “must do” tasks can be batched on one evening or maybe a couple hours during the weekend. We can create our businesses around the things we love, and not doing so is robbing you and your audience of something amazing.
What is one small change you could make in your life to do more of what you love?
Let me know.
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