10 Unconventional Productivity Tips for Writers

“If you want to be productive, get up early and work before everyone else in the house is up.” “Set a timer for 20-minute work sessions.” “Write a to-do list the night before.”

I’m sure I’ve read all of these productivity tips for freelancers at least a dozen times. It’s not bad advice, and it definitely works for some. (I use the pomodoro method myself.)

But in this post, Pinar Tarhan shares some productivity tips for writers that you may not have heard before. And she interviewed some serious pros to back up her personal experience. 

Here’s Pinar’s advice on how to get more work done in less time.

Have you ever wished days were much longer? Even with a 30-hour day, you could accomplish so much more. You would get through your to-do lists, and have more time for just pure fun and people you feel like you are neglecting because of your business.

Unfortunately, 24 hours is all we get, and days are often full of attractive distractions.

So it is only natural to be drawn to productivity books and blogs.

But there’s one thing I’ve learned through my fascination with how-to tips: I can only apply tips that appeal to my personality.

For instance, having an organized workspace is awesome, but it’s almost impossible to maintain in the long run for messy creatives such as myself.

Sometimes, procrastinating for hours does wonders for my creativity and productivity. And I can’t get up early, go to bed early or cut off TV from my life. (I’m trying to sell a TV pilot, and I run an entertainment blog.)

It’s important for me to be at my most productive: I have four blogs, three finished screenplays and a freelance gig as an English as a Foreign Language teacher. Add to that an addiction to all compelling TV shows, books, blogs, and films.

Oh, and I’m a freelance writer, of course!

So I’d love to share some (unconventional) productivity tips that you will hopefully find more doable and fun that the often touted “get up early” kind.

Below I’ve included my tips, as well as tips from other successful writers to be more productive. You can combine any of these in a way to make them work for you.

1. Just flip a coin.

When inspiration doesn’t strike (and deadlines aren’t an issue), flip a coin.

Random is key. Whether it’s thinking about the content or dreaming about the money you’ll receive once you’ve submitted your piece, get yourself working on anything, really.

While I’ll never dare to call writer’s block a myth, I believe that it doesn’t exist in absolute form. Sure, you might have been stuck for the right words for that blog post your client wants, but what about your own blog? Have you tried switching from non-fiction to fiction? Can you work on your newsletter instead of working on an assignment?

Open your folder of works in progress, and just pick one thing to work on.

Write whatever you want, don’t expect greatness, and continue working. No awesome productivity tips can help you if you aren’t producing anything.

I’ve overcome countless bouts of writer’s block by flipping a coin and switching projects as a result.

2. Work anywhere else but at home.

If writer Dawn Allcot has an urgent project that she can’t get started on, she works someplace unconventional. “The karate dojo while my kids have practice. My car (also during karate practice). Or the library when my daughter had tutoring sessions. For some reason, that adds to the sense of urgency and I always get it done. Also if I’m really stuck on a project I wait until 9 or 10 pm when the house is quiet to get started. The next morning isn’t fun, but the work is done!”

A lot of writers prefer coffee shops. Writer Tamarah Oh finds that the buzz works in her favor. “The buzz helps, but so does the fact that I’m not in my house or office where there are endless chores I could do to procrastinate.”

I couldn’t agree more. I find coffee shops increase my productivity in spades. There are fewer distractions, I get more exercise walking there and back, and sometimes I even get to network as I meet other freelancers.

And if I get tired or one coffee shop gets too noisy for my liking, I’ll switch to another one. The change of environment reboots my inspiration, and I get to have more exercise during the “transition” between offices.

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3. Procrastinate first.

This may seem like a crazy idea, but hear me out.

I start my day by checking emails and social media accounts first. This is a big no-no according to productivity gurus as it might turn into a form of procrastination, but I find it increases my willingness to work.

You know what is more enticing than opening 400 emails? Working on your next article!

Screenwriter and novelist Carmen Radtke also believes in procrastination. “What I do [when I’m stuck] is procrastinate a bit. Check emails. Check TV programs. Start rereading a book, until I physically have to restrain myself from rushing to my laptop. Once I open it at that stage, I’m chomping at the bit.”

4. Make a did-list.

I don’t remember where I first heard this tip, but it’s proven to be one of the most useful.

We all need to-do lists to know what must be done, but looking at a pile of unfinished tasks can feel frustrating.

We should keep a second list of tasks we’ve already completed. It makes us feel accomplished, and helps us enjoy our breaks more.

For instance, my did-list for today includes checking if my editor received an article, following up on an older pitch, submitting a requested article, answering important emails, and answering two questions on Quora (which is a part of my marketing strategy).

And this took just 20 minutes. I still have a lot to do, but I feel much better knowing the two lists go head-to-head.

5. Use a treadmill desk.

This is great advice because as freelance writers we sit a lot more than medically advisable. I don’t have the space for it in my apartment right now, but I’m looking forward to testing out this tip as soon as I move.

You can check out Gina’s home office setup – treadmill desk included – in this post.

Photojournalist Annalise Kaylor writes from her treadmill desk. “I’ve found that sweet spot is 2.2 mph. I also recently discovered, while sourcing music for a video I’m producing, that “epic cinematic” stock music samples will bump that to 2.9mph.”

6. Don’t cut TV from your life.

I’m not talking about mindless reality shows, but some series are even more compelling and creative than movies with much bigger budgets.

Does it get your brain working? Great. Keep watching. Just don’t forget to take a break when you’re full of ideas.

For instance, I had to write for a client on various topics. So I got paid for a lot of articles that were inspired by my knowledge of TV series including a humorous one on how your relationship problems weren’t that bad compared to outrageous examples from TV series like Alias and Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I also wrote a guest post for Brazen Blog on career management with parallels to the events in the comedy series Episodes.

7. Read productivity guides that speak to your personality.

I highly recommend Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before.

In the book, Gretchen identifies four personality types she calls tendencies (Obliger, Upholder, Rebel, and Questioner), and suggests breaking and creating habits according to them.

For instance, an Upholder does better if changing a habit is about fulfilling a commitment, whether to themselves or to another person, while a Questioner would require satisfactory logical reasons for changing.

She provides plenty of examples from all areas, enough for us to choose our type and change habits accordingly.

8. Take breaks often.

This may not seem like such an unconventional piece of advice, but it is worth mentioning.

Olga Mecking, a freelance writer and the founder of The European Mama blog, is a big believer in taking a lot of breaks. “I know it’s important to stick to your guns and not give up, but sometimes a little break or two helps you put your thoughts together, or give you the breakthrough you need,” says Olga.

Olga finds the Pomodoro technique – where you take a 5-minute break after working for 25 minutes – way too organized. I agree.

This type of work structure can heavily disrupt the creative process. Instead, I use it if I’m procrastinating because the task I have to get done is unpleasant. In this situation, the Pomodoro technique helps me get it done and over with.

But when I’m inspired, I work until I’m tired or words stop flowing, whichever comes first.

9. Listen to music.

Olga Mecking also finds that music helps her concentrate. “I need to keep some part of my brain occupied with some mindless beat so that the other part of my brain can get to work.”

Screenwriter Jon Meyers agrees, taking it one step further. He designates one song to an entire script. “Not an entire album, mind you, just one song. Over and over. For six months. It becomes background noise like the hummmm of an air conditioner. But it works for me because as soon as my brain hears the first chiming note of the song, it’s triggered to go to work.”

10. Enter writing contests.

This is one of my preferred methods to keep my productivity high as a writer.

Entering contests feels like you’re buying a lottery ticket. While your chances of winning are indeed low, it’s much less scary than pitching your baby live to an agent. Contest deadlines make you work faster and harder. They also make you brave, and rejection feels a lot less personal if you don’t place. And sometimes you do place, which livens up your resume and boosts your morale.

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Put a limit on how many productivity tips you’ll expose yourself to before actually working on applying them.

This is self-explanatory. It’s tempting to devour everything on the subject, but after a point, it becomes just another method of procrastination.

Stop, reflect, try, and then come back for more if you need to.

Before picking another productivity book, just apply your favorite tips from the last one. You might also want to return to this post.

Chances are you’ve already heard it, but you haven’t put it into action yet.

What are your favorite unconventional productivity tips?

Pinar Tarhan is a freelance writer, blogger, and screenwriter. She specializes in lifestyle, entertainment, and writing. She runs four blog with plans to start at least one more. She has finished three screenplays, and she’s currently working on two more. She loves reading and writing about productivity, and has even written an productivity e-book for writers. You can catch her updates on Addicted to Writing and follow her @zoeyclark on Twitter.

5 thoughts on “10 Unconventional Productivity Tips for Writers

    • Hi Shane,

      Thanks for commenting. Congrats on the past contest money! Hope there is more to come your way. 🙂

      I’ll check the app now, and I’m glad you liked the post.

      Happy and productive writing!

  1. When I am very stuck on a complex writing task, I sometimes price each component with imaginary money (large amounts) or real money (small amounts), then “pay” myself as each is completed. If it’s real money, it can go on a coffee the next day; if it’s imaginary, I reward myself with 20 minutes of shopping for some silly (imaginary) purchase. The pricing corresponds not to the size of the component but to how much I don’t want to do it!

    • That’s a great tip, Rachel.

      Financial incentives, albeit imaginary, are good motivators – especially for tasks that we don’t really way to do.

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